Chisago Lakes Half Ironman Race Report

chisago cover

Coming off a Half Ironman in Door County last weekend I didn’t know what to expect at this race. My legs were feeling heavy and sore all week up until Friday. There was a decent prize purse for this race, paying of the top 5 overall (Men and Women). I’ve never won any money from a race before, so that was definitely my goal to be in the top 5. There were 3 pros (that I knew of) racing, so I knew it would be a good battle for 4th and 5th place. The race was about 50 minutes from my house so I decided that I would just drive up the morning of the race. I actually enjoy a nice quiet drive before I race because it gives me a chance to mentally prepared for the day ahead. I woke up at 3:45am and was on the road by 4:15am. I always like to get to transition right away in the morning.

Pre-Race: I got checked in, grabbed my timing chip and headed into the transition area. Since I was signed up in the elite heat I had a good rack spot right next to bike out. It was a huge transition area with a lot of trees and few pavilions within it. I set up my area and then mapped out where I would be entering and exiting for the swim and run. I went for a quick 10 min jog with my coach (who was also racing) and checked out the beginning and end of the bike course. There were two sections where we would have to ride on grass so I’m glad I was able to see those prior to the start. After the run, I put on my wetsuit and headed down to the water (76 degrees). I did a 5-10 minute warm up and then headed to the starting area. I knew there would be a some good swimmers (including 2 pros) so I was going to try my best to stay with them.

Chisago Lakes Triathlon 2014 - Eric EngelSwim: The gun went out (actually it was just a whistle) and we were off. I stayed with the front pack for the first 100 yds, but they began to put a little gap on me so I decided to stick to my own pace. I stayed with a small chase pack up until the first turn buoy. After that I was on my own for the rest of the race. This happens a lot for me since I’m usually right between the really fast swimmers and the decent swimmers. I always find myself alone out in the lake. After making the first turn, the chop really picked up. I had to adjust my breathing to avoid taking in water every time. After the next turn buoy I was headed to shore. This is where things got interesting. I began to swim through weeds. I don’t really mind weeds at all, but these were tall and thick. My arms would get caught up just doing a stroke so at times I had to almost change to a breaststroke. I remember thinking at the time that if I was panicking a little bit, I can imagine what some weaker swimmers were experiencing. But you have to just keep going and soon enough I was to the beach. Swim Split: 31:26, 1:30 min/100 yds, 14th fastest split

T1: I ran up the beach and up a steep little hill into the transition area. I could tell my heart rate was skyrocketing from the weed fiasco and the run into the transition area. When I got to my bike, I estimated that I was in about 10th or 11th place. T1: 1:07

Chisago Lakes Triathlon 2014 - Eric EngelBike: The first couple miles of the bike I was focused at getting my HR down. It was in the 180’s-190’s which is way too high. It took me about 30 minutes to get my HR back down to the low 170’s. In that time I passed a few guys and thought I was sitting about 8th or 9th overall. At mile 7 or 8, a girl came flying by me. Now I know there’s a lot of fast women up in the cities area, but she was cooking. I tried to stay with her for a little bit, but I had to let her go. As I approached the Half/Sprint turn off I saw her continue onto the sprint course so that made more sense. She ended up crushing the field and winning the sprint (2nd overall including men, I believe).

Following suit of all my races this year, the bike course was very windy. I did my best to stick to my wattage goals (lower against and head wind and higher with a side or tailwind). My goal for the day was to average 260 watts. From mile 15 on, I had a guy riding behind me (legally). I made sure to keep checking that he wasn’t drafting. Along with my power goals, I stuck to my nutrition plan. Taking in a GU or GU Roctane every 20 minutes with Gatorade and water as needed. We made our way through the course and the wind never seemed to die down. We passed about 3-4 guys along the way. Around mile 50, my legs were hurting a bit, but I tried to stay as close to my wattage goals as possible. I figured I was about 6th or 7th place at that point. Bike Split: 2:15:56, 25.6 mph avg, 7th fastest split

T2: I came into T2 with a guy right behind me. I quickly threw on my socks (considered not wearing them, but glad I did) and slipped my shoes on. This was my first race this year that I used race laces. After Door County last weekend I figured I needed to save as much time as possible in my transitions. T2: 55.43

Chisago Lakes Triathlon 2014 - Eric EngelRun: I felt surprisingly good starting out the run. At Door County my goal was to keep my HR under 170 on the run, but instead my goal was to keep the pace around 6:15-6:30. I nailed the first four miles of the run around 6:15 pace, putting a large gap on the guy behind me. It was mostly an out and back run with a little lollipop at the turn around. The temperature stayed pretty cool most of the day, which was a relief after the hot temps at Door County. The back half of the course was along a highway with some rolling hills. My pace fell off a bit and I averaged 6:23 for the next 2 miles. At the lollipop section I passed the leaders, which I knew I was about 6 minutes back of the lead guy. I wasn’t able to tell how many guys were in front of my but I estimated I was in 5th or 6th place. Miles 7-9 I ran 6:23 pace. The last 4 miles were a little tougher, my legs started to hurt a bit, but I was able to hang out and keep my average around 6:30. I never caught a glimpse of the guy ahead of me and knew I had a large gap on the guy behind me. I came across the finish line in 5th place, just in the money. I finished about 7 minutes behind the leaders, which were 2 professionals. I was the 3rd amateur overall. Run Split: 1:2202, 6:23 avg (course was a little short). 5th fastest run split of the day

Chisago Lakes Triathlon 2014 - Eric Engel

Chisago Lakes Triathlon 2014 - Eric EngelOverall: I’m really happy with the way the race ended up, especially after having raced last weekend as well. My legs felt a lot better on the run than at Door County which was a good sign that I’m recovering better from IMCDA. I still have a lot to work on, especially my swim. If I want to be able to compete for wins, I need to be up with the leaders getting onto the bikes.

Up Next: I’m taking the next 2 months to recovery and get ready for the IRONMAN World Championships. I have a few weddings and some exciting things happening between now and then so I want to be able to focus on my training.

Thanks for stopping by! Have a great day!

What Almost Was: Door County Half IRONMAN Race Report

Door County Triathlon Eric Engel 2014

I crossed the finish line thinking I had won my first triathlon. About 15 minutes later, those hopes were dashed. Sunday was a roller coaster of emotions. This race had it all for me. Perfect swim conditions, a beautiful bike course, a tough run course, amazing fan support and a tight race (for 2nd) that came down the last few miles.

Door County Triathlon Pre Race - Eric EngelPre-Race: My anxiety was high going into the race. My legs still hadn’t felt 100% since IMCDA and I didn’t know how they would hold up. I got to transition early to set up my area. Next stop was the port-potty before the lines got too long. Before long the transition area was packed; a majority of which were athletes from the Madison area: Endurance House, Pat’s Gym, E3, BBMC & others. I’ve heard the announcer the past 2 years comment “do these guys all take a bus up together?” It was great to see friends and old teammates, but it was also time to get ready. I headed down to the beach early to get a warm-up swim in. The water was a perfect 66 degrees. I had a quick chat with my girlfriend and mother before heading to the starting area.

Door County Triathlon Swim - Eric EngelSwim: The swim started very unceremoniously and I think half the people in the elite wave didn’t even know it had started. As the announcer was giving his pre-race talk he slipped in “15 seconds to start” and continued to talk, “5 seconds” and finally “go!” We started in knee deep water so I started off with a few dolphin dives till the water was a little deeper. I was out in front with two other guys to my left. We passed the first turn buoy and I fell in line behind the first two guys. The water was pretty flat until we made the 2nd turn. A few of the boats and jet skis were moving around quite a bit which caused some waves, but nothing terrible. I stayed right on the feet on the guy in front of me which helped preserve some energy from not having to sight as much. As we approached the last turn buoy I was passed by another guy. As I started kicking to stay with him, my right calf cramped up. This has never happened before in a race. I panicked for a quick moment, but just kept going, only kicking with 1 leg. I made the last turn and tried my best to stay with the leaders. I came out of the water in 3rd place, only 20-30 seconds back. (Swim: 30:55)

blog3T1: I ran up the boat launch and right to the wetsuit strippers. I got to my bike and put my glasses, shoes and helmet on. As I crossed the mount line, my rear bottle cage broke and my bottle fell out. Luckily a volunteer was able to grab it and hand it back to me. I came out transition in 4th place going into the bike leg. (T1: 0:54)

Door County Half Ironman Bike - Eric EngelBike: The adrenaline of being up near the front of a race got to me. I was pushing 300+ watts as I flew by the 2nd and 3rd place guys. I was now in 2nd place and right behind the leader. I thought “why not” and pushed the pace to take the lead at mile 3. A few miles later, he passed me back. I would pass him one more time at mile 8 before he finally took off. I tried to keep with him for a mile, but I was pushing 300+ watts which I knew could hurt me on the run. I had to sit back and stick to my wattage goals and hope he would eventually crack. This was hard for me because before the race, my coach and I both agreed that if I wanted to win the race, I would have to be first off the bike.

As we biked down to Sturgeon Bay, we had a headwind which made things a little tougher. Even after we made the turn-around it never felt like we had a tailwind. It was great seeing my family and friends out on the course a few times! At one point I was making a left hand turn and there was a truck pulling a boat in the lane I was turning into. I yelled and waved him to move over as I barely sneaked past, almost riding onto the gravel shoulder. The rest of the ride was very uneventful, but it was great hearing support and cheers from other Endurance House athletes. My legs weren’t happy with me by mile 40, but I did my best to limit the gap to the first place rider. (Bike: 2:19:38, 24.1 MPH avg)

Door County Triathlon - T2 Eric EngelT2: As I rode into transition, I caught a glimpse of the first place guy heading out on the run (above). After dismounting and racking my bike, I had to put my shoes on. In years past, I’ve always used race laces, but this year I just never got around to buying them (for IRONMAN distance events, the extra time it saves is very irrelevant). I knew I had a long transition so I was about 3 minutes back of the leader starting the run. (T2: 1:26)

Door County Half Ironman Eric Engel RunRun: My goal for the run was to keep my heart rate below 170 for at least the first half of the race. Out of T2 I looked down at my watch, 176 bpm. I had to decide whether to try and stick to my HR goal (which meant slowing down) or try to catch the leader. I did my best to stabilize my HR during the first 3 miles. The temperature had creeped up into the 80’s which wasn’t helping. A few spectators along the course shouted out their best estimates at my time gap from the leader. I heard times from 2-4 minutes along the first 5 miles. During the straight aways I could just catch a glimpse of the leader up ahead. I couldn’t tell if I was gaining any ground or not until we got to mile 5.5. There was a turn-around and I was able to estimate the gap was less than 2 minutes now. Mile 6 was the first of the major hills. I slowed my pace, but my HR still shot to 185. I lost sight of the leader, but I knew I had time to catch him. I was confident if I could just stick to my pace that we would eventually crack.

The next 3 miles were relatively flat and we began to pass other races going the opposite direction which provided some motivation as they yelled and cheered as I began to close the gap. I saw my coach, exchanged a high five, and kept my legs going. At this point I was hell-bent on catching him, even if it might cost me in the last couple of miles. As we rounded the turn to run up the toughest hill of the day, I finally made the pass. At this point I “thought” I had the lead so I would just need to stay in front of him the rest of the way. Once the steep gradient started, I began to power walk up the hill. I looked over my shoulder and he was walking too. I continued to walk until just before the top of the hill when he began to pick up his pace again. Finally, we got to the top. There were about 3 miles left. He stayed right behind me for the first mile, but once we hit the aid station I knew it was my time to try and break him. I gave a little push and before long I couldn’t hear any footsteps. I passed the mile 12 sign and with a little encouragement of a friend was able to give a little more. The race ends on a big downhill, so I knew if I could make it there with the lead I would be home free.

I approached the downhill and knew I had it from here. At this point, I was even thinking about the age groupers at all. I was so focused on the race in the elite wave. I came down the finish chute slapping high fives along the way. I could see the tape waiting for me at the finish. Winning a race has always been one of my biggest goals and it was finally happening. I broke the tape and I had done it…..or so I thought. (Run: 1:29:36, 6:50 mile avg)

Door County Half Ironman 2nd Place - Eric EngelPost-Race: The race director came up and congratulated me, but I said that we still have to wait for the age groups to finish. He told me that he thought the time would hold up. After downing a bottle of water, I waited for the 2nd place finisher to come across the line. I congratulated him and then hopped into the cold tub. My mom and girlfriend came over and I was able to give them a big hug and kiss. A few more finishers came across the line and I headed out of the finish chute to hang with family and friends. As I was talking and taking pictures with friends, I heard the announcer say that there was a new first place time. I just laughed. I felt like they had ruined a big surprise party on the wrong guy.  At first I was upset and thought “why wasn’t this guy racing in the elite wave?” But hey, that’s the sport. We sign up for this race in January and who knows what shape they will be in. I was glad he got the win and he came up to me post race to congratulate me and make sure there were no hard feelings. He ran his ass off (1:23 split) and deserved the win. I don’t know if I could have ran 3 minutes faster in the end, but hey I sure as hell would have liked to try. This just makes me even hungrier for my first victory.

blog8Awards Ceremony: Before the awards ceremony, I headed over to the Peak Performance Massage tent. They do AWESOME work. I had my legs rubbed out and then I sat in the recovery boots for 20 minutes. We walked over to the awards ceremony where my coach picked up a 1st place AG award (10th overall) and then I got my awards for 2nd overall. They gave out medals to the top 5 overall plus the top 3 received crystal lighthouses.

blog9Thanks: I want to say thanks as always to my girlfriend, family and friends for being such great supporters. The race was up in Door County, WI but I still managed to have 10-15 people in my support crew. Also, thanks to the volunteers, race crew and the community of Door County. Its one of the best races I’ve done and I hope to continue doing.

Up Next: Not sure if I will race again before Kona. I am toying with the idea of doing another half Ironman this weekend near Minneapolis, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. 80 days till Kona and I’m excited to race! I’m almost at 50% of my fundraising goal for Kona, check out the site if you want to donate. Thank you for stopping by!


Door County Half Ironman 2014 – Pre Race

Door County Half Ironman Eric Engel

Well it has been two and half weeks since IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene and my body is still in recovery mode. In years past, my IRONMAN race was always the last race of the year so I didn’t have to worry as much about recovery and getting my body back in to training mode. The major muscle aches and soreness from IMCDA wore off about 3-4 days post race, but fatigue and some deep muscle tissues are still causing problems. No matter how much sleep I get, I’m still so tired. Most days all I want to do is nap, but I know I have to stay motivated and get back in the swing of things for my upcoming race this weekend and the IRONMAN World Championships this October (88 days to go if you’re counting).

This weekend will be my second time racing at the Door County Half Ironman. For those of you who do not know where Door County is, it is located on the peninsula of Wisconsin. It is an absolutely gorgeous venue with great spectator support and amazing race organization. I finished 8th overall (4:30:06) last year after enduring a rough (choppy and rainy) swim, posting a decent bike split, and barely hanging on at the end of the run. This year I hope to build off my course experience from last year as well as my race at IMCDA a few weeks back. There’s always very good competition at this race, and this year is no different. My goal for this race is to improve on my 8th place overall finish, but I’ve also never won a race before and this would be a great venue for my first win. However, I would have to put together a nearly perfect race to do so. Excited to see what happens!

Here’s an outlook of the course and my thoughts on each:

door county swim course

Swim: The 1.2 mile swim is held in the clear waters of Horseshoe Bay at Murphy Park. The swim features 3 turns with buoys every 50 yards. Having so many buoys last year was a big help due to the waves and chop on race day. I’m hoping for flat and calm water on race day this year, but that usually doesn’t happen.

door county half ironman bike courseBike: The 56 mile bike route travels along Door County’s scenic backroads, through the main retail district in Sturgeon Bay, along the shipping channel, out and back on a wooded back road and gradually ascends 200 feet up the famed Door County Bluff before returning to Murphy Park

door county half ironman run course

door county half ironman run course elevation

Run Elevation Chart. Note the 2 huge bluffs at miles 6 & 9

Run: The 13.1 mile run course takes participants north to the Egg Harbor Dock, up Harbor Heights Road, through the village of Egg Harbor, up the infamous Bluff Pass Road (200 foot climb in 1/2 mile), and through the stacked stone fences of Horseshoe Bay Golf Course before a downhill descent to the finish line.

Door County Half Ironman Eric Engel

As always thanks to everyone who supports me and helps me get to the starting line!