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Run, bike, swim: Oh, tri!

With kid-size triathlons trending, we wondered how intense is too intense. Turns out the benefits are plentiful.

Completing a triathlon is a challenging task no matter your age. The grueling three-leg race consisting of swimming, running and bicycling is challenging both mentally and physically.

Now kids are getting in on the action with youth triathlons cropping up around the country. Are these sporting events too intense for growing bodies?

Jennifer Brey, M.D., pediatric orthopaedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, has seen her fair share of kids with injuries from all types of sporting events. She gets a lot of questions from parents who share in their child’s excitement to participate but are concerned about overall health and safety.

“These concerns are legitimate and I’m happy to answer a parent’s questions. After all, we both have the child’s best interest at heart,” Dr. Brey said.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about kids and intense sports, such as triathlons.

Is participating in an intense sport like a triathlon good for my child?

Yes, a triathlon is a wonderful sport, especially at the youth level. The distances of the legs of a youth triathlon are much shorter than those for adults. The main goal of youth triathlons is completing the race rather than getting the fastest time.

What are the benefits of a child doing triathlons?

One of the biggest benefits is that your child is exposed to three separate events in one, helping to prevent overuse injuries that can occur from playing just one sport all of the time.

By participating in the same activity or sport over and over, our bodies are more susceptible to injury. Participating in shorter segments of multiple activities can actually decrease the number of overuse injuries.

Additional benefits include overall increased physical fitness and weight management.

Is there a down side to youth triathlons and other intense sports?

As with any endurance sport, if too much time is spent training at a young age, overuse injuries, especially in the legs, may occur. Acute injuries such as sprains or fractures are very rare but can occur as well.

The most common injury is during the bicycling leg and the transition on and off the bicycle. Training in proper transition and overall bike safety can lessen these risks.

How should my child train for a triathlon and how far in advance should training start?

For a youth triathlon, the goal is to finish rather than get the fastest time. Kids should be able to swim, bike and run the individual distances prior to competing.

Typically six to eight weeks of preparation (for a child who already knows how to swim) should be sufficient. Kids generally should train two to four days per week. Every child is different, so keep in mind that these are just recommendations. A biathlon is also an option for kids who are not comfortable participating in one of the three legs. This allows them to participate in two of the events and this is a common practice for most organized events.

What type of shoes do you recommend for triathlons?

Kids typically wear running shoes during the bike and run segments (as opposed to specialized bicycling shoes). Shoes should have secured laces to prevent getting caught on the bike or coming untied during the run. Shoes should also be in good condition with good tread on the sole.

In the days leading up to the event, is there anything parents should do to help their child prepare physically and mentally?

Rest is of utmost importance. Children should sleep 8 to 10 hours per night. Maintaining good hydration also is key, especially in the week leading up to the race.

Mental preparation includes visualizing the legs of the race and reviewing transition procedures. Transitions are considered the fourth leg of a triathlon, and practicing prior to a race will help prevent confusion on race day.

Is your child ready for a triathlon? Learn about the COOL Kids Triathlon on Saturday, June 18 at Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center.

Age groups and distances:
• Ages 6 to 8: Swim 50 meters, bike 1.5 kilometers, run 1 kilometer
• Ages 9 to 11: Swim 100 meters, bike 3 kilometers, run 2 kilometers
• Ages 12 to 14: Swim 200 meters, bike 5 kilometers, run 3 kilometers

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