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What Makes Collegiate Nationals Special
Mile markers tick by as we begin the tour from Iowa City to Tempe, Arizona. Des Moines, Kansas City and Albuquerque sit in the crosshairs as our black university Suburban crawls along a quiet Iowa interstate with bike trailer in tow. We even managed to leave on time; a feat for the Trihawks.
While the trailer was strategically stuffed with bicycles and blankets, I sat in Lecture Room 1 of Van Allen Hall taking a midterm exam for Media Law and Communication. Somewhere in the midst of applying the First Amendment to news broadcasts, I remembered that in about 24 hours I would be rolling into Arizona with my fellow triathletes to prepare for the upcoming weekend. I was slightly concerned about missing three days of class during one of our peak midterm seasons, but eased my mind by packing my Human Physiology textbook.
The suspense of Collegiate Nationals was combated with our final team practice before race day. It was an intense brick workout with a 10-minute interval on the bike followed immediately by a 1-kilometer run at sub-race pace. Perhaps more importantly, we drilled our transitions and flying mounts to clean up the potentially embarrassing skill to take us out of T1. The uniformity of our last team workout did much to get the group excited for the upcoming race weekend and it felt good to hit the numbers that I was looking to hit in the race.
It is impossible to argue against the fact that the Collegiate National Championships brings about a whole different energy than any other race or championship in the country. In our conference our races are tacked on to races that are already established for their age-group events. Sure, we have a separate collegiate division that brings together athletes but transition is always filled with hundreds of people from all ages and lifestyles. In truth, overall winners and elite division racers overshadow the collegiate division.
I was lucky to compete in the Age Group National Championships in Burlington, Vermont, to cap off my 2012 season but the vibe there is different. My University of Iowa Trihawk kit is the only thing I have to race in. Yet at every race outside of Collegiate Nationals, generic tri suits and local teams make up most of attire. Walking throughout the race site at Collegiate Nationals in Tuscaloosa last year, it was easy to spot each respective school in their colorful kits. A team’s geography was printed right across their chest and it was easy to start conversation with my dream school (University of California-Berkeley) or the school that I was once enrolled at (University of Wisconsin-Madison).
Also unique to Collegiate Nationals are the ever-present collegiate rivalries. I spoke in the past about a “pain community” that brings all of us together but there is nothing that will pick up my pace like seeing an Iowa State Cyclone ahead of me. I will always remember that the guy I out-sprinted down the chute of last year’s Collegiate Nationals was from Oklahoma State. This is best defined by the fact that we refer to teams as “Gators” or “Buffalo” rather than their respective schools. It’s the same way the madness of college basketball can attract larger crowds than the NBA. We all want to see just how good we can be while being full-time students. School is priority but we can find time to swim/bike/run in between.
In my short collegiate career, I am watching the express growth of the sport in the collegiate scene. While we still sit outside of the NCAA circle, the beginning of draft-legal racing at Collegiate Nationals mixed with more organized and supported conference races lends to a more competitive and respected racing scene.
When I started writing this, we were swinging south of Des Moines. Between snacking on caramel rice cakes and discussing everything from ultra marathons to Jell-o parties, we have covered over 300 miles and the sun is setting over a flat Kansas wheat field. Many miles and a full night of driving lay ahead before our Arizona arrival tomorrow. Travel has always been a part of the sport. It is one of the few events that give an athlete unparalleled scenery and destination options for a venue. So I will sit and drive (or do homework in the back seat) and look forward to my shake out jog in the dry Arizona heat tomorrow. 1,149 miles from now.
Follow the action from the 2013 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships, set for April 12-13, on the event coverage page.