Training the Young Triathlete

As a family, we don’t just live, sleep and eat triathlons or training.  As any family, we try to find balance between work, school, and extracurricular activities.  When co-workers or friends find out that my kids do triathlons, one of the most common questions is, “How do they train for those?”.  We are unlucky in that we live in an area without a youth triathlon team, or a USA Triathlon certified coach.  Between the girls and my husband and I, we come up with ideas for training and a lot of the training is done inadvertently, through other activities.

  1.  The Swim.  The swim is important but is the shortest leg of the youth triathlon and is therefore the easiest to make up time for if the athlete is a slow swimmer.  I have mediocre swimmers.  None of them are superstar swimmers, and they are usually in the middle of the pack out of the pool.  Training for the swim is first done by ensuring your swimmer can swim the minimum distance needed.  We train for swimming by practicing with a swim team.  Some leagues are more competitive than others, and we been on a competitive team and a recreational team.  My children prefer a more recreational team.  Swim team is a great way to prepare and perfect the swim portion of triathlon.  Make sure if the triathlon your child is competing in is “open water”, that they practice and prepare for this ahead of time by swimming in a similar body of water that they will be racing in.

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2.  The Bike.  The bike portion is the longest portion of the triathlon (minutes and miles).  It is also very important in deciding podium spots.  Your child needs a good beginner bike.  We see all different types of bikes at triathlons.  The most appropriate bikes for this type are road bikes and high-quality mountain or hybrid bike.  Big-box stores typically sell bikes that are heavy and cumbersome.  Consider that my daughters were 4-6 years old when they each started, and each only weighed about 45 pounds.  Although most children are able to recreationally ride a big-box bike without any problem, they are not the best option for triathlon, as they tend to weigh more than higher-quality bikes.  They will be pulling these bikes off and on racks in transition, running with them, and biking on them.  We have had several kids bikes that have included a Specialized Hotrock (a great first bike, and comes in a 16″, 20″, or 24″ size), a Fuji Ace 20″ (one of the few light, entry-level road bikes that is modestly priced), and an Islabikes Beinn 20 (a hybrid bike that we put road tires on).  We are now on the Culprit Junior One (x2 bikes) and the Islabikes Beinn.  I’ve done a lot of research on bikes and as the bikes get lighter, they are harder and harder to find.  Any bikes that we have sold have been snatched up by friends and I have not even had to go to the trouble of listing them for sale.  The resale on kids road bikes is very good and if you can afford the initial investment, you will get most of the money back when it comes time to sell and move on to another.

Here’s my short list for 20″ bikes:  Fuji Ace 20, Islabikes Beinn 20, Specialized Hotrock 20 (without the shocks), and the Culprit Junior One

24″ bikes: Specialized Hotrock, Scott Speedster 24, Redline Conquest 24, Felt F24 (VERY popular at triathlons), Fuji Ace 24, Trek has a couple of OLD model 24″ road bikes, Specialized Allez Junior, Pinarello Speedy or FP Zero, Diamondback Podium 24, Schwinn Midi Fastback, Islabikes Rothan, Culprit Junior Two, and the Blue Two Four.

After your child passes up these two sizes, the bike manufacturers make many more makes and models and they are much easier to come by.  Here are a few pictures of our bicycle progression:

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3.  The Run.  Admittedly our weak point, so take my advice in this section with a grain of salt.  The distances in a kids triathlon are normally very achievable, but they must learn to run off the bike portion.  Ideally, they need to jog at a good clip the entire time, without walking.  We train for this portion by doing “bricks”, which are bike rides usually 3 miles long, followed by dropping off the bike and running.  If the run portion is 0.5 mile, we train for 3/4 of a mile.  Then, hopefully, they are prepared for the 1/2 mile.  We have also joined the school’s running club and the girls run a few 5k’s a year (they love competing!).  I’ve seen many a triathlon decided during the run.  Developing a love for the run is still a work in progress with our girls!

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4 thoughts on “Training the Young Triathlete

  1. I love this blog!! I thought I was creative but I love what you both have done with your girls.
    Thanks for the bike advice, have been looking for road bikes for my girls.
    Keep it coming!!!!
    Wheezie 😊😉

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    1. Thanks, Wheezie! Let me know if you have any questions about the bike. Getting a light bike that the girls like to ride was key to continuing their interest in triathlon. My oldest will be old enough to race in some USA Cycling races next year and she wants to do that, too!

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  2. Hi Lindsey,

    It is so great to be in touch and know other parents of athletic, smart girls. Our daughter (7 1/2) loves competing in triathlons also. We approach training at this young age with an emphasis on swimming, bike, and transition skills. Last year we swam 2x a week August thru March with our Triple Threat Racing team. That experience helped her conditioning and commitment to the sport so much. Unfortunately, that pool location closed, so we started doing the swimming portion of training on our own. We transitioned into our summer swim team to handle that, but there is such a variance in skill level that we found it difficult for pushing her to increase speed and improve technique. We have learned that she responds so well to a coach vs. mom or dad giving her workout direction. We are starting competitive swim team for the first time next week, and she will swim three times a week.

    She does a bike/transition/run workout three times a week. Our theory on running is to not do more than 2 miles consecutively until she is older than 10. The hardest part of the triathlon run is learning how to suffer and push through pain. That is something she will have to learn from experience, mom and dad certainly are not good at this.

    Let us know when you will be in Bentonville for Trifest. We would like to meet up with you if possible.

    All the best,
    K. Caldwell

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    1. Oh how we wish we had a team! The girls would love training with others!

      For us, the two 5ks the girls have completed do mean that they completed more than 2 miles at a time. We don’t train them as true “endurance” athletes but have seen mixed opinions on running these longer distances at young ages. We certainly are not training them for the next marathon. We did competitive swim team last year and dropped it this year in favor of a skills only, recreational team that they will all be in through this winter. The super competitive, year round team just wasn’t a good fit. I hope she loves it! I think our plan for Trifest is coming up Saturday and leaving Sunday, quick trip!

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