What Almost Was: Door County Half IRONMAN Race Report

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!


4 responses to “What Almost Was: Door County Half IRONMAN Race Report

  1. Brilliant. Well done. Please check and follow my quest for my first ironman. Just started a blog about it, telling people anyone can train and be ready for an ironman. Thanks. Keep the good work !

  2. Pingback: My Road to Kona 2014 | Ironman Diary·

  3. Pingback: Looking Back at 2014 & Ahead to 2015! | Ironman Diary·

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