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Any way and every way: BU Triathlon Team prepares for half-marathon

Eat. Sleep. Swim. Run. Bike. Repeat.

The common athlete mantra has a few more steps in it for those who choose to be triathletes like Stephanie Lie, the president of the Boston University Triathlon Team.

On Tuesday mornings, Lie swims for an hour. Tuesday afternoons she spins (exercising on an indoor bicycle for two hours). Wednesdays she runs. Thursdays she swims and spins again. Fridays she and the Triathlon Team go for an early morning run, rewarding themselves with some bonding and breakfast at Blue State Coffee afterward. Sundays, members of the team often go on long runs to build up the stamina needed for races.

The seven practices a week are often a bit too time-consuming for all members to attend, but team practices are not mandatory. The goal is to give everyone the freedom to make what he or she wants from the team.

“Some athletes are geared toward competition and come to most practices of the week and train outside of specific practice times,” said Lie, a Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences junior. “But others take it more recreationally.”

On Sunday, Lie and some other members of the BU Triathlon Team will be running the half-marathon at the Hyannis Marathon, Half Marathon & Marathon Team Relay, which is a Boston Marathon Qualifier race.

Lie began preparing specifically for this race in late December and has now progressed her long runs on Sundays up to 13 miles while keeping up with her weekday practices with the team.

“I think I’ll be ready by next week,” she said. “There are a few other members of our team doing the half-marathon with me, but most people will be splitting off into relay teams and racing each other in the marathon relay. It should be a fun day.”

BU’s Triathlon Team is sending three teams, with four members each, to the marathon relay this month in Hyannis.

Triathletes have a unique season — one that is split between both spring and fall because it is very dependent on the weather. As a team, the triathletes compete in the Northeast Collegiate Triathlon Conference (NECTC) and their scoring races are either sprint or Olympic.

Since the conference season runs from the end of August until the end of September, the team spends the rest of the school year training and participating in road races, like the upcoming one in Hyannis.

The triathlons in the spring semester include the USA Triathlon (USAT) Collegiate Nationals in April and the New England Season Opener during May in Hopkinton.

Race Day

A triathlon begins with swimming. Before the starting horn goes off, the athletes wade into the water, wearing full body wetsuits and tread water for a few minutes.

“The pre-race tension you feel in that water is so thick you could probably reach out and grab a chunk of it — the anticipation makes your heart rate spike and your whole body just wants to explode as the adrenaline starts pumping,” said Matt O’Connor, vice president of the team, said as he detailed his favorite part of the race.

With the race starting around 7 or 8 a.m. typically, the swimmers take off as the sun is rising.

“You can watch the sun rise — if you get about a tenth of a second to stop being tired and look up, the sunrise can actually be really beautiful,” he said.

Next comes the bicycling portion, either 10 to 15 miles for a sprint or 25 miles for an Olympic race, which takes the longest.

“Not only is it physically exhausting, but staying focused on your cadence and how your body is actually feeling can be pretty mentally draining as well,” O’Connor, a SAR sophomore, said.

Completing the triathlon with a run, the athletes push through exhaustion to finish.

“With every fiber of your being telling you enough is enough, running is pretty difficult,” he said. “But there is something extremely rewarding about the complete lack of energy that you have after you take the first few steps past the finish line.”

Becoming a Triathlete

The BU Triathlon Team welcomes anyone who wants to join, regardless of experience, Lie said.

“Most people come in without any prior triathlon experience,” she said. “Most were runners or swimmers in high school.”

After being a swimmer her whole life, Lie felt a little burnt out by the end of high school.

“After my first semester in college, though, I really missed exercising with the purpose of fulfilling a goal, and I had started to miss swimming, so I decided to join the triathlon team my second semester,” she said.

O’Connor was also a swimmer in high school. However, during his junior and senior years of high school, he began running with his school’s cross country and track teams.

“After my junior year, my varsity swim coach asked me to be a part of an Olympic triathlon relay team, and that was my first experience with triathlons,” he said.

O’Connor joined the Triathlon Team the spring of his freshman year at BU and completed his first race, The New England Season Opener, this past May. Since then, he’s completed four Olympic triathlons with the team.

“I love doing triathlons because it tests every physical and mental limit that you have, three times,” he said. “Each leg of the race takes a lot out of you and you have to find it somewhere in yourself to keep pushing toward the finish.”

Biking was an additional leg of the race for Lie, O’Connor, and Anna Geary-Meyer.

Geary-Meyer, secretary of the Triathlon Team, swam and ran during high school but had never biked before she joined the team the first semester of her freshman year.

“As a result, I was pretty slow and I hated it,” Geary-Meyer, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said. “But with the encouragement of my teammates, I’ve grown to love biking and I’ve gotten a lot faster — a few of us have even decided to join the Cycling Team this spring.”

Why Triathlons?

While most athletes choose to specialize in one sport, this team has chosen to combine three to focus on at the same time.

“Triathlon is such a special sport because it’s really three separate sports combined,” O’Connor said. “I’ve always loved being challenged, and I haven’t found anything that tests your mettle like triathlons. Not only do you have to learn the technique for three sports, but you have to learn how to push yourself through all kinds of different workouts.”

Lie said she enjoys triathlons because each race gives her a meaningful goal to work toward. In addition, the team’s relationship with each other keeps her motivated.

“Each workout is a highlight of my day because I get to do something that makes me feel great, with my best friends, and toward a goal that I’m excited about,” Lie said. “When I look back on my years at BU, triathlon will likely be one of the first, and best, things that comes to my mind.”

O’Connor said one of his best choices at BU so far as been to join the Triathlon Team.

“Everyone on the team is extremely friendly — they took me under their wing and the team is incredibly close,” he said. “There is a lot to learn participating in a sport that’s actually three sports, so having a team that is so close-knit helped me pick up the in’s and out’s of the sport. Early morning practices aren’t the most convenient part of the team, but when everybody is there pushing through the workouts with you, it’s actually pretty fun.”

Adding a Fourth Ball to the Juggling Act 

Though the training schedule of the team is optional, many of the team members try to keep up with them and sometimes spend even more time practicing if they want to be able to be competitive in the races and conferences.

“While training takes up a lot of time, I feel like I speak for a lot of us when I say that triathlon overall has made us more efficient people,” Lie said.

Fitting in time for both training and academics have forced triathletes to manage their time well — a skill that is useful in many areas of life, she said.

“It may just be the competitive nature of everyone on the team, but I have never met a more academically driven group of people in my life,” O’Connor said. “Being around so many hard-working people, it’s really hard not to try harder in all my classes. But individually, practicing and working out so often gets you in the right mindset to succeed.”

Any activity that requires a significant amount of time forces a student to focus during the time they do have to study, Geary-Meyer said.

“The people on the team include a lot of high-achieving people — some are already in medical school, others in Ph.D. programs, others just really smart — so we all tend to set a good example for each other,” she said.

O’Connor said he tries to think about breaking down his studying the same way he does with training.

“You can’t get in shape for a triathlon in one day, just like you can’t do well on a test with only one day of studying,” O’Connor said.

The Hyannis Marathon, Half-Marathon and Marathon Team Relay begins at 7 p.m. on Friday.

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