When I was eight years old I had never heard of a triathlon. I can guarantee that if I did, I would have thought it was crazy. But this weekend my eight year old (just two days before he turned nine) competed in his first triathlon. When he heard of this event targeted to youth he was so excited to have the chance to do this race that he’s heard me talk about and train for. As he put it, “I know what a triathlon is because I saw you leave every day all summer to train for a big one. It seems pretty cool.” He’s never actually watched me do one so I’m not sure what images were in his head but I’m pretty sure he’s got the tri bug – I don’t think this will be his last tri by a long shot.
He trained for the event all summer. At least twice a week we’d go on bike rides or run or swim. We practiced passing on the bike so he knew the protocol and rules. We rode the bike fast and ran immediately afterwards for short brick workouts. The day before the race we practiced transitions in the driveway. He didn’t follow a rigorous training schedule by any means but he was definitely prepared.
The race distance for his age group: 50 yard swim / 2 mile bike / 500 yd run
I volunteered to work the event and found myself directing traffic (both cars and racers) at a busy intersection where bikers came in & out and runners came in for the finish. I was happy to be in that spot because I’d be able to cheer J on at least three times and since I wasn’t the sole volunteer, I was planning to run him into the finish too. He also had a few grandparents, his father and his sisters there to cheer him on and take pictures. We were all excited for him.
The swim took place in the high school pool and they started racers every three seconds. He only had to swim one lap but as those of you who do this sort of workout know, even one lap hard can be tiring. He went so hard that he passed a kid on the swim. He was off to a good start.
Smooth transition on the bike and I cheered and hollered as he passed me and shifted up a gear. He said he was never passed on the bike and that he lost count of how many he passed. His oldest sister and I watched him reel in two kids as he came back on the final stretch. He had a seriously competitive look in his eye. He averaged over 13mph on the bike leg. I was impressed.
My husband asked him how he felt on the run and he gave a quick thumbs up as he bolted out of transition. And then a big mistake happened. There were a lot of volunteers at this first-time event that were unfamiliar with the race format and I think they were confused because they had two different age groups of kids come at them at the same time. J was sent left instead of right to start the run course. Instead of running just over .25 mile – a distance we had trained for – he was sent down the run path for the next group up and had to run a full mile.
I know it may not seem like a big difference and he is certainly capable of running a mile. However, that’s FOUR TIMES what he trained for. And he had to do it after giving his all on a swim and bike race. And since he thought he was just running the 500 and since he knew how it felt to sprint that out – he took off fast and pushed hard. Afterwards he told me, “I wasn’t running the way you said I was supposed to run but I figured they had to change our course for some reason. I ran as hard as I could because I just kept figuring the next adult would tell me it was time to turn around for the finish line.” From what I can guess on his description he ran a good .25 mile or more before he realized something was up and took a walk break. Not long after he figured out that he was running a full mile.
I was standing at the intersection waiting and waiting when my phone started buzzing in my pocket and I heard a spectator say “oh no, they sent some of the younger kids the wrong way on the run course.” I missed the call but saw it was from my husband. I knew that J must be one of those kids so I took off running down the course to find him. I picked him up when he had about .25 to go. His face was red and splotchy and he did not look happy but he was running surprisingly hard. As soon as I got to him I said I was so sorry but he had been sent down the wrong run course – he told me he had figured that out. I asked if he wanted me to run him in and he said yes. He said his legs were cramping and his abs hurt – he was almost in tears so I knew he was uncomfortable. I was praising him like crazy. As we neared the last .1 he said he thought he was going to throw up. I told him to walk for a few seconds with his hands on his head. He did for a few steps, then he took a deep breath and pushed out a strong, fast finish.
Our projected finish time for him was 20 minutes. He finished in 23 minutes and that was running an extra .75 of a mile! He finished fourth in his age group – beating other kids who ran the shorter distance. I broke out his splits to compare and he would have come in first by well over a minute if he hadn’t been sent the wrong way.
I would have loved for him to win his age group on his first triathlon. I can only imagine the boost that would have given him as he tried this new sport. Out of the 21 kids in his age group, six were sent the wrong way on that run. The race director apologized and I could spend time complaining about where and how things went wrong and how they could be fixed… but mistakes happen. My son still had a good experience. He pushed himself harder than I’ve seen him push before. He was definitely out there racing and he beat his goal – by a lot.
I might be even prouder of him for gutting out such a strong race when he had to run so much further than expected. I can’t imagine how that would feel at the end of a triathlon. Another triathlete has joined our family