Do you worry about getting “choked out” the day before your races? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
Being a triathlete takes motivation. Being a college triathlete takes a unique type of motivation. Being a college triathlete with a 20-credit semester plus year-round vigorous military training takes motivation to a whole new level. Enter the West Point Triathlon Club.
Every morning at 5:15 a.m., the team of dedicated cadets wakes up and heads to the pool for a one-hour session before breakfast. The mindset of sacrifice and determination seems to transcend their military regime—the six-time national champions placed second at last year’s USAT National Collegiate Championships.
“I think triathlon fits really well with the army lifestyle because, besides the different military routines we have, the physical aspect of being in the army is what we take pride in,” says Cadet Brian Trainor, a 2010 USAT All-American who placed 18th at Nationals last year despite a broken elbow just weeks before.
Swimming and biking and running with classes and papers and projects are what make being a college triathlete impressive. But at a prestigious academy like West Point, it’s the extra physical training that makes what they do that much more remarkable. “During the year, a number of our top guys right now are in combative class, where they could’ve gotten choked out during a bout the day before we left for Nationals,” Trainor says. “I had the class this fall, and going into a big race I was wondering if I was going to get punched the day before. We’ve had some unfortunate injuries like that happen on the team, but it’s something we deal with.”
The summer months take on a new set of challenges. When most triathletes are peaking and racing their best, the cadets are preparing for combat down the road. They might do a 21-day streak on very little sleep, carrying 70 pounds on their backs all day. Last summer, Trainor was in a program where he slept about two hours a night while getting ambushed to simulate different urban ops scenarios.
Their team of 20 is led by 1991 West Point graduate Tony DeBoom (Tim’s brother), a two-time Ironman champion. Other triathlon-enthusiastic army officers join the team for workouts, help with administrative tasks and even offer up their houses for events like the Super Bowl. The team’s funding for travel and expenses mainly comes from hosting the annual West Point Triathlon in August, which raises more than $100,000. Various donors are also instrumental in funding.
The team’s weekly schedule involves a daily swim, five run workouts and Saturday long rides that can get up to 5–6 hours during the base phase. They’ll often do team time trials a few weeks out from a main event, where they’ll put race wheels on their bikes and don race gear.
A typical week might look like this:
3000m swim workout every morning (Ex: Main set 15×100 race simulation)
Monday Recovery spin on the bike
Tuesday Main interval day for the bike (Ex: 7×5 minutes at race pace)
Wednesday Run speed workout (track session or fartlek) followed by an easy spin
Thursday Medium effort or recovery on the bike
Friday Short, fast intervals on the bike with a short run after
Saturday Long ride plus brick run
Sunday Long run
The team heads into Saturday’s competition with an optimistic outlook, given that many of them have raced on the Tuscaloosa, Ala., course multiple times. “Last year everyone was basically brand new to the course,” Trainor says. “But this year I sense a lot more confidence, kind of the ‘been there, done that’ feeling—even among the freshman, which is unbelievable. They seem like they’re feeding off the older members of the team.”
West Point hopes to edge out the returning champions, the University of Colorado Buffs, to take this year’s title. Check back to Triathlete.com for race results this weekend.
Here’s a video made by the team at the HITS race in Naples, Fla., last January.