For Brittany Braden, triathlon is more than a sport: it’s a necessity. The nutrition senior makes triathlon a priority, working out at least 10 times per week to stay in shape.
“It becomes really addicting,” Braden said. “It’s a huge part of my life.”
Braden has been running, biking and swimming with the Cal Poly Triathlon team since she joined as a sophomore, and took eighth place last year in the National Collegiate Triathlon Championships.
The team is one of the most popular club sports on campus, with more than 140 members. Club president and animal science senior Hannah Tillman said commitment level is entirely up to students, with membership ranging from elite members who work out frequently, to students who enjoy just one aspect of triathlon.
The team holds nine practices per week, and because all members are Cal Poly students, practice attendance depends on class schedules.
“When people do show up to practice it’s because they actually want to be there and that makes for a really great training environment,” Tillman said.
This year, the NCAA is also monitoring collegiate triathlon races because of USA Triathlon’s recent petitions to make women’s triathlon a Division I sport.
“The whole feeling of triathlon is a little bit different this year as opposed to last year because we have something to prove,” Tillman said.
If women’s triathlon becomes a college sport, then athletes would receive priority registration in season and it would open the door to athletic scholarships. This would be good news for women who fit triathlon into their busy schedules right now, Tillman said.
“We pay our entire way, we work around our school schedules, work just as hard to compete and compete in as many races,” Tillman said.
In addition to working around busy school schedules, paying team expenses is another challenge for team members. The team pays a head coach and rents time at the Cal Poly pool for practices. The team also helps subsidize trips to national competitions for Braden and other athletes, which can cost more than $1,000 per person, Tillman said.
To help raise funds, the Cal Poly Triathlon team hosts its own races. Triathletes from CSUs and UCs across the state will come to San Luis Obispo County next month to compete in the March Triathlon Series (MTS) at Lake Lopez on March 27.
The race serves as the championships for the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference (WCCTC) to determine which college teams go on to nationals. The race is also the championship for non-collegiate athletes from the USA Triathlon Southwest Region, which is unusual for a student-run triathlon, Tillman said.
“We’re definitely the best run collegiate triathlon and I think people have noticed that,” Tillman said.
As well as being the only collegiate race licensed by USA Triathlon, MTS also continues to draw larger crowds each year. The race is limited to 650 participants, and has hit that limit the past several years, Tillman said.
This coming year, the team also plans to put a bigger focus on being environmentally conscious. The PA system, lighting and timing computers will all be run by a solar-powered generator. The triathlon team is inviting Cal Poly’s green clubs as well as local businesses to participate in a green expo, said journalism senior Kevin Rouse, who is the run course director.
“We’re college students and we’re definitely one of the more progressive groups out there,” Rouse said, “We kind of felt it was our responsibility to start setting a new trend for sports events.”
MTS costs between $70 and $115 to compete in, depending on the length of the race. Competitors can choose to do either the sprint course or the Olympic course, which is twice as long as the sprint.
Race coordinator and mechanical engineering sophomore Frankie Wiggins said the team does its best to make sure participation isn’t too expensive.
“A lot of triathlons run one and a half to two times as much,” Wiggins said.
Race day starts bright and early at 5:30 a.m. when competitors arrive and unload their bike gear. Athletes have time to warm up before the race starts at 8 a.m., with sets of competitors beginning their laps around the lake.
Sprint-distance athletes swim 750 yards in Lopez Lake, while Olympic-distance athletes swim 1,500 meters. The first part of the swim is the hardest, Wiggins said.
“The first 100 meters of every race is always a battle,” Wiggins said. “You get pushed under, you get elbowed in the face.”
After the swim portion, athletes leave the water and head to the transition area, where they have set up their bikes. The bike course is 24.8 miles for the long-distance race and 12 miles for the shorter race.
Finally, the bicyclists dismount and begin the foot portion of the race. The sprint course is 3.1 miles and the Olympic course is 6.2 miles in length.
The race typically finishes around 1 or 2 p.m., Wiggins said.
“It’s a long day but it’s really rewarding,” he said.
Braden probably knows best how rewarding finishing a triathlon is.
“I would be lost without doing that,” Braden said. “It just wouldn’t be an option.”