Get the kids into action

This year's Weet-Bix Tryathlon series kicks off on February 6 in Hamilton. Diana Clement, whose own children took part last year, offers advice aimed at both young and older readers on how to get the best out of the event.

The girls charge in for the swin leg of the Weet-Bix Tryathlon at Narrow Neck Beach last year. Photo / Steven McNicholl
The girls charge in for the swin leg of the Weet-Bix Tryathlon at Narrow Neck Beach last year. Photo / Steven McNicholl

It's thought to be the largest sporting event for children in the world, and about now thousands of Kiwi kids from all corners of the country are getting ready for their chosen Weet-Bix Tryathlon event.

The events are mini triathlons and include a swim, bike ride and run. They're relatively short, so that children of all fitness levels can compete - depending on the child's age, swims vary from 50m to 200m, bike rides from 4km to 8km and all runs are 1.5km.

A Weet-Bix Tryathlon can be the beginning of bigger things for many children. Olympic triathlete Debbie Tanner started out in the Weet-Bix Tryathlon aged 11 years, and has since gone on to represent New Zealand in a number of world class events including the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and 2008 Beijing Olympics.

At the other end of the scale, the Weet-Bix Tryathlon may be the first large sports event a child has ever competed in.

Whatever size, shape or fitness level the children are, the Weet-Bix Tryathlon is a great way to begin learning the basics of sports training and good nutritional habits. Sanitarium's nutritionists and trainers have prepared tips for children to help them train and complete the Weet-Bix Tryathlon.

Tips for parents

It's all in the Ps. Parents can help their children enjoy their first triathlon by encouraging preparation and avoiding parental pressure.

Some preparation tips from triathlete and Sanitarium nutritionist Cherry Downing include:

1 Take your children to see a real triathlon so they have a concept of what the event involves. A list of local events can be found on triathlon.org.nz.

2 Talk to them about how adults train for an event and how it will make it easier to race on the day and recover afterwards.

"Even the Hamish Carters and Debbie Tanners have to do a lot of training," says Downing.

3 Don't let them overdo the training or they won't want to come back again next year.

4 Cycle, walk or drive around the course so that they can picture it in their minds.

5 Get their equipment ready with them the night before so they're not worrying on the morning where to find everything such as togs and goggles.

6 Talk about transitions and what happens at the changeover from the swim to the bicycle ride and ride to run.

7 Show them on the day where their bicycles, helmets and running shoes will be and try if possible to point out a landmark so they can find their bike among the hundreds lined up.

Young triathletes can get nervous and it's not made better by pushy parents, who encourage their children to win or to beat a certain friend or competitor. That can make them anxious or nervous.

"It's a Weet-Bix Tryathlon, not the national champs," says Downing.

If they are nervous on the day, says Downing, take them away from the crowds and consider walking them down to the start point.

Finally, it's a good idea to arrive with the children at least an hour before the event so that they're not rushed and feel comfortable about where the start and finish points are and what happens in between. Entry fees vary from $31-$37.

The Weet-Bix Tryathlon Foundation provides funding towards the entry fee for families without the means to enter, as well as financial assistance for expenses such as running shoes or swimming lessons.

Training tips

* Slowly build up your running, cycling and swimming distance over time.
* Practise one discipline a day - either running, swimming or biking.
* Concentrate on your least favourite discipline. This is the one that will most likely need improvement. Take your bike to the local park and practise cornering and gear changes.

Cycling safety tips
* Check the air, brakes and chain (ABC) before every ride.
* Make sure your shoelaces are tucked into your shoes so they do not get caught in the chain.
* Wear a helmet for every ride.

Nutrition tips
* Have a snack such as a muesli bar or banana before training sessions. Timing snacks around training and race times can help you perform at your best.
* If you can't eat a full breakfast before exercising, have a flavoured milk drink or milkshake to give you energy.
* Try to eat within half an hour of finishing a training session or race. Honey or jam sandwiches, canned fruit and yoghurt, baked beans, spaghetti and bananas are good.
* Have a good breakfast two to three hours before the race. It will give you an energy boost.

Hydration tips
* It's a good idea to drink one to two glasses of water or diluted juice before training or competing.
* Rehydrating after training or racing with two or more cups of liquid is most important to replenish fluids in your body.

Race Day
* Before the swim, find landmarks such as buoys to aim for; this will help you navigate the course.
* Make sure you look up every few strokes when you're swimming to ensure that you are on course.
* Keep relaxed when you're running and keep your chin and eyes forward rather than looking back.
* Your arms should swing straight ahead, rather than from side to side as this uses more energy.
* Start out at a comfortable pace when running and work into it.
* When running up or downhill take shorter steps.

Facts and figures

More than 200,000 New Zealand children have participated.

The event is open for children aged 7-15 years.

Weet-Bix Tryathlons are held in 12 towns and cities across New Zealand. Upcoming events are in Hamilton on February 6, Hastings on February 16, St Heliers on February 20, Narrowneck on March 20, Tauranga March 27 and New Plymouth March 30.

* More information: tryathlon.weetbix.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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