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Starting triathlon – a guide for juniors and parents

What you need to know …

Starting triathlon at any age can be a daunting experience and for a parent without much knowledge it can be a bit of a minefield. So here are some tips and nuggets of information that may point you in the right direction.

Equipment and clothing

Specialist triathlon equipment is not required when your child is starting out. It is far better that they come along to training sessions and enter some races to see if they like the sport before committing to expenditure on lots of new equipment. Here is a guide of what you will need to get started:

Swim – swimming costume/trunks, goggles, swim hat

Bike – any bike with gears (mountain bike, hybrid or road bike). BMX is not suitable. Bikes must be in full working order and safe to ride. Please pay particular attention to the operation of the brakes, gears and ensure that tyres are pumped up. Kids grow quickly, so ensure that you check the saddle height regularly. If purchasing a new bike then opt for the biggest frame possible which your child can safely ride and is still able to reach all of the controls. An appropriate, well-fitting cycle helmet is essential for all training and racing.

Run – pair of trainers

Clothing – it is most important that your child is dressed appropriately for training sessions. Clothes should be warm for winter training and light for summer training. Clothing for the bike should be reasonably tight fitting so that it can’t catch in any of the mechanisms or moving parts.

Gloves (long fingered) are essential on the bike usually for three seasons of the year.

Nutrition and hydration

It is very important that children bring fluid to all training sessions. The body will lose fluid in all weathers, cold or hot and also in the swimming pool. Squash or water is ideal. Sports drinks or energy gels are not recommended for children due to the high level of sugar they contain. Children are only training and racing for short periods of time which do not require the intake of carbohydrates during training or racing. Just ensure that your child is well fuelled and well hydrated prior to racing or training.

Children should eat a healthy, balanced diet. There is nothing wrong with having a treat after a training session which acts both as a reward and serves to replenish energy used during activity.

Events

The Club runs a junior aquathlon (swim/run) in April each year and a junior triathlon in July. These races are part of the Eastern Region Junior Triathlon League. The clubs also runs it own miniseries events early in the season in April to allow the junior athletes to hone their skills. Please see the junior events calender page for dates.

The main triathlon race season is between May and August each year. This is because the weather has to be warm enough for the children to get straight out of the pool and on to their bike. There may be earlier and later events but these will tend to be aquathlons (swim/run) or duathlons (run/bike/run).

Most events, including our own, use Entry Central for online entry. Children’s events fill up very quickly and so you should be looking to enter races in January/February of each year, as soon as the entries go live.

There is no prerequisite in terms of ability for any of the junior Eastern Region events.

When entering you are usually asked for your child’s swim time. Ensure that this is the time for the correct distance that your child will be swimming in the race.

If your child will be competing regularly then it is worth considering becoming a member of Triathlon England but if not a one day race licence can be purchased for each event which is usually added to the entry fee.

Triathlon age groups tend to catch some people out so here is a quick explanation. All ages are the age you will be on 31 December in the year of the race (it is not necessarily the age you will be on race day).

Age groups are as follows:

  • Tri Star Start: 8 years old on 31 Dec in the year of the race
  • Tri Star 1: 9 or 10 years old on 31 Dec in the year of the race
  • Tri Star 2: 11 or 12 years old on 31 Dec in the year of the race
  • Tri Star 3: 13 or 14 years old on 31 Dec in the year of the race
  • Youth: 15 or 16 years old on 31 Dec in the year of the race

So, if you are going to be 8 years old on 1 Aug 2016, your racing age will be 8 years old for the whole of 2016. You will be in Tri Star Start age category for the whole of 2016. Please bear in mind that children can be in the same school year but have different triathlon ages.

Racing

Races are inspiring for competitors and spectators and provide competition in a safe environment.

So how does a race work?

The following information may seem quite daunting but once your child has completed a couple of races it will all become very familiar. Race officials and marshals are there to direct and support your child in the race.

Races are typically located at schools and involve a pool swim, a cycle round a course marked on the playing field and a run around a different course on the playing field. There will also be a transition area fenced off, usually also on the playing field.

Once you have entered a race, the race information is usually available on the organising club’s website. Read this information thoroughly.

Arrive at the race in good time and proceed to registration. Here, your name will be ticked off, you will receive your race number and your race number will be marked on one arm and one leg. You will also receive number stickers for your bike/helmet. Some races use electronic timing chips which are worn on a Velcro strap around the ankle.

If racing in a T-shirt pin one race number on the front and one on the back. If racing in a trisuit, pin one number onto an elasticated number belt.

Next set your equipment up in transition. Parents are not normally allowed in transition but marshals are on hand to assist the younger competitors.

There will be a full race briefing before the race begins.

The race is split into waves usually starting with the youngest age group please ensure that you arrive on poolside in plenty of time before your wave starts.

Swim

You will be allocated a lane to swim in (usually two swimmers side by side in a lane). Alternatively, the race organisers may operate a ‘snake swim’ whereby swimmers swim up and down one lane before ducking under the lane rope and repeating until they work their way across the pool. Swim starts are in the water (no diving). Having completed the required number of lengths, athletes will exit the pool and make their way to transition. Remove hat and goggles whilst running to transition.

Transition 1

Athletes must enter transition through ‘Swim In’ which will be marked with a sign. They then proceed to their equipment for the bike section. Put T-shirt on or number belt (if wearing a trisuit), shoes and bike helmet before touching your bike. Your race number must be visible from the back for the cycling section. Then pick up your bike and push it to ‘Bike Out’.

Bike

Shortly after exiting transition there will be a ‘Mount Line’ ensure that both wheels are over the mount line before getting on your bike. Cycle the required amount of laps and then ensure that you have got off your bike before reaching the ‘Dismount Line’ just ahead of transition.

Transition 2

Push your bike in transition to your allocated space and place it on the ground or in the rack before removing your helmet. Exit transition through ‘Run out’. Ensure that your race number is visible from the front for the run section.

Run

Run the required number of laps, cross the finish line and you will have completed your triathlon race.

Have a well-deserved rest and a drink.

Race distances

Distances do vary slightly from race to race but typical distances are as follows:

  • Tri Star Start: 50m swim, 1km bike, 600m run
  • Tri Star 1: 150m swim, 2km bike, 1200m run
  • Tri Star 2: 200m swim, 4km bike, 1800m run
  • Tri Star 3: 300m swim, 5km bike, 2400m run
  • Youth: 400m swim, 6km bike, 3000m run.

Key rules

All races will have a BTF (British Triathlon Federation) Technical Official presiding to ensure that rules are complied with. Having said that, rules are not as strictly enforced in junior events as they would be in an adult event. The technical officials, together with the Race Director and the Marshalls are there to ensure a safe, fair and smooth-running event. The marshals will direct and encourage the children as they proceed through the different phases of the race.

The following are the key rules to ensure safety and fair play:

  1. Swim in a straight line and do not impede other competitors
  2. Do not mark your position in transition
  3. Put your helmet on and fasten it before touching your bike
  4. Do not impede other competitors in transition
  5. Do not ride your bike in transition
  6. Get on your bike after the ‘Mount line’ and get off your bike before the ‘Dismount Line’
  7. Do not ride close to the person in front (known as ‘drafting’)
  8. When overtaking on the bike do so quickly and if overtaken drop back slightly to avoid drafting
  9. Bare feet and spikes are not allowed on the run
  10. With the exception of boys in the swim, competitors chests must be covered at all times
  11. Parents are not allowed to give any outside assistance e.g. passing a drink during a race or pacing their child by running alongside.
  12. It is the athlete’s responsibility to complete the correct number of lengths/laps for their age group

Training

In the early years the emphasis is on developing skills and technique in the three disciplines plus transition.

Swimming is the most technically demanding of the three but there are also plenty of skills and technique to be mastered in cycling and running. The Club’s BTF coaches are there to develop your child’s technical skills. The emphasis here is on “developing” skills and technique and this is what the coaches are trained to do. The coaches are not trained to teach children to swim or how to ride a bike without stabilizers and that is why we ask that before joining the Club, children are able to swim 200m comfortably with reasonable technique and are confident riding a bike and operating the brakes and gears. For the younger children it is worth continuing with swim scheme lessons to develop all strokes as triathlon sessions will only focus on front crawl.

The coaches are all qualified BTF coaches and aim to provide safe, fun and challenging training sessions.

As the children mature into teenagers it may be appropriate for them to join in with the adult training sessions to develop their fitness. The coaches are able to advise on this.

Long-term athlete development

When children are young (up to and including Tristar 2), the emphasis is on competing in races.

At these ages it is important that children experiment with a wide range of sports (not just triathlon) this will enable them to decide which ones they enjoy and can then choose to specialise as they get older. Coached sessions will focus on skills and technique rather than fitness. All children grow and develop physically at different rates. It is quite common for the tallest children to perform comparatively well at the younger age groups, but they are not always the quickest in the older age groups as other children catch up with their physical development.

Only very few children can develop into elite triathletes and the journey to elite level is a long one. For most it is about developing a love for the sport which will last a lifetime and the intrinsic health benefits that come with that lifestyle. Triathlon builds self-confidence, self-reliance and self-motivation all of which will benefit them in their adult lives.

For those children that do perform very well there is a defined pathway to progress through the sport and into the ‘draft legal’ racing format that you see on the television.

  1. There is an Eastern Region League with trophies awarded for first second and third positions, boys and girls, in all age categories for performances over the whole season
  2. There are IRC (Inter Regional Championships) where the top competitors from the Eastern Region (T2 and above) compete in a ‘draft legal’ national event. Qualification is via three IRC qualifying races in the Eastern Region
  3. There is an Eastern Region Academy for athletes aged 15-19 which is selected by trials in September each year
  4. There is the Youth and Junior Super Series –this is a series of elite draft-legal races across the country for athletes aged 15-19. Entry is usually via a triathlon CV which is submitted to the race organisers and vetted by the BTF.
    Update: All Youth and Juniors who wish to compete in the 2016 Youth and Junior British Super Series will be required to attend a performance assessment  on April 16th/17th at Wellbeck College/Prestwold Hall nr Loughborough – please note this is for English athletes only.
  5. The BTF will select elite youths and juniors to race at World Championships or European Cup events
  6. There are performance triathlon centres at the universities of Loughborough, Leeds and Stirling

Injury and illness

It is important that children are fit and healthy before they take part in racing and training. If they are under the weather or nursing an injury then it is far better for them to recover fully before returning to training.

Training should be limited so that children do not become exhausted. Their bodies are growing and developing and this requires a lot of energy on top of any energy requirements they need for training.

High training volumes can cause injuries during adolescence when the body is growing rapidly and is faced with the added stress of high training volumes.

School

Few people can make a career out of triathlon and so school work must always take precedence over training and racing. There are a lot of demands on teenagers between schoolwork, social life and hobbies and it is important that an appropriate balance is struck between these strands.

For those children that are serious about improving their triathlon performance, they will have to develop exceptional time-management skills. This is an important life skill which will stand them in good stead for the future.

Attitude

All sport is 80% attitude and 20% natural aptitude.

Whatever the level of ability of your child, they will learn and gain most from training sessions if they arrive with a positive attitude.

Triathlon is a tough sport both mentally and physically. It is an individual sport with no one to rely on but yourself. This is not for everyone! All children are individuals and it is important that they participate in training and races because they enjoy it. The role of parents is to support and encourage in a positive way.

Not everyone can become an Alastair Brownlee or Gwen Jorgensen, but triathlon develops skills and fitness in three sports and there is always another personal goal to achieve. It is a healthy pastime and can develop into a lifelong passion.