SteelKids: A softer strain of mettle
by Jeff Henderson
published in

I have seen the future, and he was picking his nose when the gun went off. The day before Ironman Lanzarote an iron event of a different sort took place, and for my dollar the high comedy was worth the price of admission. Approximately 50 hyper, whiney, and overwhelmed kids of all shapes and sizes toed the line in the sand in the "Ironkids" race for a shot at immortality, or maybe because their parents told them to. In any event, get me tickets to the rest of the series because I haven't seen something quite so entertaining in a long time.

There were three races classified according to age, but the best was clearly the youngest kids, ages ten and under. The pre-race meeting was well-attended, but as today's kids can't focus long enough to tie their shoes not much of the information was absorbed. Throw in a repetition of the instructions in English, Spanish, and German (remember, I'm in Europe), and forget about it.

Thankfully the course wasn't rocket science. A 50-meter swim around two big orange buoys and then a one kilometer run up the road. With a hollering, waving volunteer every 5 meters pointing the way you would think kids would eventually end up at the finish line. You would think.

Kevin MacKinnon from ironmanlive and I placed our wagers. I selected a rather scrawny kid because he was wearing a Speedo - any self-respecting kid caught in Speedos these days must be contemplating victory because his peers sure aren't going to hang out with him anymore. Kevin's pick was in desperate need of a drug test because he looked at least 14. Kevin was counting on superior genetics.

The gun went off but 5 kids were already halfway to the surf. A handful of others were still throwing sand on each other. Nevertheless, the frenetic pack charged for the clear Atlantic in a dead sprint, falling all over themselves as they hit the shallows. It was here that about half the field realized they don't know how to swim, so they stood up and looked confused. I don't know where the parents were when their terrestrial children were hurling themselves into deep water, but luckily most of the kids had sense enough to stop when the water reached their necks.

The mad sprint continued for around 15 meters, right up to the first buoy when everyone simultaneously entered oxygen debt. At that point the race ceased becoming fun and around ten kids decided their future wasn't in triathlon and bailed out. The true athletes rose to the challenge and at one point the leader was doing breaststroke. I believe that was Kevin's horse.

Anyways, the leaders flailed their way around the loop and eventually washed ashore, all in different directions. The volunteers frantically corralled them into the beach-chair transition area, where the promises of tomorrow attempted to pull on T-shirts and sneakers. As they had just dashed across 25 meters of sand and were now standing in sand, you can imagine how many pounds of the stuff made its way into their shoes. One kid didn't quite get his T-shirt on all the way and nearly ran into a light pole. As I say, the entertainment was top-notch.

One of the more competitive parents couldn't bear to see his child leaving the swim in a healthy 18th place, so he took it upon himself to wholesomely encourage junior by screaming at him while running alongside all the way from tide to transition, taking care not to drop the still-recording video camera. I'm sure Junior will cherish the footage for years.

Once out of transition they immediately encountered the brutal ramp up from of the beach to the road - reminiscent of Alcatraz's sand stairs but evidently more demanding. Here even the most hyperglycemic were reduced to a walk and the Wonder & Magic of triathlon left the building. By the number of kids sporting dry hair at this point we can surmise the non-swimmers had made their way back into the race.

So now we've got the most hardcore of the original lot out on the run. Their feet caked with sand, every shoe untied, many probably running with scissors, they dashed their little hearts out for as long as they could. Then they either stopped - the attrition rate was staggering - or tried to trip the kid next to them. The most common tactic for the run was to spend most of the 1,000 meters laboring along with a pained expression, then break into a dead sprint once in front of the assembled crowd. The unlucky lads who mistimed their sprint faced eternal embarrassment when their mates burned by them.

All in all I wasn't overly impressed by the fitness exhibited by these triathletes of tomorrow. And who won the wager? Kevin, I guess, because his genetic reprobate actually finished the race. I never saw my stallion exit the water. He's probably still floating around looking for the first buoy.