Start Your Engines: Challenge Daytona Race Report

Ladies and gentleman, start your engines! I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel down to Daytona Beach, Florida to cover social media for the Challenge Daytona team. Of course, I had to take advantage of this opportunity to fit a race in as well. I arrived to Daytona Beach on Wednesday afternoon and headed straight to the Daytona International Speedway to get to work. The lead up to the race wasn’t ideal; standing on my feet all day and not managing to get many workouts out, but I was okay with that. I was just thankful to have a chance to toe the start line in this crazy year it was.

Cliff-notes version:

Swim – 26:20
T1 – 2:40
Bike – 2:06:38
T2 – 2:23
Run – 1:16:59

Overall – 3:54:58, 2nd Overall, 2nd AG 30-34

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Pre-Race: Race morning, I arrived to the speedway at about 5:15am. I went right to transition to get my bike set up and lay out my transition area. The transition area was huge (mostly due to proper spacing for COVID-19 precautions). My rack was way at the end of transition, which meant I wouldn’t have to run as far with my bike leaving T1. I pumped my tires up, put my bottles (2 filled with INFINIT and 1 water) on my bike and put my running shoes on. I went for a 15 min jog (with a bathroom break in-between) to loosen up the legs before the swim and make sure my shoes were in order. Swim warm up was from 6:15am to 6:45am so I wanted to make sure I had a chance to get in the water (65 degrees) before the race started.

I made it to the waters edge around 6:35, but they had stopped letting athletes in the water. This meant no warm up for me. A bit frustrated, I headed over to the starting area and did my best to stretch and loosen up my shoulders. We lined up with our predicted finish times with each athlete being 6 ft apart and wearing masks. I started about 10 rows back of the front, hoping to swim between 26-28 minutes. Since the water was a bit on the chilly side, I managed to get down to the shoreline and fill my water bottle with some lake water which I used to pour over my head and down my wetsuit. This helped me to avoid the “shock” or out-of-breath feeling you get when jumping in cold water.

Swim: The gun went off and we entered the water down a short, but steep ramp. The course was a simple rectangle (clock-wise) in which we had to keep all buoys on our right. I started off with a strong pace and passed the first buoy with ease. After the initial rush, I settled into a steady pace.

Athletes began to come by me on both sides. I felt helpless at times trying to keep up and stay on their feet. I’ve always struggled with my “feel” of the water in open-water swimming. I did my best to draft off any other athletes, but found myself swimming alone the majority of the race.

As I neared the swim exit, I made sure to kick my legs a little extra to get some blood down to them before running to transition. Up the ramp I went, clocking 26:20 on the clock which was good enough for 8th in my AG and 49th overall. Definitely room for improvement here.

T1: As I mentioned, T1 was very long. I exited the water and began to run towards the T1 area, stripping my wetsuit down to my hips (no wetsuit strippers here due to COVID-19 precautions). I entered under the T1 arch and ran alllll the way down to towards the last few racks.

I finished taking off my wetsuit and threw on my socks, shoes and helmet. I grabbed my bike and I was off onto the 56 mile course, making up a number of positions in transition. T2 was 2:40, a bit rusty but that’s okay for my first race (in December) in over a year.

Bike: The first 5+ miles of the bike were an incredible experience. We did 2.5 laps of the Daytona International Speedway. There was a video board with a lap counter to remind each athletes which lap they were on. It was a bit confusing with lapped traffic, but I completed by 2.5 laps and headed out on the rest of the course. The next 15 miles I was able to pass a number of athletes and settle into a steady power output. My power had been a bit high after the adrenaline of biking on the speedway so I wanted to make sure I didn’t burn too much for the run.

The next segment of the course was a 15 mile out and back section (30 miles today). We had a headwind on the way out and way back (how does that even happen?). Approaching the first aid station, I tossed my water bottle thinking I could grab another one at the aid station. When I went through the aid station, I realized the water bottles they were handing out were screw tops (not sports tops) and wouldn’t fit my bottle cage. I took a few chugs and stuffed the bottle in the front of my jersey.

As I approached the turn around point, I started to count the number of athletes out in front of me. I calculated the first athlete to be about 2:30 minutes up the road and I was about 7th or 8th at this point. The roads were dead flat, not what I’m accustomed to from courses like Wisconsin 70.3 here in Madison. I struggled to stay in aero and took the chance to stand up and crank every chance I could (overpasses, turns, etc).

I was passed by 2 athletes on the 2nd half of the out and back section. I tried to stick with these athletes but I was having to push almost 300w to keep up. I was planning on keeping my average power around 260-270. I knew I shouldn’t over-bike, but it’s definitely hard for me to get passed and let someone go. I kept up for a few miles before letting them ride off.

I rode the final 10 miles solo back towards the speedway, increasing my cadence towards the final few miles and standing up to stretch out my back. Bike – 2:06:38

T2: As I dismounted and ran into transition, I saw the 2 athletes who had passed me early just standing there. They were doing the Aquabike, which meant their race was done and they didn’t have to run (no wondering they were biking so hard). This is always a good reminder to just ride/run your own race.

I racked my bike and threw on my shoes, hat and race belt. I struggled a bit to get on my shoes (only a few miles on them), but was able to get them on and head out on the 13.1 mile course. T2 – 2:23

Run: The run course took us out to the speedway, before exiting and running around some grassy areas and parking lots nearby. I was a bit underprepared because I had been used to transition being every mile on the run. At this race, the transitions were a bit more spread out and only a few volunteers at each (another COVID precaution).

I passed an athlete right outside of T2 and he said there were still 2 other athletes up the road. The first 3 miles ticked by feeling pretty good, 5:41, 5:48 and 5:47 pace. I saw the leader at an out-and-back section and estimated the gap to be about 4 minutes. I knew I couldn’t do anything about him, so I just focused on my pacing and nutrition. My goal was to keep my splits under 6 min/mile.

As I completed the first lap of the 2 loop course, the legs started to tighten up and my breathing was getting a bit out of control. I focused on my form and breathing for about 2 miles, not worrying about my pace (was able to hold 6:03 and 6:04 for miles 6 and 7). The last 10K, my goal was just to keep my arms pumping and my stride as smooth as possible. At the out-and-back section I saw the new leader and he was only about 2 mins up the road. I had about 5 miles left and thought there might be a chance to run him down.

I did my best to hold my pace running sub 6 min splits for miles 8 to 12. The last mile we entered back onto the speedway before finishing near the Daytona finish line. I could hear the announcement of the winner over the loud speaker which broke my spirts a bit, but was still focused on running strong. I saw an athlete ahead who looked like he was running at a solid pace. Not knowing if he was on loop 1 or 2, I set my sights on passing him. With about .25 miles to go, I came by him and he let out a big sigh. He was indeed on his final lap so I ran hard the rest of the way to the finish, placing 2nd overall (about 2:30 back of first). Run – 1:16:59 and 3:54:58 overall.

Overall: My initial reaction was definitely disappointment. I joked with family and friends that I was the 1st loser (2nd overall). I always race to win and I don’t think that will ever change. After I had some time to reflect, I was less disappointed and just more thankful to be able to race. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, including myself. Training became almost non-existent this spring and summer so I was happy to be able to end the year with a successful race and setting a few new PRs along the way.

Thank you: I was so thankful to be racing in 2020. I appreciate the opportunity from Challenge Daytona. Also, a big thank you to a few of my sponsors: INFINIT Nutrition, AP Racing, A3 Performance, AltRed and AMP Human.

One response to “Start Your Engines: Challenge Daytona Race Report

  1. Congratulations Eric, you continue to be an impressive athlete and great motivator. At 70+ years old I did my first road run in over 20 years at Elkhart Lake for “My Team Triumph” with Coach B. No comment on on finish other than I am still alive. May 2021 be your most productive and successful yet.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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