Zwift Triathlon Academy athlete Eric Engel was the 3rd amateur at the IRONMAN 70.3 Worlds in St. George, Utah, and while that was one of his targets, the man with the engaging smile had hoped for more. He had wanted to win his age group and hoped to go sub 4. But 4:05:16 it was.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Eric.
Eric Engel: Of course, always great to hear from you. It’s been a few years…
ST: We talked about 3 years ago when you were driving that AltRed truck from race to race. When did that stop and what are you doing now to pay bills?
Eric: Yes, back in 2018 - I did a year-long expo adventure in the AltRed sprinter van. We ended the road trip after the IRONMAN World Championships. Currently, I’m working for JackRabbit.com as a Digital Marketing manager, where we sell running shoes, apparel and accessories.
ST: You must have a decent amount of flex time as you appear to be racing a decent amount.
Eric: I work remotely, and it just so happens that my boss is also an IRONMAN athlete as well. She’s gearing up for IRONMAN California later this month. I’m fortunate to have a supportive team and we’re able to support each other when we need to take time off. I’m a big believer in having a healthy work and life balance.
ST: Not sure if we should be envious of your setup, or simply go to JackRabbit.com and support such a cool triathlon supportive brand.
Eric: Maybe a little of both! But in all honesty, we do have a lot of the top-end racing and training shoes that most triathletes are running in - so I’d encourage anyone to check it out!
ST: On to 70.3 Worlds in St. George and your very impressive race there.
Eric: I came into the race coming off a high after winning Wisconsin 70.3 6 days prior. I came into worlds with a goal of wanting to win my AG and placing top 3 overall amateur. After I finished, I had mixed feelings about the results. I’m certainly thankful and appreciative to be able to race at a high level of elite racing, but I go into every race wanting to win. I think that’s what keeps me going over the last 11 years - always wanting to improve and never settling.
ST: You ended up second in your M30-34 age group and as the third overall age grouper with a time of 4:05:16. How close was that to the time and effort you had hoped to do?
Eric: I didn’t have an exact finish time in mind, just because I wasn’t sure how fast or slow the bike course might be. Earlier this year, I had a streak of five 70.3 distance races under 4hrs, that’s been a new benchmark I try and strive for each race.
ST: Talk about your swim.
Eric: Anyone who knows me or follows me on social media knows how much I’ve been working on my swim this season. I’ve done a couple of swim streaks, swimming up to 40 days in a row. My pool fitness is the highest it’s ever been. Unfortunately, I had some anxiety issues about 3 minutes into the swim start. I’ve experienced this over the years, mainly at races without any swim warm up. I was able to work through the anxiety, but it takes quite the toll on your energy. There was also lot of swim traffic from the age groups ahead of us, so I definitely had to battle that traffic as well. I was shooting for at 25-27 minute swim but came out just shy of 30.
ST: Can you describe one of your harder swim sessions in detail?
Eric: I recently did a distance progression over a few weeks at my goal race pace. The first session was 15x200 at 1:12 pace on :15 rest. The next session was 6x500 at 1:12 pace on :30 rest. Next up was 4x750 at 1:12 pace on :40 rest. Lastly, I did 3x1000 at 1:12 pace on :60 rest. This was all done over a 4-5 week period.
ST: On social media you mentioned going full hippo mode on the bike. Maybe you can elaborate.
Eric: Hippos have become a running joke and almost a team mascot of sorts with some of my training friends. Hippos are known to swim extremely fast and are known to run up to 30 miles per hour. The only chance we really have of beating a hippo in a triathlon is on the bike. So maybe going “full hippo mode” on the bike wasn’t the right analogy. My goal was to ride hard. I did a 70.3 the week prior where I had one of my highest power outputs and wanted to replicate that strategy at St George. I rode around a 2:11, but definitely missed out on some time due to having a smaller chain ring (52/39). I’ve recently upgraded to a 55/42 so I will be able to push the downhills and flats a bit more.
ST: Did you know where your competition was as you reached the end of the bike?
Eric: As I was climbing Snow Canyon, one of the other competitors yelled to me that I was currently 2nd in our age group (30-34). I was pleasantly surprised by that but didn’t know the gap up to the front. Once I transitioned and got out to the run course, I saw my coach who informed me that I was in 3rd AG and about 90 seconds back of 2nd. The fact that he didn’t mention the 1st placed runner meant that he was probably too far ahead to catch.
ST: Can you give us details about your bike?
Eric: I thought you’d never ask! As some people know, I was selected for the 2021 Zwift Academy Triathlon team this year. A few weeks ago, we got our custom-wrapped S-Works Specialized Shiv Disc bikes. Our Shivs have Dura-Ace Di2 shifting, dual-sided Specialized Power Cranks, hydraulic disc brakes, and Roval CLX 64 Disc wheels. I was able to borrow a Roval 321 disc wheel, which thankfully arrived the day before the race. They say try nothing new on race day, but it was the day before the race so why not!
ST: What about tires?
Eric: We ride S-Works Turbo cotton tires (700x24c) with the lovely beige sidewalls
ST: Do you also ride that bike or a variation of it on Zwift?
Eric: Yes, we have the identical Shiv Disc bikes on Zwift and even the exact same race kits.
ST: What about the run?
Eric: My goal for the run was to run strong and steady. Right out of T2 I began to pass some female pros on their second lap. First it was Holly Lawrence then Jackie Hering and finally Daniela Ryf. These are some of the top athletes in the world so I was a bit worried I might have gone out a bit hard to start the race. I felt strong on the hills during the first lap and passed the 2nd place AG athlete on the first long climb. The downhills were definitely the toughest part of the day. After the first lap my coach told me there was a guy gaining on me during the downhill sections, I knew I needed to keep pushing hard up the hills and bit a little looser downhill. I even split my run for a total time just under 1:20. My fastest mile was mile 13 so I think there was definitely something left in the tank.
ST: How did you celebrate that fine result or were you actually disappointed?
Eric: I definitely celebrated with some friends that night with a few beers - which are hard to find in Utah. I walked away from the racing content, but also super excited knowing that I had that results with a less than perfect race execution. It left me hungry for more!
ST: About a week after you learned that you had contracted COVID19.
Eric: Yes, I flew home from St George Monday morning and actually hopped in my car and went right to the Green Bay Packers Monday Night Football game that same night. I woke up Tuesday morning feeling like crap with a variety of cold symptoms. I ended up getting tested later that week and sure enough, it was positive.
ST: I think you were vaccinated so maybe you can share the impact it had?
Eric: Yes, I was vaccinated and for the most part I wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces but definitely not perfect about this. I think I was very fortunate to only have mild symptoms and I truly believe that having the vaccine prior played a big role in that.
ST: Do you think that has changed how you are when you are in public?
Eric: I don’t think it will change how I act in public. I’m hopeful that the more people who get the vaccination and are able to take simple measures of washing hands and wearing masks will help continue to slow and eliminate the spread. It does however definitely go to show that just because you had the vaccine, doesn’t mean your 100% immune. I encourage everyone to still be diligent about it, especially if you spend time around those who may have weakened immune systems or other circumstances.
ST: I specifically meant more focus on the mask in crowded spaces.
Eric: I’ll continue to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces and when required by local laws. I’ll leave it up to the doctors and local authorities to deem when it should or shouldn’t be worn. With that said, I’d highly suggest wearing a mask in crowded public areas, especially if you have an important race coming up.
To expand further, had Kona not been postponed to May - I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Hawaii due to my positive COVID test. So who knows if I would have been able to get to Hawaii and race. I would have been devastated.
ST: Is AZ still on the radar?
Eric: The short answer is yes. I took about 10 days off once I contracted COVID. I had daily headaches and heavy fatigue most days. I’m finally starting to feel better and took a week of easy workouts to get back after it. The motivation has come around and eyes are set on Arizona the weekend before Thanksgiving. Rumor has it that the overall AG winner from 70.3 Worlds is racing, so that’s definitely motivating to be able to race him again.
ST: I think you just signed up for the IRONMAN World Championships in May. I guess you like St. George.
Eric: Yes, I took my slot for the May World Championship in St George. The entire 2021 Zwift Academy Triathlon team will be racing there, and I can’t wait to meet the whole team. Due to COVID we haven’t been able to meet in person yet, so it’s been a lot of time texting or chatting over Zwift rides. St George is a perfect location for a race of this caliber, and I think it suits me a little better than the course at Kona.
ST: And will you attempt to race in October in Kona too?
Eric: I hope to! I believe Arizona is a qualifier for the October race so if I get a slot there, I will most likely take it. With that said, I know there’s only 26 slots at most fall IRONMAN races so I’ll probably have to win my age group.
ST: When will you take a break?
Eric: After IRONMAN Arizona, I’ll definitely take some time off. Maybe not with the swim, but certainly a few weeks of unstructured training. I raced Challenge Daytona in December 2020, so it has been a long 10+ months of racing already.
ST: Talk about your weekly training volume.
Eric: My weekly volume averages around 15 hours a week, with easier weeks being closer to 10-12 hours and high-volume weeks near 20 hours a week. I’ve been swimming almost 5 days a week and will continue to keep up the swim volume and frequency.
ST: How much do you train indoor versus outside and what is your setup at home like?
Eric: Living in Wisconsin, I do a lot of indoor training. I do all my weekday rides indoors and my long ride outdoors on the weekend. I really enjoy getting in a solid workout without having to worry about stop signs, traffic and weather. I have a studio apartment so my pain cave takes up about half of my living space. I purchased a treadmill last winter that has been an essential part of my brick workouts and winter training. As far as my bike set -up, Wahoo really hooked up the Zwift Academy team with a Wahoo KICKR, Headwind, and Climbr. I have a 32” flatscreen positioned in front of my bike which I use for Zwift.
ST: What is dating life like when half of your studio apartment is a triathlon gym?
Eric: Haha that’s a fair question! It involves going out for dinner a lot more often than having it here! Half the apartment is triathlon stuff and I feel like my dog owns the other half!
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Eric: I really just want to give a shout out to my Zwift teammates from around the globe: Lukas (Belgium), Kristen (USA), Vanessa (NZL/AUS), Kangsub (South Korea) and Rebecca (UK). I can’t wait to meet the team and get to spend time with our mentors Tim Don and Sarah True (and baby True). Also, a big thanks to my coach, training partners, family/friends for all their support over the years.
You can follow Eric Engel on Instagram via @eric.r.engel
Zwift Academy Tri is now open and gets underway on October 18th. Zwifters must complete a series of 10 workouts developed by Coach Dan Plews. New for this year are the Baseline and Finish Line Ride and Runs to benchmark your progress. Zwifters can do either 20k or 40k TT on the bike and either a 5k or 10k for the run. These bench marking events will provide Zwifters the chance to see their progress through the program and attempt a new PR in the Finish Line Ride and Run. Registration for Zwift Academy Tri is open now. For more information, and to register, head to zwift.com/zatri
Images 2, 3 © FinisherPix
Images 1, 4, 5 and 6 courtesy of Eric Engel