The 14th annual Heartland Triathlon will take place this weekend and once again the event is a two-day affair, with the Heartland Kids Triathlon taking place on Saturday morning and the grown-ups taking their turn on Sunday.
The Heartland Kid’s Triathlon has grown significantly over the years. In 2006 — the first year of the Heartland Triathlon — there were seven finishers who were age 15 or younger. In 2007, an event was held specifically for youngsters — the Heartland Triathlon TriKidz — and there were 93 youngsters entered.
The event continued to grow in popularity and there were 136 entrants in 2011. The following year there were more than 200 kids who tackled the course and there have been close to that number every year since. Last year there were 185 youngsters who recorded times in the event.
The field will be broken into two age groups, with 6 to 10 year olds swimming 100 yards, biking three miles and finishing up with a half-mile run. The 11 to 15 year olds will swim 200 yards, bike for six miles and have a one-mile run to wrap-up the event.
The event has served as the USA Triathlon Florida Regional Youth Championship, ensuring a talented field of youngsters, although the local kids have shown themselves to be tough competitors.
The packet pick-up will again be at Legacy Bicycles, which is located at 204 South Ridgewood Drive. For the Kids Triathlon, packet pick-up will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday. Packet pick-up will also take place inside the Jack Stroup Civic Center on Saturday from 6 to 6:45 a.m. Adult packet pick-up is 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday or Saturday, as well as Sunday morning between 6 to 6:45 a.m. at the Stroup Civic Center.
Kids will be body marked at packet pickup and bike racks will be pre-marked with numbers to keep competitors and their parents from having to arrive extremely early for Saturday’s 7:30 a.m. start.
The adults take center stage on Sunday and there are two different distances athletes can choose from. The Sprint race consists of a .25-mile swim, 14-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run, while the Olympic distance is make up of a .93-mile swim, a 28-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.
The Olympic triathletes will start the day at 7 a.m. and the Sprint triathletes will begin roughly 15 minutes after the final wave of the Olympic athletes take off. There is also the duathlon and aquabike categories this year.
Athletes of all ages compete in the two-day event. Last year there were three 6 year olds competing in the Heartland Kids Triathlon all the way to several athletes in their upper 70s, proving that triathlon is indeed a sport for all ages.
Athletes come from all over the state and a look at the entries so far, show athletes from Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Orlando, along with out-of-state athletes from Michigan, Maryland, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Indiana, among others.
There is always a good-sized crowd from Highlands County and this year looks to be no different.