When asked my opinion recently about young runners entering long-distance races, I immediately pictured a youngster I saw in a 5K race (3.1 miles) many years ago.

We had only run a few blocks when I overtook a young 9- or 10-year-old who had gone out too fast (as many young ones do) and was now looking painfully tired as he plopped along -- with still another three miles to go.

Racing three miles or more can be tough even for a trained runner who is older than that little fellow. Perhaps he had signed up for the race without having done much training for distance running. Also, with so much emphasis on marathons (26-plus miles) these days, three miles may sound rather short. Believe me, it isn't.

As a distance runner and former coach, I'm well acquainted with the stamina required for such events. Knowing that, I held my own three sons back until they were in high school and better able to handle those miles.

Most studies concerning youngsters running long distances appear inconclusive, and to date a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old have each won the famous Dipsea Race in Marin County, a grueling 7.5-mile race with long uphill sections and treacherous downhills ... been there, done that.

Though I have to admit to mixed emotions about children running long distances, my bottom-line advice is still to hold them back until they are at least 12 or older. And stay away from the marathon until they are truly mature. I did go against this guideline once when my son, Dennis, and I entered the father-son division of a 5K race around Lake Merritt in Oakland. Dennis was 11 at the time. Knowing how competitive he was by nature, I was thoroughly angry with myself for letting him do it, and I wasn't relieved until he finished. We won over a father-son from Berkeley, but it was a hollow victory to me.

On the racing theme: Should we run the day before a race? If at all possible, I never do. It has been a practice ever since my high school days at Oakland Tech. The reasons are physical and psychological. The body (especially the legs) feel fresh and ready for action. And mentally, one is eager to make up for missing a run the day before. Right or wrong, it's worked best for me.

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.