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Finding Faster: A Quick Transition from Collegiate Running to Triathlon

By Gina Sereno | Aug. 21, 2018, 5:31 p.m. (ET)

Gina Sereno

After finishing my master’s degree and final year of eligibility as a track and cross country runner at the University of Michigan, I was fortunate enough to join the Collegiate Recruitment Program (CRP) and found myself swept up by the tidal waves of triathlon training.

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, participating in nearly every sport imaginable — from soccer and tennis to Nordic skiing and ballet — so in addition to my collegiate running background, I also had experience swimming and biking. I took these limited experiences with me to the CRP camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where I trained with four incredible athletes and an array of high-level coaches.

Together, we attended lectures on sports psychology, nutrition and improving technical aspects of the swim, bike, and run. The focus of the camp centered around skills acquisition rather than long workouts and the 10 days were filled with cycling climbs through Garden of Gods, weighted-one arm swimming drills and bungee-cord running exercises to name a few of the many activities. 

Part of what made the camp so successful was the diversity in backgrounds of both the coaches and athletes present. CRP Manager Barb Lindquist brought together several high-level retired triathletes and mentorship coaches in addition to the swim, bike and run specialists.

Swimming specialist Dr. G set up an underwater camera to conduct stroke analysis and offer corrective solutions, catered to the individual needs of each athlete. Our bike Coach Kevin Dessart took us to the Velodrome in Colorado Springs. There, we practiced riding a pace line on a track banked at 38 degrees, on track bikes with exactly one gear and zero brakes!

Our run Coach Bobby McGee introduced us to several dynamic mobility exercises in addition to making slight corrections to our running form. These exercises helped immensely in understanding our opportunities for improvement and implementing the appropriate changes on the swim, bike, and run. 

The skills proposed by the coaches were supplemented by learning from the techniques of the other athletes at camp. For example, watching Clayton Hutchins and Erik Armes expertly navigate tight corners on the bike or swimming behind the fast feet of Annie Kelly and Kevin Jervis helped create images in my mind to replicate and mimic on my own.

There was also much to be learned from the mistakes of others; Erik took a spill around a 180-degree turn by pedaling too early, scraping his inside foot on the ground — something Coach Kevin had warned us of earlier in the week. Erik recovered quickly and showed his true grit by jumping back in the pool that afternoon, but the lesson stuck with all of us.

I’m not sure if it was the new friends or supportive community, but somewhere at camp I caught the triathlon bug. It stayed with me through the training sessions and racing at the Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. Seeing the whole group —minus Kevin :( — together again in Cleveland reminded me of the comfort, ease and enjoyment that comes from training with a familiar group.

Going into the race as a triathlete with a running background, I was looking forward to the opportunity to test my weakest area, the swim, in a competitive age group environment. That opportunity did not avail itself as the swim was cancelled due to strong currents, however, the race was switched to a run-bike-run duathlon which favored athletes with a running background.

With two strong run legs and a decent bike, I won the sprint duathlon with a 30-second margin of victory, however had the swim been incorporated I am certain the outcome would have been different. I walked away from the weekend excited about my performance, while realizing my next races will be much more challenging.

All in all, through this experience I garnered a newfound level of interest in continuing to pursue triathlon and I am excited about the opportunity to find faster techniques, chase better times and push myself to higher levels of competition with USA Triathlon. 

Erik and Gina and teammates at Velo Track