Swim, Bike, Run: Tips for your Child’s First Triathlon from Tri 4 Schools!

Now that Spring has finally made its appearance here in Madison, we are getting SO EXCITED about all the wonderful events happening over the next few months. Some of our favorite ways to stay active as a family are to take long walks, bike rides and of course, cool off at the swimming pool! What better way to combine these activities than sign your child up for a triathlon?!

Tri 4 Schools is a local nonprofit organization that raises money for local schools through several triathlons throughout the spring and summer – in fact, 100% of race entry fees are given to local schools! For more information about how the funds are divided, visit http://www.tri4schools.org/about-us/how-we-work/.

We are so excited to sign our kids up for their first triathlons in August, but since we are new to “races”, we wanted to get some expert advice from Tri 4 Schools Executive Director, Katie Hensel.

Here are Katie’s tips for kiddos training for their first Tri 4 Schools triathlon!

  1. Enroll them in our Exercise to Achievement program.

If you attend one of these schools or health facilities in Dane County, we highly encourage you to sign your child up for our eight-week training program.  Kids will learn all the basics of triathlon, plus receive swim, bike, and run curriculum.  This program includes your entry fee, and the best part – they learn life skills that they can apply to other areas of their lives as well.  We have several summer programs with kids training to complete our Sun Prairie or Middleton triathlons!

  1. Select an appropriate race distance

We offer four different distances at our triathlons, and you are welcome to choose ANY distance for your child.  If you are having a hard time deciding between two distances, we recommend opting for the shorter distance (if this is their first race), so they can gain confidence and have a positive experience.  They can always select the longer distance next time!  With so much to think about in triathlon, it’s nice to ease into the sport when possible. We also offer an adaptive triathlon that can be fully customized to meet the needs of your child.

  1. Get them on their bikes early

In Wisconsin, where we can’t ride bikes outdoors year round, it’s good to get on your bike to practice about four weeks in advance. Then, we recommend making this a consistent activity leading up to race day. For older kids, this might be 1-2 times/week, but for our younger athletes who are learning to ride, even a short distance down the block every day is ideal.  This will give them some confidence in the hardest part of biking – starting and stopping.

We also recommend getting your child’s bike sized and tuned up – many times a bike that fit last summer is too small the following spring! We love working with DreamBikes for service needs, and they are also available on race day to help with any mechanical needs!

  1. Practice the swim portion

By far, the biggest challenge to a triathlon (kids AND adults) is the swim portion.  If you are able to get out to the pool prior to race day, you will be glad you made the effort.  Even if you’re able to just see the pool and gauge the distance and layout, it can be a comfort for kids on race day (we see lots of very nervous kids that morning).

My children are both under age six, so we make a point to go out and practice swimming in the pool where the race is held, so they understand what they’ll be asked to do, and the distance.

Remember, short and modified medium course athletes are welcome to use a noodle to help them complete the distance!

  1. Come to our Friday night packet pick-up and course talk

The night prior to our triathlons, we offer an early packet pick-up and two course talks (at 5pm and 5:45pm).  These are great ways to get any last-minute questions answered, listen to advice and reminders from our race director, and check a few items checked off your “to do” list!  New this year, we’re also offering a cheer & gratitude zone, where families can make posters, grab noisemakers, or write a thank you note for our volunteers.  We hope this will add more fun and excitement to counteract any pre-race nerves.

Information on packet pick-up will be sent in your “two weeks out” and race week update emails.


Have any other questions for Tri 4 Schools that weren’t answered in this post?  Feel free to contact Tri 4 Schools directly or check out their Resource Center.  Their YouTube channel also has helpful videos to help you and your child have a great race experience.

Hope to see you at the races!



Betsy is a mom to two sassy, spunky and spirited kiddos and wife to an adventurous, soccer-loving Chemist named Noah. She is originally from the Chicago suburbs but has bounced around the world with her husband before landing (hopefully permanently!) in Madison. Her first child, Jackson, was born in Germany during their two years living abroad. Betsy loves exploring new cities, donuts (any kind, anywhere) and being a stay at home mom. She is currently in school with plans to become an Occupational Therapist.


  1. Hi, Betsy!

    Nice post! I personally like doing triathlon, and I think it is a great overall sport for kids to make their systems up and running. 🙂

    Thanks for these tips!



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