Pictures posted on social media of a 6-year-old completing a 26.2-mile marathon in the Cincinnati area have sparked backlash against the child’s parents and the organization that sponsored the race.
Kami and Ben Crawford, who manage accounts on Instagram and YouTube that document their family’s outdoor activities, posted on Sunday photos of their brood running the Flying Pig marathon together. The posts quickly drew hundreds of comments expressing concern for the child’s health and safety.
“A six year old does not understand what embracing misery is,” Kara Goucher, a two-time Olympic long-distance runner, tweeted. “A six year who is ‘struggling physically’ does not realize they have the right to stop and should.”
The Crawfords did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
The Crawfords, parents of six children ranging in ages from 6 to 20, routinely post videos to their more than 12,000 Instagram followers and nearly 50,000 YouTube subscribers chronicling their lives with their kids, who participate in ambitious running and hiking journeys, including hiking the Appalachian trail.
Family-focused social media channels have been popular for more than a decade, and have often stoked criticism of parents and concern for children. Some family videos have shown young children in emotionally distressing situations, occasionally spurring action by authorities.
A spokesperson for YouTube said the Crawfords’ videos about their 6-year-old training for the Cincinnati marathon did not violate any of its rules.
The Crawfords’ marathon posts first began getting attention in the days following the marathon, particularly around an Instagram post that stated their son “was struggling physically and wanted to take a break and sit every three minutes.”
The Crawfords wrote that they promised Pringles if their son “kept moving” after seven hours. According to Crawford’s Instagram posts, the family took 8 hours and 35 minutes to finish the race with their youngest child. They said in Instagram comments that they plan to release footage from the race on their YouTube channel.
The Crawfords have since defended their decision to run with their child, writing in an Instagram post on Wednesday that they allowed him to run the full marathon “after begging to join us.”
“We asked him numerous times if he wanted to stop and he was VERY clear that his preference was to continue,” the post reads. “We did not see any sign of heat exhaustion or dehydration and honored his request to keep on going.”
While physical activity is encouraged at all ages, a 2003 article in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine said that children should not run long-distance because they are not fully developed physically. Research published in the National Library of Medicine in 2010 suggests that children running long distances may have more potential for injury.
The organization behind the marathon, Pig Works, issued a statement that called the exception made for the Crawfords “not the best course of action.”
Iris Simpson Bush, president of Pig Works, wrote in an emailed statement that it was her decision to allow the entire Crawford family to participate, including making an exception for the 6-year-old. The event is for adults aged 18 and up, and in the future, Bush said the age limit would be strictly enforced.
“This decision was not made lightly because the father was determined to do the race with his young child regardless,” Bush wrote. “They had done it as bandits in prior years before we had any knowledge and we knew he was likely to do so again.”
The term “bandits” is used to describe people who join official races without registering. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Ben Crawford wrote that most of his children have run a marathon underage with the help of race organizers, specifically Bush. One year, Crawford wrote that his daughter, then 6, visited a doctor before a race. This year, Crawford wrote in the same Facebook post that Bush “said not to worry about the Dr’s visit because we seemed ‘prepared.’”
A spokesperson for Pig Works said Crawford’s Facebook posts about Bush are “inaccurate.”
The backlash is not the first time that videos from the Crawfords have drawn scrutiny. In one video from 2018, while the Crawfords were on the Appalachian trail, Ben and Kami said that Child Protective Services agents were waiting for them when they exited the trail during a snowstorm. After talking to the children, CPS took no action against the Crawford family.
“In a way, this is kind of our worst nightmare fear, government intervention with taking away your children and losing control,” Ben said in the video.
Goucher told NBC News that she stands by her tweet but is conflicted at the backlash the Crawfords are receiving, since she believes they are loving parents.
“I’m not going to change my mind,” Goucher said about young children being unfit to run marathons. She said she endorses families running together, but wishes they had run one mile rather than 26.2 miles. In a follow-up tweet, Goucher wrote: “I’m not questioning motivation or saying it is bad parenting. But as an Olympic athlete, I promise you this is not good for the child."