OAKLAND — The OakFest triathlon was started three years ago, with the goal of being a low-key wrap-up to Oakland’s three-day festival.

That hasn’t changed in the years since. Event organizer Holly MacKenzie hasn’t let it.

“As the event has grown some, we’ve been offered amenities that make the triathlon a little more formal,” she said. “And I have said ‘No, we don’t want those things.’ We want to keep it very casual.”

Indeed, the OakFest triathlon, which was held for the fourth time Sunday, has remained more ‘Everyman’ than ‘Ironman.’ Participants aren’t forced to measure up to the demands of grueling swims, runs and bike rides. The event is relaxed in nature, with participants encouraged to take a rest or stop for a cup of water if they see fit. Teams of athletes can split up the event amongst themselves, so each member can stick with one event. The focus stays on camaraderie and fun, rather than intensity and competition.

“You’ve got some super serious athletes out here, competitive, that have done this whole thing by themselves. You’ve got some others out here that are just hanging out, having a good time with some friends,” Fairfield’s Travis Hotham said. “You’ve got other people that are probably getting themselves in shape or working out certain goals that they want to accomplish. It’s for everybody, really.”

According to MacKenzie, that’s always been the goal. The event has grown since its first season, gaining sponsors and bringing aboard CompetitorME to more efficiently handle registration and race timing, but it has never strayed from catering to the more casual athlete who, rather than dedicate their life to running a triathlon, instead wants to give one a shot.

“Any one leg is pretty easily doable by most fitness levels,” said MacKenzie, who estimated that 50 athletes participated Sunday, many registering that morning. “Our clientele isn’t necessarily the elite triathlete, it’s the weekend warrior who’s looking for an event to challenge (his or her) fitness level.”

Even the race structure is unique, with each stage beginning and ending at the Oakland boat landing. There’s a bike ride, stretching 12 miles along Messalonskee Stream, and a run, winding 3.1 miles through the town. But while most triathlons have a swimming portion, the OakFest triathlon features a kayaking stage as the day’s first event, one that MacKenzie said is less demanding.

“It’s a very recreational triathlon,” she said. “We are looking for the people where it is their first triathlon or they have been nervous to do a swim, bike and run. The kayak aspect of it really allows us to get into different clientele.”

And a farther-reaching one. Sandra Caron, for instance, came all the way down from Fort Kent after hearing about the kayaking element.

“My driving force was the paddle, pedal and run,” said the 55-year-old, who competed in her third triathlon Sunday and her first since the Tri Aroostook in Presque Isle four years ago. “Every triathlon I’ve ever been in is swimming, biking and running, and this really threw me for a loop. I had to do it.”

The team element also opens the event up to more people. While many athletes might be deterred by the challenges of handling all three events, the OakFest triathlon’s structure allows athletes to stick with their strong suits.

“There’s no way I could do all three, so it’s nice to be able to split the legs up, do it with people you like and have a good time with it,” said Fairfield’s Mark Bradford, who was on Team BodyArmor with Hotham and handled the cycling while Hotham kayaked and Waterville’s Matt Morrison did the running. “It’s not super competitive. You just come down, have a good time, get some exercise. … The camaraderie of the group, that’s why we do it.”

Some athletes, meanwhile, took advantage of the less intimidating distances to branch out and try their weaker events. Waterville’s Molly Bofia has multiple marathons under her belt, and runs at least a mile every day. She’s less comfortable on a bicycle or kayak, however, but feels the OakFest triathlon is an ideal environment to try all three events.

“It’s a short enough distance that I know I’ll survive,” she said, laughing. “I’ll get through it. It’s good to test out and see if I can do the other stuff. … Triathlons look really cool, but the swimming looks really daunting because I’m a terrible swimmer.”

Kayaking’s not much easier. But Bofia had a reason ready.

“You can take a break in a kayak,” she said. “Once I get out of sight, I can put my paddles down and breathe for a minute and then keep going. Swimming, I’d have to still tread water.”

As for the athlete who seriously pursues all three stages, MacKenzie said there’s still a spot. The OakFest triathlon is about including everyone, not excluding anyone.

“For the people that are extremely competitive and they want to get the really good spots for transitions, great. Go for it,” she said. “You can come early, get the closest spot to the gate, that’s wonderful. But if you want to be there just to complete it and check it off your bucket list, there’s room for those people as well.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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