TODAY   |  February 07, 2013

Tween marathon runners: ‘It’s really hard’

Kaytlynn and Heather Welsch, just 12 and 10 years old, have taken the racing world by storm, running against adults in marathons and triathlons and often beating them. But is endurance running healthy for growing bodies? NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

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making a name for themselves in a sport you may not expect. nbc's kate snow here with their story.

>> good morning, savannah. if you have a kid good at running, might be on their school's cross-country, a kids triathlon. this story is about two young girls who are way beyond that. they are running races meant to challenge adults. in a sea of runners at the championship in hawaii, there are two you wouldn't expect, little girls from texas, kaytlynn welsch is 12, her sister heather is 10. it will take an enormous amount of endurance and grit to withstand these 12 miles but the welsch sisters are up to the challenge. they are two of the fastest and youngest endurance runners in the country. so fast, they usually outrun the grownups.

>> do you like racing against grownups.

>> sometimes but when they say the bad words , we'll be like --

>> when you pass them?

>> yes.

>> do you get mad when people pass you.

>> we don't say cuss words .

>> their dad is their coach.

>> at the start they are still up there fighting with each other or doing something silly. then it's time to start the race and they are all serious.

>> you look good. don't let the pace guy fool you. you've got to run what you've got to run.

>> do you have to try hard.

>> it comes really natural to me.

>> you get out there, just relaxes. sometimes it's really hard.

>> they have each finished more than 100 races in the last two years, often back-to-back on saturdays and sundays.

>> every since they were little bitty , i thought, golly, there's something special about these kids.

>> rodney and their mom entered them in the first kids triathlon when heather was six and kaytlynn eight. soon they were entering adult races. last year at age 11 kaytlynn ran her first marathon. is this running healthy for young girls. they see dan o'neal, a specialist in sports medicine .

>> they are in great condition without any stiff joints, swelling, any evidence of any harm.

>> there's no conclusive medical data on what happens to kids who run this much. the doctor does have some concerns.

>> the one thing i worry about the most with the distances they are running, will they achieve their full skeletal growth.

>> in hawaii, the course was a lot tougher than the girls imagined. as upsetting as it may be to see, it's not uncommon for heather to cry when she's racing.

>> some people who watch the races when they see you crying, they get worried.

>> yeah, they think my dad is pushing me and making me to run. i'm like, no, i'm fine, just crying.

>> is your dad pushing you?

>> he pushes me to get better, but he doesn't like make me run.

>> you run because you want to run?

>> yeah.

>> you sound like you're being kind of tough on them sometimes with words.

>> yeah, i am. same thing with homework. do your best.

>> the welsch sisters are both striving to do their best in hopes of fulfilling the same big dream.

>> be on the big team would be a really big accomplishment for me and i would love that.

>> i'm just trying to keep my speed up. one day i think i'll go to the olympics .

>> your sister go to the olympics .

>> i'll try to beat her.

>> so the olympic games in 2020 maybe. but they are so serious about that dream they won't even accept prize money because they are maintaining their amateur status. it's a long road, of course, savannah, to the olympics . their parents are clearly hoping all this running at a young age will help them get to where they want to go. there are a lot of prodigies, kids who burn out who never make it that far. we'll have to see.

>> incredible girls when you think about the mental discipline and physical discipline. they are fast, too.

>> they are very fast. they outran me in seconds.

>> kate snow , thank you. can you see more on kate's story "rock center with brian williams ," 10:00 , 9:00 central right