JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. - The sun slowly rises over the Las Vegas desert as thousands of the world's fittest men and women position themselves at the starting line. The competitors have trained all year, weathering the elements, treating injuries and dealing with the constraints of day-to-day life preparing for this event, and it's no ordinary race.
Imagine swimming a mile and a half, running from the water and immediately jumping on a bike to pedal your way over 56 miles of hilly terrain. When you've exhausted yourself by swimming and biking nearly 60-miles, you begin running ... 13 grueling miles.
No rest, no stopping, no turning back. Now, imagine the outside temperature has climbed to more than 100 degrees before your feet even start to smack the ground, chipping away at each mile of the half marathon finish.
Lt. Col. Douglas Soho, 17th Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot, 437th Airlift Wing, competed in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships Sept. 9, in Las Vegas. Soho placed 654th out of the more than 1,800 world's best tri-athletes. Soho finished 80th out of 200-plus qualifiers in his age group, 40 to 44, one of the largest age groups in the race.
"This was my first time competing in the World Championships," said Soho.
He swam, biked and ran the 70.3 mile course in 5:25:00.
"My time was slow for a normal Half Ironman, but the heat and terrain of the course definitely made the race a little slower for everyone," said Soho. "It was unusual to see the professional tri-athletes reduced to walking."
Instead of wearing just any uniform for the race, Soho had the honor of wearing an Air Force issued tri-athlete singlet.
"I qualified for the world championships in March when I placed fifth in my age group in a Half Ironman in San Juan, Puerto Rico," said Soho. "Fortunately the Air Force decided to sponsor me and issued me a singlet with the Air Force symbol on it."
Soho was approved for a permissive TDY to Las Vegas to compete in the race.
"I was only one of two competitors in the race wearing an Air Force uniform," said Soho. "I was honored they supported me in my effort."
Soho was cheered on by his wife Sara and his six year old son Heath.
"I just remember coming out of the water feeling great, but once I got on the bike and started to tackle the hilly course and the temperature started to rise, I realized this race was going to be much harder than any of my previous ones."
Soho lettered in both track and swimming in high school and went on to hold the position of team captain for the Air Force Academy Triathlon Club during the 90-91 school year.
"I've competed in full Ironman courses before, but this race was more challenging than any of those," said Soho.
Soho recently returned from a deployment to Southeast Asia, Aug. 28. He traveled to Las Vegas Sept. 5.
"I have learned to train on the road," said Soho. "If it means swimming in a pool in Germany or biking through the hills of Europe on a collapsible bike, I make sure I get my training mileage in each week."
Training on each discipline three or more times a week; swimming, biking and running, is something Soho never fails to do.
"At the peak of my training I perform 15 to 18 hours of training a week," said Soho. "Balancing my responsibilities as an Airman, a father and a husband with all of my training is not an easy task, but I love pushing myself."
During the Vegas Ironman competition, Soho not only had to worry about his pace, but his hydration and carbohydrate intake as well.
"I usually drink 44 ounces of water an hour during a race, but it was so hot I was drinking 60 ounces just to keep fluids in my body," said Soho.
Soho also consumes gels, energy drinks and bars throughout races to keep his carbohydrate intake up.
"You lose so much water, electrolytes and salt from your body during the race, you have to replenish them as you go," said Soho.
When Soho crossed the finish line he was met by his wife and son.
"I used everything I had to make it to the finish line," said Soho. "I was honored to have competed in the world championships and even more honored to have been wearing an Air Force uniform.
"The Air Force teaches us self-discipline, which I live by. It is a way of life and should be for all Airmen."
Soho is already training for his next race, wherever it may be. He hopes to qualify for the Full Ironman event in Hawaii.
"I would like to thank the Wing and base leadership for allowing me time to train and take time away from the squadron to compete in the race," said Soho. "They have supported me the whole way and I would not have been in the race without that support."