Ironman Coeur d' Alene Race Report
2010 Ironman Coeur d'Alene - 27 June 2010
Coeur d' Alene, Idaho

Photo Gallery will be posted shortly.  Temp pics up on Facebook

My name is Chad Soileau and the following account is my journey from the 464 pound, super morbidly obese man that I was 4.5 years ago to the Ironman triathlete that I am today. Writing this race report, while I am sure it will not be my last, will be an emotional journey for me as I seek to close the chapter on my battle against obesity.

The Ironman triathlon is what some have dubbed the most demanding one day endurance event in the world. The 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run will test even the most hardened of athletes.

As I stood on the beach shivering, not from the cold but from the excitement of what was about to be I thought to myself,

"Is this happening? Am I really standing on the beach about to embark upon the 2.4 mile swim of my 140.6 mile journey to my Ironman finish line?"

In these fleeting moments, as I stood on the beach contemplating my day, tears rolling down my face, I realized that my dreams were indeed turning into reality. It was finally real. Hundreds of hours over the last few years swimming, biking and running and I was finally here. My toes were in the sand and I had made it to the starting line. Literally moments from now I would begin one of the most amazing days of my life... a true turning point on my journey.

I was mentally trying to break the race down into chunks rather than try to imagine the whole 140.6 miles at once. I had to break it down into chunks.

"Get out of the water. You're looking at 40 - 45 minutes for each loop then the swim is done. You just gotta get out of the water!" I was saying to myself.

The time was getting close and the sheer excitement of what was about to happen made my heartrate increase considerably. The Rolling Stones "Start Me Up" was playing on the speaker system as Mike Reilly shouted over the PA,

"Your training is done! This is your moment! YOU WILL BE AN IRONMAN TODAY!"


I felt the wave of energy pass over me before I heard the loud clap of the cannon on the far side of the beach. I worked my way down the beach, shoulder to shoulder, towards the waters edge with the 2800 other swimmers. The 2.4 mile Ironman swim was something that I'd heard many stories about but the experience is something that I guess you can never prepare yourself for. The water was between 55 - 58 degrees on race morning so wetsuits were of course allowed. The shock of the icy water on my body was nothing compared to the flailing arms and legs as I tried to establish some, any kind of rhythm. The combination of the concentrated mass of people and the coldness swept my breath away and I panicked. I haven't experienced a panic attack like this since my first open water swim in Galveston Bay during the Lone Star Tri in 2008. I literally had to fight my way to the first buoy dodging the swimmers that were swimming under me, over me, to the front of me and to both sides. The chaos only got worse as I closed in on the buoy as the mass of people increased. I was dunked, grabbed, pushed and pulled more times than I can remember. For the record, Lake Coeur d'Alene doesn't taste too bad. I had the pleasure of drinking what seemed like a few gallons during the first 400 meters of the swim. I finally made it to the first buoy and grabbed on to the handle to try to catch my breath. One of the volunteers in a kayak, seeing that I was struggling, paddled over to me to see if I was OK. He offered the tip of his vessel which offered a bit more stability than the buoy so I grabbed on but my breathing continued to be erratic and shallow. Knowing that I had only 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the swim I started the trek to the next buoy remembering the words of my coach, Will Jones of 4th Dimension Fitness,

"Chad... Baby steps! Take it one buoy at a time. Swim to the first one, then the next one and before you know it you'll be at the turnaround. Swim back to the beach. Do it all over one more time and you're done." I remembered him saying.

I wasn't until around the sixth buoy that I finally got into somewhat of a rhythm. My breathing seemed to normalize and by this time the mass of people was way ahead of me, probably even starting on their second lap of the swim. I made it to the halfway point, and headed back towards the beach. I knew I was doing terrible and was way behind on what I projected.

I kept thinking to myself, "How embarrassing is it going to be when I get pulled from the swim. All that training and I couldn't even make it through the swim. I'm going to disappoint my sponsors, my friends, my coach and my family."

Gotta keep going forward! The waves seemed to increase on the way back in which caused me to feel a bit queasy. Buoy after buoy passed and before I knew it I was back on the beach, walking over the mat and headed back out into the water for my second lap. Most of the athletes were finishing up at this point so I knew that I'd pretty much have the course to myself for my final lap.

I ran onto the beach and over the timing mat. I finished the first lap in 1 hour and 2 minutes. During training I had planned on each lap taking around 40 minutes, 45 minutes at the most. I knew that I had to make up ground or the rest of my day I would be chasing each of the cutoff times. Little did I know that the most peace of my day, perhaps my life would come during my 2nd lap...

Around 30 - 45 minutes before the race began Kelli and I were spending a few moments together near the beach. As she was giving me a few words of motivation we both spotted none other than Sister Madonna Buder walking up the path away from the transition area. I first met Sister Madonna at Pumpkinman in Las Vegas where she blessed me pre-race. She's one of my Ironman heroes and a true ambassador of the sport. I once again met her at the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater last November. She was still on the course with me as we were completing our 2nd lap of the half-marathon. As we went both climbed over the steep incline of the bay bridge on the path to the finish line she saw that I was struggling and told me to say a chant with her that would get us to the top. We said the chant, got to the top and finished the race. Post race, for the life of me I could NOT remember the chant. I was so excited to see her again this morning. I of course asked her what the chant was because I was sure that I would need it during the day when the tough and trying times presented themselves.

Sister Madonna gladly recited, "Bless my Lord. Praise His Holy Name!"

That chant has a perfect rhythm for running steps, bike cadence and what I didn't know at the time, swimming strokes! Sister Madonna wished me well for the upcoming day, blessed me, a St. Jude medal I would be carrying throughout the race for Kelli and religious bracelet I was wearing on my ankle.

I had 1 hour and 18 minutes until the cutoff. I had to suck it up, dig deep and finish this thing. If they pull me, they pull me but I refused to quit, even if that meant sinking to the bottom of the lake! I WOULD NOT QUIT!

I got to the first buoy and started to recite Sister Madonna's chant. Over and over again.

Every swim stroke I proclaimed, "Bless my Lord. Praise His Holy Name! Bless my Lord. Praise His Holy Name!"

I'm sure it sounded more like "Blurrrbb blurbbb Blurrbbbb. Blurrrbbb Blurrrbb Blurrrbbb Blurrbbbb!" because I was under water but I'm sure He understood.

A calmness came over me. I looked to the cloudless, clear blue sky when I turned to breathe. I saw the beautiful mountains in the distance. I continued my chant. Over and over I recited it. I can honestly say during those moments I've never felt closer to God. I was in His hands. I could feel His presence around me assuring me that everything was going to be OK. It was truly amazing. The 2nd lap, although not easy, was peaceful and I knew that I would make it. It's funny because throughout my whole weight loss process, Ironman training and my life it's always been in His hands. I sometimes forget that. I stumbled up the beach and finally crossed the swim finish timing mat.

One of the volunteers called out, "Number 464... 2 hours and 8 minutes. This way to the wetsuit strippers." The first leg of my Ironman was finally over!

As I headed into transition I heard Mike Reilly shout out, "There he is ladies and gentlemen. Chad Soileau from Baton Rouge, Louisiana! This guy lost over 260 pounds. HEY CHAD? YOU WILL BE AN IRONMAN TODAY!"

That fired me up. I knew I was behind, WAY behind where I wanted to be, where I PLANNED to be. My poor swim and slow 10 minutes in transition put me back over 45 minutes on where I had planned on being for the start of my bike. I knew I would have to increase my pace on the bike to make up time and not have any mechanical malfunctions.

My parents, Kelli and I drove the bike course the Friday before the race. The hills looked challenging but not anything that I couldn't handle. I had Wildflower difficulty in my head but thankfully, after riding the course, it didn't seem to be as difficult. I guess things are pretty subjective in a car. Riding it on a bike, during an Ironman, TWICE and I can honestly say that I have a different view on the difficulty of the course.

I looked at my watch as I mounted my bike. 9:32 AM. I had exactly 7 hours and 58 minutes to finish before the cutoff time at 5:30 PM. I rode the 112 mile distance during training three times prior to the race, twice in St. Francisville, LA and once on the Natchez Trace out of Jackson, MS. Both had hills but none compared to Coeur d'Alene. Each ride I averaged around 7 hours and 35 minutes for the whole distance. I knew that I would probably cut it close to the cutoff time.

The first part of the bike course was an out and back along Lake Coeur d'Alene, over a couple big hills to the turn around which also was the location of the bike special needs bags. There were a couple of people behind a concrete barrier banging on a metal pan with a hammer right before the turn around that scared the crap out of me the first time I heard them. I don't think anyone was expecting the noise but I came to look forward to seeing and hearing them each time I passed because they were out there all day and even into the night during the run. With the exception of the hills this part of the course was relatively flat and fast. I did my best to try to make up some time and maintained a pretty good pace throughout.

The NBC news crew that was assigned to me showed up as I was traveling back through Coeur d'Alene on the way out towards the far side of the course. I chatted and joked with the cameraman as I watched him flop around in the back of the van at each of the sharp turns. Just as we were about to turn onto the main road towards Hayden Lake I heard a pop and a hiss.

"PLEASE NO!!!! I CAN'T GET A FLAT!!!" I thought to myself as the thump, thump, thump of my deflated rear tire brought the situation into perspective.

I was already behind from the swim and the flat just may be the nail in the coffin that ends my day. I quickly stopped, unclipped and started removing my rear tire. The NBC cameraman jumped out of the back of the van and caught everything on video. The tools and spare tube were at the bottom of my bento box so I had to dump out all my carefully packed food to get to everything. I slid my tire tool along the length of the tire and it finally popped off the rail so I could get to the busted tube. I fumbled with the extender valve and finally managed to line up the tube inside the tire. I carefully ran the tire tool along the length of the rail and squeezed the deflated tire back into place. I crossed my fingers as I screwed my CO2 cartridge into the micro-flater and positioned it over the valve. I breathed a sigh of relief as the tire hardened and the compressed air flowed into the new tube. Precious minutes ticked by as I put the tire back on the bike and repacked my food. I clipped back in and checked my watch as I got rolling again. 12 minutes lost! UGGGGHHHH!!!!!

It wasn't until the course went out on the other side of the city of Coeur d'Alene at Hayden Lake where things got a bit hairy. The climbs up and around Hayden Lake were beautiful and brutal. I never left my saddle for the duration of the ride even though at some points I was going 3 to 4 mph up the steep inclines. The aggravating part of the course is once you crested the hills and managed to get any speed on the descent the course does a 180 degree switchback which caused you to have to slow down to make the turn. All the precious speed would then slow to a crawl to make the turn and then, just around the next corner, ANOTHER steep climb!

The biggest hill was around 1/2 to 3/4 a mile at a 8 to 9% grade just as you are leaving the Hayden Lake area. That hill hurt... BAD! Plenty of people were off their bikes walking up that one but I somehow managed to stay in the saddle and power it out. The remaining part of the course after leaving the lake consisted of rollers. Some were challenging but all in all they weren't too bad.

My nutrition plan for the bike was simple. PB&J sandwich (Kelli made them all for me the night before) at the 10 mile mark, Cliff Bar / Trail Mix Bar at the 20 mile mark, pure honey packet at the 30 mile mark and then repeat for the entire 112 miles. I had all my food reloads in my special needs bag along with a 5 hour energy shot. If anything went right for the entire race it was my nutrition plan. For the first time in a long time I had ZERO gastric distress incidents.

The second lap of the bike course was uneventful. I enjoyed seeing Kelli and my dad for a split second as I started the 2nd loop. My coach was one of the referees for the female pro women and pulled up alongside me on the motorbike on the far end of the course to check on me. I was stressing because I knew I still had 20+ miles to go and I was approaching the cutoff. He told me to stick to the plan, maintain my current pace and I'd be fine. The flat surely set me back but I didn't know how bad or how close I was to the cutoff time of 5:30PM. I rolled into transition with 20 minutes to spare. Add 4 minutes to my bike to run transition and that left me with roughly 6 hours and 45 minutes for the marathon.

It was at this point, exhausted, tired and spent that I started to seriously doubt that I would make it home, my Ironman finish line, by midnight. My best marathon time was 5 hours and some change. Could I do a marathon, a long 26.2 miles in 6 hours and 45 minutes in the condition I was in? There was NO way I would quit. They would have to pull me from the course cursing, kicking and screaming but quitting was NOT an option for me. Death, dismemberment, impalement, flying off a cliff, bursting into flames... all options. Quitting? NEVER!

My plan for the run was to run 6 minutes and walk 1 minute. That lasted for approximately 2 sets. I walked through the first aid station. Then I walked some more after the aid station. Then I walked to the turn around on the first part of the course. I walked. Then I walked some more. I couldn't muster up the energy to run. When I did try to run pain would shoot up my legs to the top of my skull and my quads would twinge threatening to throw me into a massive cramp at any moment. A lovely surprise that I wasn't prepared for was stopping at one of the port-o-joys at an aid station to pee and noticing that I had blood in my urine. I knew my body was shutting down and I still had plenty of distance to cover.

I managed to make it through the first 13.1 miles by walking and, when I could, shuffling. I knew I was behind as I started the second loop. I came around the corner in front of transition and saw Kelli in her pink cowboy hat for the first time in many hours.

She smiled big with that beautiful smile and kept telling me over and over, "Chad, you got this! You are on track! Keep going! Everyone is rooting for you!"

I just shook my head in dejection. I didn't know what time it was but I knew that if I didn't increase my pace I wouldn't make it to the final cutoff at the far end of the course at 10:30PM. I was close to where the finish line was when I was going out for my second loop. Many people were finishing at this point as I heard Mike Reilly proclaim over and over "John Doe, Sometown, Somewhere... YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!" I wanted that. I wanted that with all my being. I had to do something. I was hurting like never before and my mind was starting to talk to me and give me lots of advice.

"Chad... This is your mind. Hi. How are you? Look, you need to stop right now. You realize that you are going to die in 5 minutes right? Lie down right there in the grass. Seriously, just for a minute. You need to rest a minute. Sit on that bench right there. That feeling you are feeling in your leg isn't a cramp. It's a blood clot. It's gonna travel to your lungs in a second and you will die! Lay down. You don't have anything to prove to anybody. Just rest. You don't have to finish this. You don't have to be an Ironman." my thoughts would say over and over again.

I now understand that this is what Ironman is made of at it's very core. CONSTANT UNRELENTLESS FORWARD PROGRESSION. It's made of pushing through the pain and the negative thoughts and finding out what's deep, deep within your being. Well, my inner being is kinda a dick! :)

My new plan was 30 second run and 30 second walk for as long as I could keep it up. I also told myself that I could walk the aid stations too. That's what I had to do so it was time to suck it up and handle it. Somehow, and I don't know how, I increased my pace to 12 minute miles doing this method for the next 6ish miles. I passed the last aid station on the way to the big hill turnaround and cutoff. One of the volunteers was letting everyone know that we had 45 minutes left to make the 10:30PM cutoff. I was around 2.5 miles from that timing mat.

It was dark now and everyone on the course had glowing 'rave' necklaces. Each of the aid stations would stick out like a glowing mirage in the distance. As I started the ascent up the final hill on the way up to the turnaround and the final cutoff I started to see a faint light cutting through the thick blackness. A quarter mile left and I would find out if I made it. I heard the hum of the generator that powered the bright metal halide lights and the beeeep as athletes in front of me passed over the mat. Smiling faces of volunteers greeted me as I passed over the mat.

"Congratulations! You made the cutoff. 4 miles to go and you have an hour and 45 minutes!" she said!

I teared up as I realized at that moment I would finish what I started this day. Hell, I'm tearing up now as I write this. I would be an Ironman this night. I would be an IRONMAN!

I enjoyed the last 4 miles the best I could. Enjoy isn't a word I would probably use. I endured the last 4 miles the best I could would be better. The aid stations were no longer big buffet lines as most of the volunteers had been relieved. A table or two with a few volunteers would offer up whatever they had left. As I got closer to town there were many people out on the street partying and cheering on the athletes that were still out on the course.

I made the final turn onto Sherman Avenue and saw the glow of the bright lights of the finish line just over a half mile away for the first time. I could faintly hear the crowd and Mike Reilly over the PA. My pace increased to a slow shuffle as I made my way down the street. The closer I got to the finish line the more and more people were on the side of the street. They cheered and wished me well. I saw the arch and the finish line chute. It was a beautiful sight as I shuffled closer and closer to my goal. I would win no prize today. I would finish close to last in my age group. Did that matter? No, I would be an Ironman today.

The finish line was everything I expected it to be and more.  I was a very personal experience that I don't think I could accurately describe in words...  so I won't.   It was the end, and in a way, the beginning of my journey.   I'm so fortunate to have made it there and a world of people to thank for it.   I did it...   At 11:42.50 on June 27, 2010 my life changed a little bit.   That fleeting moment in time I, Chad Soileau, became an Ironman!  It feels good!

Taken from the end of my story on my webpage

It's 11:42 PM and the humidity in the air isn't very thick. Bib number 464 makes his way down the chute with the finish line in sight. Tears streaming down his face he crosses the finish line as Mike Reilly shouts out...


I've always said that the moment that my feet touched the finish line of my first Ironman would be the moment that I could unequivocally declare that I won my war against obesity but now that it has happened I do feel that I have to revise my thoughts on the subject somewhat. There is no doubt that my battle has indeed been won but the war will be ongoing for the rest of my life. The 464 pound man will always be part of me. He has shaped me into the man I am today. He made me realize that changes needed to be made. That man, however much I have wanted to forget about him in the past, is who I am. I accept and love him because there is no other way. That man is the reason that I am an Ironman today. 

Thank you for being with me on my journey.   I hope you enjoyed reading my race report of Ironman Coeur d' Alene as much as I enjoyed writing and living it!