Trials and Triumphs: Training for Triathlons


Try swimming through a lake, hopping onto a bike and then strapping on your running shoes for a six-mile run. UCSD triathletes “tri” it all the time, and according to Eleanor Roosevelt College junior Ashley Reese, it’s not as big a feat as others may perceive it to be.

“People have these ideas about triathlons and what it is to be a triathlete,” Reese said. “For me, it isn’t a big deal.”

Reese was initially introduced to the world of triathlons when she first arrived at college and joined the UCSD Triathlon team — a non-NCAA-sanctioned sports club on campus.

But joining the team wasn’t too far of a stretch for her. In high school, Reese was a distance swimmer for a top swim club in her hometown of Palo Alto. She practiced 20 hours per week and competed in five open-water swims throughout her high school career. When she got to college, she wanted to stay physically fit, which led her to join the triathlon team.

“I still wanted to work out, and because I had done open-water swims, I thought that triathlon would be a good sport to try,” Reese said.

UCSD triathlon coach Sergio Borges trains the team through daily practices, at which each practice hones in on a different aspect of the sport.

“Practices are very challenging,” Reese said. “I would say that we practice at an NCAA level, even though we are a club team. Coach Borges is world-class. He is a professional triathlon coach outside of our team, and he works us really hard.”

Borges’ “challenging” training regimen is a result of his 17-year history with triathlons. He’s participated in 21 Ironman races — long-distance triathlon races consisting of 2.4-mile swims, 112-mile bike rides and 26.2-mile runs — and over 60 Half Ironman races. Borges is also an elite-level triathlon coach with his own coaching business — Sergio Borges XTraining — based in San Diego. 

Borges began coaching at UCSD in 1998 alongside his former business partner, Mark Bierotte, a UCSD alumnus. Bierotte had first established the team in the 1990s, but its success was short-lived. However, soon after — with the help of Borges — the team was revitalized, and it is now home to a group of 65 triathletes.

In 2005, the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference was created, giving west coast triathlon club teams the opportunity to compete with one another through organized races.

The UCSD Triathlon team hosts three WCCTC races every year: the Coveskipper Aquathlon, the Tritonman Triathlon and the Grove Run 5K. These races, which are either sprint distance or Olympic distance, draw schools like San Diego State and UC Irvine to the shores of La Jolla.  

In a sprint distance triathlon, athletes must complete a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and a five-kilometer run. In Olympic-distance triathlons, athletes must swim 1,500 meters, bike 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers.

Reese said that while many members who join the team have backgrounds in either running or swimming, the majority of them don’t have any prior experience with triathlons. As a result, the team is composed of varying levels of athleticism, ranging from beginners to well-seasoned athletes.

Reese’s teammate, Kerri Seger — a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — became a triathlete in order to fulfill an entry on her bucket list. Her desire to join the team was also influenced by the array of athletic abilities represented within the team. 

“It’s one of the biggest selling points of the team,” Seger said. “It’s the reason I joined it. The dynamic for all ability levels being welcome really puts the emphasis on creating friendships and professional relationships that can last longer than if you are just out there gutting it out with one another.”

Seger said that she was embraced by the team from the beginning despite her lack of experience. She now hopes to exhibit this same welcoming attitude toward all newcomers to the sport.

“I came onto the team as a complete beginner,” Seger said. “Now, I kind of play the team mom. I have to make sure people feel like they are welcome and get all their questions answered.”

The welcoming team dynamic, Reese said, stems from the memories of the more experienced athletes on the team from when they, too, initially grappled with the complexities of the sport.

“I would say that our team, and all of the returning and senior members, all remember very clearly being totally clueless about something,” Reese said.

According to Reese, with varying levels of experience come varying levels of commitment.

“I think it is great that people can put in the amount of time that they want, and I think that it is very understandable that people don’t want to commit as much,” Reese said. “But it is sometimes hard to build a strong team environment because the team is so big. It makes it difficult to get to know people.”

Even still, Reese expressed her appreciation for her time and experience on the team. 

“The fun of it is the racing experience,” Reese said. “The best part is being able to go on a 25-mile bike ride through these beautiful mountains. At the end of each race, I have a sense of accomplishment. I am so happy at the end of the race — regardless of how I do — because I was in a beautiful environment.”

Seger’s appreciation for the sport comes not from the scenic experience that it can provide but from the moment when her wheels cross the finish line.

“It is one of the most immediately rewarding experiences you can have when you cross that finish line in the middle of all the pain you just caused yourself,” Seger said.

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