My name is Chad Soileau
and this is the account of my first marathon, the Mardi Gras
Marathon on February 24th, 2008. The movie "The Spirit of the
Marathon" begins with the quote, "When you cross the finish line of
your first marathon your life will change forever." I can say that I
wholeheartedly agree. The moment my feet touched the finish line I
experienced a flood of emotions that I never could have imagined.
Here is my story...
I guess it's normal to be wide awake at 2AM for a race that starts
at 7AM. I hadn't planned on getting up so early but a combination of
nerves along with drinking a half-gallon of water right before
bedtime may have added to my sleeplessness. My girlfriend warned me
before I downed it but I guess I'm hard headed and wanted to get
that extra little bit of hydration in before the race. What followed
was a steady trip to the bathroom every five minutes. I followed the
"words of wisdom" from previous marathoners knowing that I probably
wasn't going to get a good night's sleep the night before the race
so I got a 'straight eight' on Friday night. So, there I lay in bed
from 2AM to 5AM tossing and turning all the while seeing the prize,
the finish line of the marathon, in my minds eye. That thought was
not new to me. I often pictured what the finish line would look like
during my training runs and most of the time it choked me up. Each
of my three separate alarms started blazing at 5AM. I was already
wide awake so I hopped out of bed and started dressing for day
ahead. I placed all my racing 'gear' out on the table the night
before which included my racing belt with my "464" bib number, my
gel packs in the racing belt pocket and my clip on 4 ounce water
bottle holster. Breakfast consisted of half a bagel with some peanut
butter smeared on top and around 4 ounces of coffee. I slathered a
copious amount of sun block on my folically challenged head and
double checked all my gear and especially made sure that my timing
chip was securely fastened to my shoe. I read about a fellow
marathoner losing his timing chip at his first marathon at Disney
and I can't imagine how frustrating that must have been. I was out
the door at 5:45 feeling both excited and scared of what the day had
The air was crisp and heavy but there was no wind as my girlfriend
and I started the half-mile trek from the hotel to the Superdome. The hotel we stayed at is the same hotel that my friends and I park
at when we attend the Saints games. The only difference about the
walk today and on Saints game day is that this walk will be made
without a Bloody Mary in hand. As soon as we exited the hotel we
found the nearest news stand distribution box and bought a copy of
the Sunday paper. I flipped through the sports section to see the
article that Michael Montelbano, a new friend, fellow marathoner and
reporter for the Times-Picayune, wrote about me. I was absolutely
floored by what I saw. The article itself was amazing and very well
written but to make it even more impressive is that it spanned two
pages complete with a couple pictures and a nifty 'quote' box you
often see in magazines. It was very uplifting and a great to start
to what was shaping up to be one of the most memorable days of my
We arrived at the dome around 6:20AM and we walked around a bit
until I found a clear patch of space where I could start stretching.
Before I knew it it was 6:55 and Mike Cambre, the race director was
introducing the guests of honor to start the race and sing the
national anthem. The crowd of racers was thick and I'd say I was
probably around 150 yards from the starting line. Next thing I know
the race horn is blown and off I go. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye
and then I was off. The crowd of racers slowly shuffled to the
starting line and finally spread out a bit to allow everyone to jog
across the mat on their way to Poydras Street. 26.2 here I come!
We ran down Poydras for what I assume was around half a mile and
made a turn onto the street leading up to Bourbon. I passed Hunter
McAllister, one of my best friends, my training partner and the
person that single handedly motivated me to keep moving during the
final part of the race around the intersection of Loyola and Poydras. Hunter was supposed to be on the course with me but he hurt his knee
doing stadiums a month or so ago and then aggravated the injury
again within the last few weeks and he hasn't been able to train. (Please go to the doctor Hunter. The LA Triathlon is just over 2
months away!) He definitely deserves much of the credit for me
finishing the last 6 miles but I will get into that soon enough. As
I crossed Canal Street into the French Quarter I found it amusing
seeing the partiers that were still 'out' from last night trudging
along outside the still open bars on Bourbon Street. Personally I
thought they were crazy to be up from the night before but I'm sure
that they were probably thinking the same thing about someone
wanting to get out and run 26.2 miles.
I made it a habit of glancing at my watch every 30 seconds or so to
see my pace. I was holding steady at 8:45 and even though I KNEW
that was too fast but I felt good and nothing was hurting so I tried
to enjoy the quickest trip down Bourbon Street that I've ever done
in my life. This fast pace (8:45 IS fast for me) will come back to
haunt me around mile 18. I remember speaking with Mike Cambre a few
days before the race and of his warning to not get caught up in the
"fast start" because it will hurt me down towards the second half of
the race. Oh how I wish I would have heeded that warning. I kept an
eye out for one of my favorite bars, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, but
I don't recall seeing it and now that I think about it we may have
turned off to get to Royal Street before we passed it. The crowds on
Royal Street seemed to actually be out to cheer on the runners
rather than the being the late nighters that were on Bourbon. I
remember passing at least two of the race photographers sitting on
the side of the road and since I was still feeling pretty good I
tried to flash a little smile. Actually I don't think I needed to
flash a smile because I know I had a grin on my face the moment I
crossed the starting line and I'm sure it was still in place.
We crossed over Canal Street onto St. Charles when I first saw my
girlfriend Beth. I gave her a quick wave and started on my long trek
down St. Charles to Audubon Park. At this point in the race, which
was around mile 3, the thoughts going through my head were of
disbelief. Was I really running a marathon? It definitely brought a
tear to my eye as my mind raced between the many months of training
and the weight loss journey that I had undertaken just over 23
months ago. I still felt good up until mile 5 or so when we got into
the residential district on St. Charles. I started to experience
twinges of chest pains and realized that it was probably because I
wasn't drinking. I saw an aid station 500 meters or so ahead and
shuffled off to grab some water and Gatorade. Within a few hundred
feet the chest pains were gone and I was feeling good again. As I
glanced at my watch my pace was still holding steady at around 9:15
minute miles. It wasn't long before I saw the NOPD motorcycle cops
leading the front runners on their trek back to the dome and the
half-way point. As the lead runner passed I was amazed at the
fluidity of his stride and how very fast he was moving. I honestly
don't think I could hold that pace for 100 yards much less 26.2!
At around mile 7... Wait, let me make a correction... What I THOUGHT
was mile 7 I got my first setback of the day. I looked down at my
watch and it read 6.8 miles. I knew that at around mile 7 I had
another aid station to grab some fluids. I looked back down at my
watch and it said 6.9. Hmmm.... I should see the 7 mile marker and
the aid station because it should only be a tenth of a mile away. Wrong! I can't describe the sick feeling I got in my stomach when I
finally crossed the 7 mile marker and my watch said 7.25 miles. Could my watch really be off that much? It was dead on for the first
and second miles. When my foot touched the invisible line crossing
the road to mark the 1 mile point my watch rolled over to exactly 1
mile. The same thing happened when I hit mile 2. Mile 3 it was maybe
.02 off and I didn't really bother with it again until it was too
late and I hit Audubon Park. My mind started racing thinking
thoughts such as, "You THOUGHT you ran 20 miles 3 weeks ago on your
long training run but you actually only ran around 18," and "This
26.2 mile run will actually be around 30 miles on your watch." Fear
started to get the best of me and thankfully I saw Hunter standing
on the side of the path cheering me on right before mile 7. He
listened as I bitched and complained about my watch while we ran for
a half mile or so. He stopped around the golf course clubhouse to
get in his car so he could meet me at City Park for the second half
of the race. I exited Audubon Park onto St. Charles just before mile
9 on the long trek back to the Superdome which will be the half-way
point of the race and the first time I will get to see my family.
I still felt good and even with the setback I experienced with my
watch there was nothing that was going to keep me from completing
the 26.2. The sun was now out in full force but the trees that
overshadow beautiful St. Charles Street blocked most of the rays. I
must say that the day was beautiful and I couldn't have asked for
better weather. The sky was bright blue and you couldn't see even a hint
of a cloud. On the trek back down St. Charles I had a few onlookers
recognize me from the Times-Picayune article that was in the paper
that morning. It was very motivating to hear, "Hey 464, are you the
guy from the paper? What a great story!" I'd give them a thumbs up,
nod and let loose a big grin. Every time that happened throughout
the day it felt great and it gave me that extra little push I needed
to get to the finish line.
The miles started to blur and before I know it I had passed under
the Interstate and was fast approaching Lee Circle and the end of
what I consider the most scenic part of the race route. I turned
onto Poydras and saw the Superdome and the half-way point of the
race. My mom, dad, my nephew Garet, my nephew's girlfriend Sara, my
sister Jackie, my nephew Grant and my girlfriend were all standing
right before the 13.1 marker mat cheering me on. Little did they
know how I was jealous of the guys with the white half-marathon bib
numbers that were merging off to the left to end their race. I
stopped for a few moments to say hello and drop off my snotty, sweaty
gloves to Beth and I was off again to do the second half of the
race. I finished the halfway point at 2:14:10. "Pretty good," I thought
to myself and I was right on pace to finish in less than 5 hours. If
I only knew what the second half of the marathon had in store for
me. If I only knew... If I only knew...
I don't know the names of most of the streets we ran down to get to
City Park but the crowds were very light compared to St. Charles and
the first half of the course. I went from kinda looking forward to
the aid stations to grab some fluids to desperately looking around
the corner for the next one. My pace slowed... considerably. I kept
moving forward though. I HAD to finish.
When I turned onto road that skirted the perimeter of City Park at
around mile 15 I started to feel the twinges of exhaustion. When
exhaustion comes over me it starts in the top of my back around the
bottom my neck and radiates out towards my shoulders. It was at this
point I started to doubt my ability to finish the race. The crowds
at City Park were non-existent. You can imagine my excitement when I
saw my good friend "BBQ" Dave Gamgee at an upcoming intersection
jumping and cheering for me taking pictures. BBQ, you may not know it, but
those few moments I got to say hello and give you a high five helped
me to make it another few miles. Thanks so much man!
The aid stations, from this point on, all had what I've heard referred
to as the "quitter buses" or the "meat wagons".
You can hop on
the bus if you get injured or you don't want to finish the race. I would be
lying if I didn't say the thoughts of hopping on the bus weren't
entering my mind. At this point there were periods when I was
walking a two or three hundred meters after an aid station before I
started running again. My knees started to ache, I started to get
sick from the carb gel packs and Gatorade and I seriously started
doubting my ability to finish. This, my friends, around mile 18, is about the
time I hit "the wall".
So what is "the wall?" you may ask. The wall is that point in a
marathon where the wave of fatigue you experience is SO strong that
you feel like your body will literally melt onto the street. Dizziness, disorientation, cramping, nausea, wobbly legs, knees
locking up, muscles feeling like they will snap... All symptoms of
hitting the wall and I was experiencing each and every one mentioned
above. Each time my foot hit the pavement I felt a wave of pain
shoot up my leg and travel the length of my body up to the top of my
skull. I wore a mp3 player with music for the entire race but during
this period to the end of the race I can honestly say that I don't
remember the music. I know it was on but I was so out of it I didn't
hear it. When I hit mile 19 I saw BBQ again shouting and cheering
for me. I swung by again to shake his hand and thank him for coming
out to support me and I continued on my trek to the next aid
station. I was no longer on a trek to the finish. I just wanted to
make it to the next aid station and I would take it from there.
Hard or difficult isn't a good way to describe 20 - 26.2 for me. My
walks after the aid stations broadened to 400m before I would start
to run again and the sickness, nausea, stiffness and exhaustion I
was experiencing in what felt like every muscle of my body was
overwhelming. My body was definitely pleading with me to stop. My
heart thought otherwise. I knew that the last 6.2 miles were going
to be hard but I don't care how much training I have done I really
wasn't prepared for what I was experiencing. As I suspected it was
100% heart that would get me through the last leg of the race... and
my buddy Hunter.
Hunter had already shown up a few times earlier in the race to cheer
me on and push me when I was still 'fresh' and I actually had my
legs. The next time I saw him I was a trotting zombie just before I
passed mile 21 on the far side of City Park. I was getting the
cramps that I often get after eating high carbohydrate foods which I
knew would be a challenge for me because after all the gel packs and
Gatorade ARE mostly sugar. I was leaning over clutching my stomach
trying to make the pain go away with Hunter standing next to me
telling me to keep moving when a 60ish grey haired, race-walker
stops next to me to check to see if I was OK. The kind lady patted
me on the back and said, "Sweetie have you been eating?"
I muttered out a response with a meek, "Yes, thank you. I ate some
GU gel and I think they are making me sick."
She asked, "Baby, do you want a marathon bar, a gel pack or some
water? You know the aid station is right up ahead right?"
"No thank you," I replied, still slumped over massaging my calves,
knees and my stomach, "I'm gonna get moving. I'm just cramping a
"OK sweetie," she told me.
I stood up as straight as I could, glanced at Hunter then back at
the lady and asked her, "Do I really look that bad?"
She and Hunter chuckled
and she responded, "Well sweetie it looked like you were struggling
a bit. I just wanted to check on you. You hang in there. You're on the home stretch now and don't have far to
And to answer the question that's probably in your head now, YES, I
was eventually passed by quite a few race walkers and by some people
that had some of the strangest running styles I've ever seen in my
life. Some ranged from totally hunched over to others that had both
hands unmoving in front of their face similar to a boxer defending
his face from punches. I salute all of them because they eventually
crossed the finish line just like me. Who am I to critique someone's
Hunter continued to motivate me
quoting Yoda from Star Wars thinking it would cheer me up and keep
me moving forward.
"Come on man.
Keep moving," Hunter said.
"I'm trying man.
I'm broken and having trouble breathing," I replied back.
"There is no TRY!
There is DO or DO NOT," Hunter said with a grin on his face.
turned into City Park and were FINALLY moving back towards the
Superdome and the finish line. I've laughed with him now about how
he kept telling me, "Man, seriously, there is an aid station
right around the corner."
Of course we would get to said corner and
there wouldn't be an aid station. His response would always be, "Aww
man I'm sorry it was the next corner," which just happened to be
around a half mile away. We played that game for at least a mile
until we came upon the last aid station in City Park and I was
within one of my morning runs (4 miles) away from the finish line.
Hunter got me through City Park. Period. I can't thank him enough
for his motivation and his support not just on Sunday for the
marathon but throughout the last 2 years. He's always been there for
me motivating me and telling me about that 'aid station' right
around the bend. Even when all I could do was walk a mile around
Southeastern Louisiana University Hunter was right beside me pushing
me along and making me keep moving forward. You are an inspiration
man and I can't thank you enough for being my friend.
Hunter peeled off shortly after I exited City Park so he could get
back his car and make it to the finish line of the race. This was only after he
sprinted to the store to get me a bottle of cold water because I was
refusing to eat another gel pack with the hot water I had in my jug
on my hip. I threw up shortly after taking in the "Espresso Love" GU Gel pack
which I DO NOT recommend. Gel packs by nature are nasty, nasty,
nasty. Imagine flavored, warm snot. They should actually label
all their flavors as "snot" because that's what they taste like and
that's my accurate description of them. I think I threw up because it was just plain nasty more
than my body rejecting it. I did manage to get a bit of it down
after I puked though. I took a few big swigs of the wonderful COLD
water and hoped that it would be giving me 'the boost' that I so
desperately needed within a few
minutes. Well it did... Sheer willpower and that nasty gel pack boosted me
all the way back to within a mile of the dome.
I was starting to choke back the tears as I crossed each of the
streets on Jeff Davis Parkway on my way back to the dome and the
finish line. I guess it was at this point I KNEW I would finish. I
thanked each of the NOPD officers and Orleans Parish Sheriff's department deputies
as they blocked the streets and stopped traffic as I slowly shuffled
by. Turning onto Poydras I got my first glimpse of the Superdome.
There were no other runners within 200 yards in front or behind me
at this point. The officer at the corner of Galvez and Poydras
patted me on the back when he saw the tears streaming down my face
as I turned onto the final leg of my journey. He wished me luck and said, "You're
almost there sir. Almost there. You have to put it all on the
pavement for me here."
I mustered up everything I had and quickened my pace as I ran up
Poydras. It's been two days since the race as I'm writing this and
it brings tears to my eyes as I remember the emotions that I was
experiencing as I ran the last half mile to the finish line. With
tears streaming down my face I passed my sister and nephews and had
the finish line in sight. My sister Jackie told me that she and my
nephews were talking to me but I don't recall hearing anything she
said. I didn't hear the cars as I passed under the interstate. I
didn't hear the crowds cheering along the path to the finish line. I
didn't hear the announcer calling out my name and my time as I
approached the arch. I was inside myself. I was literally catching a
dream by the tail. I had done it! I was about to cross the finish
line of my first marathon! I had run 26.2 miles.
No drug in the world could reproduce the utter feelings of joy that
I experienced when I crossed under the arches of the finish line for
the Mardi Gras Marathon 2008. It's indescribable. It was the
greatest moment of my life. And what made it even sweeter is that I
know that I would never have been able to accomplish this task 2
years ago at 464 pounds...
Mike Cambre approached me shortly after I crossed the finish line
and hung my finisher's medal around my neck and I was welcomed into
the loving arms of my family and friends as they shared in my
accomplishment. It was a great day for me. The
greatest of days!
I joined the .05% elite club of human beings on the planet that had
run a marathon. It sure feels good!
So what's next for Team 464 and Chad you may ask? Fast forward 18 -
24 months to Kona, Hawaii. It's 11PM and the humidity in the air is
thick. Bib number 464 makes his way around the corner on Alii Drive
with the finish line in sight. Tears streaming down his face he
crosses the finish line as the announcer shouts out... "CHAD SOILEAU...
YOU ARE AN I-R-O-N-M-A-A-A-N!!!"
Thanks for reading and allowing me to share one of
the most amazing
days of my life.
26 February 2008
Best of luck on YOUR life journey!
May you reach all your goals and achieve all your dreams!