Lake Havasu, Ariz., is the absolute spring break destination. This time of year, tanning during the day and partying at night tend to be the norm.
When I traveled to Havasu with the CU Triathlon Team this past weekend though, we weren’t there to party. We were there to swim, bike and run. Our goal was to earn victory at the Mountain Collegiate Triathlon Conference Regional Championship — and that’s just what we did.
Every year, the CU Triathlon Team comes to Havasu hoping for a win. Regionals are the precursor to April’s national championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala., which CU has won two years in a row. Locking down the regional championship is just the beginning.
Havasu is not all about competition though. Only 14 athletes from each school get to race at Collegiate Nationals every year, so Havasu is an opportunity for the rest of the team to race in a CU uniform. This year, we had a record 63 athletes compete for the Buffs.
I’ve been on the team for three years, and Havasu has always been my favorite event of the spring season. When I was a freshman, it was my first triathlon ever. When I was a sophomore, it was the first time I qualified for the nationals team.
This year, though I didn’t have the race I was hoping for, I felt more like a part of the CU Triathlon family than ever before.
As usual, we left Boulder at the ridiculous hour of 3 a.m. on Thursday to drive the 14 hours to Lake Havasu. When we arrived, it wasn’t to a fancy hotel room — we traditionally camp for regionals. We set up tents, did a quick jog, took a dip in the lake and headed to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. With stomachs full of burritos, it was early to bed.
On Friday, pre-race day, I was impressed (as I am every year) by how smoothly we coordinated 63 athletes, from newbies to some seasoned veterans, through all the race prep rituals. By noon, we had all completed our short jogs, swims and bike rides to loosen our legs.
Later that afternoon, while the newer athletes were practicing transitions, our coach, Mike Ricci, pulled me aside. He told me he wanted me to lead the team cheer the next morning at the race start. It was a lot of pressure, but I knew I was up for the challenge.
That night, after the essential carb-loading pasta dinner, I went to bed nervous. All of our hard work over the past seven months would finally pay off tomorrow.
Riiiing….. At exactly 5:10 a.m. on Saturday, 63 alarms went off at once.
The morning was a blur of tire pumping, coffee chugging and nerves. We arrived at the race site before dawn, meticulously set up our transition areas, and by 7 a.m., we were pulling on our wetsuits. Soon, I found myself in the middle of a massive huddle of black rubber bodies, all urging me to start the cheer.
And, in CU Triathlon tradition, I went for it. The team repeated after me, getting louder and louder with every line:
Iki la boomba (Iki la boomba)
Iki la wiki liki (Iki la wiki liki)
Affa la waffa laffa (Affa la waffa laffa)
Oooh chee ahh… (ooh chee ahh…)
What’s that spell? Colorado!
What’s that mean? Victory!
Minutes later, with adrenaline pumping, I found myself standing in freezing cold lake water, surrounded by my teammates and awaiting the starting horn.
And then we were off.
The swim start is always chaotic, with arms and legs flailing as each swimmer tries to get ahead of the pack. The swim is my weakness, so I tried to stay out of the way and get through the course alive. After 1600 meters, it was out of the water, off with the wetsuit and onto the bike.
For the first time in my Havasu experience, it was a windy bike ride. The first half of the 40-kilometer course was fast with the wind to my back, and I felt strong as I gradually passed girls who had had faster swim times than me. When we turned around, though, the headwind hit me like a wall. It was a rough ride back in, but I tried to keep my mental focus and prepare for a fast run.
As I rolled into transition, re-racked my bike and slipped into my run shoes, I felt another rush of adrenaline. The run is my strength, and I still had some competition to catch. The run course passed through beach sand, up a set of stairs, over a bridge, down a bike trail to the turnaround and back again. I kept the other collegiate women in sight as I went, picking off as many as I could.
After 42 minutes and 10 kilometers of hard effort, I crossed the finish line and fell into a hug from a teammate.
I ended up in 17th place overall with a time of 2 hours, 35 minutes and 15 seconds. Our women’s team had nine women finish in the top 20 and five in the top 10, while our men had nine in the top 20 and four in the top 10. Our performance was good enough for both the men’s and women’s team titles as well as the overall Mountain Collegiate Triathlon Conference title.
Besides the top performances, we also had several athletes racing their first triathlons ever, with many reaching or surpassing their personal goals. While winning a team title is always fun, it’s the camaraderie and support of this entire team, from the newbies to the national champs, that makes us special.
The nationals team roster will be announced this Thursday, and over spring break, we’ll be working hard at a training camp in Boulder. Whether I make the nationals squad or not, I will be there in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on April 21 to compete or cheer on my Buffs. I love this team, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Caryn Maconi at Caryn.email@example.com.