By Ethan Veitch
Like all of our triathlon races, Cal Poly: SLO’s March Triathlon Series (MTS) began long before the sun rose. While the rest of the team spent the night becoming acquainted with the outdoors, I cheated and slept in a warm bed in nearby Santa Maria. The drawback was that I had a 40 minute car ride to the race course and had to pick up my packet race morning. Unlike many other collegiate triathlons, MTS is far away from civilization. This fact is more apparent before the sun rises as the only illumination comes from the headlights of cars. By the time I parked and made the long walk to transition (a preview for the start and end of the run course) it was almost 6:30am. After the shortest packet pickup ever, I headed over to transition, but with no fellow San Diegians in sight, I racked my bike on one of the empty center racks. A few minutes later, everyone seem to show up at once and I happened to be only one rack over. I finally got to see how other’s DIY race wheel covers turned out– there were at least seven by my count and they all looked badass.
With the sun rising at about 7am this time of year and the entire race surrounded by mountains, I believe everyone was thankful that the race start was pushed back an hour this year to 8am for the first wave. This was my fifth year competing at the WCCTC Conference at MTS so I’ve seen the course and weather change slightly over the years. The water level was by far the lowest I’ve seen but temperature was above average. Lake Lopez is notoriously cold and the mostly shaded and overcast bike course does nothing to warm appendages. After applying vaseline to my neck and donning my cap, goggles, and wetsuit, I waddled into the cold lake for a quick warmup. With the first men’s wave ready to go, we did the second debut of our cheer to show off spirit while getting adrenaline flowing. Behind the excited, pre-race murmur of the crowd, I barely heard a man counting down and then we were off. I usually try to take the outside path for the swim starts and this race reminded me why. After taking a legendary beating from neighboring swimmers (not as bad Kerri Dawn’s though), the group thinned out and I found myself drafting behind a group. Determining they were too slow, I made my way around and caught up with a swimmer who I later determined to be teammate Marcel Aguiar.
Coming into transition, I also saw two UC Santa Barbara guys (my former teammates) which gave me a boost of competitive excitement and I rushed out onto the bike course and up the immediate, large hill. I soon joined a group of about 8 cyclists which the USAT officials monitored frequently for the “three bike lengths” drafting distance. One of the members of the pack was team member Jeff Dahlen. I stayed with that group for about 15 minutes but their speed uphill proved slightly too fast. Upon coming back downhill, I noticed Jeff had separated from the pack and wasn’t going at the same speed he started with. I knew Jeff was a stronger cyclist than me so I quickly asked if he was okay to which he replied with encouragement to continue on past him. I found out later that Jeff found a rough spot on the first downhill, crashed, then continued racing because he’s that badass. I also found out later that another team member crashed and broke his collarbone on that same area on the course. I spent the rest of the bike course alone with only a few people passing me. Nearing the second turnaround, I could see our Bill Jones in first place with a substantial lead. Daniel Heineck, famed UCSD bike commuter and fellow EE nerd, finally caught up to me on the course’s legendary but short hill at the second turn-around. Naively thinking I could step up my pace on the long downhill back to T2, I watched Daniel fade out into the distance as he unlocked beast-mode for the final section of the bike. Talking to Marcel after the race, I found out his wheel cover had fallen off, forcing him to get off his bike and rip it off: something I thought I might have had to do with mine.
After racking my bike, throwing on my race flats, and grabbing my race belt and a second gel (definitely needed a second), I ran down a chute through a cheering crowd of onlookers. The first and last quarter of the olympic run course overlaps with the sprint course so it gets confusing who is racing which. I felt a little fatigued and it was soon obvious I wasn’t going at the pace I had planned for. At the turnaround I saw Bill and Dan at uncatchable distances ahead of me but Charlie Chen and Jason Stofelth (as well two UCSB athletes I knew) hot on my tail. Obviously this gave me motivation to step up my pace and the very slight downhill helped. There was no one to challenge for the sprint to the end but I finished with a smile after seeing my finish time. Overall, I dropped nearly 7 minutes on my time from last year with Charlie having similar results. As a team, I believe we finished 4th place in Male, 2nd place in Female, and 3rd in Overall categories–quite a feat for being in likely the most competitive conference in the nation. Being in the race myself, I can’t say much about other team member’s races but the results speak for themselves. We had three girls in the top 10 (which is completely insane) in addition to 9 guys in the top 50. We will race Collegiate Nationals in Tempe, Arizona in less than two weeks and I already know that we’re going to be one of the highlight teams.
Post-race, there were much-needed snacks and hydration available. After all participants in every category had finished, the secondary competition began. This was not a test of athleticism or endurance but of manliness, dedication, and a little creativity. It was the MTS Mustache Championship. I actually won the championship two years ago in 2012 with the help of a mustached speedo. I didn’t enter in 2013, but being on a new team this year, I gave it another go. Every year since winning, I have a photo of taken of myself with my ‘stache while wearing a shirt with the image of the previous year. My recursive shirt was two layers deep this year. I had the idea two make two mustaches out of my 1.5 month-old beard but ended up connecting them at end, making for some kind of mustache mouth.
Just as the announcer was about to being the competition, Jason Stofleth and Byrce Zaffarano, two of the largest guys on the team, hoisted me up on their shoulders and brought me through the crowd to the podium. The announcer went through each participant and judged who stayed for the next round by how loud the crowd cheered. The first round was stress-free as drawn-on and one-week-old mustaches were ejected from competition. The successive rounds became more intense as participants dwindled. The final round was between a UCLA guy and myself but, thanks to two awesomely loud team, I was crowned 2014 Mustache Champion.
Despite a few unforeseen mishaps that knocked out some strong racers, UCSD had an overall tremendous presence at Conference and I’m looking forward to even better races from everyone at Nationals.