A firsthand account of one club team’s trip to Vegas

By Caryn Maconi on October 17, 2011 — originally published in the 2011 Colorado Football official game program, Colorado Buffaloes vs. Oregon Ducks

When I headed to Vegas with the CU Triathlon Team last weekend, we weren’t trying to win a game of blackjack.

This club team was looking for victory at the 2011 Pumpkinman Triathlon, a multisport event that combines swimming, biking and running into one race.

Pumpkinman is one of several races the CU team does in the fall before the larger collegiate regional and national championships in March and April. As part of the Mountain Collegiate Triathlon Conference, we battle teams like Air Force, Colorado State, Northern Arizona and Arizona State — but they’ve got nothing on us.

The CU Tri Team has won 12 national championships since its inception in 1994, and we’re aiming for our third straight and 13th overall title this April.

In Vegas, we were just giving our competition a preview.

On Thursday morning, we loaded four cars and a trailer with 15 people, their bikes and whole lot of gear. Then we headed out of Boulder, only to arrive 12 hours later in… Boulder.

Boulder City, Nevada, that is.

Since the team regularly camps, we stayed near the race site about 25 miles outside of Las Vegas at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The tents went up as soon as we arrived on Thursday night. We crashed early, knowing we had a big weekend ahead.

As usual, Friday was a day of rest, race preparation and plenty of carb-loading. We made sure our bikes were working properly, tested the water in Lake Mead with a quick swim, and went on a jog to loosen our legs. The inevitable pre-race spaghetti dinner was prepared out of an RV by one team member’s parents. It was early to bed again, but this time, the anticipation of the morning to come made it difficult to sleep.

At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, I awoke to the sound of ten phone alarms going off at once.

It was race morning, and we were ready to rock.

Our campsite was a scene of organized chaos as we made our final preparations, taping race numbers onto bikes and pumping low tires by the light of our headlamps. We made it to the race site just after sunrise, and after setting up our transition areas and donning our wetsuits, we huddled together for our team cheer:

Iki la boomba
Iki la wiki liki
Affa la waffa laffa

None of us knows the translation of this tribal chant or even what language it is, but it sure works to get us pumped.

The entire Pumpkinman event actually features three races of varying distances – a sprint, an olympic distance and a half-Ironman. The olympic distance, a 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run, is the classic collegiate distance, but we also had some first-timers racing the sprint (half that of an olympic distance).

As I watched the sprinters start their swim, my heart beat faster. I hadn’t done an olympic since nationals last spring, and I couldn’t wait to race alongside my team again.

Soon, it was time for my wave to start. The gun went off, and everyone shot forward at once. Knowing the swim was my weakness, I tried to to set a comfortable pace and avoid getting kicked in the face. As I made it back to shore and headed into transition, I prepared to make up some time on the bike.

The biggest challenge of Pumpkinman’s bike course is its hills. The first half is rolling, but the course ends with a gradual incline on a bike trail followed by a steep hill up to the second transition area. As I crested that last hill, I thought of the mountains we train on in Boulder, knowing I was ready for a challenge like this.

Finally, it was time for my strength – the run. We’d been racing for two hours already, and the Nevada sun felt like an oven. My legs were nearly shot, but I was motivated by my teammates. I knew two CU girls were just a few minutes ahead, and I wanted to catch them.

In the end, the three of us finished less than five minutes apart, a promising sign of our team’s depth. Senior Courtney Clark finished 4th of all women in 2:43:47, I came in 6th (2:45:38), and junior Elisa Schauer was 9th (2:49:45). On the men’s side, graduate student Rob Helvestine finished 4th in 2:18:59, senior Eric Ebeling was 8th (2:23:20), and sophomore Jesse Frank was 9th (2:23:43).

To boot, we had two girls complete their first olympic distance race this weekend and three people complete the sprint as their first-ever triathlon.

On the CU Tri Team, though, success is about more than just results.

Success is being a true team in a sport that’s individual on the surface. We constantly push each other to new levels in training and racing. We pick up the slack when another teammate has an off-day, something we’ve all experienced at some point.

Most of all, we care about each other both on and off course. Those newbies who raced with us for the first time this weekend? They joined because they saw something in us that they wanted to be a part of. We’re not just a team — we’re a family.

And when the race is over and the hard work is done, we sure know how to party in Vegas.