Ho’omau: Kona 2014 Race Report

Since signing up for my first triathlon over six years ago, my dream has always been to compete at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, HI. This past Saturday, my dream came true!

“Ho’omau reminds us that to overcome our challenges, we must go forth with determination, perseverance and endurance. Pursue your dreams, push past obstacles and soar with unwavering faith and firm resolution. You will find your way home.”

Pre Race: The alarm went off at 3:45am on race morning. I slept pretty good the night before, only waking up a few times. Once out of bed I made my typical race breakfast, oatmeal and a banana. We drove down to the transition area and I headed to drop off my special needs bags. I handed my transition bags to the race volunteers and continued on to body marking.

They had a big tent set up with a bunch of tables. Once you find your number, they give you your race tattoos. Next, you have to wait in line for the volunteers to apply your tattoos. Once I was all tatted up, I headed to the weigh-in. I stood on the scale and weighed in a 160.1 pounds, but I told the race volunteer to put down 160 (I like even numbers haha).

kona bike rackAfter weigh-in, I headed to the transition area to drop off my hydration and get my bike set up. I walked into the transition area and the first thing I passed was the pro area. It still amazes me seeing athletes like Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, and others up close and personal. I resisted the urge to snap a selfie of Craig Alexander because everyone seemed in the zone.

Once at my bike, I filled my hydration bladder on my Shiv and put my bottles on their cages. I needed to pump up my tires and luckily the guy next to me had a pump so we both took turns helping each other pump up our tires and hold each others bikes. 100 psi in the front tire, and 105psi in the back. After racking my bike, I walked backwards through the transition area so I could mentally map of my transition.

I met back up with my girlfriend and family because I still had about an hour until the race started. We sat near the pier and took a few pictures while I applied some sunscreen and body glide. I said my goodbyes and headed back into transition area.IRONMAN World Championships - Kona - Eric Engel

The pro men started the race 25 minutes before the AG men, so we all waited near the entrance to the water. I tried to calm my nerves by joking around with a few of the other men sitting near me. We stood for the national anthem and before we knew it we heard the cannon go off for the pro men’s start. The pro women started 5 minutes after and then it was our turn to file into the water. I got help zipping up my wetsuit then made my way down the stairs into the water. A lot of the men were just hanging out on the beach area, but I decided to swim out to the start line right away. It was about 200m out from the beach so it was a good warm up. I did a few pick ups and made my way to the front of the start line. I lined up left of a big inflatable TYR sign.

As more and more men started filling in, I kept moving down to the left away from the pier. I grabbed onto a surfboard and looked to my right, it was Apollo Ohno. We had a quick chat and he patted my on the back and wished me good luck. As  we got closer to the start, my nerves were on high. There was a lot of people around me and I know they all were some of the best and fastest in the world. I was on the front line and would have to fight my way if I wanted to finish near my goal time. It was a pretty windy morning so there were plenty of swells out on the course, it would be a tough race.pre race kona 3

Swim: The cannon went off and I went hard for the first 5 minutes. The goal was not to get swum over by the guys behind me. I found a little bit of open water and then started to lock into my pace. I was still on the left side of the group, but I began to find some feet to swim behind. This was helpful, because it requires less sighting. I still occasionally picked my head up to find the next buoy, but my main focus was just staying with the guy next to me. There was great scenery below us for the first half of the way out, tons of fish and coral. The 1.2 mile swim out felt like forever, I kept looking for the big boat at the turn-around, but never seemed to get closer.

2014 Ironman World Championship - Age Group Swim Start - Eric EngelFinally, we got to the boat. It was pretty crowded around the turn, so I decided to take it a little wide. I checked my watch after the turn around and it was under 29 minutes. I thought that I might have a shot at swimming sub 1-hour. The way back  to shore was a lot more rough than the way out. A lot of the guys were trying to stay close to the buoys, so there were a lot of elbows flying. I still felt strong and began passing people and a pretty good rate. About a quarter mile from shore, things got the most dicey of the day as all the guys around me started to funnel into the narrow swim finish. At one point, an old man grab my head and dunked it under the water as he hold me to settle down. Instead of getting upset or saying anything back, I just kept going. I saw a little open water, so I kicked a little extra hard and made the gap. I stood up on the beach and looked down at my watch, 1:01:xx. Not under an hour, but still a respectable time for the conditions. I made it into T1 with a swim time of 1:02:00, which put me 37th in my AG.

SWIM: 1:02, 1:28min/100yd pace, 37th AGIronman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric Engel

T1: The first thing you come to in T1 is an area with a bunch of hoses. I quickly rinsed the salt water off of my and rinsed my mouth out. I grabbed my bag and ran into the change tent. Wow, it was packed. I snagged a chair right by the entrance and began putting my bike shoes on. In the future, Ill keep my shoes on my bike next time. I grabbed my nutrition and ran to my bike. I put on my helmet and started to the mount line.

T1: 3:04

Bike: I mounted the bike and headed up the short hill of Palani. I saw my family and girlfriend on the 2nd floor of one of the bars right near the transition area. The first few miles of the race were an out and back. I had a ton of adrenaline built up after that melee they call the swim. I tried to relax, but found myself pushing 300+ watts at times. I’m not used to having so many people around me, but again, I was racing with the best in the world so I had to get used to it. Less than 5 minutes into the bike, I passed Apollo Ohno and wished him luck on the rest of his race. After the out and back section we headed out on the Queen K Highway. The wind welcomed us almost immediately.

For the next 30 miles I battled the headwind along with trying to stay out of the draft of the other riders. If I could go back, I would have rode on a front Zipp 404 wheel instead of my Zipp 808 in the front. There were big backs and lots of race marshals out there. I saw a ton of people getting drafting penalties. It was so hard not to get caught behind a pack of riders. At times I found myself pushing 300 or even 400 watts just to get out of a draft zone. This would definitely catch up with me later in the race.

Ironman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric EngelBesides the wind, it was pretty hot out. I did my best to stay on top of my nutrition and water intake. I took a GU gel every 20 mins on the bike, rotating between regular GU and Roctane. The wind was so strong so at times it was hard to take my hands off my aerobars to drink or eat. At every aid station, I grabbed a bottle of water and filled my hydration bladder. I poured the rest of it over my head. This seemed to work well at keeping my cool for the first part of the race.

As we made the turn at Kawaihae, we got a short break from the wind. The next 20 miles began the climb up to Hawi, the turn-around point. For the most part of this 20 mile stretch I was on my own, passing a few people here and there. The wind was strong at this point. It was so strong at points that you have to literally lean your whole body into the wind to counterbalance. The climb to Hawi was long and gradual which was similar to some of the climbs at IMCDA. I began seeing the pro men coming in the opposite direction. It’s always fun to be out on the same course and in the same conditions as the pros. A few of the pro women came by in the opposite direction and I was excited to see Mirinda Carfrae, but she was a bit back. After fighting the wind, I made it to the turn-around in Hawi.

This meant big downhills for the next section of the race. I felt strong descending the hills. Passing a lot of people and even some of the female pros. I kept up a good pace with a biked with a small pack of guys for about 10 miles. We all stayed a legal distance away, but it is nice to not have to fight the wind alone. I got up to 19th in my AG.

Ironman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric EngelBefore we made the turn at Kawaihae, I got a huge hamstring cramp. I tried to bike through it, but I had to slow down and stretch it out. I was so frustrated, because I knew I had a strong bike going and was on pace for a sub 5 hour ride. After the hamstring cramp, I never got my groove back. It was a struggle coming home the last 30 miles of the race. It was mentally draining on me having groups of guys biking past me mile and mile. I just kept my head down and fought the wind the best I could. My wattage goals were out the window and I was down in the 200-215 watt range instead of 240watts. I kept trying to calculate my time based off my pace and how many miles I had left to go. I came back into town and was excited to get off the bike, coming in just shy of 5:03.

BIKE: 5:02:50, 22.2mph avg, 21st fastest bike split in my AG

T2: Getting off the bike, I could tell the wind had done some damage to my legs. They felt heavy running through the transition area. I grabbed my bag and entered the change tent. I grabbed a chair and took a little extra time putting on my socks and shoes. At some point during this change I dropped my salt tablets without knowing. I ran out of transition and onto the run course.

T2: 3:22

Run: The run began with a short hill and then a 5 mile out and back (10 miles total) down the famous Ali’i Drive. My goal going into the day was to hold a 6:45 average pace for the first 10 miles of the run. I was about 2 miles into the race when I knew that wasn’t going to happen. At the first hill of the day, my hamstring instantly cramped. I slowed to walk and stretched it out. I resumed running and tried to run it off. At this point, the negative thoughts had already invaded my mind. Usually that takes place around mile 18 and beyond. I kept running, taking it mile by mile until I got to the turn-around.

I made the turn and headed back towards the race start. Each aid station I stuck to the same routine which went as follows: cup water over the head, drink some water, coke or perform, water, sponges over the head. About every 3 miles I took a GU Roctante. I saw Mirinda on her way back and she was about 10 minutes back of the lead at this point. I struggled, and wanted to walk so bad. At one point, I remember looking down and my race bib and seeing the names of my best friend and Aunt who had passed away. I wasn’t going to quit now. I was determined to finish this race and keep on going. I lumbered as I made it back to the start area which was near mile 10. I saw my girlfriend and family and this point (They said, I didn’t look too happy, which was how I was feeling).

Ironman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric EngelRight around the corner was the famous hill of Palani Rd. I started walking up it. I was so mad at myself for walking but knew it was the smartest thing to do at this point. There was great support from volunteers and spectators, so I began to run about 3/4 of the way up. From here, we were on the Queen K Highway. There was no shade, but luckily, there was some cloud cover to help reduce some of the heat. I ran mile by mile, just trying to stay under 7:30 minutes on the flats and under 8:00 min/mile pace on the uphills.

My new goal of the marathon was to try and enjoy it and have some fun. I was getting passed by plenty of people, so I tried to focus on the experience and not my ranking. I held a consistent pace while getting plenty of water and nutrition at the aid stations, walking through them if necessary. Again, I got inspiration and boosts of energy seeing the pros out on the course. They all looked so strong and in the zone. I saw Mirinda a few miles before she tracked down the leader.

As we approached the Energy Lab, I had heard so many stories about the heat and bareness of this area. It was the highlight of my run. The volunteers in this area were extraordinary. The turn-around seem to take forever to reach, but I made it and knew that I only had 8 miles left to go. There were a few Red Bull tents in the Energy Lab so I decided to take a few cups. The climb out of the Energy Lab was tough, my pace fell beyond 8:00min/mile, but I was able to pick it up after.

Ironman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric EngelThe next 8 miles my spirits began to lift. I started a countdown of how much time I had left. It was 56 minutes, then 40, then 30, then before long it was less than 10 minutes. I knew I was going to do it. I ran back into town and down the hill on Palani Rd. I began to soak up all the cheers from the crowd and volunteers. I zipped up my race kid and adjusted my race bib as I made the final turn down Ali’i drive. There were thousands of spectators, and I tried my best to pump them up as I ran by. I came into the finish chute and saw my family as I heard Mike Reily call my name for the 5th time. I lifted my arms in victory.

It was the frickin’ IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP! The moment was a summation of 6 years of early mornings, day dreaming, racing, accomplishments, setbacks and sacrifices. It was all worth it.  After 9 hours, 31 minutes and 47 seconds of racing, I had accomplished one of my biggest dreams.  It was  the hardest thing I have ever done and it was far from a perfect race, but I’m proud and humbled to have had the chance to race on the biggest stage in the world with my friends and family cheering my on from near and afar. I felt the love all day long!

OVERALL: 9:31:47, 18th in M25-29, 147th Overall (2nd American 25-29M).Ironman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric Engel

Post-Race: After crossing the finish line, I was immediately lei’d. 2 amazing volunteers walked me back to the athlete area. I grabbed my finisher shirt and headed towards the chocolate milk tent! After some milk and pizza, I got a massage. My legs continued to cramp, but I didn’t care. After the massage I grabbed another chocolate milk and proceeded to get my finisher photo. Sitting right next to the photo area was Craig Alexander, my idol in the sport. He had a tough day, taking 13th place, but he still had a huge smile while sitting and talking with his wife and children. What a great guy! I finally met up with my family and gave them a big hug.Ironman World Championship 2014 - Kona Race Report - Eric Engel

Thanks again to everyone who has helped me along this amazing journey over the past 6 years. Its amazing how much I have grown and changed since taking my first triathlon class back in college. There are so many people that have helped me along my journey it is almost impossible to thank them all.

Thank you to my family and girlfriend. They have been my biggest fans and supporters over the years!

Thank you to my coaches and teachers over the years: Tim Gatenby, Kyle Larson, Justin Pernitz, Brandon Nguyen, Jackie Arendt, and Joe Moyer.

Thank you to all my friends and relatives who’ve supported me! Your kind words, texts and Facebook posts have all be amazing and I hope I made you guys all proud.

Thank you to those businesses who have helped with my gear, nutrition, recovery and more along the way: Erik’s Bike Shop, Endurance House, Peak Performance Massage, Northstar Massage, and more!

Thank you to my training partners over the years! I knew absolutely nothing about the sport when I first started look at me now, I just raced in Kona. Thank you especially to Nella Bernadoni, Eamon Bernadoni, Christa Wille, Alex Heinz, Kayla Moses, and members of the Endurance House Redefine Your Possible Team. You’ve made training for these races the best part about IRONMAN.

Looking Ahead: This race in Kona took a lot out of me. There were a few moments in the race where I was considering hanging up my racing shoes for good. It was a very physically and mentally draining day for me. Almost a week out from the race, I have a different perspective now. There’s no way I’m finished. I’m just getting started. I feel like I’m just started to come into my own as a swimmer and runner. I know my biking will continue to build under the guidance of my coach and I plan to work on my swimming technique and running speed a lot this off-season. To be highly competitive, I know my swim time must be around 55 minutes and my run me closer to 3 hours. I feel like these are both very attainable goals for next year.

There will be no Kona for me next year, as most of you know I couldn’t have done the race this year if it weren’t for the financially support of so many great friends, family and strangers!

I have my sights set on IRONMAN Wisconsin in 2015 and Kona in 2016. At this point there are no pros scheduled to race at IRONMAN Wisconsin so it would be a very unique opportunity to try and win an IRONMAN race. Training begins in January!

Thank you so much for all your support and reading this far! I love you all and thanks again! My goal is that I hope I have given you some inspiration, happiness, or anything positive over the years. Mahalo!

10 responses to “Ho’omau: Kona 2014 Race Report

  1. Your story brings tears to my eyes – such strength, love and commitment! We’ll be downtown to support you next year. Hoping you reach your every dream. Love you. Deb Adams

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience, Eric. We followed you throughout the race but, of course,had no idea how very difficult it was for you. I admire your spirit and drive. I’m so glad that you are able to take the positive from the experience and to set new goals. It is so inspiring! Always know that your extended families are routing for you.

  3. AMAZING accomplishment, Eric! You are truly an inspiration! It has been fun to read your blog and follow your journey to Kona this last year! You have an incredible drive that sucks others in! I can’t wait to read about what’s next! Congrats again!

  4. Pingback: Endurance House Staff Member Takes on Kona! | Endurance House Delafield·

  5. It has been so much fun to follow your journey, Eric!! I’m so proud of you and all of your accomplishments!! Congrats on a stellar 2014 season!! I’ll be in Madison cheering you and others on from the sidelines this year 🙂

  6. So cool! Questions:

    1) Why the weigh-in? Never heard of that in triathlons.

    2) Why the difference in PSI from front to rear tire?

    • 1. Weigh in just in case they pull you of the course for medical reasons to make sure you didn’t lose too much weight.

      2. The front tire takes more of a beating so it’s better to have a little less pressure up front on not so smooth roads. And because my coach told me so haha

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

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