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Collegiate Triathlon Community Defined

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iowaHere in the Midwest, we always find it funny that “triathlon season” is not a set of months defined by the weather. Triathlon season is defined by the region where you swim, bike and run the most. This year, the venue for the Collegiate National Championships is Tempe, Arizona, but here in Iowa, our closest body of open water is just beginning to thaw.

Many schools in the Northern states can relate to those countless hours on the trainer and treadmill while the roads remain too slick for racing flats and too salty for road bikes. I’ve spent more time flip-turning than walking to class and I’ve nearly forgotten what water looks like without a big black line to follow below me. It is not fair to say that we winter-prone athletes are at a disadvantage to our equator-hugging rivals, but there are different challenges to be faced. We don’t take snow days.

In the Midwest Collegiate Triathlon Conference, our championship race took place on September 15, 2012. For most, that would be the final race until bags are packed for Arizona in early April. For others, an open water swim and handling practice on the bike was enough to constitute a spring training trip.

The University of Iowa Trihawks have made the spring break training block an annual tradition, travelling to sites from Texas to Alabama looking for a place where a sunny day actually meant warmth. This year, we were lucky to have the Great Clermont Triathlon fall on the second week of our university break near the end of March. The twenty-hour drive down would be made up with our hours on the bike, fine tuning tan lines and leaving the toe covers at home.

iowa
Alex Libin stays warm on the trainer through an Iowa winter.
We had eight team members competing in either the sprint or Olympic-distance races with two eager competitors signing up for both races on back to back days. As our last chance at practicing race-related techniques, the extra experience was worth more than setting personal records.

Also unknown to us Midwestern folk was that the Olympic-distance race was the Collegiate Conference Championship for all schools in the Florida conference. With easily the highest volume training week of our 2013 season directly behind us, the Trihawks were expecting a hard and fast race with rivers of remaining lactic acid still coursing through worn out legs. Yet the winter training appeared more than adequate as we stole several podium spots and went home with more hardware in the car than we drove down with.

Returning to Iowa was a return to colder temperatures but as the forecast stretched up to the 40s, otherwise known as “knee-warmer weather,” our group rides and team brick workouts have begun to solidify. With less than two weeks out from race day, training is in the final tough push before the suspenseful taper.

The “logistical feat” as President of the Trihawks Alex Libin stated, regarding the mixed flight/drive/bike transport is coming together just in time to ensure a large Hawkeye crew down in Tempe. I am part of the four-person driving team hauling a trailer with more than fifteen bikes halfway across the country. Convincing my professors that I am a respected student athlete representing the University of Iowa on the biggest stage in collegiate triathlon, and thus deserving of an excused absence is taking up a large part of my week before leaving.

iowaThere is something to be said for traveling and competing on a team. Triathlon is a lonely sport. For the most part, it is a solo mission of you against the clock. They went as far to impose penalties if you get too close to someone for more than fifteen seconds. With a team, bike rides turn into group rides and the collegiate swimmer-turned-triathlete is happy to do an amateur stroke analysis in the early morning hours at the pool. Arriving at a race, you are no longer a number on the rack, you are a presence. Seeing teammates on the out-and-back legs gives cheers of encouragement in the middle of the course where spectators are not to be found. The matching uniforms don’t hurt.

Teams can also provide a social framework for a collegiate setting in which the large number of students can be overwhelming. At the University of Iowa, with over 20,000 undergraduates, triathlon club is a niche of people sharing a similar lifestyle goal. Scott Jurek, vegan ultrarunner extraordinaire, has a chapter in his autobiography “Eat & Run” about a pain community, or a group of people who can all share in something unorthodox that cannot be understood be the average person. Our community is made up of Hawkeyes and our pain is triathlon.

Our transportation is varied but we will all converge upon Tempe, Arizona, together to compete as a team beside students from all over the United States. We toe the line with rivals like Iowa State but at the same time our pain community grows. We are all triathletes and we are all students.

Follow the action from the 2013 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships, set for April 12-13, on the event coverage page.

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