Corvallis to Kona - Part I

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The IRONMAN triathlon is regarded by most as one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Competitors start with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and finish with a full marathon, 26.2 mile run.

Not only did 21 year old Emile Francis Chol run his first IRONMAN earlier this summer, but he qualified for the IRONMAN World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii this October. 

In part one of our two part exclusive Run Corvallis interview, we learn a little more about Emile, how he got into each of the three events, and how he qualified for the World Championships on October 14th.

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How did this IRONMAN journey start?

I started swimming when I was 8 years old and continued all through high school. It wasn’t until I got to Oregon State University for college that I got into running.

I had no interest in running competitively, I would just run and swim from time to time to stay in shape.

I tried several club sports including football, ultimate frisbee, and soccer but none of them really seemed to click.

I was a little too intimidated to join the OSU triathlon club at first so I would swim next to them in the mornings and it was at that time that the idea of racing triathlons someday entered my mind.


So you started as a swimmer, but how did running evolve for you?

I took a half marathon class through OSU and when we ran through McDonald Forest, I realized that I was faster than everyone in the class. At the end of the class, I could make it through the entire half marathon distance without stopping and at a pretty good pace.

From there I just kept up my running and signed up for a half IRONMAN in September of last year.


Wait, what about the biking?

Haha, yeah this was the leg that I was going to need to teach myself as I had never biked seriously before.

When I signed up, I got my Dad’s old bike, as he used to race triathlons. I started really getting into the biking and I don't know what came over me but I fell in love with it.

My friend Kevin, who is looking to become a tri coach, picked me up and started training me on the bike to get my bike legs under me so that I could go a little faster. I owe a lot of credit to him as their is not way that I would have been able to do the full IRONMAN distance without him.

I’m really excited for the energy and environment as well as just being there.
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So how did that half IRONMAN go for you?

I had no plan going into it. I was just going to train hard with the goal of just finishing.

The bike went pretty well, ran about 9 minute miles for the run, and at the end I was really excited and wanted to do it again!

It was at at that point I decided to sign up for a full IRONMAN that would be a little less than a year later.


You're an animal! So how did you officially qualify for Kona World Championships?

The full IRONMAN I competed in was the IRONMAN Canada earlier this summer. It was in this race that I qualified for Kona.

Qualifying for the World Championships had never really entered my mind, but I knew I was having a good race and when I got off the bike and began the run, my girlfriend told me I was in 3rd place!

The run section is two loops of the same course so when I got to the finish line after the first loop it was a low point mentally knowing that I had to go back and do the entire course again.

The start of the loop is climbing this hill which isn’t terribly hard since I do so much hill training in McDonald Forest. As I started the climb, I saw the 2nd place guy in front of me walking up!

A mental switch flipped and I knew if I just let my Mac 50K muscles kick in, I can get him here. I kicked in, went up the hill super fast, and I put 8 minutes on him. That really gave me a second wind allowing me to finish the race very strong.  

Each age group sends two people to Kona. They announce the qualifiers the next day and when they called my name saying “Emile, you're going to Kona!” I could not have been more excited.


What are you looking forward to the most about going to Kona?

I’m really excited for the energy and environment as well as just being there. I remember watching it on TV with my dad growing up, back when he was doing more triathlons.

I used to dream about doing Kona wondering how people did it and thinking that it was an impossible feat that I would never be able to accomplish. Now that I’ve made it, I realized it is doable and it isn’t as bad as I first imagined. It hurts, but it’s fun.

There are two things you can control on race day; your attitude, and how hard you go.
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What are you most nervous about?

I’m nervous for race morning.

Typically the morning of the race I’m an absolute mess. A level of stress and anxiety comes over me as I make sure all my gear is laid out and I have everything ready to go.  

However, the 10 seconds before the race starts is when I’m able to calm down and focus on the task at hand. Instinct just takes over and I realize that everything I have done up to that point is all I can do. Whatever happens from there is just going to happen.


Sounds like you are able to get your head into a really good place.

My coach and teammates have really preached that there are two things you can control on race day; your attitude, and how hard you go.

You can't control a flat tire, you can't control a bum knee, you can't control swallowing too much water in the swim, but you can control how you respond to it. 

Stay tuned for Part II of our two part interview with Emile when we learn more about his training.  Follow him on social media @emilio_francisco_ and stay up to date with the journey to Kona.