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Triathlons for Children

2016 April 13

Here are some pictures of the Nautica NYC Triathlon last weekend. I was there as a physician volunteer and was at the swim exit and then at the finish line. The NYC Triathlon is an Olympic distance event which covers a distance of 1.5K Swim, 40K Bike, and 10K Run. The swim is done on the Hudson River, the bike is along the West Side Highway, and then it finishes with a run through Central Park.

This got me thinking about triathlons for children. Currently, there are a number of triathlon events around the world geared toward children of all ages. In 2009, the New York Times did an article about this as well. In one triathlon, the youngest child to participate was 3 years-old. Before anyone becomes outraged at this, keep in mind that swimming, biking, and running are all things that children as young as 3 can do. Training for a triathlon may actually be better for overall development than many other popular sports like baseball and football since it incorporates various skill sets and utilizes the entire body. Triathlon events for children are great as long as everyone involved keeps some key points in mind:

1. Keep it fun: The emphasis should be on exposing the child to something enjoyable. While adults treat their own triathlon races as a competition between each other or trying to achieve a personal best, these events for children should not be timed or scored for record purposes.

2. Keep it age and individual-child appropriate: All events that I have seen have specified distances based on age. But parents must also be aware of what is appropriate for their child. Not all children have the same ability, and putting a child into a race just because he/she is within the “age category” is not always correct. Courses must also be designed for appropriate ages.

3. Keep it safe: Overall, the triathlon is a safe event. But there are no specific guidelines out there yet for safety. Accidents are more likely to happen in the swim and bike sections of the race. All events should have appropriate personnel and equipment at hand for emergencies.

4. Don’t Over-do it: The main concern for children are that they have open growth plates, and injury to them can have significant consequences on their development. There is limited data on the injury rates of these events. Studies from kids’ marathons have suggested that rates of injury on the day of the race are less than adults. There needs to be more studies in this regard, and there also needs to be studies on injuries during training for the events. As with all sports, overuse injuries can occur from improper training. Over-training can lead to injuries as well as mental burn-out. Consult with your pediatrician or a pediatric sports medicine specialist if you are planing to start your child on a training program.

Running, Biking, and Swimming are great for children. If your child loves to do all three, try a triathlon!

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