Up Close with Noel Mulkey

Noel Mulkey did not start triathlon until fairly recently, but he is now all in and pretty good at it. But he was not always lean and mean and Noel had to overcome some difficult times that were the result of some bad choices relatively early in life.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Noel.

Noel Mulkey: Thank you so much for reaching out! Happy to chat!

ST: What are you up to right now and are you ready for Christmas?

Noel: I had a ramp interval bike this morning and I just got back from the pool about an hour ago. I did a long aerobic 5k swim. I am ready for Christmas, and if I’m being honest, I’m ready to put 2020 to bed and get this new year started.

ST: Your last race of the year was supposed to be Challenge Daytona I think, but you did not go. Can you explain why you made that decision?

Noel: I was actually really looking forward to Challenge Daytona. I did it in the inaugural year when that massive storm came in and they shortened they made the swim 800 meters, the bike 12 miles, and they still gave us the half marathon, but not what we came there to race. I was really looking forward to going back and getting the full experience. I went back and forth for a solid week on what I should do about this race. I had just done Ironman Florida and felt fine physically. Mentally though the pandemic was really making me questioning going. It was right after thanksgiving travel and cases were doubling daily. I have been very careful this year not to get Covid-19 and I absolutely do not want it! This would be the first time this year I would have had to get on a plane. I was able to drive to Ironman Florida. My gut said don’t go and I had a feeling I wouldn’t even enjoy it either. I’d be too worried about catching COVID-19 the whole time.

ST: Let us talk about IRONMAN Florida then.

Noel: Ironman Florida was my first attempt at the Ironman distance. It was supposed to happen earlier in May here in my hometown at Ironman Tulsa, but obviously that got canceled. However, I’m pretty happy I got to do my first Ironman in Florida. It was an amazing day. I went 10:03:28. I made a ton of mistakes and learned a lot. I’m happy I got one in before performing in front of my hometown crowd so to speak because the first one is a massive learning experience.

ST: As a child you played soccer but apparently ended that that in 8th grade. Why?

Noel: It was crazy how soccer ended. It actually ended abruptly because of some team drama. I wasn’t getting along with a few players and vise-versa. There was some really bad energy on the team with the players as well as the parents. Soccer had started off an amazing experience and I will never forget a lot of it. But it went it down in flames more or less strictly from team drama.

ST: Drama in 8th grade?

Noel: The drama in 8th grade. A really good friend of mine and I actually started getting really competitive with each other. So much so that it ended the friendship. Part of the reason I quit the team and I really regret that to this day. I wish I would have stuck with soccer longer.

ST: Your twin Nat however stuck with it until college.

Noel: Yeah, Nat went way further with soccer and went to a high school with a soccer team so playing could continue. My high school didn’t have any sports.

ST: When did you start with triathlon and what inspired you?

Noel: I started triathlon in 2015 I believe? Sometime around there. It’s been almost 6 years in this sport. I actually started triathlon because initially I had just been running. I started running to lose weight because I had gained a lot of weight after getting sober. I went from nothing, no base at all, to 60-70 mile run weeks. My dad had grown up running and doing triathlons as well as my mom. When my dad found out how much I was running he was positive that at some point I would get injured and not be able to run because of how much I was doing with no base. He recommended for me to go to a sports physiology lab at the clinic he works at to get some numbers, a V02 max test, and lactate threshold test, and just to see where I’m at and maybe get on a controlled schedule before I get injured. I actually scored really well on that test. The lab tech and my dad suggested triathlon because I had already been swimming as well, and our house had a ton of bikes that no one was using. My mom and dad knew all the little stuff already. I ended up signing up for a local sprint in Guthrie, Oklahoma like a month later and I came in 3rd place. 9 weeks later at the end of the summer I signed up for my first Olympic distance triathlon, and I won the whole thing on a road bike that didn’t fit me. And then I kind of took off from there!

ST: You mentioned being overweight. How heavy were you?

Noel: My heaviest I was 198 pounds. I put that on very quickly after I got sober. In fact, that tends to happen a lot with addicts in recovery. They start eating a lot and at the time I wasn’t exercising at all. It got pretty out of hand. When I hated how I looked and hated going out in public, that was the catalyst for wanting to lose the weight. I had zero confidence. And when I set my mind to losing it, I became obsessed - really obsessed. That is where the running from nothing to 60 -70 miles a week happened. I ended up losing 59 pounds in 4 months. I went from 198 to 139 and actually passed my goal. I was too skinny at that point. I had become anemic and was having heart palpitations. That is actually when my dad said I need to go to the lab.

ST: What about the sober aspect?

Noel: Sobriety is a huge part of my story and why I have fallen in love with triathlon so much. As cheesy as it sounds, this sport saved my life. After the 8th grade I started experimenting with drugs. This turned into a road road of addiction throughout my entire time in high school and into the first years of when I should have been in college. At the end at my worst, I was on a $500 a day heroin habit. Sick, out of money, out of options, facing homelessness, and at the end of my rope.

ST: How did you get your drug life past your parents?

Noel: I actually really didn’t get much past them. I was a very good liar which is a huge thing we talked about in the recovery process. But in the beginning - I assumed they thought it was just typical high school experimentation. Towards the end my parents actually ended up staging an intervention and sending me to rehab. I spent about a year in Florida after that intervention in a rehab facility, then a halfway house. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive in me trying to get better. I know a lot of parents would have been past their breaking point much sooner than mine were. I put them through hell and I will forever be grateful for what they did for me.

ST: As for sports, are your parents still active?

Noel: My mom is still very active. In fact - she was signed up to do Ironman Tulsa in May! She was out doing 100-mile rides on the weekend, running, and swimming. She deferred it to the 2021 Ironman Tulsa so she will be getting back up to speed, ramping up training very soon! My dad isn’t really active anymore, but he Sherpa’s everything and is super involved and invested in my success and my mom’s racing and wants us both to succeed. He lives for it.

ST: Of the 3 disciplines, which one is your strongest, and where can you improve the most?

Noel: My strongest discipline is the swim. I got really lucky with swim genetics if I’m being honest. Long arms and broad shoulders help a lot with this. My favorite discipline is the bike. Who doesn’t love trying to make a super bike go as fast as possible? And the one that I need to improve the most will always be running. It’s what I started with but what I always fall short on. Running is always so hit and miss but I am determined to make it better. It’s crazy though, because if I had to give them all up and just stick to one of them for the rest of my life, no question I would choose running.

ST: What are some of you best swim times, swim PRs?

Noel: Super fun topic for me. For the Olympic distance swim I’ve done a 17:58 open water in a hot Oklahoma lake. For my first IRONMAN swim at IRONMAN Florida I did a 55:43. And my best 70.3 swim is like a 26:01. I plan on all of these getting way faster.

ST: Talk about your training. How much time do you give it each week and how is it divided up?

Noel: I actually am coached by the pro triathlete Matt Hanson. I’ve been with Matt for about 3 years now. He sets my training schedule every week and my goal is to just follow it to a T. I wanted someone I trust 100% where I don’t have to think of my training, I just follow a trusted plan that’s being written for me and execute every session! In my peak weeks for Ironman Florida I was getting up to about 20-25 hours a week of training. But its normally averaging around 15-20 hours. The long rides on Saturday, and long runs on Sunday are staples in my plan.

ST: What about swimming? How much per week and describe your hardest swim set?

Noel: I swim about 5k anywhere from 4 to 6 days a week. On average probably about 20k-25k a week! One of the hardest sets I do is a great test run before a race to see how fit in the water I am. I do 15 x 100m leaving at the 1:20. Then 1000 pull paddles. Then another 10 x 100 with me leaving at the 1:20 again but with pull paddles. It’s a tough set but shows me I’m really fit if I can complete it.

ST: What is the pool length and what COVID-19 rules are in place?

Noel: I swim at Lifetime Fitness and the Jenks Aquatic Center. Lifetime is 25 meters and Jenks is an Olympic sized competition pool used for championship meets! Right now though they have it sectioned off into sixteen 25 yard lanes. Practically every time I’m there I get the entire pool to myself! It’s amazing!

ST: What is your day job?

Noel: I am a social media influencer and a triathlon coach! I’m obsessed with TikTok and have done quite well on that platform. So social media is where I make my income and I love coaching.

ST: I think you are the first social media influencer I have met.

Noel: I started posting my journey and story on Instagram years ago, and actually recently just this year got really into Tik Tok. My Tik Tok blew up with in a matter of months. I’m at almost 400k followers and growing every day. Social media changed my life. Follow me btw ? Instagram @noelmulkey Tik Tok @noelmulk0 and YouTube: @noelmulkey

ST: I guess I am showing my age as I have never even been on TikTok.

Noel: Ha ha! Tik Tok definitely has taken off over this past year in particular. Did you know over 300 million users signed up as a direct result of quarantine? Pretty crazy. If you ever get on it here is a fair warning. It is pretty addictive and it will make you laugh!

ST: How many folks do you coach?

Noel: Right now I have one athlete. This has been very hard this year to find clients due to all the races being cancelled. But I’m working with a great group called Mauna Endurance and absolutely love getting more into the world of coaching. Over the summer I got my USAT level one coaching certification. It was a really fun course and I learned a lot.

ST: What is next?

Noel: The next few months I’m hunkering down and training hard this off season! I’m ready to come back a completely different athlete next season. The ultimate goal is what I was supposed to do this year, which is Ironman Tulsa on May 23rd. They just announced it to be the Ironman North American Championships as well so I want a Kona slot and I would like to correct all my mistakes I made in Florida. So that is what I will be focusing on all winter.

ST: Did we miss something?

Noel: We covered a lot - didn’t we? I just wanted to say that to whoever finds my story motivating or helpful, I am always here to talk! Just reach out to me on social media. Hope to see ya’ll out racing next year!

You can follow Noel Mulkey on TikTok via @noelmulk0