Aug. 27 2014 12:00 AM

Hawk Island race gives kids back-to-school bragging rights


The first few weeks that kids are back at school are filled with telling summer tales and catching up with friendly faces. Just like parents, kids try to cling onto summer memories as long as possible while trying to make the warm weather last just a little bit longer. But if your kid is the athletic type — or at least has an adventurous spirit — there’s one last hoorah to provide one more sustaining summer memory: The Hawk Island Kids Triathlon.

Even if your child has never mentioned triathlon or any desire to be a triathlete, it’s at least worth mentioning the event. Triathlon is a great way to introduce your child to many new sports at the same place at the same time.

Though the sport consists of swimming, biking and running, each individual discipline of the sport can break off into its own independent activity as well. If your child doesn’t enjoy putting all three disciplines together, he may really enjoy focusing on only one and end up loving it for the rest of his life.

Kids triathlons are specifically designed to challenge children based on age while still providing a safe place for every youth to participate, with or without any experience. At the Hawk Island Kids Triathlon,  parents can expect a highly spectator friendly course that is entirely within the safety of Ingham County’s Hawk Island Park. Children 6 and under will run a course consisting of a 25-meter swim, followed by a 150-meter bike capped off with a 100-meter run. For those between 6 and 10, there will be a 100-meter swim, 3-mile bike and 1-mile run. And for ages 11-14, it’s a 200-meter swim, 4.5-mile bike and 2-mile run.

Here are a few tips to help make your child’s first triathlon a positive experience:

Know the program: In between each leg of the triathlon, your child will enter what is called the transition area to prepare for the next leg of the race. Each child will have her own space to put gear and change. Prior to the race, it is important to familiarize your child with the layout of the transition area — there will be a specific place to enter from after the swim, a place to exit for the bike leg, a separate place to enter after biking and an exit to start the run course. Each entry/exit point is designed to minimize the risk of collisions during the race. After your child has navigated the transition area, all she needs to worry about is the finish.

What to bring: Triathlon can require a lot of gear. Adult triathletes tend to go gear crazy, giving the sport an expensive vibe. For your child’s race, all that is needed are a pair of goggles, a bike, bike helmet, running shoes, socks, sunscreen and a towel.  It’s really that simple. All of the items except for the sunscreen will go into your child’s transition space. Lay all items out the day before the triathlon to make sure you have everything your child needs.

What to wear: In adult triathlons, consisting of significantly greater distances, most people tend to wear a triathlon specific suit that is designed to maximize comfort and performance while swimming, biking and running. In kids races, however, the distances are much shorter, and a triathlon-specific suit is neither needed nor recommended. Besides, your child will grow right out of it after a single season. For the best results, have your child wear a swimsuit and keep shorts and a shirt in the transition area to layer on as the race progresses. Be sure to pin his number in a comfortable location of his shirt before the race. For most races, it might be a good idea to bring some warm and waterproof clothes for your child to stay comfortable in before and after the race.

As with any race, remember that speed does not necessarily matter — it’s the experience that counts. With the right preparation and the right mindset, your kid will probably have fun, win or lose. When you watch her cross the finish line with a big smile of accomplishment across her face, you’ll know that she’s just accomplished something she’ll probably never forget. And have another story to tell at school Monday morning.

Nathan Kark is an elite-level triathlete, USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, member of the Lansing Triathlon Team, and co-owner of T4 Endurance, where he offers nutrition and multisport coaching. For information on coaching and free local group workouts, go to

Hawk Island Kids Triathlon

4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. $35-$45, ages 6-14 Hawk Island Park 1601 E. Cavanaugh Road, Lansing (517) 676-2233,