4-year-old Budhia Singh with many men behind him running a marathon in India.
Photo by AP/Biwswaranjan Rout

The Marathon Boy from India

“Dear lord,” wrote my buddy Dan after I forwarded him the news. “I thought letting 14 year olds run a marathon was bad enough to lock up a parent. But a 4-year-old!!!”

Actually, Budhia Singh—the 4-year-old from India dubbed “Marathon Boy” and “India’s Forrest Gump”—did not run a marathon yesterday. He ran farther… much farther. In fact, perhaps enough to set a world record for a kid: 40 miles!

Just as impressive was his time: 7 hours and 2 minutes. In 2004 during Stacey’s Run from Lam I ran the exact same distance, but it took me 8 hours and 35 minutes. This kid (baby?) would have beat me by more than an hour and a half!

Despite just being 4 years old, the kid already has some interesting stories. When his father died his mother could not afford to raise him so she sold him off for $20. [Or maybe not… I’ve just seen another article saying she only almost sold him). He then was put under the watch of (or possibly “rescued”by) a judo master who “discovered” the boy’s incredible stamina when, for punishment, he told the boy to run and 5 hours later—when the judo master returned—the boy was still running. The judo master then started him on a training regimen including running in the morning, having a siesta in the early afternoon, and then running again in the evening. He also switched him over to a diet of eggs, milk, soybean, and meat.

Not surprisingly, the run has been controversial. The Asian Centre for Human Rights has urged National Human Rights Commission of India to investigate if Budhia Singh’s life was being endangered. (It should be pointed out that there were medics on hand and that the boy was forced to stop when he exhibited signs of exhaustion. The original plan, you see, was 43 miles!) More compelling is whether the boy’s long-term health is being risked and growth possibly stunted.

My initial thoughts are to let the kid keep on doing this, especially since it seems like he is enjoying it. Think about all of the other things in life that kids do that are “risky” but socially acceptable and even encouraged: riding a bike, skiing, gymnastic classes, etc. As long as there is adequate medical and parental oversight and they are not being done against the kid’s will, all of these activities are worthy of participation and celebration. That said, it is appropriate for the human rights commissions and other government agencies to look into this just to ensure that training and racing is being done in a safe manner and that the kid’s well-being is being tended to.

Now, about how do I feel about being outrun by a 4-year-old? Well, so far he has only equaled my longest distance. If all goes well this will change in a matter of weeks, one way or another. Stay tuned!

Update 5/28/06: Okay, I have run farther than him!


4-year-old Budhia Singh with many men behind him running a marathon in India.
Photo by AP/Biwswaranjan Rout
The marathon-running boy from India.