11-year-old Matthew LeBlanc proves some kids can compete in half marathons

Darlene LeBlanc turned around one day and found that she had a new running partner: her 11-year-old son, Matthew.

This proved to be much more than convenience or fun, however, as Matthew has shown a real talent for distance running. Not only is he quite intelligent and very articulate for his age, but the Lake Oswego sixth-grader also can run a half marathon and is getting faster all the VERN UYETAKE - Matthew and Darlene LeBlanc train together all the time for distance running. Recently, the son has started outrunning the mom at running events.

This leaves Matthew in a very small class. He has registered to compete in the 2013 Surf City Classic in Huntington Beach, Calif., and of the 20,000 runners signed up, only four of them are as young as Matthew. by: VERN UYETAKE - Matthew LeBlanc really likes long distance running, especially now that he is achieving success.

“I was always into sports,” he said. “In soccer and lacrosse I was doing a lot of running. I thought I would do some more running.”

This was great news to Darlene, who says she handled her midlife crisis of turning 40 by becoming an avid runner. Now she is also an avid coach of her son.

“Mom constantly pushes me to new levels, longer distances and faster times,” Matthew said. “It started out a 5k, then 10k and then 15k. Now I’m doing half marathons.”

“When Matthew started, he was so slow,” Darlene said. “Now he beats me in almost every race. He’ll wave at me and say, ‘See you at the finish line.’”

Unfortunately for Matthew, big running events aren’t exactly kid friendly when it comes to age categories. At the recent Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon, he found himself going against runners up to 21 years old.

“I thought it was kind of impossible,” Matthew admitted. Yet he won his age category. When it comes to half marathons, this kid is all right.

Now, Matthew is planning to go out for track at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, which will give him the chance to work on his speed and keep bettering his times until he is ready to run a full marathon.

But now that Matthew is gaining recognition, a problem has arisen: Is age 11 too young to run a half marathon or even a full marathon? In a recent article titled “Too Fast Too Soon?” The New York Times addressed that issue and got much attention. The accompanying photo showed two very timid little girls at a starting line, practically swallowed up by the adults towering over them. They were set to go on a “gut busting” 13-mile run in Huntsville, Utah. Was it too much too soon?

Darlene LeBlanc said that friends immediately forwarded the article to her. This is an issue she has given a lot of thought to.

“Most people are very positive about it,” she said. “A lot of people who have kids 10, 11 or 12 years old say, ‘I wish they would go out there like your son.’”

But Darlene has also heard from the other end of the spectrum. An organizer at the Portland Marathon Clinic went huffing and puffing up to the LeBlancs and demanded, “How old is he?”

“The clinic race was only eight miles,” Darlene said. “I was afraid the pace would be too slow for Matthew.”

Mother and son are not worried, because Matthew runs for fun, not wild ambition for himself or Darlene.

“There are no problems as long as he is guiding it,” Darlene said. “Matt is not running day in and day out. He decides when he wants to take a break. You can’t make somebody train long miles. It’s something you have to want for yourself.”

“It’s fun being a runner,” Matthew said. “The feeling of accomplishment at the end is really nice.”

It also must be nice proving you’re never too young to run a long, long way.

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