Was this really happening? Dreams
and goals would be reached today as I slowly worked my way down
the sea wall into the chilly water of Lake Pontchartrain.
I had a slight nauseating feeling in my stomach which I often
experience anticipating the unknown. I think
my fears were getting the best of me.
Hi, my name is Chad
Soileau and this is my race report of swimming, biking and running
the inaugural Ironman New Orleans 70.3. Ironman New
Orleans would be my first attempt at the half-Ironman distance
triathlon which consisted of a 1.2 mile open water swim, a 56
mile bike and a 13.1 mile run.
"SILVER CAPS. MEN
35 - 39 ENTER THE WATER. 60 SECONDS TO YOUR START!
PLEASE MOVE DOWN THE RAMP TO THE START BUOYS," shouted the
announcer over the PA system.
"There's no turning back
now. You can do this Chad. You've been training
since November for this race and as long as you stick to the
plan you'll do fine," I thought to myself as I tried to position
near the rear of my wave.
I wanted to prevent, or
at least minimize any contact with other swimmers and
positioning myself near the rear left of the start seemed to do
the trick in the past. The weeks leading up to the race
saw me battling a 10 day bout of the worst gastrointestinal
problems I've ever had and an injury where I slashed my foot
open on a razor sharp oyster shell during a training swim in
Lake Pontchartrain. I was most concerned about the
swim for IMNO for some reason. Maybe it was because
I hadn't done any open water swims since Pumpkinman in Lake
Meade. I was apprehensive and a little scared as the
announcer shouted down 15 seconds.
After a quick wave to
Beth, who was standing on the shore, I heard the starter horn and
my trek to the finish line of my first 70.3, half-Ironman
distance race had begun. The start buoy was situated
in water that was around 3 - 4 feet deep. The other
participants and I hopped and splashed our way for the first 200
meters before the water got deep enough to finally swim.
My heart was beating wildly.
RELAX! BREATHE!" I told myself over and over as I
tried to slow my heart rate and establish a rhythm.
Usually in my training
sessions it does take me around 200 - 300 meters before I can
really get into a groove. Thankfully, the same thing
happened today. After around 300 meters I settled
in, was no longer cold and started to establish a good pace.
I turned the first peninsula and was able to see the tower at
the Lakefront Airport. Someone in GNOTri told me
that the swim was easiest if you sighted off the tower so that's
what I did. I did swim off course a few times like I
was going to make the journey to Mandeville but I quickly
corrected myself and did my best to keep the tower in sight.
I tried to draft off a few faster swimmers but I never could see
their feet because the water was so cloudy (dirty). Well,
45 minutes goes by and I can hardly believe it but my feet are
touching the sandy substrate and I'm making my way out of the
water. The event that I thought I would have the
most trouble with turned out to be the easiest of the day!
I literally stumbled up
the bumpy landscape headed towards the wetsuit strippers coming
out of the water. I caught my balance at the last moment
and was able to stay on my feet. I hobbled like a
drunk hobo up the embankment and plopped on my butt as one of
the volunteers yanked my wetsuit off. The cold water and
being horizontal so long had me a little woozy as I entered T1.
This transition area was
by far the largest I'd ever experienced. With over
3000 participants I guess it had to be big. My spot was
all the way on to the back, situated right in the middle which
made it close to neither the bike or the run exit.
Seriously, it was at least a quarter mile from the exits.
I got to my spot and sat down to put on my socks and bike shoes.
I wasn't in a hurry and wanted to make sure that I was situated
for my ride. I sucked down a half pack of my honey
gel, took a swig of Pedialyte then guzzled down a half bottle of
electrolyte water. After slipping on my helmet and
sunglasses I un-racked my bike and clopped to the mount line.
I have been on the
Ironman New Orleans bike course somewhere around 15 times in the
past six months. I planned my long rides every other
week to be on the course so I could be intimately familiar with
all it's nuances. Riding it that many times gave me
the advantage of knowing where the wind usually was, where the
hills (overpasses) were, where the house swallowing potholes
were and where the flavor of the day dead animals (snakes,
armadillos, rabbits, possum, deer) usually hung out.
Well, strangely enough, race day had a few curveballs for me and
the end of the bike course is where the wheels started to fall
THE PLAN stated that I
was supposed to keep my heart rate at 125 for the duration of
the bike. Coming out of the swim I was pleased to
see that my heart rate was hovering around 120 - 125.
I guess my excitement and competitive spirit got the best of me
because I really hammered the bike for the first 40 miles.
I was averaging around 22 and feeling good. So
what's the problem? The problem was I wasn't
sticking to the plan. My heart-rate was averaging
160, 35 beats above what THE PLAN called for. I
could hear Will Jones, my tri coach from 4th
Dimension Fitness in my ear telling me that I need to "GO
SLOW TO GO FAST" but I wasn't having any of it. I
felt good, this was my first half-Ironman and I wanted to go sub
6 hours! Well... I got taught a valuable
lesson about Triathlon Economics.
Triathlon Economics is a
very simple concept. You have a bank of money
(energy) that you start out with at the beginning of the race.
You have a certain amount of money to spend on each of the three
events. My problem is that by mile 40 of the bike I had
spent ALL my money. Unlike the current situation in
my government, Triathlon Economics doesn't have any bailouts.
I didn't have any money left for the rest of the bike and surely
was gonna be flat broke for the run.
So what changed at mile
40? The first thing that changed was the surprising
sharp pain that I felt in my front shoulder as the friendly
little hornet wedged his stinger through my jersey and my
compression top. I yelped out in pain and cursed as
I flicked the critter off. I'm sure he was equally as
confused as he was only going about his day as a hornet flying
around looking for some honey or some animal to bite.
I can only imagine what was going through his little hornet mind
as this huge giant monster sweeps him up. I dumped a
the last bit of my precious water onto the bite hoping it would
dull the pain. I could already feel my arm starting
to numb a bit as I avoided the next curveball the bike course
had in store for me. The virtually windless course
up to that point turned and it turned in a very bad way.
The steady headwind was now blowing at a constant 10 mph with
bursts up to 20. My 22 mph average was slapped down
to 15 mph. I longed for the turn off of Paris road
to Hayne Boulevard. In all my training rides that
was the point where the wind ceased and I could pick up speed
all the way to the Lakefront Airport. The course had an
unpleasant surprise in store for everyone today. The
wind seemed to pick UP at that turn and smash everyone all the
way back to transition! The wind seemed to be so bad
that going DOWN the overpasses and DOWN the bridge that spanned
the Inter-coastal canal was equally as difficult. The wind
seemed to want to push me back up the hill. The
last 16 miles back to transition were brutal and I was literally
spent. I laughed at myself knowing that I still had
a half-marathon to run.
Speeding into transition
I didn't even bother considering doing a flying dismount.
I finished my bike course mere seconds under three hours.
I unclipped, avoided the speed bumps before the dismount line
and hopped off the bike. Right before I entered
transition I got to see Beth and my mom & dad for the first time
on the course. Seeing them cheering me on gave me a
little boost of energy that I really needed. Their cheers
helped push me to keep moving and to do what I came to do which
was be finish the day as a half-Ironman. The former 464
pound fat-boy-turned-triathlete shuffled into transition and
continued on with the race.
I racked my bike and sat
down to switch from the bike shoes to the running shoes.
I sucked down the rest of the Pedialyte and water that I had in
my area and then headed out for the run. I had my
first small bout with the gastric-funhouse right before I left
transition but it turned out to be a false alarm. I
hobbled out of transition to start my run.
If someone happened to be following
my race online then they would have seem me have a great swim,
and a good bike and on pace for sub 6 hour race if I had a good
run. I was just under 4 hours when I started the
run. Had I been able to put together a good
half-marathon I was on pace for a sub-6 hour half-Ironman.
Well... Unfortunately that wouldn't be the case
By this time of the day the
humidity and the heat had really come on full force.
So much for the scattered showers that were predicted.
A nice spring shower would have been nice on the run but I had
to settle for the kind folks that lived along the run course to
spray me down with a hose or turn on their sprinkler. My
heart-rate was supposed to be at 135 for the run. Even
running as slow as I was it was still hovering around 165.
Nothing I could do, short of walking seemed to bring my
heart-rate down. I did run the first couple miles, keeping
a slow 10 minute pace. I really felt the exhaustion in my
shoulders and it radiated down the center of my back.
Having to deal with the slow numbing of my arm from the wasp
sting just made everything all the more 'special'. I guess
it was around mile 2 where I started to walk. I
unfortunately had no choice. The thought of quitting never
crossed my mind but I really didn't want to have to resort to
walking. My energy bank was depleted though so if I
had to walk to cross the finish line I would walk.
At mile 2 I started a walk a mile run a mile routine which I
maintained for the entire 13.1 miles. Slowly the
fellow BR Tri guys that I passed on the bike started to pass me.
It seemed that I was always in my 'walk-a-mile' phase when
everyone caught up with me. It was nice because I got to
hang out for a bit and talk to Jeff Crow, Stephen Branscum,
Stephen Hollinger, Tom Townsend, Christine Whitlow and Paul Esch, not to mention all the other BR
Tri guys I saw, high fived and fist bumped. Thanks
guys, especially the guys that I walked with. You
helped the miles pass and motivated me to keep moving! I
also know I'm extremely biased but we had the BEST looking
uniforms on the course hands down!
was pleased to see that port-o-johns were spaced around 500m
apart on the run while I was on Lakeshore drive. Some
people judge races by the volunteer staff; some by the amount of
aid stations; some by the overall organization. Me, I
judge the races by the amount of bathrooms and port-o-johns.
That's sad. :) I'd love to report that I
didn't have any gastric distress on my first half-Ironman race,
but alas I am Chad and the gastric distress seems to follow me
like unicorns follow Patrick Keenan. <--Inside joke.
:) Around mile 4 the wave of panic came over me and
I knew that I was around 30 - 40 seconds from disaster. I
sadly even contemplated running into the lake if the port-o-john
was occupied. Thankfully it was not. 20
minutes later I emerge from the sauna... err... port-o-john and
continue back on the course. Thankfully that was the
longest episode but I did have to stop two additional times on
the course for around 5 - 10 minutes each. All in all I'm
sure I wasted close to 40 minutes with gastric issues. I
ate really well last week, preparing for the race and carbo
loading with pasta and fruit. Nutrition on the
course consisted of honey, Pedialyte, sips of Gatorade at the
aid stations, Powerbar cola gel shot gummies and lots of water.
I had limited success with everything in training but this
combination seemed to be what has worked best. Oh
well, back to the drawing board!
It was really nice to be off
Lakeshore drive and into a somewhat shaded City Park.
I was faithfully sticking to my walk-a-mile, run-a-mile plan and
it seemed to be working OK. I was exhausted but I HAD to
keep moving towards the finish line. The course
wound through parts of City Park and finally exited onto
Esplanade. Right before the course turned onto
Esplanade I saw my buddy Hunter. Hunter was the
driving force behind me completing my first marathon last year.
He met me around the same spot where I was wanting to quit last
year during the Mardi Gras Marathon. I guess I can
be considered 'breakin' the rules' because he did run alongside
me for the next 3 miles down Esplanade. It was
really nice to have him there as we walked / ran and
contemplated life. Good stuff. Thanks for
showing up again bro! You once again helped push me to the
finish line. At least this time I wasn't zombielike.
meters to go as the run course made a 90 degree turn onto
Decatur Street. These moments, my friends, is what it's all
about... The tears started to well up in my eyes as
I started to contemplate where I've been and where I'm going.
I seem to do that almost every time I work my way down to the
finish lines... but this one was special. It was a
first and I don't get many of those. I
reflect back on how fortunate I am to have gone from the 464
pound man to the man I am today and how there would have been no
way that I would have been able to run to my mailbox much less
participate and complete a half-Ironman triathlon. I
didn't go on this journey alone. I had the amazing
support of family and friends. They are the ones that keep me
going not only in triathlon but also in the journey to lose 262
pounds and live a healthy, active lifestyle. Without
that support I know that I wouldn't have been able to do any of
what I do today.
So, hands down, this was the best finish line experience ever.
The tiny 3 foot path of the course down Decatur was surrounded
on both sides by cheering spectators 5 - 10 people deep.
The triathletes WERE the Mardi Gras parade and the main
attraction. It's hard to explain the emotions and
feeling of finally seeing the finish line in the distance.
I choked back the tears and high fived as many people as I could
as I made my towards my 70.3, half-Ironman finisher's arch.
I glanced back to see if I had any competitors behind me and I
didn't. I would have the finish line all to myself!
I was overcome by pure joy as I heard my name announced as a
finisher as I crossed under the finish line arch into the
waiting arms of my friends and family. 7:27:39 was
my official time. I did it! I completed my
first 70.3 race and I am a half-Ironman!
I gladly checked another goal off
my goal list today. I have to thank my parents for
coming to show me the support I can always count on them for.
They cheered me the whole way and I was pleased to see their
faces at the finish. I also want to thank my
girlfriend Beth for being my biggest fan. She has
graciously put up with my triathlon obsession and has been there
every step of the way. She's a trooper and I love
her for it.
What's next? Only the
most difficult half-Ironman triathlon in the country (maybe the
world). In 25 short days I will be participating in
the Avia Wildflower half-Ironman distance triathlon in
California. Wildflower will be my biggest challenge to
date short of the full distance courses I will be doing later
this year. You know me though... I love a good
challenge. Humph... Wildflower, Shmildflower -
Thanks for reading my account of my
experience with Ironman New Orleans 70.3. I hope you
enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing and living it.
Best of luck on YOUR life journey!
May you reach all your goals and achieve all your dreams!