April 23, 2008

A Better Chance For Kona

So I'm sitting here at the airport in Birmingham (which is not Binghamton, despite my east-coast-centric tendency to call it that) and I get into this conversation with Chris. You don't know Chris. I mean, you might know Chris but I'm not sure, I don't have access to your Facebook page to figure out who you are and aren't friends with. If you don't know Chris, you should. On top of being an extremely nice guy, he's also quite funny. Chris is a triathlete and, from what I can gather, a fairly fast one.

So anyway, I'm sitting here at the Binghamton airport, browsing on my computer when I notice over there at the Ironman eBay auction that a slot for Kona is going for over 30 thousand dollars.* Thirty Thousand Dollars?! I say out loud to all who could hear me, which pretty much consisted of Chris (not a big airport out here in B-town). He too thought it was ridiculous.

That's ridiculous, he said.

And after a moment of thought in which I could actually see the cogs of his brain churning, he continued. I would never pay to get into Kona. Not even through the lottery. The only way to get into Kona is to win a slot at a race, otherwise I wouldn't feel like I earned it.

I was silent. Almost embarrassed. After all, I’m slow. I’m not going to qualify for Kona unless everybody in my age group comes down with hepatitis (A, B or C) the day before the race. My chances of racing Kona happen to be the same exact odds as my chances of winning a slot in the Ironman lottery. That’s my only hope. Naturally, when Chris expressed his feelings about the matter, I couldn't help but smirk in the type of way that says, ummmm….awwk-waard.

I shifted in my seat in the same uncomfortable way us people who never bring home medals tend to shift in our seat when the conversation comes around to how fast everybody else is.

It was just about then that Chris began to backpedal.

I mean, that's only how I feel, he said, implying that if I wanted to cheat my way into the World Championships, it was my prerogative to be an outcast.**

All of this got me thinking a little bit about my history with the the Triathlon World Championships. For well over a decade, my triathlon goal was to race Kona. Period. That was it, end of story. The only race I wanted to do was the Hawaii Ironman. If I could just do that, I told myself, I’d be happy for the rest of my life.

Naturally, I signed up for the lottery every year. Of course I paid the extra fifty bucks for the super-special access that supposedly gave me a better chance of winning a slot (in addition to the “premiere member” discount at the Ironman store, which I still have yet to use). Every year I woke up on lottery day with nervous anticipation, knowing for certain that my name would be on the list. I didn’t pay that extra fifty bucks for naught.

The disappointment usually sunk in the second time I looked through the list and didn’t see my name. The first time I scanned the list I figured I just looked at it too quickly and missed my name. But the second time, when I read every single letter of every single name, that’s when I realize that another year has gone by without me in Kona living my dream. Some years I didn’t even bother to do any other races.

It’s a sad existence when you sit around waiting for your dreams to knock on your door instead of walking outside and grabbing them yourself.

One day, after many years of lottery disappointment, I finally realized I had two choices: I could wait forever for something that may never happen, or I could go out and race an Ironman.

I did IM Lake Placid in 2006 and IM Arizona in April 2008. I had an incredibly exhilarating experience in 2006 and a dramatically challenging experience in 2008. I trained hard for both and understand the sacrifices one needs to make just to get to the starting line.

I was na├»ve back in my pre-Ironman dreaming days. I have now lived my dream and understand what being an Ironman really means. For us that will never qualify for Kona, Ironman is more than just a world championship. I’ve come to believe that, in the same way an Ironman is a celebration of your torturous training, getting that lottery slot for the Hawaii Ironman is a celebration of all the Ironman racing experiences you’ve done before. It is the pinnacle of the Ironman life.

Which leads us smack into the wall of my hypocrisy.

As I was sitting there with Chris, I couldn’t help but think of my friends who put their names in the lottery year after year in hopes of going to the Big Show, just as I did years before. I thought of the ones who refuse to do any other Ironman race, who barely even race triathlon anymore, who barely even workout, but still vie for that treasured lottery slot.

I began to judge them. I imagined how much I would despise them if they got into the Hawaii Ironman by just signing up, when so many others, like me, are out there slogging through endless training, grueling races, making sacrifices and giving it their best shot in tough conditions with no chance of every qualifying. The people who race other Ironman events, they sign up for the lottery with blood, sweat and hope. They know the dream, they’ve been there. They have tasted Ironman and know what it means. They get the credit. Yes, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.***

As for those others, those that hope beyond hope to hit the jackpot, the ones who dream of accomplishing their dreams without any effort. Frankly, it makes me sick.

Call me a hypocrite, call me an elitist nitwit, call me what you will, but dreams don’t come easy in this world. I’m very much in favor of the Ironman lottery. After all, we are the only sport in the world that enables any shmo to race side-by-side with the world’s best athletes. However, there are so many shmo’s already in line that have made the sacrifices, that have been chasing the dream, it only seems fair that we’d get a better chance to reach it.

* Editor’s Note: the slot actually sold for over $45,000
** Editor’s Note, Part Deux: Chris didn’t mean any of the conversation in a judgmental manner. I just make him sound that way. He’s actually an open-minded guy
***Editor’s Note, Number C: That last part is a Theodore Roosevelt quote. I didn’t make it up, I just wish I did.


stronger said...

Easier in: you can move to Hawaii for 3 years for a resident slot.

Although, it's not that easy to live there.

jbmmommy said...

Are you stalling? Where's the race report?!

Urban Koda said...

Hmmmm... Having to live in Hawaii for 3 years for a resident slot... I guess sometimes you just have to make sacrifices.

I think I can see where Chris is coming from, but at the same time, I think my chances at getting into Kona, might be better with the lottery - of course I probably need to try at least a half ironman before I even think about that...

Good post, and still excited about that race report....

Speed Racer said...

That's a tough one. Personally, I would never go for the lottery, but I'm not against anyone who does. Not to talk about me, but I just ran the Boston marathon this week as a bandit and got a lot of shit for it from my runner friends. I think it's the same idea: never gonna qualify, but I think it's my God-given right to do it at least once anyway. Anyway as far as Kona goes, I think that people should do whatever they can without breaking the rules to get in. And as long as the lottery isn't against the rules, I don't think that any lotto winner should feel like anything but the luckiest guy/gal alive.

So there's my 2 cents. Now where's that race report?

Anonymous said...

Race report plz.

Lardman said...

The Ironman Lottery is great.. I've only been an Ironman for little over one year and did 4 in the first twelve months and thanks to the Lottery it included Kona 2007 and thanks once again to the Lottery I'll be going back again to do it 2008. Guess I'm just lucky to have gotten two Lottery slots, but it gives hopes to others and finally for all the "shmo's" like me who qualify, it's a great experience, hard and not enjoyable at times, but an experience non the less, we don't take it as seriously as the tri-fags, we enjoy it much, much more (we have more time to!!!)

Anonymous said...

The lottery is a good thing for the most part. I don't agree that one individual should be awarded a place more than one time. The point of the lottery is to let slower racers compete at "the big dance". Therefore, I think it should be a one time thing. If you get a spot you use it and that's it unless you qualify through a race result.

It is also a good thing because it gives back to the triathlon fans who are generally associated with those participating. We generate a lot of money for the tri corporation through entry fees, lottery fees and merchandise purchasing. In addition, our dollars support the race cities. If only pros raced then there would be a much smaller following and less motivation for the host cities to participate. Triathlon is not the best spectator sport, but family and friends will brave the heat for 10 or 12 or 16 hours to cheer on their racer.

Finally, I would be interestd to learn if the lottery really is a random draw. I find it curious that we have to complete such a comprehensive "form" in order to enter. Why not require that of lottery winners after they are awarded a spot? It seems like they may pre-screen the entries snd then choose from that population. There are always some many human interest stories year after year from the age group ranks. I hope to never learn that it is rigged in some manner.