by Erika Erickson
At some point this will be a race report about an amazing weekend chock full of triathlons, vuvuzelas, and more Rudy Project back backs than you can shake a stick at – but I feel compelled to give a teensy bit of back story first so you can fully appreciate the journey. Settle in and enjoy… or set an alarm for 15 minutes from now and then wake up for the potentially exciting part at the end… whatever you’re in to.
I’m good at explaining myself (ha!) so I’ll employ the best story-telling tactics here: starting from somewhere random and jumping around.
Last fall the Cal Triathlon team welcomed a new coach to the family – Dean “The Machine” Harper. Not only is Dean an accomplished athlete and an incredible ambassador of the sport, but he also happens to be the father of some people that have become my very good friends. Not being sure how to respond to the whole “new coach” situation, especially since I knew him first as “Shelley and Greg’s dad,” in standard Erika fashion, I opted for total overkill! In the early part of last fall I sent him a suuuuper long email, essentially saying that I was excited to be working with him this year, was excited to see the team grow, and that my major goal for the season was to figure out how to be more confident. Of course, winning races is nice, too. He probably would have appreciated this abbreviated version I just gave you…
If you know me well, you know I’m not one to be oozing with overflowing confidence. Generally I might not even drip a little confidence if you squeeze me really hard. Over the last 6 months, even that meager little droplet seems to have dried up. So despite working really hard to build confidence, it was like filling a leaky bucket… everything I’ve tried kind of just works against me. But I’ve tried nonetheless.
My first step was to be more consistent. This is hard for me – I don’t really have a ‘schedule.’ Everything just manages to fit into the day or it doesn’t, with more or less stress. But I tried to make sure I was doing what I could when I could as often as possible. Then, I spent January and February doing very Berkeley-esque zen things, to learn more about myself and to try to figure out patience – stuff like yoga and practicing meditation everyday. So zen. But then I had a little backslide and spent most of March hiding in my bed. I read a lot of books, I spent a lot of time alone, I did a lot of solo training, and not nearly enough science. I was a mopey mess. Not my finest few months.
Then, I celebrated my birthday at the end of March. My friends are amazing people and they had a semi-surprise dinner for me, where they cooked for me and made all the best vegetables and Erika-approved birthday dessert I could ever have hoped for. And the tri team made the sweetest surprise poster for me at practice. It was truly one of the most touching experiences, to be showered with so much love by so many people that I care about (even though I spent a month ignoring them, scared of talking to them, and hiding in my lair). My birthday dinner was my friends’ way of giving me a gentle push back toward acting like a productive member of society again. 2014 has been roller coaster, and it hasn’t stopped galloping out of control quite yet. But maybe that’s a good thing. But this quest for some ever-elusive confidence has truly made me recognize the significant support of my friends, and has lead to me to reevaluate my perspective on a lot of things. Like, what are my priorities? But we’ll come back to that later.
But, you’re here to read about racing. My birthday was a few short days before collegiate nationals, which is a race that means a lot to me. It’s where I get to show the rest of the world what it means to be part of Cal Tri – my triathlon family, my home away from home, my Cal Bears. But I just turned 28. I’ve been a college student for 10 years. I have three degrees I’m very proud of, and I’m maybe almost nearly there for the fourth degree, but still… 10 years?!? Where did all that time go? And what right do I have to still be racing for a collegiate team when I should be spending all my time trying to: finish my PhD, accomplish those life milestones which seem to be all the rage on my facebook feed, and get a ‘real’ job? You know, trying to grow up, or something.
What better way to contemplate growing up than to pack up your race bag and hop on a plane with 60 undergraduate student-athletes and revel in a weekend of foolish antics and triathlon?
Leading up to the race, though, I wasn’t doing much reveling. In fact, I was not even sure I would go. I’ve been pleased with my training this year despite the long illness of last fall. Physically, I wasn’t worried about being prepared. But to race even once, not to mention three times in two days – it takes some emotional strength that I just didn’t think I had. But I also didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t want to let my coaches down. I didn’t want to let myself down, by not even trying. I won’t lie; I needed some serious reinforcement the night before my first race of the weekend (thanks Shelley, JD, Varun, Greg, CR…). Luckily I have some of the most supportive friends, and they came to the rescue in so many ways. I can only hope to be as good a friend as the ones I’ve found in my life.
So, now I guess let’s get down to triathlon business, and forget most of this mushy ‘personal journey’ stuff. Going into the races, I won’t say I had much confidence (so much for that season goal…). I was just looking forward to immersing myself in the white-hot pain that is racing your heart out. There’s no room in my head for everything else, just moving forward and embracing the discomfort.
Friday morning kicked off the weekend with the draft legal sprint. I arrived early enough to see Alberto exit the water and hold on for a solid warm-up race. Setting up transition, this volunteer asked the group of girls near me – “So, who’s going to win this thing?” Back to that confidence thing… The girls closest to me all bashfully shook their heads and deferred or said things like, “oh, I’ll be lucky to finish.” Even though that is exactly how I felt, I told him we were all going to try our hardest. He didn’t like that – “Try your hardest? What is this, 4-H?” I found that kind of funny because, a) why would that be his first response, and b) 4-H in Arizona must be really different than 4-H was in Kansas.
Aaaanyways, the race started off with an aggressive swim, that I took too conservatively with a far outside line (I’m somewhat skittsh about getting kicked in the throat still after my conference race swim debacle at the end of March…). But the bike was incredible – I had Laurence and Kelly from UCLA to work with and we slowly chipped away time to Taylor Spivey of Cal Poly, who had an impressive swim and solo bike up front. I came out of T2 a minute back from Taylor, and weighed my two options – sit back and take the run easy to save my legs for Saturday, or try to close the gap? I rounded the corner under the bridge, caught a glimpse of Taylor (she was that close!) and got too excited to sit back. I decided to try to close the gap. It was down to 10seconds, and I’m super happy with how smooth and fast my run felt… but I probably should have gone with a different strategy! Oh well, a repeat of 2nd place in the draft-legal sprint at collegiate nationals is just fine by me. I’m excited for all the new draft-legal racers coming into the collegiate scene.
I was feeling pretty good the rest of Saturday, until bedtime. I just couldn’t sleep at all. And I “woke up” with the sorest hip flexor I can describe. I could not quite lift my left leg. But the race started early for the women, and it was game time. It was kind of strange not to have Shelley to dance with at the swim start, but I did a little dancing by myself despite the terrible music selection… Sometimes you’ve just got to dance? Again, the swim started aggressively, but I was determined to stay in the melee as long as possible. A few hundred yards in, someone managed to unzip my wetsuit. That’s a new one by me! I tried to keep my body position high so as not to take on water like a sinking ship and the race continued. On the bike, I focused on riding from muscles not connected to my hip flexor and am pleased enough with how it went. Then it was the run. Laurence started the run about 3minutes ahead of me, and Liz Noey, also from UCLA was about 10seconds ahead. Liz and I have been trading off fastest run splits in the conference races by a few seconds each race all spring. I was not feeling as spunky on Saturday as I did for Friday, so just hoped to hold on. She is blazing fast, though, and I just couldn’t hold onto her pace. Liz went on to win the race with a very impressive performance. The battle for second place was a surprise, but I got to race Laurence through the finish shoot. I’m happy she edged me out by a few seconds at the line to finish such a brave brave race. It was such a privilege to get to know those two this season! I love it when you look forward to seeing your competition each race!
With the Olympic finished, it was time for focus on the most important part of the day – cheering for the boys, obviously! I had my vuvuzela in hand, and ran as fast as my tired out legs would carry me to catch the boys at T1, on the bike, and at mile 5 of the run. Our guys had stunning races – all of them! I’ve never been so inspired as when I saw Lauri’s face as he was hunting down a runner in front of him in the final stretch of the race. And, I finally got to meet Dwayne Dixon from FFT/Duke in person! Shelley is going to Duke next year, and I’m super happy to know that she’ll have great people to work with next year!
After cheering, lots of sun, and no rest, it was time for the grand finale of the day – the draft legal mixed team relay! For the past 2 years, our A-team has been the same: me, Jr, Christie, and Yoni. This year, we had a new dream team: me, Greg, Anna, and Yoni. Our team won, and as always, Yoni got to be the USAT poster-boy for Collegiate Nationals again.
Then we celebrated by being as obnoxious as possible at the award ceremony. Arriving late, of course, we had to stand in the back, but we made sure everyone knew Cal Tri was in attendance. Vuvuzela’s were both the best and worst idea ever conceived. The team had some amazing performances – The men’s team took 2nd. Greg had the fastest swim split. Lauri had the fastest run split. The relay took first. And we got 3rd in the combined team standings. I won the women’s overall championship again this year. And Anna had the fastest combined transitions! Our team was even a finalist for the video competition thanks to Ari’s skills. And just between you and me, I think we were also the most spirited team, but perhaps I’m biased.
Then we had a lot of ice cream and stayed up all night until our flights early early early the next morning, but that is another story for another day.
In the end, I could not be happier with how the weekend turned out. Maybe growing up is overrated? And it looks like I’ll get to race again next year, even. I’ll just have to keep working on that quest for confidence and let you know how it goes.
Big thanks to Eric for excellent coaching and moral support, and to FFT and all of our sponsors!