Bikes ready for the transition of the Lakeside sprint triathlon, which has been held annually since 1984. (Laura Johnston, RocktheLake)

LAKESIDE, Ohio – It must be the triathlon code, that when you pass someone, you call out encouragement.

As I climbed out of the rolling swells of Lake Erie Friday morning, a whole crowd on the dock cheered and clapped. And biking on a two-lane highway hugging the Ohio coast, I heard:

“This is one way to cool off!”

“Way to go!”

“You’re on this course with a basket on your bike?!”

Yep. I competed in the 34th annual Lakeside sprint triathlon with a basket on the hybrid bike I bought at Target a decade ago. Because this is casual race.

“It’s so low-key, it’s not even key,” said Trudy Anderson of Norwalk.

Racer Robert Bales, who spends a week at Lakeside with his family each year, watched his kids compete in a children’s triathlon Thursday. He puts it this way. “Most triathletes are a fun group of people.”

If you want a USA Triathlon-sanctioned competition on Lake Erie, there are lots, including the Lighthouse Triathlon in Fairport Harbor and the Cleveland Triathlon in North Coast Harbor, both on Sunday. The USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships are also at Edgewater Park this summer.

Where to race a triathlon on Lake Erie

But the Lakeside course, which drew 18 individual competitors and six teams, may be the prettiest.

“I’ve been doing for 28 years and I’ve never seen a prettier course,” said one competitor, after the half-mile swim, 12-mile bike and 3.1-mile run.

Me neither. But I’ve only ever done two full triathlons and the swim of a relay tri. It had been nine years – since before kids – since I last entered a tri. But when I began editing, and I found the Lakeside triathlon, a steal at a $20 entry fee. So I signed up.

I swim and run regularly, and I ride my bike to the gym all year-round. But aside from a 15-mile bike ride to Lakewood, I didn’t actually train for this tri. Which put my stomach in knots as I approached the Lakeside gates Friday morning.

(The private community on the Marblehead peninsula offers all sorts of activities, all season long, including nightly concerts included in your gate fee.)

Lakeside Chautauqua welcomes all: Things to do in the Ohio private community

Everyone was incredibly welcoming. And when I stepped down the ladder of the Lakeside dock, into the waves, I felt pumped.

I accidentally kicked someone’s leg. (And believe me, I got kicked a lot too.)

“Oh, I thought that was a fish,” said one guy.

I didn’t see any fish. Just a freighter in front of me, filling up at the Marblehead Limestone Quarry.

On the bike, I passed the famous Marblehead lighthouse and cottages with front doors that opened to docks.

On the run, I ran along the pickleball courts, a rainbow of cottages fringed with hydrangeas and a smattering of artists with easels capturing scenes for the Plein Air Art Festival.

The views made the race feel like a treat. And at the finish, where I came in fourth among women at 1 hour, 33 minutes, there were cowbells and more cheers and banjo music wafting from the farmer’s market at the end of the block.

“What are you doing now?” people asked each other.

“Going to jump in the lake.”