Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, October 10, 2014

Combining Race-Day or Training Time with Fun for the Kids

by Kat Hunter

Warming up for the HEB Zoo Stampede
As a parent, sometimes competing in endurance sport is an exercise in guilt as well as physical stamina. While guilt is perhaps an innate characteristic of modern-day parenting—you’re worried about everything from whether her carrots are organic (not that she’ll eat them anyway) to what effect putting her in timeout is going to have on her future SAT scores—but being an athlete adds another half a dozen layers to an already very complicated task. You don’t want to bore your kids, or deny them their own recreational activities, or hear them complain, 20 years from now, that their typical childhood weekend consisted of getting up before dawn to stand on the side of the road in the rain and wave for two seconds as mom or dad trotted by.

If there’s one thing you learn from being around kids, though, it’s the value of compromise. And not necessarily one of those eat-your-broccoli-and-you-can-have-ice-cream kind of compromises. It’s more like sharing. What if you were to plan out your race schedule or training in a way that ensured the whole family got to do something they consider fun?

Weekend Getaway in Waco: 

Cameron Park Zoo Run

The HEB Zoo Stampede 5K/10K run on Saturday, Nov. 8, which starts at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, makes for a fun and easy weekend getaway for all ages. Strollers are okay (pets are a no), and chip timing is available for an extra $5. Awards are given to the top three male and female finishers in each age group, as well as the top overall male and female finisher. Chidren under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Keep your race bib to enter the zoo and participate in the day’s special programming, which includes special talks from keepers and enrichment activities for the animals. One of the animal activities is painting, and many of the pieces are for sale—if you ever dreamed of owning the work of a Sumatran tiger or an African elephant, this is your chance.

The 52-acre zoo, located along the Brazos River, is special because it boasts a completely natural habitat for its 1,700+ animals, which represent more than 300 species. Three highlights will steal the show with a young audience: baby orangutan Batari, who is now about five months old; a new giraffe-feeding platform; and a clear acrylic tube that allows young visitors to slide through the underwater world of the river otter habitat.

While you’re in town, don’t miss the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor campus. Many of the museum’s exhibits on the natural science and cultural history of Central Texas are hands-on and kid-friendly. A favorite is the water and bubble room, where kids can blow giant-sized bubbles and even step inside one. “Aunt Blanche’s tea room” is the place to go for imaginary refreshment, and the pioneer room, where kids can sit in a wagon, don period-style clothing, and try out pioneer tools like washboards or looms, is a good way to show how good they have it with their own household chores. This Texas Highways article describes the museum’s offerings in depth.

If your schedule allows, visit the Waco Mammoth Site to see the in situ remains of six Columbian mammoths and other Ice Age animals. (Note that the site is closed on Sunday and Monday.)

Driving distance from Austin to Waco — ~1.5 hrs

State Parks Perfect for Family Vacations & Training:

Bastrop State Park

Buescher State Park
Though wildfires destroyed much of Bastrop State Park’s pine forest in 2011, the 1930s-era CCC cabins were saved by firefighters, and many trails, campsites and facilities have now reopened. Park Road 1C to neighboring Buescher State Park offers about 12 paved miles of rolling hills and solitude. Since it has very little traffic, the road is both a good place to train and to bring older children or beginners to ride. 

Driving distance from Austin to park — ~45 min

Pedernales State Park

Pedernales State Park is one of the often-overlooked gems of the Texas park system. If you like clear, moving water and a little geology, this is one of the nicest places you can spend a weekend in the Hill Country. Accessed by a short nature trail, the falls area—formed by a tilted bed of layered limestone that causes the river to drop about 50 feet over a distance of 3,000 feet—is the main attraction. Water levels change this landscape dramatically, creating deep pools and rock islands. Swimming and wading aren’t allowed at the falls, but you'll find ample entertainment in exploring the steep slopes and rushing water, navigating around obstacles, fishing the banks, and searching for Cretaceous marine fossils embedded in the rock. Swimming is allowed further downriver, where the Pedernales looks more like a typical Hill Country stream—much more shallow, crystal clear, and lined by beautiful old cypress trees.

The seven-mile Wolf Mountain Trail would make a good trail run, and the park road is a good place to bike or run on pavement. You can also head east from the entrance of the park onto Fitzhugh Road, a popular cycling route. This particular stretch of Fitzhugh, from the park to Highway 12, is the nicest to ride as it has the least traffic.

Driving distance from Austin to park — ~ 1 hour

Enchanted Rock State Park

Erock is so popular that you have to plan your visit carefully. Once the park reaches capacity, you have to wait outside the park until other visitors leave; on weekends and holidays, there’s often a long line of cars idling outside the gate.

Enchanted Rock Extreme Duathlon
The area beneath the park is characterized by a huge underground formation of pink granite, and several humps of this rock—called exfoliaton domes, their layers eroding away like layers of an onion—rise above the dry grasslands and scrubby woods at the surface. Most visitors climb the Summit Trail to the top of the Big Rock and call it a day, but there’s a lot more on offer here. You’re free to explore the other formations and trails, climb the boulders, camp in primitive sites and car-accessible areas, and even explore a wild cave. (Note: The cave is a very narrow, very dark crevice in the rock that is minimally marked. Bring a headlamp and a sense of adventure, and understand that this activity is done completely at your own risk.)

The five-mile Loop Trail is a great run; this trail is the first run segment of the Enchanted Rock Extreme Duathlon, held in March. (The last run is straight up the Summit Trail to the top.) Cycling in the Fredericksburg area is very scenic, and it’s easy to get a lot of miles in.

Driving distance from Austin to park— ~1.75 hrs

Austin Events & Weekly Series:

Driveway Series

October 16 is the final Driveway Series for 2015. If you haven’t seen this friendly, fast-paced Thursday-night criterium in East Austin, you’re missing out. Free beer and bike racing—need we say more?  Spectate or race the events for the adults, which start at 5 p.m., but let the kids show you how it’s really done in the final race of the night, the Kids’ Lap at 7:11 p.m. Most participants are 5 or 6 years old, with an average age range from 3 to 8 years. This video by Wienot Films features the stars of the show.

Can’t make it next week? Check back in the spring for the 2016 schedule.

Dirt Derby

Cyclocross can be intimidating—sticks and stones will break your bones, but man, the heckling really stings, too. We hear that the fans are a little nicer to kids, though. The Dirt Derby kicks off with a kids’ race every Thursday night through November 25. Kids under 18 are free!

HITS Circuit of the Americas Events

How cool is it to race on the same track as F1 cars? HITS Austin, held on December 14 at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, has “a distance for everyone,” offering a Friends & Family mile, 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, and sprint duathlon (2 mi run/10 mi bike/2 mi run).

We’re looking for more ideas and tried-and-true methods for balancing family life and competition in endurance sport, especially local events and destinations. Share your stories with us on the Austin Tri-Cyclist Facebook page or send an email to

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