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Eat, Train, Study: The Weekend of a Collegiate Triathlete

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tri“One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb — OWW THAT HURTS!”

It’s Friday evening. The weekend is finally here, and it’s almost time for the TriCat team meeting to start. An unanticipated flying dismount from my bike onto the pavement on Thursday claimed a sizable piece of my skin, and now I writhe in agony as Amanda, a nursing student, cleans the wound. In an attempt to either take my mind off the pain or to add entertainment value to the situation, our club president James challenges me to a thumb war. Horrified, I notice a third team member with his cell phone in hand, filming my simultaneous suffer fest and thumb war defeat.

At 5 p.m., the meeting begins. We are debriefed by the officers about last weekend’s race in Lake Havasu City, plans for the aquathlon we are hosting in a couple of weeks are laid forth, and Coach Brian Grasky discusses the remainder of our road to Collegiate Nationals. This weekend there will be a lot of volume, he says, and then we will taper.

Following the meeting, the team gets into their swimwear and jumps into the pool. Nurse Amanda prescribes that I keep to the deck for a couple of days while my road rash heals, so I people-watch with great amusement as our newest member, Phil, steps out of the locker room wearing blue Crocs and a Spiderman swim suit. 

After dinner, I head back to my dorm and prepare for the next morning. Mounding an accumulation of training supplies (helmet, shoes, watch, clothes, nutrition, spare tube, sunglasses, water bottles, sunscreen…) next to the door, I form what my roommate refers to as “The Pile.” I then go to brush my teeth and become nervous while thinking about the challenge in front of me. We’re riding the infamous Mount Lemmon in the morning, and I’m determined to climb all 27 miles to the Cookie Cabin, which lies about 6,000 feet above the city of Tucson. The furthest I’ve previously ridden is to mile 17.

I’m out of bed at 5:50 the next morning, and using hot tap water, I make my first cup of instant coffee. It’s pretty bad. I microwave my second cup, and anxiously watch my roommate to make sure I don’t wake her. Silently, I pull my clothes on in the dark and stuff the remainder of “The Pile” into my jersey pockets, which threaten to explode.

tri 

I ride my bike a couple of blocks to a friend’s house, and three of us load into a car and drive 14 miles to the base of the mountain. We spend the car ride planning to stay together and choosing the perfect roll-up song to blast as we pull into the parking lot. As I later heard one of the guys singing “Hey Porsche” while exiting the bathroom, I consider the latter mission a success.

The team begins the climb as a group, and slowly the pack breaks apart. Molly, Jessica and I follow our plan of staying together, and ride at conversation pace. Not even an hour into our ride, the girls start planning the next workout. With the huffing and puffing of effort though, there’s room for misinterpretation.  

tri“Are you planning on doing the SOYO later?” 

“Am I going for FroYo later?” 

“No. The Swim On Your Own. SOYO. “ 

“Oooh. Yeah, when we get back. I’m down for FroYo, too, though.”

After a stretch break halfway up the mountain at Windy Point, we make it to the town of Summerhaven, where the Cookie Cabin lies. We join a group of TriCats who are already inside, and Molly and I share the freshest, largest, most delicious cookie of our entire lives.

When I get back home, it’s all I can do to take a shower before crawling into bed. After my nap I drink my third and fourth cups of coffee of the day and begin to wade through an ocean of homework.

At 6:45 a.m. on Easter Sunday, the team meets up at the criterium course for some brickervals. The workout consists of four bike-runs, each decreasing in distance and increasing in intensity. After practice, I see that coach Grasky has tweeted “Just spent 2hrs with the UA TriCats working on speed and transition skills. As I’m headed home, I pass many of them still practicing! Why I like this team: dedication!”

triThe team parts ways to enjoy their respective Easter festivities, and reconvene at the pool at 5:00 p.m. There isn’t a lot of open water in Tucson, so tonight there’s wetsuit practice in the pool. Fortunately, there is a game of inner tube water polo being played in the shallow end, so strange looks from fellow pool patrons are split between us. Taking turns, several TriCats jump out of the pool at once and race to take off their wetsuits as our swim coach, Sean, yells advice. “The key is to kick your leg like you’re at Nationals kicking the other teams in the butt!”

Burgers and pizza make for a well-earned pat on the back as the team finishes off the weekend eating dinner on University Blvd.

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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