Let's all take a minute to remember the P.E. class mile. If you're a parent, you likely remember the feeling of running laps around a field in your younger years. Maybe you led the pack, or maybe you felt like a side stitch was going to kill you as you dragged yourself to the finish line.
If you're checking if you, or your 12-year-old child, ran a good mile time, first remember that "good" is a subjective term. There are a lot of factors that go into how well you can run a mile at any age, but at 12, it's truly tough to determine what qualifies as a good performance.
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Ian McKeag, MD, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Medicine, explains that because 12-year-old kids are at different stages of development and have a lot going on in their bodies and minds, a "good" mile time is whatever time they can run to the best of their ability on that particular day.
"At 12 years old, if you're a girl, you might be right in the middle of puberty," Dr. McKeag tells LIVESTRONG.com. "A male kid is right at the beginning of puberty. It's tough to measure and compare at this age because everyone is a little different."
But in general, what's a good mile time for a 12-year-old? Below are the average mile times that 12-year-old boys and girls are running; it's easy to decide on how how fast a 12-year-old should run a mile from there. And no matter if your mile time is faster or slower than the national average, you can (and likely will) run faster as you get older.
Average Mile Time Percentiles for Boys
According to the U.S. National Fitness Standards, the average mile time for 12-year-old boys is 8 minutes and 40 seconds. Running an 8:40-minute mile would place a male child in the 50th percentile. Running anything faster would be an above average time. Those who run 6:22 or faster are in the 100th percentile and are considered elite amongst other 12-year-old boys. Boys who run a 24:54-minute mile or slower are in the last percentile.
Average Mile Time Percentiles for Girls
The same National Fitness Standards show that the average mile time for 12-year-old girls is 11 minutes and 5 seconds. That 11:05 time would put a girl in the 50th percentile. An "elite" mile time for a 12-year-old girl is 6:22. The slowest times recorded are the same as boys, with 24:54 as the marker for the last percentile.
Improving Mile Times Comes with Age
As a child grows, you can expect their mile time to improve. There are a lot of variables that go into when they will hit their physical peak, but we do know it won't be until they reach muscular skeletal maturity.
"For girls, that's going to be, on average, any time after the age of 15," Dr. McKeag says. "For boys, on average, that will be 18."
To compare good mile times by age, check out the following charts:
1-Mile Running Times for Girls
1-Mile Running Times for Boys
What Does the Mile Measure?
The mile is a middle-distance event that lends itself to a combination of speed and endurance. It's been used in schools to test a child's physical fitness for decades.
"It's an easy thing to standardize," Dr. McKeag says. "It's an easy thing to execute and is easily measured."
But just because it's simple to scale across the country doesn't necessarily mean it's a good measure for overall fitness or cardiovascular health.
"I would never call it a good indication of anyone's cardiovascular health," Dr. McKeag says. "So, if I were a parent asking a teacher or coach if my child was in good shape or healthy based on the mile, my main focus isn't necessarily on what their time was, but what they looked like upon completing the mile."
Dr. McKeag explains that if a child finishes with a below average time, but looks like a million bucks, it likely means they didn't try too hard — and that could be for several different reasons, such as inattention and boredom or external life events. That would not be a good test of physical health.
Meanwhile, if a child finishes with a good time and looks strong, that would show that the child enjoys running and that, as Dr. McKeag puts it, "the kid is probably a powerhouse." Because the effort is there, it can be used a good test of overall fitness.
"Then, if a kid runs a really good time, but is puking afterward, you know they are probably in good health, have a good amount of athleticism, but might benefit from some additional training," he says.
The same goes for a child who did try hard but ran poorly. They would benefit from some additional training, and their below-average time would not automatically put them in the camp of having poor health.
Helping Children Succeed in the Mile
To help children run their best mile time, coaches, parents/guardians and teachers can prepare the runners starting the night before. Ensure the child has adequate hydration and fuel, and encourage them to get a full night's sleep.
A few minutes before the mile, take kids through a dynamic warm-up to get their muscles ready. This might include jumping jacks, lunges, squats, butt kicks, inchworms, high skips and high kicks. Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps per exercise. The entire warm-up should be 5 to 10 minutes.
Then, try to advise them on pacing. Instead of merely saying "don't go out too fast," explain what that means and why it's good advice. Tell them they shouldn't feel like they can't breathe when they start out. Practice working on how to breathe while running. Many children respond well to breathing in for three steps and then breathing out for two steps and repeating.
Or, you can use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to help them gauge the intensity of their run. For example, if they feel like they're running an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 during most of their run, advise them to slow down and scale back their effort.
Finally, make it fun. Encourage them as they go. Some kids are gifted runners and enjoy the mile, and some kids have other talents. Let them know that walking is OK if they need to, but to try to start running again when they feel better.
Running Safety for Children
Running is safe, healthy and even fun for (some) kids. But parents, coaches and teachers should be careful not to push them too hard, even if they enjoy the sport.
"If they're totally into it, then I would say every other day is totally fine to run up to an hour," Dr. McKeag says. "As long as they are happy to do it, then go for it. But that comes with looking at risk factors and being mindful of any persistent aches and pains."
Pay attention to complaints about their knees, shins, hips and feet. Kids at this age are particularly at risk for apophysitis, which is inflammation of the growth plate or area around the growth plate. Dr. McKeag says if you don't recognize it soon enough, it can turn into a stress fracture. Additionally, because 12-year-olds are growing, it's important to watch out for discomfort that comes from those added inches.
"In a perfect world, our legs would grow at the exact same speed and the exact same length," Dr. McKeag says. "But if you have little Stacy with a right leg that is suddenly a half centimeter longer than the other, putting four miles on that might be too much impact. Adults need to be watchful of stress injuries."
The other important factor is nutrition and hydration. "If a 12-year-old is running competitively or training five days a week, I would be very cautious and monitoring their BMI, their food intake and just making sure they are refueling," Dr. McKeag says.
Finally, Dr. McKeag says that running, while great, should not be the only sport a 12-year-old participates in. And if they are training to run a better mile, other activities can help improve times too. Other sports and exercise routines will bring in smaller muscle groups and work on lateral movement and balance — all of which will help the child become a well-rounded athlete.
- Running School: Getting Kids Fit
- Boys' mile times national standards
- National Fitness Standards mile times girls
- Youth Distance Running and Lower Extremity Injury: A Systematic Review
- Fitnessgram 1 Mile Testing
- Nationwide Children's: Apophysitis: Why Children Shouldn’t Play Through Pain
- Dr. Ian McKeag