I signed up for this race when it first opened. I was excited about it and the timing was just right for my mid season break and before starting my build for the rest of the year going into Ironman Cozumel.
I felt ready for this race and was hoping for a good showing. On Friday, I drove down to Atlantic City and started to prep for race day.
Checked in on Saturday and dropped off my bike. Had dinner with friends and went back to my hotel room to rest and try to go to bed early.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Race start was at 6am, so we sat the alarm at 3:30am to have enough time to eat some more, and head down to transition and get everything setup and ready. I had my sleeveless wetsuit and was almost sure it will be a wetsuit swim as the temp the day before was about 74-76 degrees. But decided to take my swimskin anyway.
We got to transition and it was announced that the water temperature was 80 degrees and no wetsuit. Whoa! That was a big shocker. For me I would rather swim with no wetsuit but it really didn’t matter as the sleeveless Roka suit I have is very comfortable.
I was in the 4th wave and my race started around 6:11am.
My race setup:
- Xterra swim skin.
- HED Disc Jet, and Jet 60 front, latex tubes, pumped tires to 105 psi.
- LG P-09 Helmet (no visor)
- BTA bottle.
- Elite Crono bottle on the down tube for calories.
- Salt and EFS Pre-race
- X-Lab Mezzo Pod behind the seat for flat kit.
- I added another bottle holder on the seat tube to take an extra bottle from aid stations if I need to.
- Had 200 calories (100 carbo pro + 100 EFS ) in my BTA bottle. Drank that before first aid station and then switched it with water.
- 900 Calories Powerbar Kona punch
- 1x Powerbar wafer broken into 1/4 to eat in first couple hours of the bike before switching to all liquid.
- Took one Gatorade from aid station (drank 1/2)
- Water: took 9 water bottles from aid stations on bike.
- 3x salt tablets
- 3x EFS pre-race
- Newton Distance III
- 400c Powerbar gels in a flask (probably took about 50calories)
Swim (1:10:58, 7th in AG)
The swim course was a Y shape with lots of turns and twists. Unfortunately they didn’t have the course ready the days before the race so we just relied on the map. Strategy was to keep close to shore line as much as possible.
Started swimming 11 minutes after pro started. I lead my AG group through the first 500-800 yards. I was hoping for someone to pass me so I can start drafting and save my energy. So finally I see one guy to my left making a pass and I stayed with him for another few minutes until we hit the previous wave. I lost him and tried to go around other swimmers and see if I can catch up to him but that didn’t happen.
Made it to the first bridge and made the left turn and then another left turn to swim toward the express way bridge. The sun glare was very strong and I couldn’t see any buoy to follow. I just hoped the previous swimmers knew where they were going and I just followed. That section was rough, the current was strong. After finally making it to the last buoy by the ACE bridge I made a left and then another left and things got really messy there. Had no idea where to go or which buoy to follow and the current was even stronger. We had to deal with horrible current in that section that was the landing threshold for the runway at the old Bader Field. I thought as long as I can see the shore to my right then I should be ok. I got off course and a kayak redirected me. Swimmers were all over and I lost trust to follow anyone. For a minute I thought I am never going to get out of this maze. Finally saw the finish line and swam toward it and got out. Probably my worst swim experience ever. However, it turns out I had a pretty good swim. I had around 10 minutes lead on my competition to start the bike.
Bike (5:10, 2nd AG)
Watts were coming by very easy and was hitting my goal with no problem. The course was very well marked and aid stations were stocked and volunteers were great. Some rough sections but overall the roads were in good shape. The first 30 miles were on the Atlantic City Express (ACE) way and then you head toward Hammonton area and do two loops before heading back to town. I was leading my AG at this point. Around mile 80, you get back on the ACE. I was on pace for a sub 5 hours bike. However, that section, about 30 miles, on the express way was all strong head wind and wide open. It was also getting hot. We were also going against the ACE traffic and cars where zipping by 65+ miles per hour and we had to deal with the head wind created by them as well. It was brutal and mentally exhausting. Tried to push but at the same time I wanted to save myself for the run and didn’t want to burn all my matches at this point of the race. Not what you want to deal with after cycling for 80 miles. Pushed through it and made it back to T2 and finished 2nd and was very happy to get off the bike.
I was looking forward to this run. Worked a lot on my run this year and wanted to see what I can do. Legs were feeling good, I wasn’t hungry or thirsty from the bike which is good. The first mile you run in Bader field which is an old airport. Wide open and no shades. Then you head toward the boardwalk. About a mile 1.5 miles in and still no aid stations. I was holding a good pace and what felt comfortable at that point. It quickly got hot on the boardwalk and no aid station on sight until around mile 2. My plan was to take water, ice and run through them rather than stopping. Didn’t want to experience the feeling of stopping or walking at this point of the race because I knew it would be hard to restart the engine again. So took in water and ice from the first aid station and kept running. Then again no aid station for another 2 miles, this is when I decided to stop and walk through them to take in what I needed.
The first 9 miles we passed through 5 aid stations. Then from mile 9 to 13, we passed through 6 aid stations. This was all marked on the map but when I studied the map, I thought the mile markers don’t make any sense and the athlete guide mentioned aid stations on the run were every mile. This is also what we come to expect when racing long distance so it threw me off a little.
From mile 9 to 13 buffet line, I took in too much and stopped too many times which was a big mistake on my part. Up to this point I was still running at a decent pace but that’s when the wheels came off and started to walk a little extra after each aid station.
Crossed the finish line later that day 8th in my AG in 10:53. About an hour and half PR from my first Ironman.
Two mistakes I made on the run:
- Didn’t eat like I had planned to. Only took about 50 calories from the flask I had with me.
- Started running at my half ironman pace. Need to start my run about a minute slower.
- Need to learn to stop at aid stations and QUICKLY take what I need and continue my run.
My thoughts on the event:
- The event was very well organized. Truly enjoyed racing it and hope Challenge expand and flourish more in the U.S.
- Can’t thank the volunteers enough. They truly made this event special.
- That little section in downtown Hammonton was awesome. The crowd and music gave us a lot of energy.
- I really enjoyed running on the boardwalk. People everywhere gave us a lot of energy. Yes, many didn’t know what was going on and that was good and kept asking questions. When I was heading out for dinner later that day, I over heard people talking about the event and kept asking us questions about the distance we covered. I heard so many congratulations that evening from strange people.
- Some complained about post race food, I personally thought it was great and best post race food I’ve had. Maybe add more cookies and some drinks 😉
- FIX THE SWIM. Use different color buoys to mark turns. Maybe Big red ones for turns and yellow between them. Make it two loops instead of Y shape or take it to the ocean.
- Evenly space out the aid stations every mile on the boardwalk.
- Security at transition the morning after was not present. I could’ve walked out with 10 bikes.
This is a tough and fair course. It is not fast by any mean, so if you are looking to PR your ironman distance then look somewhere else.
Thanks to my family who supported my training and my wonderful wife who never once complained about my long training hours on the weekend. My coach Heath Dotson for preparing me to face all these challenges and still come with a big PR.