IRONMAN Wisconsin 70.3 Race Report
by Eric Engel
10 years ago I did my first half IRONMAN.
It’s been a wild ride up to this point, but I finally managed to snag my first overall (amateur) win at the IRONMAN 70.3 distance. The funny thing is, I’m probably not even in the best shape I’ve ever been.
I am however, the happiest I’ve ever been. Those who know me, know I had a tough 2018. I’ve got a huge support network to fall back on, including my parents, my career, my friends/family, loyal sponsors, and a host of other former teammates/coaches/etc.
Men’s and Women’s Overall Champions (and Badgers!)
I checked the weather forecast the night before the race. It said 90% chance of rain starting at 4am. To my surprise, I woke up race morning with no rain in the forecast at all.
I drove to the transition area (a whopping 1.5 miles from my house) and I could see the lake was in near perfect conditions. I remember thinking “flat water, overcast skies, and light wind is going to make for a very fast day out here.”
After getting my transition area set up and bike checked over, I went for a quick jog to loosen the legs up. Next up was a short practice swim (they need to have these for ALL races). I loosened up in the water for about 10 minutes, feeling extremely calm and excited to race.
I exited the water and headed towards the swim corral area. There are signs that estimate your projected finish time. I typically swim around 28-30 minutes, but lined up about 10 people back from the front. With the rolling start, I like to be up as close to the front as possible so I know that anyone who might pass me during the race is most likely ahead of me with their chip time as well.
The gun went off and I was 4th in line in my corral.
We ran knee deep into the water, dove in and we were off! I’ve been feeling really good in the pool as of late, but I can never seem to translate my speed into the open water. My goal for this race was to try and stick with a group and push the pace a bit.
With the water being so flat and no sun/glare it was very easy to spot the buoys and other swimmers. I tucked in line with a group of about 5-6 swimmers for the first 800m. At the first turn, I got cut off a bit and lost the group. I made the turn for home, still feeling strong and kept pushing a bit.
I’ve been doing triathlon for 11 years now and I still get anxiety in open water – it's very common. This was the first race in a few years where I felt calm the entire race which allows me to swim relaxed (aka strong).
I caught a few other swimmers on the home stretch and popped out of the water with a new 70.3 swim PR (non-river) in 27:10 which put my 2nd in my AG and 10th overall about 90 seconds back of 1st overall.
Swim – 27:10 (10th Overall, 2nd AG).
New swim PR (27:10)
Exiting the water, I pulled my wetsuit down half way and found the strippers. I wore my AP racing sleeved tri suit, but kept the top half tucked underneath my wetsuit so I can have full shoulder mobility during the swim. It’s always a bit tricky to put on a wet tri suit, but it went relatively quick.
I threw on my bike shoes and helmet, grabbed my bike and I was off! I ended up passing about 7 people in transition so by the time I got to the bike I was 3rd overall and :24 seconds back of the lead.
T1 – 2:25
The goal of the day for me on the bike was to ride strong and limit the gap to first place by the time we got to the run.
One of the other Madison competitors (R. Griest) is an incredible athlete and uber biker so I know he would definitely put some time into me, I just didn’t know how much. There was also another 5-6 guys who I knew would be coming after me on the bike as well.
As expected, about 20 minutes into the bike, Griest came flying by me like I was standing still. For about 30 seconds I thought about trying to go with him, but knew that I would likely blow up my legs in the process. I stuck to my wattage goals and cranked away through the course.
Leaving town to head over of the 56 mile bike
For those who don’t know the course at all, it is pretty challenging with a lot of hills and turns. I found myself out of the saddle on a lot of hills pushing close to 350 watts. This had me a bit nervous though, knowing that I wanted to run well off the bike.
I got a few updates from spectators along the course about my time back to Griest. At first it was 2 minutes, then 4, then it ballooned up to 7. I overtook another rider with about 10 miles to go so I knew I was 2nd overall on the course.
My nutrition strategy on the bike is very simple. Drink my two bottles of INFINIT Nutrition and take as much water as possible. I’ve been dialing in my customized INFINIT Blend for the last few years and I feel I have down perfect!
I concentrate the bottles so I just need to sip on it every 10 minutes during the bike course. At each aid station I grab as much water as I can (cooling myself down and taking some big squirts). I add caffeine to my race day INFINIT blend to keep me focused and energized throughout.
I eased up a bit with about 5 miles to go to try and get my legs ready to hit the run course hard. I increase my cadence as well to get the legs fresh. I thought I rode pretty solid, but after the race looking back at some of the times I was about 4-5 minutes slower than a lot of the top riders (got some work to do this summer).
Bike – 2:23:12 (23.23 mph)
Running from the cops!
I came into T2 with a 8:05 deficit to first place and a :35 second gap back to 3rd. I racked my bike and threw on my Nike 4% Vaporfly Flynit shoes. I had only worn these once previously for about 3 miles. I knew that was a risk, but I loved the way they felt for those 3 miles. I grabbed my bib number, glasses and hat and made my way towards the run out.
T2 – 1:40
Going into the race, my goal was to be less than 10 minutes back to start the run. With a quick transition, I had already closed the gap to first by :35 so I was only 7:31 back when I hit the course.
For anyone who has ever done a triathlon, the first mile of the run is always an interesting experience, never knowing how your legs will feel. I clicked off the first mile feeling great with a 5:45 min/mile pace.
There was a turn-around at 1.2 miles so I was able to get a glimpse of the chase group behind me. At that point I had about a 1 minute lead on the chase group, but I knew I was putting time into the leader. I kept pushing the pace the next few miles and was given a few updates by spectators along the way.
My initial 7:30 minute deficit to 1st was now only a 4 minute gap by mile 4. This was the first point in the race that I thought I could actually pull this off. My body was still feeling good and I was putting over a minute per mile into the leader.
What I didn’t know was what was happening behind me. Obviously I was unable to control that so I just keep pushing the pace, telling myself to stay strong and keep my pace below 6:00 min/mile pace.
Around mile 6 I finally could see the back of the lead runner. I knew if I was going to make the pass I would want to do it quick and strong. At the 6.6 mile timing mat, I was :30 down from first and had built my lead over 3rd to 2:10.
I made the pass to take the overall lead shortly after mile 7 after getting some words of encouragement from Griest. From this point forward I would be running scared.
There was a big hill around mile 8 and this was the first time my legs started to waver a bit. This was also the point on the course where I passed the Red Bull tent so I grabbed a cup hoping it would live up to the cliche and “give me wings”. From mile 9 on it was a physical and mental struggle. My body wanted to slow down, but my head said to just keep pushing.
A few of the later aid stations weren’t completely ready or set up when I got there, which was a bit frustrating having to try and grab my own water and nutrition (#firstplaceproblems).
At mile 10 I started talking to myself out loud – convincing myself that I can still do this, although in the back of my head I thought I was losing time to the guys behind me.
The last mile I gritted my teeth and pushed hard, I didn’t want to lose this thing by a few seconds from the rolling start. I came up the final hill and gave it everything I had, no time to take in or enjoy the finish. I crossed the line and was greeted by a former teammate and friend Laurie with a huge hug.
I found my parents and immediately asked how far back the next guy was. Doing the quick math we knew if he didn’t cross the line in 4 minutes I would have the win. After a long 4 minutes, I could finally let the emotions sink and celebrate!
Run – 1:18:33 (5:50 min/mile pace)
OVERALL: 4:13:00 (1st Overall, 1st AG)
I am finally starting to enjoy training and racing again for the first time in 3 years.
I have no intentions of ever taking my pro card, and to be honest I don’t know how much longer I’ll race triathlons. There’s a bunch of other things I’d love to do once my time in the sport is over with.
But it’s not done yet! I’m not signed up for any races for the rest of 2019, but that will change. I’ll update you all with my upcoming race schedule once my coach and I figure out the game plan.
Family – my parents have always supported me and encouraged me to push for my goals. This year especially they have helped watched my new puppy on my longer training sessions or races. My brother, sister and sister-in-law for supporting me all these years.
Life Style Staffing – I started a new job back in November at Life Style Staffing. My boss John and my co-workers have been so supportive and encouraging with my training and racing. I was able to do the race this past Sunday with John and another co-worker Brandon. Find a career where you’re supported not only 9-5 but in all aspects of your life!
Coach – I started working with a new coach in February, Will Smith. No not the fresh prince of Bel-Air, but he’s been a big help getting me to the start line feeling strong and confident. Looking forward to our build for the rest of the season
INFINIT Nutrition – They were one of my first sponsors dating way back to 2014. They’ve supported me along the way and they continue to make great products that help me get to the finish line each race!
Peak Performance Massage – I’ve worked with Meghan and Brianna for the last 3 years now. It’s a love/hate kind of thing. I hate the pain, but love the way I feel after! Seriously, if you are an athlete and you aren’t getting regular massages, you’re doing something wrong. It can improve your performance and recovery!
Others – Thank you to everyone who has helped me get to this point, especially Blake Becker who has been instrumental in getting me physically and mentally prepared over the last couple years. Training buddies – thanks to everyone who has helped push me over the last few years and those who I’m looking forward to training with this summer! Anyone who has ever read a blog, liked a post or cheered me on. Thank you so much!