It’s not the most popular, the longest, the largest, the most extreme or the one with the best weather. But if you’re a female, it is the best triathlon you’ll ever do.
It’s the Gold Nugget Triathlon in Anchorage, Alaska.
There’s plenty of reasons the Gold Nugget is not really ideal. With a pool swim and over 1,600 racers, some don’t even get to start the event until 4 p.m. Pool swims also come with the inevitable circle swimming. Start time outdoor temperatures are often in the 40s. A good half of the run goes over a wide, rutted and often muddy trail.
But none of those things matter at the Gold Nugget.
Reputed to be the largest female-only triathlon in the U.S., the event regularly attracts racers from across the U.S. and world. What do they know that makes it worth flying to Alaska to compete in sprint-distance triathlon?
At this race, it’s all about the community.
A Race that Feels Like a Hug
Want to feel good about the female world? A trip to this race absolutely does the trick.
After this year’s event someone wondered how I could race with so many people — and they’re not wrong. Even staggered over the course of a day, 1,600 racers going through a pool and cramming their bikes into school parking lot is a lot.
But I have also never been simultaneously so inspired and embraced by people I’ve never met. From the racers cheering each other on to the Red Lantern volunteers whose only goal is to cheer in the final racers and literally give a prize to the last finisher, I felt like the entire female world was giving me a big hug and telling me I am awesome.
And I wanted to hug them right back and sing “you are awesome, too!”
I’ve volunteered for a lot of things in my life. I sit on a running club board. I captain a chapter of a veteran non-profit. I have years of exposure to the world of professional volunteers in the military spouse space.
And that’s how I know that the volunteer board members who organize the Gold Nugget Triathlon are superhuman.
How they do it, I do not know. But what I have seen is an event so simultaneously excellent and low key. They somehow manage to group mother and daughter racers together, moved 1,600 people through a single pool, keep everyone safe, organize incredible course support and operate an event that not only starts and finishes in two different places, but has as third location for the bike drop and run stop.
But, like, how? And yet that’s what happens.
Volunteers Who Are Basically the Best
Lap counters. Bike watchers and handlers. Transition managers. A guy who changed my tire tube at mile nine of 12. Course safety officers.
I’m not certain how many volunteers are required to run this mother, but it is a lot. And all of them are marvelous, even the lap counter who did not lose her chill when I accidentally lost mine at the end of my swim leg (I blame lack of oxygen — I wasn’t upset, I promise! Just confused!!).
Some of these people spent the entire day at the race just volunteering. Others raced and then, instead of going out for tacos like any sane person would, they stayed and volunteered in support of others. That’s next level.
Honorable Mention: Bear and Moose Watch
Let’s talk for a second about Alaska reality: wildlife.
Bear and moose are regularly spotted on the race course, but this year had the special guest of a mama moose with two brand new twin babies. A portion of the bike leg runs along a highway-side bike path. Trapped between the busy Glenn Highway and a fence, she was literally on the course with nowhere to go.
Fun mama moose fact: they don’t like company around their babies.
So you can imagine how well she handled 1,600 visitors on bikes.
But no matter, course safety officers were on the case. When I drove by, two cruisers and two patrolmen were stationed between moose and racers. A few hours later when I rode by, they were still there.
And I heard a similar thing happened on the run course, where a black bear and multiple cubs scampered off early in the day. (Bears aren’t that into competitive running, so it was best for them to not be around.)
All of that to say: If you’re looking for a race to, well, race, go to Kona.
But if you want to be a part of a race that is actually a movement, let me know. I’ll see you there next year at the best female triathlon in the U.S. I’ll take a good job hug as thanks for the tip.