Conference Race Report
The Conference race is always the culmination of the season for our team. It is not the last race, nor is it the biggest or the most important. Nationals, which takes place a couple weeks later, is bigger, faster, and more important. But Conference is the main course, and Nationals is the dessert. It is at the conference race when all of our training comes together and we put our bodies on the line for the first Olympic distance race of the season. It is twice the distance of the races done earlier in the season and it is much hillier and more challenging of a course than any other races, including Nationals. Conference is the race that tests your mental and physical strength more than any other. And if you do well, you know nothing will be able to phase you at Nationals. Best of all, this is the race with the best attendance for the year. While not everyone is able to make it out to Nationals, the majority of the team races at the Conference race at Lake Lopez (near SLO).
This year’s Conference race was no less spectacular for our team. We had a large crew competing, and we all drove up the day before, on the Saturday after finals. It was a long drive, but everyone was grateful to be done with classes and excited to test their strength the next day. In the afternoon, we biked a section of the course and took in the beauty around us. In San Luis Obispo County, everything is green. The lake made for an awesome view and as we biked we saw birds, squirrels, and even deer. Although the course was strenuous, at least we knew it would be enjoyable. After the course preview, the team ate dinner at the picnic tables of our campsite and set up tents for camping. While we are aware that camping the night before the race may not be the absolute best idea to enhance performance, it is a team tradition and it is always a great time. Plus, while we all wanted to do our best, we also felt that it is better that we don’t take the race too seriously.
After an adequate night’s rest, we got up early the next morning. Some team members woke up at 5 am to claim the best spot for their bike in transition. I opted to sleep an extra hour and wake up at 6 am to prepare for the 8 am start. After preparing transitions, a team warm-up, and pre-race stretches, we were ready to go. The swim was 1500m, which was much longer than in earlier races, when the swims ranged from 250 yards to 750m. I felt strong on the swim, but made sure not to overexert myself in the first leg of the race. Instead, I settled behind another athlete and got pulled along in his draft. After the swim, my cold hands and feet from the cold water made for a slow transition, but eventually I was on my bike. As I mounted my bike, I passed a teammate, Michael, who had fallen due to cold hands and a bumpy road. I yelled encouragement and continued up the first hill, hoping that he would catch up so we could ride near each other. While you are required to stay three bike lengths apart throughout the bike course to avoid people drafting to go faster, it always helps to have a teammate in your field of view. The course had two out-and-backs, making it great for seeing other teammates on the course, and I used these occasional encounters to motivate me to go faster. On the second half of the course, Michael did pass me, and this motivated me to pick up my pace to keep him in sight. However, by the end of the bike he had gained a lead and by the time I began the run I was running alone. The run was a grueling 6.2 miles, and most of the course was not flat. Thankfully, the first half has a net downhill, which means that by the time I eventually turned I knew it was mostly downhill from there. It was slow progress, as I was not in as good of shape as I should have been, and I was very thankful when I crossed the finish line.
After the race, I found out that our team did great as a whole. Many people had had great races, and everyone had enjoyed the grueling, but beautiful course. The men’s team had won first in our Conference, while the women had scored second. As a combined team, we scored second place overall, only behind Berkeley, who had a phenomenal women’s team performance. In all, we proved as a team that our training had paid off and we were ready for a great performance two weeks later at Collegiate Nationals in Tempe, Arizona.
-Written by Torin Halsted