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SKL

Girls, running, and puberty

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My 12yo (who started her period in June 2018) is a runner.  I've noticed that her times have decreased over the past couple years - consistently enough that it's not a fluke.  I did a little research, and it seems this is somewhat typical for girls near / after puberty.  There are some explanations e.g. wider hips make it harder to run fast??  But I don't have time to study it like a scientist right now.

Just curious if anyone here has any thoughts or resources for a girl who would like to be a great runner.  What can help her adapt to the body of a woman runner?  (Her times are pretty good, but not record-breaking.  ?)

Also, is there any tween-friendly resource to help a girl make a plan for good fitness for running or other sports?  My daughter could use some motivation for better eating, sleeping, and conditioning.

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I found a random article awhile back talking about this phenomena, I think it’s why so many middle school girls do well on high school track and cross country teams. 

 I just bought “The Youth and Teen Running Encyclopedia” by Mick Grant and John Molvar, it isn’t specifically for girl runners but has information for coaching youth runners. The reviews I have found seem to point toward this book being good information, but I haven’t started it yet. 

Girls on the Run May be a good resource too. 

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My dd ( who has run four half marathons, two 10ks, multiple 5ks and a Spartan obstacle race) has enjoyed Runners World magazine. She also cross trains by lifting weights. She’s a distance runner though and while she does have personal best times for each distance, speed isn’t a big priority for her. 

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DS has been running XC since he was 8 and now runs varsity for his high school, so we've been watching the girls and boys grow and change through puberty and beyond. 

Girls around that age often run similar times as the boys, but it's also around the age that the gaps get bigger. Definitely as girls' bodies change their running times are affected--they seem to be more negatively affected by puberty than boys (who just tend to see their times vastly improve by no fault of their own due to increasing muscle mass). Once girls start to develop hips, they can expect decreased times as they adapt to their new gait. We see another common slump around sophomore year. Both are very common and she shouldn't worry. Likely she will rebound again next year and come out stronger on the other side.

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Somewhere around the end of middle school/ beginning of high school is also a time when some runners might find that their preferred (strongest) distances change. We've seen many strong "distance " ( at that age, 3k) runners gravitate toward shorter distances (in track) like the 800 or even sprints. Kids we could have sworn would be high school XC superstars (5k) turn out to be tremendous sprinters or middle distance runners instead. Part of it might be the leap to longer distances, but I suspect it's more about adapting to ones "new" body and running type. 

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53 minutes ago, Jean in Newcastle said:

My dd ( who has run four half marathons, two 10ks, multiple 5ks and a Spartan obstacle race) has enjoyed Runners World magazine. She also cross trains by lifting weights. She’s a distance runner though and while she does have personal best times for each distance, speed isn’t a big priority for her. 

Runners World is a great magazine and has good information but I wouldn’t recommend it for a 12 year old. 

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3 hours ago, SKL said:

Also, is there any tween-friendly resource to help a girl make a plan for good fitness for running or other sports?  My daughter could use some motivation for better eating, sleeping, and conditioning.

Phil Maffetone  The Big Book of Health and Fitness

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So, just another idea as to why she's slowing down....could she be anemic? There was a competitive high school runner locally who kept getting slower and slower and couldn't figure out why. Turns out she was anemic. 

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Not all slow down, but the highly successful high school runners that I know of all train and push themselves very hard, sometimes to an unhealthy extent. Like it seems all xc runners deal with serious injuries in high school around here that keep them out for a portion or all of a season at some point in their career.

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This is timely!  My oldest daughter is also a 12 year old runner who started her period in January of this year, so in between cross country seasons.  She has also been disappointed by her times this season.  We've had a lot of change this summer (we moved to Ohio in August, but she's actually running with her old VA homeschool cross country team, so she's doing the workouts here with her sisters, and we go back to VA for meets), so I'm sure that's some part of it.  But I had been wondering this very same question, because I would say she put on about 15 pounds over the course of this year, all of it in the right (womanly, lol) places, and she is still quite slim, but that has got to affect one's running, I would think!

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7 hours ago, Ali in OR said:

Not all slow down, but the highly successful high school runners that I know of all train and push themselves very hard, sometimes to an unhealthy extent. Like it seems all xc runners deal with serious injuries in high school around here that keep them out for a portion or all of a season at some point in their career.

I agree.

Injuries among girls in the early high school years are especially pervasive. We see a lot of shin splints, which if "fought through" can take a runner out for a season or longer. She does need to take care, not overtrain (difficult if she's a top runner on a competitive team), and understand the issues with a growing female body.

I agree that she ought to look into anemia as well. DS's team was told it's extremely common among (high school age) female runners. Also, and you probably already do, make sure she's eating enough of the right foods--young runners burn through a TON of calories. No "dieting" for a runner if she's serious about the sport.

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We are new to Cross Country, but are finding the same thing.  My oldest DD started running as a 10-year-old last year and seemed to be unstoppable -- out-running all of the older girls, and placing at the top for her team.  This year, she grew another 6 inches and is looking more like an adult, and is now not the fastest on her team. She is being out-run by a few of the younger girls (and her little brother!).  It has been very discouraging for her, but we were just attributing it to a lack of training this summer.  It is encouraging to know that maybe it isn't our fault.

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Both my girls had a couple years coinciding with their growth spurts and menarche where they needed to get used to new body mechanics, and their endurance was also affected.

Dd16's middle school times peaked in 8th grade, after she was disappointed with her progress in 6th and 7th. She also had a high school sophomore slump like a pp described, and didn't PR that year at all. But now she's having a phenomenal junior year where she's the 5th varsity runner and her team might make it to state. 

Doing track in the spring has helped her cross country times in the fall, but we do need to be careful about overtraining, since both my girls inherited my flat feet and tendency to shin splints. Self-advocating with her coach for days where she does an alternate cardio workout--biking or swimming--has been a great learning experience for her. And sticking with it through the frustrating seasons, trying different approaches and looking for various ways to celebrate personal improvement have also been great life lessons.

Do the coaches talk about eating, sleeping and conditioning? I've found coaches and other athletes to be mostly healthy influences about all of that, with the exception of overtraining at the high school level. But seeing a couple teammates go through surgery for stress fractures has taught my daughter to take occasional rest days or do alternate workouts, especially if her shins are talking to her at all. I love to see her listening to her body and taking such good care of herself, sometimes pushing back when coaches are asking too much. 

She says during XC she eats 3x the amount of food at lunch as friends who aren't athletes. So yeah, no dieting! She has cut way back on sugar until the end of the season by choice, though, and says emphasizing protein, veggies, fruit and complex carbs really makes a difference. Thankfully, all the varsity runners on her team this year seem to be pretty healthy eaters. Parents rotate bringing lunch or dinner for the team right after their races, because team snacks are just not enough ?

We've never done XC camps, but some other moms have told me it really helped their kids to hear info on nutrition, sleep, stretching and conditioning from someone other than a parent.

Amy

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15 hours ago, Rachel said:

Runners World is a great magazine and has good information but I wouldn’t recommend it for a 12 year old. 

Surely you have noticed on this board that different kids respond to different things at different ages. My daughter did enjoy Runners World at age 12. The Op’s dd may or may not. It’s not like the magazine has anything inappropriate for a 12 year old. Just that some might find it boring. 

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My daughter is not a runner but a swimmer. Her coach said the girls are all faster than the boys until about age 13-14 which is when the girls seem to peak - they still have time improvements each year but they are not as big as they were. Boys on the other hand start seeing huge time improvements around this age. It was interesting to hear him talk about it. I have a 12 year old and 9 years old who swim (girls) and a 10 year old boy. My girls are currently faster but my son is finally starting to come into his own. Our coach thinks in 2 years we’ll really see changes in his times. 

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I wanted to say, if all the races our family has run in (ie. my dh and kids - not me), the women's times are recorded and judged separately from the men's.  In fact, in the really big races (1000's of people running) it will be divided out as "12 and under girls"/ "12 and under boys", "teen girls"/"teen boys", "women"/"men", "senior women"/ "senior men".  In fact, dd won a first place medal on her first race (12 and under girls) because there were only three girls that age running and she was the fastest of those three.  ?  Of  course the very fastest women will pass a lot of men with average race times. 

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So unfair that the boys have more muscles, LOL.  My daughter has long prided herself on being almost the fastest kid in her school - boy or girl - but clearly that is about to end.  ?

Officially her times are compared with other girls, and she almost always wins, although in the current race series, she has sometimes been passed by a younger girl or two.  (Both times she was on her period, which I pointed out, but she doesn't think that was a factor.)  I hate to see her getting discouraged as she really is a good runner for a girl her age.  Like almost the 100th %ile per government stats.  I would like to be able to explain all this to her in a way that encourages her to keep trying.

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17 minutes ago, SKL said:

So unfair that the boys have more muscles, LOL.  My daughter has long prided herself on being almost the fastest kid in her school - boy or girl - but clearly that is about to end.  ?

Officially her times are compared with other girls, and she almost always wins, although in the current race series, she has sometimes been passed by a younger girl or two.  (Both times she was on her period, which I pointed out, but she doesn't think that was a factor.)  I hate to see her getting discouraged as she really is a good runner for a girl her age.  Like almost the 100th %ile per government stats.  I would like to be able to explain all this to her in a way that encourages her to keep trying.

So a huge part of XC and other "individual team" sports is learning to compete against ones own times, not necessarily against others. Yes, she very well might be in for a rude awakening if she thinks she will always be fastest. Once the distance gets greater and the fields larger, a lot will change. It's neither good or bad, it's just part of the sport. Thinking back through the years, many of the "superstar" runners at 12 found their groove as middle distance (think 800) or mid-level runners in high school. We've been surprised many, many times. 

She will need to learn how to work through her frustration. Every runner has strong races and weak ones, spectacular seasons and seasons they'd rather forget. By high school they've all been through it all, but the ones who compete are the ones who have the grit to continue to push themselves through the hard times and not take too seriously the good ones.

I don't mean for that to sound harsh at all. I love XC for so many reasons and love watching the kids grow through the sport. I hope your daughter loves it enough to fight through the tough times. I can guarantee she will watch every runner she knows struggle at one point or another with something similar. 

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I would look much more long-term in regards to your dd's times. She isn't going to peak in her top running speed until her 20s, so don't focus on times too much now. Focus on good training habits, good technique, enjoying the process of learning to run more efficiently now and in the years to come. Hopefully she will enjoying running for her whole life. Keep things fun and low pressure as much as you can. Just cheer and encourage her as much as you can.

ETA: I know that this doesn't really answer any question about puberty, but there are so many variables across populations. And as far as timing when someone's actual peak competition times fit in with the times they need to compete in their school teams, that is sometimes the toughest part of a competitive sport. The people who peak at the "right" times for school are going to do well for their school, but not necessarily for sport outside school (e.g., Olympics). They may be over-trained or injured by the time their body would have been ready to peak.

Edited by wintermom
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4 hours ago, Jean in Newcastle said:

Surely you have noticed on this board that different kids respond to different things at different ages. My daughter did enjoy Runners World at age 12. The Op’s dd may or may not. It’s not like the magazine has anything inappropriate for a 12 year old. Just that some might find it boring. 

Sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you. It’s just that in the last 2-3 years I specifically remember more than one article talking about how smoking pot (Peter Segal from NPR wrote one of the articles) affects running performance and also whether or not sex before a race affects a performance.  There are also monthly features focusing on running for weight loss. The OP may or may not have read the magazine in recent years and should be given a heads up before blindly subscribing. Your daughter may be ready for those kinds of things, but my kids aren’t. 

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5 minutes ago, Rachel said:

Sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you. It’s just that in the last 2-3 years I specifically remember more than one article talking about how smoking pot (Peter Segal from NPR wrote one of the articles) affects running performance and also whether or not sex before a race affects a performance.  There are also monthly features focusing on running for weight loss. The OP may or may not have read the magazine in recent years and should be given a heads up before blindly subscribing. Your daughter may be ready for those kinds of things, but my kids aren’t. 

I’ve been subscribed for three years and I don’t remember any pot articles. They’ve also gotten a new editor recently and changed up the format quite a bit. A lot of the long term columns are gone or changed. I’m less than enthused about the recent changes.

I’m with @Jean in Newcastle, it’s not so much that you disagree with RW for your 12-year-old and more that you expanded that to all 12-year-olds with a blanket statement. Lots of different ways of parenting here.

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2 hours ago, mamaraby said:

I’ve been subscribed for three years and I don’t remember any pot articles. They’ve also gotten a new editor recently and changed up the format quite a bit. A lot of the long term columns are gone or changed. I’m less than enthused about the recent changes.

I’m with @Jean in Newcastle, it’s not so much that you disagree with RW for your 12-year-old and more that you expanded that to all 12-year-olds with a blanket statement. Lots of different ways of parenting here.

Yeah. I don’t  remember those articles either- either in the past or present !  But maybe we flipped right past them. (My dd is almost 17 now so she was 12 a number of years ago. )

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If she plans to run competitively I would suggest she join a local/club competitive running team with a good running coach. Coaches specific to the sports my kids are interested in have made a huge difference in their competitive times, nutrition, motivation, etc.

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I was a runner, but I can't really remember how that all played out!  My kids were swimmers though, and this is what we were told and how it seemed to go for them...  Usually for the first few years of swimming, you see continual big changes, because you're basically going from not knowing any skills to learning a lot of skills.  Once you reach that first "plateau" of skills, changes (improvements) begin happening in tinier increments, and that's normal.  But as you keep pushing, building muscle, honing your skills, adjusting to your new size and shape, improvements will generally keep happening (although sometimes it will feel like two steps forward, one step back).  And of course sometimes everything comes together so perfectly that the improvement will feel bigger now and then.  Patience and hard work!  

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