This time of year, some students’ stress levels are at an all-time high, but senior Chris Walker had something even more daunting than final exams to think about — a Half Ironman to complete.
Walker competed in the Ochsner Ironman 70.3 Triathlon on April 17 in New Orleans. The event consisted of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike trek and a 13.1-mile run to finish. Walker said he participated to see if his body could complete the tough event.
Walker said he enjoys challenging himself and that he found self-confidence after completing a marathon during his sophomore year of college without training.
Walker said he grew to appreciate running when he and alumnus Jackson Savage ran 26 miles together one weekend and said he wanted to continue to push himself further afterward.
Walker completed the Half Ironman in 8 hours and 9 minutes, while the first-place runner finished in 3 hours and 47 minutes.
“I was real anxious leading up to it, but once I got there and saw the seriousness of the atmosphere, I was intimidated,” Walker said. “I was just there to finish.”
According to Walker, there were 30 mph winds throughout the event, and he heard returning participants say that it was the worst the conditions have ever been. The strong winds made the water choppy, and Walker said he was swallowing water every time he tried to breathe. He also said he would get hit in the back of the head or kicked while swimming.
Leading up to the event, the furthest Walker had run during raining was eight miles, and he had swum one mile once. Walker had not completed any of the distances required for the Ironman. Walker said being busy with schoolwork and college activities made it hard to solidify a training schedule that a Half Ironman requires.
Walker signed up for the event in December 2015, leaving him four months to train. He planned to run 5-8 miles on Monday and Wednesday of each week, and bike and swim each Tuesday and Thursday. He allowed Friday to be his off-day. Although this schedule pushed him and made him stronger, he said he could only withstand it for two or three weeks.
After realizing the strenuous routine was not sustainable, Walker turned to biking and Netflix. Walker set up a stationary bike in his room that allowed him to train while watching Netflix. He said that when he had time, he would go into the Ganus Athletic Center and swim.
Walker said he was excited about the opportunity as the date of the competition approached, but he said his mindset changed when he stepped on the course — he felt underdressed and underprepared after seeing the other participants.
“People showed up with $3,000 bikes and skin-tight clothing, and I showed up in a T-shirt and shorts,” Walker said.
Walker said he struggled with negative thoughts during the 13.1-mile run, but thinking about his family helped push him to the end.
“My parents were pumped, and my brother was on cloud nine that I was doing it,” Walker said. “I wanted to tell them that I finished and earn the shirt that I got at the end.”
Walker had a small but loud fan base, as senior Tyler Slawter and junior Jim Pile made the trek to New Orleans with him. Walker said they were very vocal during the event and aimed to yell for him every time they saw him.
“They were the loudest, most obnoxious fans there,” Walker said. “Any time they saw me they went buck wild, and people around them lost their minds (laughing).”
Spectators who attended the event could keep up with the participants through a smartphone app. Participants wore chips on their ankles that tracked their time and location.
Walker said that instead of getting a good night’s rest before his big day, he decided to eat half-priced appetizers at Applebee’s with Slawter and Pile.
“We ate Waffle House at 4 o’clock that day, and went to Applebee’s at 9 p.m. because that’s when the appetizers became half-off,” Slawter said.
Walker completed the Half Ironman on four hours of sleep, but he said he plans to wait until he completes school next fall to think about doing another event. Next time, he wants to purchase better equipment and train himself properly.