National Championship is more than just a race. Not only does the whole year of practicing lead up to this event and help us find out how we rank in the nation, but it also allows us as a team to travel all together for five days and enjoy our company more than before. All those super early morning practices, all those long rides and open water swims in cold Pacific Ocean (with dolphins!) was to prepare us for this race! Believe it or not, it is here!
Wednesday morning: 3:30am alarm goes off and we are on our way to airport. Ella and Joanna were planning to join us later Thursday and they offered to drop us off at the airport at 4:30am. As a team, we are just always on time but we are even 10 minutes early! We were off for a great start! A detailed itinerary for the entire trip prepared by Dustin kept us on track and made life much easier for all of us. Flying to Birmingham, driving down to Tuscaloosa, checking in at the hotel, quick run in the area to fresh up from our long trip and team meeting with Coach Kim. Coach Kim came by and talked about the race course, things we need to know/remember and also his own experience when he raced this course in 2009. The fact that he won this race 8 year ago was a great boost for all of us as he described all the fine details about this race.
Thursday was a busy and exciting day – started with swimming in beautiful and peaceful lake Tuscaloosa and then picking up our beloved bikes from Tri Bike Transport and followed by previewing the run course on our bikes. Run course was a beautiful river walk with some gradual hills. Zack, B (Beril) and Katie were racing Draft Legal on Friday and needed to attend their mandatory meeting while rest of us preview the bike course by sitting in the air conditioned car and driving the course.
Friday was the Draft legal race. Zach, B and Katie went to the race site earlier than rest of the team to get ready sprint DL. We got there before their race and watched and cheered them doing what they are good at and by that I mean Swim, Bike, and Run! Zach had a great swim and amazingly were able to catch the lead pack from the chase pack in the bike. Women’s race was a little bit more wide spread and both B and Katie did a wonderful job while rest of us were trying to cheer them as much as we can even though Coach Kim wanted us to try to stay seated in the shade but it was really difficult to not jump up and down while our teammates were racing. We headed back to the hotel after the race and it was time to pamper our three DL finishers with an Ice bath! Time to play bananagram with Tori, Maggie, Torin and Tyler and take the game to the next level to thank our wonderful sponsors!
In the afternoon, the rest of our team went for our last swim practice at Lake Tuscaloosa. After that, it was time for carb loading and team dinner with Coach Kim. The weather forecast was for a hot day and this made some of us to think that they may need a second water bottle on their bike to stay hydrated during the race. We headed back to the hotel and finished our remaining itinerary which consisted of last minute bike tune-ups and the subsequent preparation for the morning.
The day was finally here! Race suit on, transition bag ready, and checking out from the hotel. Everyone was smiling but you could see everyone was a little bit nervous inside! In my last race (Conference Race), I crashed at the beginning of bike course. This put more pressure on me to make sure I stay focused during the race! Quick warm up and here we are at the swim start. Wetsuits on and time to get ready for the count down. There were five waves for men and three waves for women to start their race. Each wave had almost 120 athletes which made it more challenging to get a head start on the swim and be able to find a good spot in your wave. Zach and Dustin are in wave one, Barry, Torin and Tyler wave two and I was in wave three. Horn goes off, first wave on its way! Second horn, wave 2! Now it is my turn to get ready for the race. After a quick warm up, I was ready to start! Swim went well and I did a good job on sighting during the swim to stay on track. After swim finish, there was a long barefoot run to transition which became much easier with our women’s team cheering for us. Few minutes later, I was on my bike pushing as hard as I can to get to my goal pace. I tried to make sure to not to get any penalties for drafting or blocking while passing people. The bike course was really nice specially since it was cloudy with a perfect temperature. I was feeling happy during the race and I believe it had something with the fact that not only I felt physically ready for the race but I was mentally prepared to do my best and at the same time enjoy the race. I was in my last 5 miles to finish the bike part and I saw Dustin passing mile 4 of the run and cheered him while I was cruising in the down hill. Last push on the bike and I found myself getting ready for T2.
Transition went well and 1 minute later I was in the run course to finish the last part strong. I tried to get to my goal pace and tried to keep it the same during the run. I saw Torin and Tyler on my run. I don’t remember feeling this good in any of my races before. Even though I was trying to push my self as much as I can at the same time I was enjoying every moment of the race. Final sprint at the end and that was it. I did my first Olympic distance and it was the national championship! I had a great race and I was pleased with it.
Now it was our turn to cheer our wonderful women’s team. By the time that I had something to eat they already started their race. We went to swim finish and watched/cheered them passing by. The sky was getting clear and sun was making it harder for them to bike and run in this hot day. We decided to separate along the race course to be able to cheer them on the parts that ourselves had a hard time. Torin and I found a spot which crossed path mile 1 and mile 5 of the run course and started cheering our amazing teammates. Everyone did a great job and enjoyed their race! It is always nice to see their beautiful smile after the race.
We then headed back to Birmingham for a few hours after the race and we had some hard-earned pizza (oh Jason!) and relaxing evening together. This year was my last year with the team and I can’t express enough how much I will miss this wonderful team and every single one of my teammates! Next day, we flew back to San Diego and got ready to back to real life after having a great time in Alabama.
by Alireza Sarebanha
Early on Wednesday morning (4/19), 10 members of our team (Maggie, Katie, B, Zack, Torin, Barry, Dustin, Tyler, Ali, and me) began our journey to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the USAT Collegiate Club National Championships. After two quick flights with a brief stop in Dallas and an hour-long drive from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, we made it to our hotel by early afternoon. We embraced the heat and went for a short run, which was a bit difficult after sitting for so long, followed by dinner at Waffle House (we couldn’t resist!) next door to our hotel.
Day two began with a short swim in Lake Tuscaloosa, where we were joined by the Navy team for a bit. The weather was pretty hot, which made the water feel sooo nice and refreshing! We then went to go pick up the Uhaul (from an interesting place called Pawn Royale lol) and then our bikes from Tri Bike Transport, the company that drove our bikes all the way across the country. We then got to ride along most of the run course, which consisted of a very pretty riverside bike path.
During the various down-time gaps we had throughout our few days, we played many rounds of Bananagrams, and we even made a triathlon-related crossword using the game, a picture of which can be found on our team’s instagram account (@ucsdtriathlon). Torin, Ali, Tyler, and Barry also attempted to temporarily dye their hair blue. Late that evening Ella and Joanna arrived, and in the morning we headed over to the course to cheer on Zach, B, and Katie as they raced in the draft-legal race. The draft-legal race, (in which racers are allowed to form drafting groups during the bike and, therefore, go much faster because they can work together) is such a speedy and competitive race, it was incredibly fun to watch and everyone did really well! It’s so impressive to me that most of those in the DL race would then also race in the Olympic the next day. My brother was racing as well, so was fun to get to cheer him on, too! My parents came to see us both, so that was very special to get to spend time with them during the weekend as well.
After another brief swim that afternoon, we headed to Nothing but Noodles for lots of carbs. Maggie and Dustin had gone to a captain’s meeting earlier that day, so they made sure we all understood the rules, including making sure we knew to rack our bikes correctly (don’t want any penalties!) I spent quite a while that evening trying to organize and pack up all my things, I wanted to make sure not to forget anything for race day! We woke up at 4:30 the next morning, and were ready to go. Everything went into the cars, we checked out of the hotel, and our little caravan drove over to the course. We were fortunate enough to get parking spots in the lot right by transition, so we were easily able to unload everything and get everything set up in transition right away. Even though the men were racing first and the women weren’t racing until 10:20am, we still had to have everything in transition before their race. As I was laying out all my necessities, I chatted with myself and went through the race in my head as a checklist. “Okay, keep your wetsuit, cap and goggles in your bag for the swim…you’ll run up, take your wetsuit off, then you’ll need your helmet, sunglasses, and bike shoes…gotta lick and stick those shot blocks onto your bike…are your water bottles filled up? Right, need to put an electrolyte tablet in one of those…now after the bike you’ll rack it (make sure it’s the right way!), take off your helmet and shoes and you’ll need your running shoes, hat, race belt/number, and watch…I think that’s everything!” I was still worried I missed something so I went through it again.
We were all making sure to stay hydrated, so I’m pretty sure I went to the bathroom four or five times between then and the start of my race. As we watched the men race and cheered them on, I began to grow more and more nervous, knowing that I would be doing the very same thing they were in just short time. We saw them start the swim, finish the swim, go out on the bike and come back around for their second lap, and then out they went on the run. The men from our team all seemed to have a solid race, and it was cool to see so many people from other teams cheering each other on. It was overcast for most of their race, but the sun began to come out as they wrapped up, just in time to heat things up for the women. I got to see my brother finish, say a quick “great job! How’d you feel?”, and then proceed to the start to get my wetsuit on.
Wave 1 (B, Katie, and Maggie) got to have a quick warm up in the water, and then they were off. It was our turn now! Wave 2 (Ella, Joanna, and I) got into the water to warm up, and then the announcer called us back closer to the pontoon. We crowded together, and it seemed that girls kept getting closer and closer to Ella and I, our feet accidentally kicking each other as we treaded water. The horn sounded with little warning, and the race began. “Take it one buoy at a time” I told myself, as I settled into a rhythm and tried my best to keep up with the rest of the pink caps. As I fell behind, I kept pushing, trying to catch up with one girl at a time and trying not to get caught by any purple caps (Wave 3). Eventually I made it out of the water, the toughest part (for me, so I thought) over with. It was a long jog to transition, but I knew that was my chance to pass a few people so I tried to regain my balance quickly and pick up the pace.
I made my way to my bike and put my helmet and shoes on as fast as I could. Once on the bike, I was feeling great and excited (the bike is my favorite!). As I headed out I kept my eye out for my teammates on the other side of the road (coming back from the turnaround), and cheered them on as they flew past. It had gotten quite windy, which made for a frustrating headwind on parts of the course. One lap down, I felt encouraged by my teammates and family cheering me on, and again it was awesome to get to see the sportsmanship of other teams as they cheered everyone on as well. As I came in from the second lap, I was optimistic about the run. I had been improving in practice and I was excited to push myself to see how I could do. And, I had thought the wind would cool things down and the temperature wouldn’t be too unbearable.
How wrong I was. As I began running it seemed as if the wind just disappeared. The first two miles of the course were beautiful, and I felt pretty good at first as I built into the run. Then, the heat started to get to me. I asked for a splash at the first aid station and drank some water, but then my left foot went numb and I realized it was because my ankles and feet had swollen in the heat, which caused my timing chip to cut off my circulation. I took my chip off and carried it the rest of the way, but was still in a lot of pain so had to take the run much slower than I would’ve liked. Despite this, it was so cool to hear and see other racers encouraging each other (and me!) when they could tell another was hurting, even though we were competitors in the middle of a race! It is so cool to be part of such an encouraging and uplifting community, triathlon is really fun and unique that way.
After the race I hopped (actually more like hobbled) right into one of the not-so-icy pools (all the ice had melted by then), but it was still very cold and felt wonderful. After soaking for a bit and eating some food, it was time to pack up and get ready to go. Fortunately the projected thunderstorms held off until much later in the afternoon! We grabbed our stuff from transition and took our bikes back over to Tri Bike Transport, I said goodbye to my family, and we went straight to Jimmy John’s for lunch before making the drive back to Birmingham. Shortly after arriving, the thunderstorm began and we celebrated the race by ordering some pizza. It took forever. Apparently lots of people order pizza when it rains…
Despite the difficult aspects of the race, the trip to Nationals was incredibly fun, and we’re all very sore (and sunburned!). As it is my last year on the team, I count it a privilege to have gotten the chance to go and compete, and it was great to get to cheer on my team, my brother, as well as the other competitors. Triathlon really is such a fun sport with an awesome community, and I am so thankful to be part of this team.
by Victoria Winslow