I’m a runner. I’m a cyclist. I am NOT a swimmer. And yet, I love triathlons. How can this be? Because there’s this awesome thing called a triathlon relay. It’s the best way to do a triathlon even if you can’t swim.
For most people, a triathlon starts in the water. When you do it as a relay, though, the non-swimmers get to cheer for their swimmer from the sidelines. Unless your swimmer is really fast. When I did the IronGirl triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin last Sunday with Kelsey and Valerie our swimmer, Kelsey, was really fast. Which meant after she hit the water we had to quickly get back to the next stage: the bike.
So, how does a triathlon relay work? Well, first you get three people. You need one to swim, one to cycle, and one to run. In our case Kelsey was our swimmer, I was the cyclist, and Valerie was our runner. Just like with 99% of triathlons, the swimmer goes first, then the cyclist, and then the runner. You have one timing chip on a Velcro ankle strap that you hand off to your next teammate when you’re done with your part.
When you pick up your packets your swimmer gets her swim cap, the cyclist gets her helmet and bike number stickers, and the runner gets her bib. Just don’t show up 15 minutes before packet pick-up closes and ask lots of questions. The IronGirl staff tend to get a bit cranky. The volunteers were lovely, however.
On race morning you leave anything any of your teammates need by your bike which is on the rack in transition. This is also where you pass off the timing chip after each leg. So after your swimmer starts it’s time to hang out in transition and wait! But the best part is that because there are three of you on the team you always have someone else to chat and cheer with while you wait!
When you do a relay you get a huge ego boost out of passing people. Because, of course, when you’re on the bike you didn’t also just swim half a mile and when you’re running you didn’t just swim half a mile and then bike 12 miles!
Although, when you’re biking it can get rather tedious to shout “On your left” when you’re passing someone every 10 feet. Still, if it means I get to ride 20 miles per hour for 12 miles (something that’s basically impossible to do in the city of Chicago) I’ll take it.
Once you hand off the timing chip to your runner it’s time to head over to the finish line and wait for her to come in. Then you can run together as a team across the finish line!
Then you can stand in a line for post-race food. You’d better finish fast at IronGirl Pleasant Prairie, though. That line gets really, really long for breakfast burritos, fruit, danishes, and coffee. At least they have actual tables and chairs to eat at so you can rest your legs after your race.
Also, don’t expect an award for your relay team from IronGirl even if you finish second overall. Only the first place relay team gets an award. Motivation to work hard, I suppose.
That’s the downside of relays, actually. Not all triathlons have them and those that do tend to add them as afterthoughts. Which means very little detailed information for the relay teams. Still, the benefits of being able to have a triathlon experience even if you’re not comfortable with one or two of the sports involved tends to outweigh the slights. Although, considering for IronGirl my teammates and I paid almost $100 each I would have liked to have seen a bit more organization and support of the relay.
Oh, and if you do IronGirl Pleasant Prairie? Be prepared for a logistical nightmare when it comes to getting to and leaving the actual race site. The city of Pleasant Prairie closed down the roads extremely early and kept them closed for long after the race was finished. Meaning that we had to dive miles out of our way to get to the actual race location on race morning and we had to ask the police officers manning the closed intersections for directions on how to get back onto the interstate.
Once you’re at the triathlon, though? Enjoy it! Pick your favorite sport and go all out. And have a great time with your friends while doing it. And have that triathlon experience even if you can’t swim.
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