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  • Writer's pictureSusan Flanagan

Swim, Bike, Run | The Kids are Alright | July 3, 2012

Kids of Steel

The most fun I have ever seen pre-teen boys have was last August in New Hampshire. My husband was competing in the Timberman Half Ironman competition in Ellacoya State Park and I went along to do the triathlon the day before his event. I had just finished the swim portion and was running out of Lake Winnipesaukee to enter the transition area to get my bike when two laughing boys knocked me onto soft mats and proceeded to peel the wet suit right off my still dripping body. Just like the inner layer of a ripe onion, whoosh the neoprene was on the ground. It was done quicker than I could have got my arm up to undo the zipper. As soon as the boys finished with me, they tackled another swimmer. It was the funniest thing I have ever experienced.

And I have to say once I got over my fear of open water; I came to realize triathlons are fun events. Everything from getting your race number Sharpied on your leg and shoulder by body markers to jamming a cold sponge under your hat to cool down, it’s all a pretty novel experience.

And triathlons (unlike the aforementioned Half Ironman and Ironman competitions) are not only for uber-athletes. A triathlon can be completed by any healthy get-out-from-behind-the-computer-and-exercise-five-times-a-week normal Joe who knows how to swim and is not afraid to ride on a highway alongside massive eighteen wheelers. And triathlons are not only for adults, they’re for children too.

St. John's Kids of Steel

Scaled down versions of Sprint triathlons are available for children between the ages of five and 14. Here in St. John’s the Kids of Steel triathlon takes place Regatta Day morning in Bowring Park. If the Regatta is postponed, so is the Kids of Steel. The distances for the Kids of Steel age groups are listed below (The age is the child’s age on race day).

Ages 5 – 6: 25m swim / 500m bike / 50m run

Ages 7 – 8: 50m swim / 1k bike / 150m run

Ages 9 – 10: 100m swim / 2k bike / 500m run

Ages 11 – 12:150m swim / 3k bike / 750m run

Ages 13 – 14: 200m swim / 4k bike / 1k run

Our first four children (we only had four back then) competed in their first triathlons in B.C.

The Tri-It Triathlon is held in Langley every June and is designed to introduce first timers and children to the sport which combines swimming, biking and running for the ultimate summer fitness test.

The swim takes place in an outdoor heated pool. Please note that in B.C. when an outdoor pool is heated, it’s actually warm, so it was no hassle to get the children to jump in. My runner partner’s son was the youngest competitor in 2006. Five-year-old Lance wore a life jacket in the pool where he had to swim one 25 m length. With help from his mother, Lance climbed out of the pool, dried off, put on his helmet and sneakers, mounted his Harley Davidson bike with training wheels to ride 500 metres around the park where it’s safe for children and they don’t risk getting sucked up by a transport truck. Lance’s mother ran alongside the bike to make sure Lance stayed on course, but she wasn’t allowed to help him peddle. Then when Lance dismounted entering the transition area, he doffed his helmet and started doing what most kids do best – running.

My daughter was seven when she did her first tri. She swam two laps in the pool, biked one kilometer and ran 150 metres. It took her less than 12 minutes. Her brothers raced slightly longer distances but not so long as to cause any mental of physical stress.

After the children complete their events, the adults get a turn to show their stuff. And once the last adult leaves the pool, the children who have completed their events are free to jump in and cool down while waiting for their parents to cross the finish line.

Once children here reach the age of 15, they can compete with the adults. Sprint distances are usually a 4-750 meter-swim, a 20-25-km bike ride and a 5-km run. An average fit adult should be able to complete a sprint tri in about an hour and a half to two hours. That is if it’s warm enough to get right on your bike wearing the shorts and shirt you swam in and you don’t suffer a flat tire or any other mechanical bike issue.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of an accident as well. Our final year in B.C. torrential rain actually forced organizers to close the pool for some events. The rain was so wicked life guards wouldn’t be able to see if someone went under. I was five and half months pregnant and wearing stretchy pants that I had to hike up every minute of the run because the weight of the absorbed water threatened to pull them down to my ankles. It was in these soaking conditions that No. 4 had her first and only accident. I was getting ready to do the swim portion of my event when word reached me that another participant had collided with my daughter on her bike and she had wiped out entering transition. Teary eyed she found me on the pool deck and said she did not want to complete the run. I couldn’t go with her because I was about to start my own competition. Luckily a neighbor offered to jog the course with her. Once she got that finisher’s medal around her neck, she forgot all about the Band-Aids on her legs.

So if your children have never tried a tri, go to and click on Kids of Steel to sign up. If they’d like to see what it’s all about before competing, why not volunteer.

If they do decide to join the fun. Here’s a handy-dandy check list to make sure you get to Bowring Park with all you need to have a fun, successful race.

For the swim: swim suit and cap, goggles and towel

For the bike: Bike with tool kit and spare tube, pump, water bottle, helmet, socks and sneakers, t-shirt with your race number already attached, rain or cold weather clothes depending on weather

Hint: If you spread your towel on the ground next to your bike and sprinkle baby powder on it, when you get out of the pool jump your feet on the powder and it’ll be much easier to get into your socks

For the run: Hat or sunglasses, water bottle

For the spectator: Camera, Snacks, Band-Aids, Sunscreen, Warm dry clothes for after the race, Money for post-race snacks if they’re not free

Last hints: Make sure to get lots of rest the week before the race because you’ll probably be too excited to get a good night sleep the night before. Pack your bag the night before the race so you don’t forget anything. Eat a good pasta dinner early the day before so you’ll have enough fuel to get you through to the finish line upright and smiling. That’s the most important thing: crossing the finish line with a huge smile.

Susan Flanagan hopes that the weather for this year’s St. John’s tri will be slightly more seasonable than last year when her frigid fingers refused to function coming out of the pond and her numb feet felt as if her toes had been amputated for the entire run. She can be reached at


Bill writes: “Sometime, some 20 years ago... I much enjoyed your columns, and … NOW, for months I've been meaning to tell you HOW MUCH I've been enjoying the new series, full page, great art work, family stuff, important social issues such as graduation celebrations, all-day Kindergarten... great stuff ! My favorite one, so far, was about your Japanese experiences when you worked over there (the Friday after work parties, all heads turning in the street (with grandmothers crashing their bikes…), the T-shirt… to catch gawkers who stared at you in the (train), etc.etc. --probably haven't got all these right, now, but my tummy is almost hurting again from remembering how I laughed at that particular column.

The VON nurse who does my foot care … doesn't see the Telegram throughout the week, so now I'm in the habit of saving your columns for her, and tomorrow morning at 9.00 a.m. I shall walk into the VON office with another bundle of Susan F. articles.”

Sandy writes: “I loved your recent article - Geocaching and the thunder pot. The name caught my eye in a search for geocaching news, and the article was both entertaining and informative.

My husband and I produce a weekly podcast about Geocaching, and have done so for the past 7 years. We have created almost 400 shows about the sport we love and are always looking for fun content for the show.

We plan to reference your article and read a short excerpt on the show, including a direct link to your article.

We'd love to link to the thunder pot travel bug as well. Could you share the TB reference number with us?”

Susan’s note: Reference # is 7MHCGV

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