At a glance, you might assume that you can’t find two beings with less in common than a triathlete and a toddler or small child – but after a few recent conversations, some with mama friends, some with triathlete pals, I’m inclined to think they’re far more alike than you’d ever guess.

Small Girl on Bicycle

Don’t believe me? I get it. After all, triathletes are notoriously tough as hell. You have to be to continuously put in the kind of training we do, and finding the grit to push yourself to do more, go faster, and get stronger, possibly even after you’ve knocked your original goals out of the park? That is definitely not kid stuff, I’ll give you that.

But at the same time, all that hard work and focus is exactly the thing that can lead to actions and responses befitting someone in the Pampers pack. Go ahead and grab yourself a snack and a seat on the rug – criss cross apple sauce style, obviously – and I’ll share a few examples.

Example 1: Single-minded focus. Ever met a toddler who’s just learned about their favorite thing, like the cat? Everything is then about cats. You ask if they’re tired. They say, “Cat!” You tell them they’re not allowed to take their pants off in the middle of the coffee shop. “Cat, cat, cat!” they yell. You ask them to please stop smearing food in their hair and try putting some in their mouth for once. They – well, truthfully, they probably grab another handful of food to smash into their ear or something first, but then, you know the drill. “Caaaat!”

Triathletes aren’t so different, especially when a big race is on the horizon. You ask how work is going, and get a response like, “It’s been really hard to clock in on time after my morning workout, but they haven’t fired me yet!” You ask how their vacation went, and they tell you about how they managed to find just the perfect route to get in their four-hour run, thank goodness. You invite them to be a bridesmaid in your wedding, and their first thought is whether your big day is before or after theirs. (And if it’s before, they’re definitely going to want to have some input on the carbs available.)

Example 2: Snack requirements. Ask the mom of any toddler for her list of things she absolutely won’t leave the house without, and I’ll bet you a case of your favorite sports drink that snacks will make the list. Forget a woman scorned; Hell hath no fury like a hangry toddler who’s been told there are no more Goldfish.

Unless, of course, you bring a hangry triathlete into the equation, because, hey, we might not be growing an inch overnight like the kiddos, but we are burning a lot of calories, so if we don’t have something on hand to keep us fueled between our regularly scheduled meals (first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, happy hour, dinner, and supper – basically we’re Hobbits), we – and anyone unlucky enough to be around us – are in for a rough go.

Cyclist eating snacks

The type of snacks also have a lot of similarities because we all want eats that can be stashed in pockets, are easy to eat with minimal motor skills or effort, pack a lot of energy into each bite, and, you know, are super yummy.

Example 3: Unreasonable reactions. Nobody expects a toddler to be particularly rational, and, frankly, it’s hard to feel too sorry for a kid having a meltdown because the pink shirt she picked out to wear that morning is now, suddenly – and I quote a friend’s little one here – “too pinky.”

The same understanding is not, however, extended to your average triathlete, even though at certain points in the training cycle, we pretty much lose our ability to react in a reasonable manner to perceived crises, like realizing the swimsuit you’d wanted to wear for this morning’s swim workout is still in big wet ball in your trunk and no, you don’t want to wear one of the other six that are clean and dry in your drawer, for instance, or your partner finished off the peanut butter and didn’t immediately replace it with a new jar (grounds for divorce in some areas, I believe).

Example 4: Unsteady on the feet. Sure, they’re very cute, and of course it’s impressive to watch a toddler begin to master walking. It’s a big deal! But, let’s be real – objectively, it’s also pretty funny to watch the way the littles weave back and forth on their way to point B, much like a drunken sailor. And even when they fall, well, they don’t have far to go, and it’s usually an event more filled with laughter than tears.

Now, clearly triathletes have the forward motion thing pretty down pretty well, but let’s think about your first few minutes off the bike. Maybe you’re a pro (in which case, way to go … and you can probably skip this one), but most of us are just a little wobbly as we get out of the saddle. With practice and effort, it gets better, but who among us can’t claim a stumble or two after a particularly grueling ride? And going from a long swim to trying to run upright? That must be how toddlers feel.

Example 5: Naps with no shame. Tiny children sleep a lot. (Lucky little turds.) They sleep in strollers, they sleep in their parents’ arms, and they sleep in cars – generally, in my experience, after proclaiming loudly and passionately that no, they are not tired and they don’t want to leave yet and they hate you and you’re ruining their lives, UGH! (Sweet dreams, darlings.)

Sleeping Puppy

This isn’t an exact parallel when it comes to triathletes – not because they don’t fall asleep in random places, but because they rarely fight it. But truly, show me an athlete who’s in heavy training, and I’ll show you someone who knows all the quiet, private spots at work where they can grab a 15 minute nap over lunch. (Or during a particularly boring conference call, if the phone cord stretches long enough and they’ve got confidence in the mute button – and some understanding coworkers.)

There are plenty of other examples I could list, of course – like our mutual attraction to shiny objects (Oooh! Medal!) and love of Uncrustables. But, frankly, it’s nap time over here. Just let me grab a quick snack first

Reginald Holden