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Conquering a Triathlon, Relay-Style

Molly and I all smiles post-race. Bring on the full next year!

Swim, bike, run...they're all amazing workouts when you do them alone. But putting them all together? Now that's a good time. If you're a triathlete, you know that already. But if you're not, putting all three sports together for one epic day of racing can be quite intimidating. Add in over 3,000 athletes, the Hudson River and a bunch of mileage—one mile of swimming, 25 miles of biking and 6.2 miles of running—and you've got the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon, which looks downright terrifying.

Luckily, Aquaphor allowed me to dip my toes into the world of triathlon without diving in head first. Instead of tackling all three sports myself, I rounded up two more FITNESS friends—both with more swimming and biking experience than I—and signed up to tri, relay-style!

Despite an obnoxiously-early wakeup call (hello, 3:00am), Emily, Molly and I had the time of our lives out on the course. For Emily, she was courageous enough to swim in the scary waters of the Hudson River. The girl sliced through the water with ease, and before we knew it, she was handing off the timing chip to Molly, our hard-core biker! Here's what she has to say about riding on the West Side Highway:

After a few anxious hours of waiting for the race to start, the excited buzz in transition was contagious! I grabbed my bike and started jogging toward the exit with a million worries on my mind (Will I get a flat? Do I have enough hydration? What if I crash? Will I make all the hairpin turns?). But as soon as I crossed the mounting line and clipped in, every thought disappeared. It was just me and my bike, like any other day, and I was ready to race! The course was bumpier than I expected—Despite tight cages, I lost my first water bottle at mile 4 and the second at mile 19—and the hills were tough, so I took my time climbing. Since my legs were fresh and I didn’t have to save up energy for the run, I tried to cheer on others along the course. Prepping my tush and upper thighs with Aquaphor seriously saved me from painful saddle sores post-race. Before I knew it, I was already making the last turn back into transition to pass the chip (and my biker’s-high encouragement) to Samantha for the last leg.

Running as fast as I can in Central Park!

Molly's biker's-high was contagious and I eagerly strapped the timing chip around my ankle. Running straight across the city from Riverside Park to Central Park was exhilarating—there's nothing quite like running down the middle of the street in Manhattan—and it gave me the mental boost I needed before tackling all of the hills. By this point in the day, the sun was out in full force and the humidity was rising, making for a tough run. I slapped on some Aquaphor pre-race, which seriously saved my thighs from any chafing damage, and their lip balm contained SPF 15 to keep me protected. The crowds kept me motivated to power up the Harlem Hills, and the volunteers along the course encouraged me when I thought Cat Hill was going to get the best of me. Before I knew it, I was rounding Dead Road and headed into the finisher's chute, where a glorious medal awaited me. Runner's high: accomplished!

At the end of the morning (gotta love finishing a full triathlon before noon), Molly and I couldn't stop raving about how much fun we had. As newbie triathletes, we both thought participating in the relay was the perfect way to experience the atmosphere and course of a triathlon, without the added pressure of training for three sports simultaneously. And now that we're familiar with the course, you can bet on seeing our faces next year, conquering the whole race side-by-side in the Hudson, on the Highway and through the Park!

Thinking about doing a triathlon relay yourself? Here's what we learned:

  • Bring a snack. No matter which leg you're tackling, all athletes usually have to be in the transition area before the race begins. Since the NYC Triathlon calls for a 5:50am start, that meant we had to be in transition by 5:15am at the very latest. Once you're in, you can't leave until your leg is over. Since Molly and I had the second and third legs, we both came with peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I also packed a KIND bar, which I nibbled on while Molly was biking. Be sure to drink plenty of water while you wait, too! The last thing you want to do is go into a race dehydrated and low on fuel.
  • Be friendly. Sure, my teammates and I knew each other before race day, but they weren't around because they were busy racing themselves! While I waited for my turn, I chatted with the athletes around me to pass the time. You never know who you'll meet!
  • Check out transition beforehand. I wasn't biking, so I technically didn't have to show up to transition until race morning. However, I decided to join Molly on Saturday when she went to rack her bike. That way, I was able to familiarize myself with the area, find out where our bike station was, and get all of my questions answered before the race mayhem began.
  • Respect the distance. Just because you're not participating in every sport doesn't mean you should underestimate your own distance. Approach training like you would for any other race and prep for the hard work you're about to do. Not only will you bust out a much stronger performance, but you'll feel that much more ready to tackle a full triathlon by yourself.

More from FITNESS:

Your 10-Week Triathlon Training Guide

Need-to-Know Tips for Triathlon Newbies

Triathlon Race-Day Essentials

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