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Triathlons for Tiny Runners

child-running-raceFollow a three-year-old around for a day, and you might feel like you’ve run a marathon.  But should tots this tiny be running competitive races themselves?  The New York Times is reporting a surprising new trend among parents with small children:  triathlons for young children.

“What do you think about triathlons for three-year-olds?” I asked my husband, an experienced runner.

“What? Ridiculous.”

“Ri-donk-ulous,” my six-year-old agreed.  “What’s a triathlon?”

A triathlon, of course, is a race with three parts — swimming, running, and biking.  Adult versions can be seriously challenging, but the kids’ version is no walking the park.  A 200-yard swim, six mile bike ride, and a 1.25 mile run.  Kids under six have a shorter route:  25 yard swim, one mile bike ride, and a quarter mile fun run.  Since racers can be as young as three, some kids do it on their tricycles and with water wings.

You’d expect there’d be a handful of athletic, race-happy parents out there who’d want their kids to try a triathlon, but they’re gaining so quickly in popularity, races are filling up faster than parents can register their children.  USA Triathlon told the New York Times that their under 18 membership has risen by 36 percent in two years.

Critics have a multitude of worries:  safety, especially in the water, the burnout factor of starting a kid in a competitive sport so young, and the idea that very young children are happier running around in unstructured play activities than they are in competitive races.  On the other hand, we are fighting a losing battle with childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

If your little one was interested in racing, would you let them try a triathlon?  And do you think this is an appropriate challenge for kids under 7 or 8 years old?

Photo: zhurnaly, Flickr

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