‘Keeping it in the Family’ by Tom Williams

As any age-grouper knows fitting training around work and family life is a real challenge.  Life would certainly be easier if you didn’t have to work. But even if you’re working a 60 hour week, there are still 108 hours in the week for training, eating and sleeping. Some of you will be thinking what about all those other jobs around the house? But we all know that no self respecting triathlete wastes any time on trivial things like domestic chores, DIY or gardening. That is what an end-of-season week off is for; giving the grass its annual mow and trying to fix that wonky shelf in the kitchen. This will of course result in an even more wonky shelf, but that gives you something to put on the list for next year.

Children however, are a time consuming business. Who knew? But there is a solution; get them involved. Believe it or not children can be a useful training aid. You just can’t buy them on Wiggle. Not only is getting them involved more fun, but you can actually gain some Brownie points. Not nearly as many brownie points as you lose by doing your own training obviously, but every little helps.

So as an experienced family age-grouper I thought I’d share a few of the key training sessions that our little team have developed over the last few years:

Bike Session One. ‘Faster Daddy Faster.’

Equipment needed: Robust bike (MTB preferable), child’s seat, chunky and enthusiastic child.

The session: Go for a ride with your partner (with them on their road bike) while you attempt to keep up on your mountain bike with a child on the back. Intervals optional.

Our youngest (Ewan) was particularly good at this one, smacking me repeatedly on the back shouting; “faster Daddy faster!” Always good motivation. Although the ante gets upped somewhat when Ewan’s next comment is; “I need a poo.”

Allegedly your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. Rubbish. Your maximum heart rate is what you can achieve when you have 2 miles to get to a cafe with a toilet before your beloved offspring poos on your bike. 220 plus your age might be closer to the mark.

Bike Session Two. ‘I’ll see you there.’

Now in order to have well developed and rounded children you have to take them out and do things with them. Apparently. These days out inevitably occur at weekends, thereby clashing with that long ride you had planned. A solution is to leave early and cycle to the location of the day out, and meet the family there. This almost inevitably results in a build session with ten minutes full gas at the end as it slowly dawns on you how late you are going to be. There goes that brownie point you earned yesterday by letting the children nearly drown you (see swim session one).

Having a wife (Helen) who is also into triathlon means the reciprocal then takes place and she rides home. Note it is never the other way around; you get to be the sweaty mess all day having biked there in the morning. Now at this point I would usually make a joke about Helen’s map reading. However it has just occurred to me that her navigational issues are in fact absolute genius. She’s out enjoying the evening ‘lost,’ while I’m engaged in the daily battle that is bathtime.

Swim Session One. ‘Powerbreathing.’

It is possible to buy a piece of equipment that resists your breathing whilst swimming in order to develop your respiratory muscles. A far cheaper option is to swim a couple of lengths with a child on your back. You will be doing a doggy paddle about 2 feet under the water for most of this. Breathing is therefore quite difficult. Drowning is optional. For increased difficulty; add a second child.

Swim Session Two. ‘Looking good.’

Swim alongside your child’s swimming lesson. This is most definitely a technique session as you are well aware that you are being judged not only by your child’s swim instructor, but also the other far more sensible parents who are sitting having a coffee. You therefore need to make your stroke as elegant as possible and at no point look even vaguely out of breath. Swim instructors however are well trained in how to deal with the posing father in the lane next door:

“Ben’s Daddy could demonstrate a couple of lengths of butterfly for us..?”


Run Session One. ‘Keep up Dad!’

Given that any triathlete’s brownie point account will almost certainly be well into its overdraft, taking the kids out for a bike ride can be a way of reducing the debt. When Ben (now 8) was younger this was one of my favourite sessions. I would run alongside him on his bike, chatting away. As he got bigger he was having to do more and more of the talking. You then reach point where in order to keep up your heart rate is where it was when your bike was threatened by poo. At this point, admit defeat. Get your bike out and call it ‘active recovery.’

Run Session Two. ‘Humilty.’

With 2 children in the house (3 if you ask my wife) everything is a competition. I can’t imagine where they get this from? On occasion I have taken the boys to the running track and no matter what you do this will always end in some kind of handicap race. And you will lose. Partly because they are quicker than you think they are, and partly because they are probably actually faster over 100m than you. This will then prompt the question from which there is no coming back:

“Daddy, I thought you were faster than that?”

Some other well established training sessions are:

  • The ‘How far can you swim while your child has a tennis lesson?’ (N.B. in tennis circles collecting your child from their lesson wearing only a pair of wet jammers isn’t the done thing apparently. It may well result in a mild bollocking from the tennis coach. Something about dripping on the court…).
  • ‘I’ll see you there – Run.’ – As the bike version above but you smell even more.
  • ‘The nocturnal turbo’ – we’ve all been there.

The other big worry (I’m told) about having kids and doing triathlons is what they start to think is normal. I commute on my bike most days (often adapting some hideous torture/turbo session that coach Chris has dreamt up). The boys therefore see me leave and return from work in lycra. I’m fairly sure they think most hospital doctors wear lycra to work. But that would just be weird; we actually wear pyjamas. We just call them scrubs so no-one will notice.

So with our beloved children witnessing all this multi-sport craziness it was only a matter of time before they fancied having a go. The Cheshire Triathlon is a great event and was both mine and Helen’s first triathlon back in the day. This year UK Tri put on a children’s duathlon (run-bike-run) as part of the event. There was even a 5-6 year-old age group, and Ewan was up for having a go. We therefore found ourselves pre-race sitting in the van, rain pouring down, trying to pin his number on (the only time he’ll actually sit still).

In the race goodie bag was a poncho, for precisely this kind of weather. Helen suggested Ewan (age 6) should put it on to keep dry. He looked at her with utter disgust and said:

“I’m not wearing that. It’s not aerodynamic.”

Helen, horrified, turned to me; “That’s your fault.”

“What?” I said. “He makes a very good point.”

I don’t think she knew whether to laugh or cry.

I was very proud watching first Ben, then Ewan race (not wearing a poncho – obviously) and they both did very well. The following morning it was mine and Helen’s turn. Helen raced well in difficult conditions to finish in the top ten ladies. I’m very pleased to say I managed to defend the title and take the overall win. Just.

Any win is always special, but this weekend was without a doubt my proudest moment in triathlon. This was done as a family. Running, biking, near-drowning, posing and sprinting to cafes, and here we all were, competing together. I’d taken the win at an event where my whole family had raced. Not many people can say that.

So what’s next? Who knows? A family relay? Or maybe I’ll have to learn to play tennis? I’ll take my goggles off first this time!

All the best for the season,


Huge thanks as always to Chris for the excellent coaching and generally putting up with me, Eureka Cycles and Storck bikes for all the support, and most importantly to Helen, Ben and Ewan for keeping it real.

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