There were no taxis when I arrived at the Atlantic City Airport on Wednesday, just before midnight. 14 of us stood curbside, looking around, perhaps bewildered by the silence.
After making several calls, I got in touch with a taxi company authorized to do airport pickups, but all they had available was a limousine. I looked to the guy standing next to me (a Brazilian named Marco), and he was agreeable to splitting the fare. One concern: we both had our bikes with us, in large bike carrying cases. I was skeptical that our bikes would fit, and when that gold limo rounded the corner, I knew our bikes wouldn’t fit in the trunk. But the driver was keen enough to remove the rear seat cushion in the limo, thereby freeing up space for both bike cases.
I was delivered to the Sheraton Atlantic City, where I began my six-night stay.
The big talk among USA triathletes is how the Challenge Family will do when competing for triathletes in the Ironman (WTC) dominated US market. Challenge Family is huge in Europe and Asia, but Atlantic City is its first foray into USA iron-distance triathlons, a market dominated by Ironman.
First, the little things. Challenge Family welcomed athletes by hosting a Beach Party on Thursday evening. That’s where I met current Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae and her husband Tim O’Donnell.
Look at the veins on T.O.’s arm! My arm is usually quite vascular, but after two 3.5 hour flights, my body was bulbous. I was inflamed, and it didn’t abate until the day before the race. To say I was over the moon, though, to meet these two newlyweds would be the understatement of the year. I was tongue-tied and awkward, and they were genuine and friendly, greeting me with big smiles.
The next day found me at Bader Field, home of the swim start, T1 and T2, and TriBike Transport, the best bike transport company on the planet! I spoke with Camp from TBT, and then made my way back to Bally’s for more pre-race prep.
There’s a lot of admin required in the days leading up to an iron-distance triathlon. Challenge Family, in this regard, was not much different than Ironman. Instead of a backpack, each athlete received a snazzy messenger bag. And instead of sticking your race number onto your bike frame, Challenge Family partnered with Profile Design to provide each athlete with one of these:
And instead of getting your body marked on race morning, Challenge Family provided each athlete with temporary tattoos:
(That’s my left shoulder.)
On Friday, Challenge Family arranged to have six-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen speak on racing and nutrition. There was no way I’d miss the opportunity to listen to Mark Allen, who is widely considered the greatest triathlete of all time. So I arrived early. There was only one other person in the room, and he had his back to me. I proceeded to ask, “Is this where” (and I was about to say Mark Allen) when the person turned around, and it was Mark Allen! Had I known he was Mark Allen beforehand, I’d have likely taken awkward posturing to an entirely new level. But since I was surprised, perhaps, I was as calm and relaxed as I am when speaking with my wife. And right there, in that room, Mark Allen and I had a conversation. We spoke for maybe ten minutes, and it was awesome!!
Once others arrived, Mark Allen began his talk, during which I was reminded by him to consume no more than 300-350 calories/hour on the bike. Also, he suggested that since the bike course is flat, athletes should purposefully get off the saddle and out of aero position every so often just to engage other muscles, and to give your working muscles the reprieve they’d normally enjoy during a short climb or a series of rollers. He said he learned that strategy from shadowing Dave Scott in the Hawaii Ironman.
It’s hard to articulate how energized I remained for the rest of the day as a result of Mark Allen’s talk and, especially, our conversation. But I’ll tell you one thing: I could not stop smiling.
Friday night brought the Challenge Family carbo-load dinner. It didn’t seem significantly different than those hosted by Ironman. Probably the most notable difference was the food. Caesars provided the food, and it was delicious!! There was sol stuffed with shrimp. There were two types of quinoa. There were veggies. There was turkey and stuffing. There was baked zitti, eggplant parmesan, gluten-free pasta, whole-wheat pasta, regular pasta, and heaps of dessert options. It was, in a word, yummy.
That was Friday, and while I very rarely take a day off from training, I’d taken Thursday AND Friday off as per the seven-day drop taper I was following. So come Saturday, I was eager to see if my body absorbed the big volume I’d been doing over the last six weeks following Ironman Texas.
On Saturday morning, I began with a sensible breakfast at the Sheraton Atlantic City:
(I also had six rolled up pancakes, filled with some sort of gelatinous berry-like concoction. They were tasty!)
Then, I ran 1.7 miles to the swim start, carrying my wetsuit like a football tucked under my arm. (Note for next time: rent a car). The water temp was around 74 degrees. I swam. Fast. I was wetsuit-clad, swimming in the back bays of Bader Field. I don’t know if it was all of the swim volume I’d been doing, or if it was my wetsuit, or if it was the salt in the Atlantic Ocean water, but I swam two loops in 30 minutes at a 1:19/100yd pace. (I later announced to Michelle via text that I am swimming fast. And I secretly began believing that I could go 55-56 minutes on race day.)
As I was preparing to run back to the hotel from Bader Field, and just trying to ease my foot out of my wetsuit, I looked up to see Vinny, a great guy I’d sat with the night before at the carbo-dinner. He offered to drive me back, which was great. And then later that afternoon, when it was time to drop our bikes off for the race, he was kind enough to pick me up at the Sheraton and drive me and my bike back to Bader Field.
The last item of business was dinner. I found a pizza place that had pasta on its menu, and while the neighborhood looked particularly dodgy, I took a chance. It was one of the best plates of Pasta Marinara I’ve ever had. And the whole meal (with bread and salad and added broccoli) was $10.
By 6 p.m. I’d showered and taped my legs with MuscleAidTape. (Prior to racing with MAT, I’d endure a lot of knee pain on the bike and run. Now I’m able to dig deeper, go faster, and do so almost entirely without any discomfort in my knees and the related joints and ligaments.)
So it was 6 p.m. I’d phoned in my 2:30 a.m. wake-up call, and I was ready to sleep. Sleeping worked well for the next three hours. Then I tossed and turned, trying to reassure myself of what Mark Allen said: “The sleep you get two nights before a race is more important than the sleep you get on the night before the race”. I’d gotten ten hours the night before, so I felt a bit reassured even during my restlessness. By midnight I’d fallen into a deep sleep, and I’d likely have enjoyed that until 2:30 except for my phone ringing at 1:55. That was my wake-up call. 35 minutes early!
I attempted to fall back asleep, but each attempt was futile. I rolled out of bed at 2:15, ready to begin the day.
My pre-race ritual is specific. Coffee. Erin Baker’s Breakfast Cookie. Mdrive Elite. Mdrive ATP. Mdrive Joint. Ecchinacea. Tumeric. And a few swigs from a bottle of beet juice.
At 4:30 I walked down to the lobby to grab a taxi to the race start. While standing curbside, it was clear that the fellow to my left was racing as well. I noticed his Athletes Lounge sweatshirt, and told him how I really enjoyed that bike shop during my most recent visit to Portland.
It turns out he is one of the owners of Athletes Lounge, and he is a pro triathlete. Chris Boudreaux is his name. He offered me a ride to the race start, and I gladly accepted.
Normally race morning is rather uneventful, but somehow or another, the water temperature had risen 5 degrees overnight, and now the water temp was 80 degrees!
That meant wetsuits were no longer legal. I swim significantly faster in a wetsuit, so this was a bit frustrating. I knew I could still swim well, but I’d planned to wear CEP Calf Compression Sleeves under my wetsuit to expedite my transition and increase my odds of being free from muscle cramps on the bike and run.
Keeping the calf sleeves on whilst wearing a swimskin was not an option. So I turned on my music, ruminated on this for a bit, and then donned my swim skin, tossed the calf sleeves in my Run bag, and began my breathing exercises.
The Challenge Family did not begin this race with a mass swim start. Instead, CAC began in waves. Men 40-44 wore red caps and were slotted to go at 6:08.
I jumped off the dock and into the back bays of the Atlantic Ocean. I was quick to carve out a line where I could do some quick sprints to open up my lungs. Then I lined up in the front, the absolute front, on the inside, next to the large triangular red buoy. I focused on four things: Exhale, Lats, 200 strokes, Count. (Kurt Madden told me to focus on exhaling. The inhaling will take care of itself. Coach Christine tells me to engage my lats, not my shoulders. 200 strokes is how many it should take me to sprint 250 yards and clear myself of any water combat. Counting is something suggested by Endurance Nation to keep focused on the things you can control. Thus, count strokes: 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2.)
The race started, and what happened next is definitely a first. I was leading the swim! The first turn buoy was around 550 yards out, and when I reached it, there was nobody around me. There were 150 guys behind me, but there was clear water between me and the 2nd place guy. So I kept swimming, just trying to stay in a rhythm.
Approximately 1,000 yards later, another first. I was lost. The swim course buoys were not set up the day before, so I wasn’t able to swim the entire “Y” shaped course. Generally I can rely on a former D1 or D2 swimmer in the pack who will lead everyone out. But for one reason or another, I was way up front.
As I attempted to sight, the sun’s glare helped obscure just about everything. I couldn’t confirm if the object 1,000 yards ahead was a red triangular buoy or just a trick of the light. So I stopped to ask for directions. There was a volunteer on a paddleboard, so I asked: “This way?” He gave me a slow point straight ahead and said, “Yeah, to the right”. That wasn’t particularly helpful, but given my sense of urgency, I kept going straight but began purposefully veering to the right.
This is where a distinction can be drawn between the CAC swim and a typical Ironman swim. Ironman would not allow such an open course. There would be a buoy line, each buoy separated by approximately 100 yards or meters. Swimmers would be expected to stay to the right of the buoy. But swimmers would certainly have a line to follow. Here, for instance, is the buoy line that swimmers can expect to find at Ironman Arizona:
At CAC, the line I chose to follow was to the next volunteer on a paddleboard, who appeared to be about 500 yards ahead.
I saw four or five round buoys 200 yards to the right, so I asked the volunteer, “To those buoys?” He offered a slow “Yeah.” And I said with urgency, “Inside or outside?” (The buoys didn’t seem consistent with the other buoys on course, so I wanted to clarify). He looked confused and said, “I think you’re supposed to go inside. Maybe”. Swimming inside those buoys or outside would determine a time savings or time loss, for if I didn’t need to swim inside those buoys, I could swim diagonally to the next large red buoy. The right thing to do was swim inside the line of four buoys (even if the volunteer didn’t know where I should go), so that’s what I did. But I suspect that if anybody cut this course, it likely happened right there. And it amounted to a significant time savings.
I kept looking for signs of life, but the pros, who started 8 minutes ahead of me, were long gone. The 150 guys in my AG were way behind me. The other 850 people in the race should be on their way, but their waves started a few minutes after mine.
So I kept swimming. And I kept trying to navigate. Twice I’d somehow swum upon a shallow marsh of sorts, as my hand got stuck in a viscous mud. Both times, I had to tighten up my stroke until I was on the verge of doggie paddling, trying to shimmy left into deeper water.
Finally, when I was over 3/4 of the way through the swim, I was passed by a very fast swimmer in an orange cap. He stood up, looked at me, and said “Which way?” I just laughed as I exhaled without breaking stroke, as I’d little idea which line to follow. Then he took off, half man half torpedo. I just tried to keep him in sight, as you could not imagine the joy I felt when reassured that someone else was on the course with me!
100-200 yards later I was passed by two more guys in orange caps. They, too, were faster than me. I kept them in my crosshairs, and followed them to the swim finish.
Swimming is funny. When I go 2.4 miles, I rarely know if it took 50 minutes, 70 minutes, or 90 minutes. The water creates some sort of time suck where what we perceive is distorted. I orca’d onto the dock ramp with the assistance of two volunteers, and I hoped to see 58-59 minutes on my watch.
What I saw was emotionally deflating: 1:07. I’ve worked so hard to be better than a 1:07 swimmer. 3 sessions per week at 5:30 AM with CTSM. 3 additional sessions per week on my own. 15-20,000 yards per week. I know what a 1:07 looks like because I was a 1:07-1:20 swimmer for ten years! Now I was among the sub-one hour swimmers.
Triathletes love to set time goals. Wisdom tells us not to. But desire compels us. If I can just break the 12-hour barrier. If I can just go sub-11. Oh, if I go sub-10, all my dreams will have been realized. I had a time goal, of course, and it was predicated on a sub-one hour swim. Without that swim split, meeting my overall time goal would be unlikely.
So for 30 seconds or so, I threw my own little pity party. (Nobody attended. It was just me). As I did so, I was running toward my bike bag, peeling off my swimskin and removing my swim cap and goggles. I was frustrated and slightly miserable. But then I heard the announcer say over the microphone, “And here is the first place male from the 40-44 AG. That’s Jason McFaul wearing a TYR swimskin. He’s from Chino Hills, California!” Well, what can I say. Misery loves company. I met a great guy in my AG from Finland a few days earlier at the hotel, and he’s a fast swimmer. If I was first out of the water at 1:07, he had to be equally frustrated by his performance, as he was still in the water! This sort of psychology seems sinister, but I don’t think it is. It’s just a way to feel a bit better about a sub-optimal situation.
I proceeded to take way too long in transition, and then I roped my faithful steed, led that beast out of transition to the mount line, and hit it hard.
The goal on the bike: 240 watts. Strong, hard, steady. From the gun. No time to adapt. No warm-up. 240 watts. That’s the plan.
My P5 with Dura Ace Di2, courtesy of Banning and Eric at East West Bikes, feels like an extension of my body. And when everything is firing, it feels magical. You’re routed onto the Atlantic City Expressway. A lane has been blocked off for CAC athletes. The cars are barely moving due to traffic. But you’re flying by like a bullet.
Among my goals on the bike was to pee twice. Any discharge before Mile 40 wouldn’t count. This was urine specific to the fluids taken on the bike. If I could pee twice over 112 miles, I’d know that I’m bringing fairly good hydration into the run.
By Mile 45, only two guys had passed me. That was it. And neither one was in my age group. I figured, given the three guys who beat me out of the water, and given the two guys who passed me on the bike, I should be the 6th amateur. And then, just like clockwork, I had a full bladder. I could see nobody ahead of me or behind me, so I peed. On my bike. My moving speed went from 24mph to 19mph, but no lower. Andy Potts says racing is all about momentum. So I maintained momentum, checked a box, and settled back in with a focus on holding 240w and consuming enough fluid to pee again before dismounting at T2.
Most of the roads on the CAC course are flat and fast. There was a short section of chip seal (5-10 miles) along the Hammonton loop (by the blueberry farms), and you do this loop twice. So you deal with chip seal twice. But 10-20 miles of poor road surface over a 112 mile course is not bad. Not bad at all.
By Mile 80, I’d peed again, and I’d overtaken a few of the guys who were ahead of me. I figured I was now among the top 3 amateurs overall.
Around Mile 85, it was time to get back onto the AC Expressway and head home. This 15 mile section was slightly downhill, but there was an exceptional headwind. My watts remained at 230-250, but I watched my average speed drop from 23.6 to 23 to 22.8 to 22.5 mph. It was the sort of devastation that few people know and probably fewer can appreciate. First-world problems.
Unless I could somehow crank it up a notch in the last 12 miles, my 4:40ish bike split was creeping into the 4:50’s. Then, at approximately Mile 100, something interesting happened. This being a weekend of many “firsts,” finding myself blocked by the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place pro women didn’t seem the least bit strange. It was simply interesting. But that turned into bewildering. And then discombobulating.
Picture this: the top three pro women staggered. One hugging the double-yellow line. One five feet to her right. One a few feet ahead and to the right. Four police escorts on motorcycles. Two camera crews on motorcycles. Two race officials on motorcycles.
Now, I wouldn’t mind hanging back if this mob were traveling at the pace I aimed to travel. But it simply wasn’t. My watts dropped to 160, and I was not sure what I could “legally” do. (USAT doles out 4-minute penalties for a variety of reasons). I’m not allowed to pass on the right. I’m forbidden from crossing the double-yellow line. I can’t get within 10 meters of the bike in front of me. I can’t ride two abreast. So I sat up, got out of my aerobars, attempted to make eye contact with the race official on the motorcycle, and I raised my right hand as if to ask, “What’s the protocol here? How do I legally overtake this group?” The race official, however, couldn’t seem to read my mind, so I finally initiated a pass. Once you initiate a pass and you’re in the “draft zone” of another athlete, you have fifteen seconds to overtake that athlete. I got in right behind the top female pro who was riding just inside the double yellow line.
It makes my skin crawl just in recounting this, as I respect the pros so much, and the last thing they need is some age grouper yelling “Left” like he’s a brash cocksman in danger of being slowed by a pace they’re pushing to maintain.
So I did what I do. I was quiet at first, saying “Left” with (for some reason) what sounded like a British accent. The pro didn’t move. I raised my volume. The pro didn’t move. Then I did what I despise. I yelled “On your left,” and she finally moved over, gave me just over a foot between her bike and the double yellow line, and I completed the pass, apologizing as I did so.
Then I charged ahead and waited. I knew I was going to get a penalty for something, but over the next two miles, no race officials came near me. I opened up a good gap on the three I’d just overtaken, and by the time I got to Mile 108, I needed to urinate! For the third time! There was nobody in sight, in front of me or behind me, so I did so, without dropping below 19mph.
Unlike Ironman Texas (six weeks ago) where I started the run under-hydrated, feeling like one big muscle on the verge of cramping, I was getting excited to dismount. When I finally reached 112 miles and the bike dismount (with a bike split of 4:58:15), I handed my bike over to a volunteer, and proceeded to take off my bike shoes for the 100 yard run to my bag and the changing tent. Another volunteer offered to take my bike shoes for me, so off I went, running to my bag.
T2 went well. Despite having to put calf sleeves on, I still transitioned decently. I pulled up my arm coolers, grabbed my cooling towel, and I was running.
That first mile felt awful. I thought, “Oh boy. This is going to hurt.” And even though I was reluctant to look at my pace just yet, I did. Probably out of compulsion or habit. But when I did, I saw that I was running a 6:55/mile.
It’s so funny how people define “good news”. A moment ago I felt like I must be running a 10:00/mile. I felt sluggish and heavy. But when I saw that 6:55/mile on my Garmin, my whole body sort of shouted: “Yahoo!!” I had rhythm. I felt it. And I knew it. Further, I believed I could maintain it.
As I was headed toward the Boardwalk, an age-grouper was headed out to complete the short section I’d just run. This guy, Matthew, was tall, lean, mean, and looked fast. He shouted to me, a bit frantically, “You a pro?” I said “no”. “Are you doing the Individual?” he asked. This was a fair question, as 1,000 people were doing the Individual (the entire iron-distance triathlon), and an additional 500 people were doing the Relay. I said “Yes”. All I heard from him was a noise. Not sure what it was, but he didn’t seem pleased to find out I was ahead of him.
So I knew he was just under a mile behind me. And yes, I was feeling hunted.
As I got onto the Boardwalk, I began running the 7 or so miles out to the first turn around. Based on the low bib numbers worn by the guys already on their way back, I knew they were pros. But one guy, running with his top down, rocking a shaved head (no guard) and a high bib number–he was very likely 1st place overall amateur. He was moving. But so was I. All I thought was “If you walk one mile, I’ll own you”.
I got to the turnaround and realized I must be 2nd place overall. And then, just under a mile from the turnaround, like clockwork, I saw Matthew. He shouted, “What age group?”
I said “40-44,” and he seemed pleased by that. I didn’t know why, but he helped me realize it a bit later.
By Mile 10 my average pace was 7:03/mile. I felt great. I was setting myself up for a sub-3:05 marathon. My heart rate was right where I wanted it. The plan was to simply maintain that pace until Mile 18.
Now I was onto the epicenter of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. There were a lot of tourists out there. And they had no idea a race was going on!! Tourists were lining up for photos on the run course, BLOCKING the run path. There were kids, strollers, young people, old people–and they weren’t malicious. They were simply oblivious. They’d no idea they were standing in the middle of the path that athletes were supposed to be running on.
So I cut to the left, launched to the right, zig-zagged, and did what I could to avoid a collision. A few times I had the honor of being escorted by a Challenge Family run marshall on a bicycle who’d yell “Clear the path, clear the path!” And a few other times, I had a motorcycle cop riding in front of me, bursting his siren to get people to move. (I must admit. That was awesome!)
By the time I reached Mile 11 or 12, my right hamstring seized. Big time. I could see nobody ahead of me, and I could see nobody behind me. So I stood there, in the middle of the boardwalk, for about one-minute, waiting for the cramp to relent. An on-looker started to walk toward me to offer assistance, but I said, “It’s no problem. I’ll be able to run again in a moment”.
The truth is, muscle cramps are a bit of a mystery. I simply hoped I’d be able to run again in a moment. But the other truth is, most people are physically spent at this point of the day. So much of this last part is mental. You have to be willing to push on when your body says there’s nothing left.
Fortunately, the cramp abated. I began a stagger of sorts. The Ironman Shuffle, as my late mentor Terry Callies would call it. The shuffle turned into a jog, and the jog turned into a run. But my gait was slightly compromised, and my pace suffered a less-than-desired trajectory.
Still, nobody had overtaken me. I must’ve opened a fair gap. But I knew my pace was slowing. And my head started to feel a wee bit foggy. (This can turn into a bad day if not managed well).
Concerned that my body might simply need something more than the Fluid Sports Drink and the Coke upon which I was relying, I grabbed a Grape Pomegranate Carb BOOM gel at the next aid station. (I was a loyal consumer of Carb BOOM during my first few years of triathlon until they went out of business. But now they’re back). I was hoping to have grabbed their Apple Cinnamon flavor, as that is delicious!! But it didn’t matter. I lapped up that Grape Pomegranate so handily that I immediately began looking forward to another at the next aid station. Over the next three miles, I took three Carb BOOM gels, and I felt renewed!
As I was headed back along the Boardwalk, I saw one of my Team TriBike Transport teammates, Keish Doi, and I smiled. (Keish was ranked #1 in the world in 2013 by Ironman as an AWA 45-49 athlete.) My mental acuity had returned. And with that clear-headedness came the reminder that Mile 18 is where the real hurt begins.
That is particularly tough, because our mind/body basically seek pleasure and avoid pain. Knowing that you’re going to deliberately turn yourself inside out and enter the hurt locker in two miles makes it VERY hard not to slow your pace as, perhaps, a stay of execution.
I pushed and pushed, and at Mile 18, I almost pounced a bit as if shot out of a cannon. I started to take myself to a very dark place.
People who’ve visited this place know what it’s like. It’s almost an out of body experience. You’ve transcended “hurt” and entered a place where you become singular in purpose.
During those final 8.2 miles, I thought about very little. In fact, I primarily pictured Michelle, my wife, urging me to believe in myself. (She even sent me an Instagram, which I received race morning, as an encouraging reminder).
For my 40th birthday, Michelle made me a card with an Ironman M-dot on it. On the inside, among the things she wrote was this: “It’s time for you to start believing in yourself”.
That message made me (and continues to make me) emotional. And in those final miles, when I endeavored to redefine my redline, those words kept me going.
At Mile 23 1/2, I made the last turnaround to the spectacular finish on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. And sure enough, there he was: Matthew. He still looked fresh. Still looked fast. Still looked like he was hunting me. And I decided, in that moment, that he was not going to pass me. That I will not allow it. That if he passes me, it’s because I am giving a true 100% and have absolutely nothing mental or physical left to offer.
It’s tough to articulate, but that decision occurred in a moment. Maybe it required one or two seconds to make. But I found a new gear and gave everything I had. I pictured Michelle. I heard her words. And I gave it everything.
Entering the Challenge Family Atlantic City finishing chute, the first person I saw was the race director. I said “Anyone behind me?” He yelled “No”. And so I kept my foot on the gas but started to take it all in.
It was amazing. I saw my cousin Jacki (who’d driven out to cheer me on), I heard the announcer sounding excited and enthusiastic (though I cannot remember what he said), and I finally crossed the finish line (with a 3:14:55 run split, and 9:29:47 finishing time).
I found a bench and plopped down right next to Chris Boudreaux, the pro who gave me a ride to the race start. He finished in 3rd place! Awesome.
A few minutes passed, and Matthew crossed the finish line. He found me on the bench, sat next to me, and said he was trying to catch me. I said I was doing everything I could to not be caught by him! But then the coup de grace. He is 25, and his wave started 9 minutes after mine. I’d forgotten all about that. So after subtracting 9 minutes from his finishing time, he took the honors of 2nd overall amateur. That guy who was leading never fell apart and, instead, surged to an impressive 9:06.
My 9:29 netted me 3rd place overall amateur, 17th overall (including pro’s), 1st AG 40-44, and 1st Masters.
All in all, it was just what the doctor ordered. I met many of my goals, and I did many of the things I was unable to do six weeks ago in Texas.
To top it all off, I enjoyed a conversation with Mirinda Carfrae at the finish. And then I had a great conversation with Petr Vabrousek, who’s done 143 iron-distance triathlons. (He’s so cool. Even though he does this for a living, and even though he had 6th place in the bag, his daughter wanted to run across the finish line with him. And at Challenge Family races, they encourage that. So Petr stopped to greet his daughter, knowing that he’d give up 6th place to the pro on his heels. But it didn’t matter to Petr, as he made his daughter’s day.)
Overall, I had one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at an iron-distance race. But many have asked if that had anything to do with the Challenge-Family. I’d say that Challenge-Family was responsible for bringing Macca, Rinny, T.O., and Mark Allen to Atlantic City. I met all of them for the first time. And that was awesome! As for the race itself, I believe Challenge stuffed up the swim quite a bit (there should’ve been more buoys). And I don’t believe Ironman ever would’ve allowed such an open run course (where tourists could unknowingly block athletes at will). But, in defense of the Challenge Family, this was an Inaugural race, and even Ironman encounters unforeseen hiccups in their iron-distance debuts.
Would I do this race again? Maybe. The better question is likely, would I do a Challenge-Family race again? That answer, for sure, is yes.