Triathletes tend to be a little obsessive. That’s the nature of a sport that has athletes setting out to swim, bicycle and run demanding distances — all in the same day. If you’re going to put yourself through that kind of ordeal, you’d better be in top shape. Whether you’re a triathlete or someone who loves and deals with a triathlete, you probably know that the training and competitions can take over a life. But the more the popularity of triathlons spreads, the less such an obsession has to be a bad thing. It’s possible to be a triathlete and enjoy a family life, too. And it’s possible to be a triathlete and have your family enjoy your passion.
Triathlons started in the United States in the 1970s mostly as a way for runners to cross-train while having fun. In the early years, many participants were serious runners who were nursing injuries and wanted to compete without overdoing the strain on their legs.
Media attention helped spread the appeal of this challenging and unusual sport. Now triathlon has national and international governing bodies and is an Olympic sport. Once, triathlon enthusiasts worked to arrange races in new areas so they could interest more people in participating in the sport. Now, enthusiastic triathletes can take their pick of races in interesting and exotic locations around the country and the world. It’s never been easier to combine participating in a triathlon with a great family vacation.
Every family will have its own circumstances, but there are two main ways to make triathlon competition a family affair.
One is to get the whole family — or most of it — to compete. Many triathlons are designed with categories that include children, sometimes even those so young they need training wheels on their bikes. Typically, there will be various levels of competition divided by age. Unless someone reaches the regional or national levels, there’s usually no qualifying time. Often, the children’s races will be staged later in the day than the adult competition. As children become teenagers, they may be able to race along with their parents.
If this approach works for your family, there are obvious advantages. At least some of the adults’ training can include the kids coming along for the swim, run or ride. The whole family can follow a healthier lifestyle as all train and watch their diet together. For children, triathlons can be a great sport because they’re based on individual performance and improvement. Forget problems with playing time and coaches’ preferences. And not everybody has to be an Ironman. Many happy triathletes never win a race or even come close. For them, it’s all about being healthy and active, having fun and improving their personal best times.
If the triathlon has become a family activity, then combining a race with a vacation is easy. Just turn to one of the many websites that publicize events designed for various age levels, and pick one that’s in a location the family wants to visit. Everyone will compete on race day, and the rest of the trip can just be for fun and relaxation.
Often, though, members of a triathlete’s family aren’t interested in competing. In those cases, the triathlete and the rest of the family need to make a deal. The triathlete will find a good, spectator-friendly race at a great destination, and the whole family will cooperate to make race day a positive part of the vacation.
Consider your vacation/triathlon destination. The spread of the triathlon’s popularity in the last couple of decades makes that pretty easy. Your only limits are your time and budget, because you can find a triathlon just about anywhere. North America has the most, but there are triathlons in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Asia. Many cities and civic organizations stage triathlons to increase tourism and raise money. Numerous Web sites provide information about coming triathlons. Choose a place where the family wants to go anyway, and then choose the most convenient race date for you. Remind the kids that after race day, they’ll get to go to the museum, ballgame, beach or whatever.
Many theme parks sponsor family-friendly triathlons. Sometimes events are held within the park, so family members can take advantage of the attractions when they’re not trying to catch a glimpse of their athlete. Others are held near the park, with discounts offered for participants and their families. For example, in 2010, the Web site Triathlete named the Revolution3 Triathlon at the Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Conn., its most family-friendly race.
Plan the vacation so the triathlon falls early in your stay. Allow time for travel to the destination and maybe a day for the triathlete to unwind and examine the course. The evening after the race should be low-key; it’s probably best not to plan strenuous activities the next day. The rest of the stay is all fun.
Triathlons aren’t a great spectator sport. It can be hard to spot your “Waldo” among the pack, and, depending upon the course, hours can pass before you might catch a glimpse as he or she crosses a finish line or agreed-upon vantage point.
Here are some tips to make life easier for the spectators:
- If you’re not in a theme park, look for a place with shade and a sandy or grassy area where kids can play.
- Gear and supplies aren’t just for the athlete. Dress comfortably. Take drinks, snacks, chairs, sunscreen, reading material, toys and amusements
- Don’t hang around the race site the whole time. If your triathlete is likely to take hours to finish the race, cheer him or her at the start, go do something else and return in plenty of time for the end.
- If the family wants to cheer on the triathlete, agree on vantage points. Kids might want to make and display posters or signs or wear supportive T-shirts or caps.
- Realize that the competitor may be tense before the race and exhausted afterward.