Second IronMan proves to be sentimental journey for local triathlete
For some people, becoming an Ironman for the first time is a lifetime achievement. There is no greater sense of accomplishment in a triathlete's life than crossing an Ironman finish line after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 mile - all in under a 17-hour midnight cutoff.
When I asked Chad Hall what made him go back for the second time, he replied, "The first time you finish one, it seems like such an impossible goal. Then once you cross that finish line and meet your goal, you want to come back and see if you can do better."
In 2010, Hall crossed the finish line for the first time at Ironman Florida. I had the pleasure of coaching him back then, and I can remember getting text messages from his wife, Michelle, as Hall struggled with gastrointestinal issues on the run.
As a coach, I could only hope from a distance that Hall would make it across that finish line, and he did. He persevered, despite stomach issues that hit him at about mile 90 of the bike and therefore affected his ability to take in any fluids on the run.
Fortunately on that November day, the Florida panhandle only saw temperatures in the 40s, which in hindsight, was a helpful predicament to be in. He finished in a time of 16:22.
Hall knew he wanted to give it another try and chose IronMan Louisville as the place. Hall grew up in Appalachia, Ky., a small, rural area often associated with logging and coal mining. Chad first traveled to Louisville as a member of the high school band. He was a saxophone player and made All-State three years in a row and was first-chair his senior year.
"Louisville is a special place to me. When I was in high school, Louisville was the first big city I had ever traveled to, and I was selected to All-State band. In a sense, it opened up a whole new world to me in terms of opportunity. From that All-State band selection, I had offers from all over the country for college. I learned that a poor kid from Appalachia could compete on that level, and I learned it was OK to dream big and push limits no matter what other people thought my limits were."
Another reason Chad chose Louisville is that some of his family live close to that area and would be able to travel to see him race.
This time around, he decided to focus more on base building rather than focusing solely on time. Also, he paid a lot more attention to heart rate zones and collecting various data as a base just in case there was a third IronMan in his future.
He turned his garage into somewhat of a training facility, with a computrainer (a stationary bike with computer functions to simulate road and race conditions). This came in handy as he rode early in the morning and later in the evening, so he could spend time with his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Georgia. He is very busy in his professional life as the general manager of Regional Steele.
He racked up quite the numbers in the training hours column: total miles trained- 3,538.30; total training time- 375:53:41 hours/minutes/seconds; total miles swam- 108.37. He lost 20 pounds along the way, too.
He felt confident and ready as he traveled to Louisville for his second Ironman experience.
Hall headed to the transition area at 5:15 a.m. on race morning. As an Ironman athlete myself, I can attest that butterflies in the stomach (and even a little nausea) are definitely present while making your way to prepare for the start of a 140.6-mile race.
He prepared his bike with all the nutrition he would need and headed to the swim start, approximately a half-mile away. Unfortunately, there were only three portable restrooms at the swim start that nearly 2,500 athletes intended to use. Chad made the "close to a mile" walk to the end of the line to wait alongside his fellow triathletes. It made for a bit of a chaotic morning when nerves are already at maximum level.
The swim start at Louisville is staggered, meaning triathletes plunge into the river one after the other, instead of the typical mass starts you see at most Ironman events. Hall entered the water around 7:40 a.m. and had a fantastic swim, covering the 2.4 miles in open water in a time of 1 hour ten minutes. "I felt great," he said.
When he made his way out of transition and onto the bike for the 112-mile bike course, he noticed he couldn't get his heart rate back down where it needed to be. So instead of risking it all on the bike, he decided to "stick to the plan" and he rode accordingly to keep his heart rate under control. Therefore, the bike wasn't quite as fast as he had anticipated it being, but he knew once he made it onto the run he would be happy with that decision to be conservative. The plan got thrown off course again (as can typically happen during the Ironman), and he found himself with a flat disc tire at mile 85, a rusty tack found its way into his back tire. "I have never had so many flats while riding as I did this time around with my IronMan training." Almost all of the flats occurred between miles 80 and 90 on my training rides. I guess I'm glad now, because I knew exactly what to do." It still cost him 25 to 30 minutes on the bike, but he still made the bike cutoff.
As he made his way on the last 26.2 miles during the run, he found himself amongst a "herd" of people that he encouraged and received encouragement from during those last 16 miles. "We hung together and kept each other going," Hall said. "I saw things I hadn't seen the first time around, as it was an out-and-back course. Just on the other side of the road, I witnessed the 'sweepers' picking up those unable to finish. It was difficult to watch those with dreams just like mine who were not going to make it to the finish line that night. You really earn your 'Ironman' when you begin to suffer."
As he made the turn onto 4th street and made his way down the final stretch to the finish line, he ran past his wife and other family members and past scores of cheering spectators who were so loud, it was literally rocking the finish line area. He crossed the finish line in a time of 16:06, "To me, I don't think there's any sense of accomplishment greater than when I've finished an Ironman. It's so magical and so great. It's difficult to explain to people who haven't ever crossed an Ironman finish line, and that's what keeps some of us going back," Hall said.