By Sarah Rockwood
It felt as if mere weeks had gone by between my first Cal Tri “practice” (which consisted of wearing scuba diving goggles and bikini tops and running around a track) and finding myself in a car heading to LA for my first collegiate triathlon. While it had in fact been months, I still didn’t feel nearly prepared enough to fully throw myself into a race. Nothing seemed to have changed from my August, naïve newbie self who forgot a watch to practice looked more like a floundering fish than a freestyle-swimming athlete.
Don’t get me wrong; I was more than exhilarated to get a taste of what Triathlon is all about. I wasn’t completely clueless either; I’d done a sprint or two in high school and my fair share of stalking those lei-crowned Kona champions. But this was my first dip in the collegiate waters, and while I knew I was ready to cannonball into tri and all it has to offer, I was still nervous about the initial jump.
But on the drive down, I was more than in my happy place as my car proceeded to talk about nothing but food ( now I need to experience acai bowls and fried Snickers). Our overnight hosts were more than welcoming; I’ve never been offered so much food before as an intruding stranger. I tried shikshooka, an incredible Jewish breakfast dish, and 20 croissants were waiting for us the morning of race day.
When my alarm went off at 4 am on Sunday, however, I began to questions what I was doing. Getting up and out and off to UCLA was all a blur, and it felt like mere minutes before I was standing on deck at the Sunset Canyon pool, waiting for my number, 137, to roll around. UCLA was a great first-timer race because it didn’t feel like a race at all. Everyone started one at a time and was working more against the clock than each other.
The swim was the leg I was dreading most, all the way to the point where I ran out of the water. I had swum more in the past three weeks leading up to the race than I ever had before in my life, and while it was only 400 meters in a pool, I was frankly afraid I wouldn’t make it. So I didn’t push myself as much as I could have, just to ensure that I would cross the finish line. By the last lap I was breathing like a suffocated rhino, but other than that, I would say it went pretty smoothly
I was planning to gain them most ground biking, as that’s where I’ve managed to do well in the past. But I’d only been on a real bike 2 or 3 times since college, and the technical challenges of hill repeats on the UCLA campus were clearly not in my favor. We were always ascending, descending, turning, or doing a complete U-turn, so I was always breaking. Plus, I almost didn’t do my last lap because “go straight at the end of your 4th lap” is apparently a few levels of comprehension above me. But luckily, I managed to be a good little sheep and follow the crowd, and prevent myself from being disqualified.
Running turned out to be my strongest point, but I had never felt like I was waddling so much during a race. As a cross country runner, 3 miles was right up my alley, but I’m used to going into that with fresh legs. The loops were another set of hill repeats, which was also an advantage for me, and I certainly felt like I made up the most time there, but I would love to compare my triathlon race form to that of my good ol’ cross country days.
All in all, it felt great to get my first collegiate race under my belt. There’s definitely a few rooms for improvement (e.g. maybe don’t spend two minutes putting socks on?), but given that I had no expectations going in, I was certainly happy coming out. Now that I have a tangible experience to train for, I’m a lot more committed to what this crazy, amazing sport (or three) is all about.