I am Benjamin's dad. His times are good, but I am well aware that there are kids his age that have more talent. For example, Conner Mantz ran the same Utah Valley Half marathon course in 1:13:19 at the age of 14 in 2011. I think the reason we are impressed with anything sub-1:20 in the half for a 14 year old is that our distance training approach is messed up. There are very few kids that age that have a healthy aerobic base. Essentially they run off their talent before they start high school. When they start high school with rare exceptions they train speed before building adequate base. This has three negatives:
- The heart is forced to work at an intensity that it is not yet conditioned for. Our heart is designed to be a slave. It is one organ that is absolutely not allowed to fail. So when pushed, it will do what it takes to keep you going. But this has a cost.
- The young muscles are strong, but not yet resilient. Also the bones are not fully mature. High intensity workouts done by competitive young men thus result in a large number of injuries.
- The hormonal system of a young man somewhat resembles his muscles. He can produce a strong drive, but the glands are not fully mature and are subject to wearing out.
As a result we see respectable performances in 1600/3200 meters in high school, and decent times in college, but those who manage to achieve something afterwards are more of an exception.
The proper approach, I believe, is to start at a young age, as young as you can convince a kid to run, and have him run frequently, but most of it at a comfortable pace that he naturally chooses as long as he keeps it faster than 10:00 mile which he will do if he is mentally alert. As they get older, gradually add the mileage, and throw in some very modest intensity work, but be very careful not to overwork the young man. Good diet, plenty of sleep, and get rid of junk activities that cause stress and eat up the precious time without much payback to the extent that you are able. If enough people start doing this, we may discover that we can beat the Kenyans after all.