TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I recently had the pleasure of talking triathlon with Erin Hunter, who has worn many hats for the Tri Club over the years from Potluck Coordinator to Head Swim Coach. Please join me in getting to know one of our best volunteers. And you will see that she is also a pretty accomplished athlete.
Craig: What was your sports background prior to triathlon?
Erin: I grew up in Placerville, California which is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s near South Lake Tahoe. I grew up trying pretty much every sport there was to offer in my home town (soccer, softball, volleyball, swimming, basketball, track & field, cross-country); it took me a long time to decide which sport I wanted to put all my efforts into. After a lot of heartache and indecision I finally decided during my senior year of high school that swimming was the sport for me. I walked onto the UC Santa Cruz Women’s swim team in college and had the time of my life! I worked really hard and managed to qualify for NCAA’s three of the four years; I received 7 All Americans in total at NCAA’s. My best race was the 200 breaststroke my junior year; I managed to place 3rd overall! Swimming has really taught me how to work hard and how dedication and persistence pays off; it also has given me some great stories and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Craig: How did you get started with triathlon?
Erin: In college we had to fundraise money for the swim team and one of the main volunteer events we did was work the Santa Cruz Triathlon (Olympic distance) every year. The only way you could (1) get out of volunteering both days (I know, terrible of me) (2) get to take it easy at our Saturday swim workout before the race was to actually participate in the triathlon. Seemed like a sweet deal to me! So the summer between my freshman and sophomore year I bought a road bike and raced! I did that race every year until I graduated; to this day it is still my favorite race. One of these years I will make it back to do it again!
Craig: In 2015 you raced your first Ironman at Coeur d’Alene and finished 1 place away from qualifying for Kona. Congratulations for such a great Ironman debut! What was this experience like?
Erin: My first Ironman race was actually supposed to be Challenge Roth in Germany but a few months before the race I realized that race wasn’t going to happen for me; Ironman Coeur d’Alene (IMCDA) was scheduled around the same time of year so I decided since I had already put so much time into training already that I would switch it up and make it work. I am fortunate to have a lot of friends in San Diego that also train for triathlons so I was able to do a lot of my longer training workouts with great people who have a ton of experience and they really helped push me through the harder/longer training days.
I honestly wasn’t convinced that IMCDA was going to happen; the weather was forecasted to be 107 degree Fahrenheit (holy hotness)!! Everyone was talking about how they were going to cancel the race or make it a half (which would have been disappointing). They decided to start the race at 0530 in the morning to try and help beat some of the heat, I woke up and asked my brother, Erik, if he would rather spend the day with me at the movies and he just looked at me, rolled his eyes and told me to suck it up. Thanks Erik!
Not surprising to anyone the swim went phenomenal, I was first female overall included the pros out of the water. Hopped on the bike and really enjoyed the first loop of the bike; by the time I was about a third of the way through the second loop it started to getting REALLY hot. It felt like a blow dryer out there; the paramedics said that the heat permeating off the road was over 130 degrees! I finished the bike still in first place but then I started to the run…… and knew it was going to be tough. Immediately I decided all I need to do was run to each aid station and then walk the aid station shoving ice down my top and dumping water on my head. That worked well but I really started cramping bad halfway through the run and had to walk a bunch. I knew I was going to finish but thought there might be some crawling involved. Even though I felt like I was in bad shape I was WAY better off than the majority of the people left on the course. I would say 99% of the people were walking by the time I got into my second loop. I was in position to qualify for Kona until 2 miles from the end when I got passed by two girls in my age group. I tried to stay with them, my heart wanted it but my legs couldn’t run without cramping.
Honestly, even though it would have been cool to qualify for Kona my two goals for the race were (1) to have fun and enjoy every moment no matter how trying the day may be and (2) to finish. I can say with a smile on my face that I achieved that. That feeling of running through the finish line and having Mike Reilly tell you that you are an IRONMAN and knowing all the hard work you put in is a feeling I can’t even describe with words but it is a feeling that makes you realize that it was all worth it.
Craig: What suggestions do you have for those preparing for their first Ironman?
Erin: To enjoy the process; to live the minute, or the mile you are in. Don’t spend too much time thinking ahead or about the end of your workout or your race. The reality of training for an Ironman is that 99% of the work is in the preparation so if you don’t enjoy your training days then you won’t have a successful race.
What really got me through the longer training workouts was being creative with my workouts; don’t always do the same bike ride or the same run route. Make a weekend vacation out of it and do a destination ride or run!
Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of?
Erin: In general I am most proud of my collegiate swimming career. I am pretty sure everyone on the team thought I was crazy. You kind of have to be if you swim competitively. I would always be pushing the limit, getting up extra early to run up to campus, or do the extra/optional swim workouts. I believed I could be great so I was going to do everything I could to achieve that.
I squeaked into NCAA’s my sophomore year so I wasn’t expecting to make finals. On the second day of the swim meet I competed in the 400 IM and had a great race! I was in the second to last heat so depending on the last heat there was a chance I could qualify for finals. I remember standing on the pool deck next to my swim coach; I didn’t think I breathed the entire four minutes. When the results popped up I saw I had snagged the 8th spot and made finals! I think I jumped 10 feet in the air, screamed, did a little dance, I may have even kissed my coach (I can’t remember but seems like something I would do). Even though I had more successful races after that day, that race and that day will always be my proudest.
Craig: You have done a lot for the TCSD over the years – Pot Luck Coordinator and Head Swim Coach for 3 years, among many other things. What have been the benefits for you of getting so involved?
Erin: There are tons of benefits that come from volunteering for TCSD; you get to interact with professional athletes, you are provided opportunities to volunteer for really fun things that you normally wouldn’t, lots of yummy food, and you are surrounded by a wealth of knowledge of the sport so you learn a lot. I would say the number one benefit is all the great people you meet, I have met some of my best friends through the club and I am very thankful for that!
Craig: You obviously know a lot about swimming. What are some of your most common swim tips for triathletes?
Erin: Rotation! A lot of triathletes (especially new to swimming) spend a lot of time on their bellies. While swimming you should constantly be rotating side to side, using your core and hips to do so. So I spend a lot of time when I coach technique working on rotation and core strength.
Craig: What gives you the most joy as a swim coach?
Erin: By being a swim coach for the club it has renewed and reinvigorated my passion for swimming. I have been involved in swimming for such a long time I had forgotten what it took to get to the level I am at, I had taken for granted how easy swimming is for me.
I have coached hundreds of people throughout the years; many of them came to TCSD not being able to swim a full length of the pool or being terrified of putting their faces in the water. Working with people like that and helping them overcome their fear and finally being comfortable enough to compete in a triathlon (or any race) is a great feeling. The excitement is palpable when they come back to tell you that they finished the race and actually enjoyed the swim (shocker!)! That is one of best feelings in the world! In a way I think I get more out volunteering for the TCSD swim program than the people I coach, I always leave the swim workouts with a smile on my face and feeling grateful.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits about being a TCSD member?
Erin: All the club races, especially the aquathlons. It is so fun to have a small local race mid-week, on the beach, with pizza, and a guaranteed beautiful sunset.
Craig: You have probably done some amazing things over the years with sports. Do you have any particularly epic memories that stand out?
Erin: Over the years I have had the opportunity do a lot of fun/crazy things through sports. Last year I got to participate in the coast ride from San Francisco to Santa Barbara (375 miles in 3 days, insanity!); to date that is the hardest thing I have ever done on my bike, but I got to ride through some of the most gorgeous parts of California!
I would have to say the most insane thing that I did (multiple times) was in college, every year we had two teams swim from Santa Cruz Harbor to Monterey Harbor (6 people, 20 to 30 minute legs, rotate through until you’re done), without wetsuits. That swim is about 26 miles if you swim in a straight-line and the water temperature varies between 52 and 58 degrees (brrrrrrrr), with the threat of great whites being high we were always so happy to survive and not freeze to death. There have been a few years where there were smacks of jellyfish that we tried to swim through (ouch!), we have seen sea lions mating, whales breeching! The year after I graduated they had a 19 foot great white shark circle the group (everyone got out safely) so ever since then they haven’t done the relay across the bay.
Craig: Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?
Erin: My family has hands down been the most influential people in my life. My mom and dad have always been my number one fans and support system, even if I made decisions in my life (like quitting soccer, sorry dad!) they did not completely agree with. They always trusted my decisions and were (and still are) always there to cheer or give a supportive hand. I am so fortunate to have parents that I can rely on even as a grownup. I also have to give a huge shout out to my brothers; I really don’t know what I would have done without them growing up and even now. They are always there give me a kick in the butt when I need one (literally and figuratively).
Also, my swim coaches throughout the years. Coach Kenworthy for throwing me back in the pool when I had a hissy fit and kicked him in the shin; Terry Jones for seeing my potential in high school and all my UCSC college swim coaches Kim Musch, Joel Wilson, Larry Baeder, and James Cisneros who pushed me harder and farther than I thought I could ever go.
Craig: What are your future goals with triathlon? (This could be far reaching. You might want to work in the industry, hold an office with the club, continue with swim coaching, or achieve some goal as an athlete.)
Erin: I am always looking to try something new; there are so many deviations of the sport out there. So my goal every year is to try a new type of triathlon or similar multisport race (xterra, short or long course, swim/run events, adventure races, etc.). It keeps competing in triathlon fun! This year I am participating in a swim/run race in Portland, Maine for the first time! I get to go somewhere I have never been before and complete in a new type of multisport race.
Craig: Erin, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I have been wanting to interview you for a long time. It was well worth the wait. Good luck with your future goals. The women in your age group don’t have a chance!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.