The actress, who completed the race as a relay team with her castmates, shared how she trained for the big day and why it's totally okay that she's doubling up on carbs

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Just days before the Season 3 premiere of How to Get Away with Murder (catch the much-anticipated return of Shonda Rhimes' drama this Thursday on ABC's TGIT lineup), some cast members stepped away from all the criminal cover-ups to tackle another obstacle-the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, sponsored by Equinox and held last Sunday. The goal? To raise money for the Pediatric Cancer Research Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Cast members (and friends) Karla Souza, Jack Falahee, and Alfred Enoch (or Laurel, Connor, and Wes, as you may know them on the show) stepped up to the challenge. They completed the triathlon as a relay team-Jack took on the half-mile swim, Karla crushed the 18-mile ride, and Alfred finished the race with a 4-mile run. Together they raised an impressive $14,000 for the hospital's program.

We caught up with Karla before the big day (which raked in more than $1.2 million for the causes) to find out what encouraged her to sign up for her first tri, how she trained for the event, and how she loves to sweat in her spare time.

SHAPE: What made you decide to sign up and train for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon this year?

Karla Souza (KS): I thought the Nautica Malibu Triathlon was a great opportunity for camaraderie and to spend more time with my friends and work family. And it was so sweet of Alfie and Jack to invite me to participate! On top of that, CHLA is an amazing cause so that was pretty influential in getting me to potentially make a fool out of myself.

SHAPE: Ever done a tri before? What about another kind of race?

KS: Never! This is my first race ever.

(If you're a beginner like Karla, these 12 Triathlon Training Tips Every Beginner Triathlete Needs to Know should help get you started.)

SHAPE: Nice! Were you always active as a kid?

KS: Yes. Growing up, I was really into gymnastics to the point that I trained for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, for eight years. I actually got to the Junior Olympics in Mexico.

SHAPE: That's pretty impressive. What about now? What are some of your favorite ways to work out?

KS: I never in my wildest dreams had a desire to swim in the ocean-it's so cold and there are sharks!-but after training for the triathlon, and having to swim in the ocean, I'm hooked! It's such a great workout and a crazy adrenaline rush. I also cross-train with hot yoga. Biking has also been a great new workout. Plus it's been a cool new way to explore LA and see architecture and sights that I normally miss when driving my car.

SHAPE: Speaking of training-tell us what you're doing to prepare.

KS: Twice a week I go to yoga, mixing it up between 90-minute Bikram classes and yoga sculpt. Twice a week I do a half-mile ocean swim. I'll do one short high-intensity bike ride and one long-distance bike ride a week, and then I sometimes throw in a 2-mile hike with my dog once a week at Will Rogers [State Historic Park].

SHAPE: What about your eating habits? Did you need to change your diet at all to get ready for the race?

KS: My trainer Jon Brandi has been so helpful in this process. He's really into eating holistically and consuming food that works with my body and gets results. He's also taught me the trick that honey is really great for energy, so I'm adding that into my diet. And one of the great things about being so active is that I get to eat more carbs than usual because I need the energy!

SHAPE: What's been your biggest motivator during training that you'll also use during the event?

KS: For me, it's about knowing how far I can push myself-both physically and mentally. The idea of being able to do this and having people see what a fun experience it is, and maybe encouraging them to do it next year, is also pretty exciting. CHLA is an amazing cause, so to be able to help bring attention to it is really important.