Swim. Bike. Run. Fun!

By Tracy D. Nelson – March 1, 2012

Kids love to go swimming, ride their bikes, and run. So it makes perfect sense to put all three together and offer triathlons for kids.

What kinds of kids participate in kids’ triathlons? They can include children of triathletes, swimmers, athletic kids, and kids who like adventure. The atmosphere at kids’ tris is very open, supportive, and fun. Kids of all ages and abilities are encouraged to participate and have a good time.

Just like adult triathlons, the kids will swim, bike, and run. Unlike adult triathlons, there are different distances for different ages; Juniors (ages seven to ten) compete at one distance while Seniors (ages 11 to 16) typically compete at double those distances. A few events feature an even smaller mini-race for five to six-year-olds. Awards are given to the top three girls and boys in two-year age groups.

Like adult triathlons, the transition area features bike racks, albeit with shorter racks. But most of the bikes belonging to younger kids are too small to be hung on the racks, so kids simply stand their bikes up under the rack with the kickstand or lay them on the ground.

There is a plethora of bike styles at a kids’ tri: tiny pink Barbie bikes with pom-poms on the handlebars and a basket on the front, little macho tough bikes with superhero decals, and cruiser bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrids. For the older kids, there are road bikes and even a few sweet rides—multi-thousand-dollar tri-specific bikes, a miniature version of what the serious adult triathletes ride.

Before the race, parents can come into the transition area and help their children set up, and there are plenty of volunteers on hand to help answer questions.

Most kids’ tris feature a pool swim rather than an open water swim. Distances range from 25 yards for the youngest competitors to 200 yards for tweens and teens in the Senior category. To reach the longer distances, swimmers start at one end of the pool and then snake their way up and down each lane until they’ve swum the appropriate distance.

After the swim, the kids hop out of the pool, dash to the transition area, and complete their T1 (transition from swim to bike) just like adults do. And just like adult transition zones, no one except athletes and volunteers is allowed in the transition area. Parents cannot enter to help their children during T1 or T2 (transition from bike to run), but there are plenty of volunteers on hand to assist as needed. Parents get to watch and cheer (and some will coach) from outside the fence surrounding the transition area.

After transition, children ride the bike course, which can range from a half-mile to six miles in length, depending on age range. Courses usually feature multiple loops to accommodate the older age groups who are riding the longer distance. At the end of the bike section, children return to the transition area for T2, just as adults do.

The run course may feature multiple loops as well. For the youngest kids, this can be as short as 500 yards. For those 11 and older, the course may be as long as two miles. The finish line is a festive area, with joyous kids, proud parents, and usually a finisher’s medal for each child who crosses the finish line.

Since the distances are short, the courses are usually very compact, which makes it easy for parents to cheer and take pictures at several spots along the way.

With such young participants, it is imperative for each race to have plenty of volunteer support. The volunteers are wonderful with the kids – supportive, helpful, and enthusiastic – and they are part mother hen, part traffic cop, part cheerleader, and all smiles. They often say it’s the most fun they’ve ever had volunteering at a race because it’s so exciting to see the pint-sized triathletes with their ear-to-ear smiles.

There is no shortage of kids’ tris in the Austin area. Leading the charge is 1379 Family Sports Shop, which has coordinated 1379 Kids Tri Series for the last three years. 1379 Family Sports provides prizes and giveaways for race participants, finish line activities and games, packet pickup at their stores, and broader exposure to other sponsors.

“1379 is awesome at encouraging families to participate in sports,” said series director Kathy Ladner.

Whether you have children who would like to “give it a tri” or you’d like to volunteer to help the next generation of triathletes, we encourage you to get involved with the Austin area kids’ triathlon community.

Swim. Bike. Run. Fun! Are you looking for some fun, outdoor activities to keep your kid moving this spring and summer? Has your kid caught the triathlon bug? Here’s a list of some of the upcoming kid-friendly triathlons in the Austin area for your aspiring athlete to try.

Tracy D. Nelson is a head coach and co-founder of Tri Zones Training. She has trained beginner and intermediate runners and triathletes since 2003. She has enjoyed supporting her daughter’s athletic endeavors, including Steiner Stars swim team, Stallion Stampede, Soaring Eagles, Cedar Park Swim Team, several kids’ triathlons, and CRMS Cross Country and Track.


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