Friday, April 16, 2010

The Ironman Hawaii Lottery - A Winner's Perspective - Part I

After growing up reading Sports Illustrated's article on this crazy race in Hawaii and then watching Ironman in the early days on ABC's Wide World of Sports; I started racing triathlons in high school under the tutelage of an age group podium finisher. Well, encouragement from her anyway. She was third in her age group at Ironman Wisconsin in the "older gals" age group last year. Don't worry Nancy, I won't say how young you are.

In 2000, I was still settling in at Aon in the risk management services IT department. I was working on bizarre projects and rescuing a few projects (more on that later). I entered the lottery for the first time. First, a bit of history.

In 1999, I had entered Memphis in May in an attempt to qualify for Kona. This is back when international distance (aka: Olympic) were qualifiers. (It's probably a really good thing they aren't any more.) Two weeks before the race on a beautiful Thursday night in May, I was hit by a drunk driver at 5:45 pm as I rode on the back of a small pack of riders at the Thursday night ride. The driver just didn't want to wait for any more "damn cyclists" and "had another happy hour to get to"; probably should have left that part out of your story to the police officer. I was T-boned. My Cannondale Multisport 1000 with "Dragonfire" paint (purple, red, blue, green, bronze - depending on the angle and light hitting the bike) was shot into 1,000 pieces all over Tonne Road. That weekend I had over 200 people parade through my 800 foot condo with well wishes. I didn't even know I knew that many people well enough. 8 days later, after the stitches had come out of my knee and shoulder I was back in the pool pulling and not pushing off walls. In the following weeks, I couldn't ride a bike - so I swam. A lot.

On a typical Saturday I was doing 10,000-15,000 yards. 9,000 of it in masters swim workouts and then I'd lift. I was able to start riding a bike by late June. I started to jog in PT by July. In August, I went to the ONLY race I went to in 1999, the Chicago Triathlon and missed qualifying for Kona by 11 seconds. The guy in front of me got it. He was in an earlier wave. I out swam him by 4 minutes. He made it up on the bike where I just got my replacement bike 10 days before the race.

Back to when I "found out". No TV cameras - in spite of the fact that I worked in downtown Chicago. As a matter of fact, NOBODY around me. It was 11:35 AM on a day with a very full afternoon planned. Everyone had hit the road for lunch about five minutes earlier. Working in an IT shop, I didn't believe that I had "won" at first. These were the days when few new about security and SSL. I went to our assistant Cassandra's desk and logged in. Yep, I was in. "What does that mean?" Cassandra asked. "I'm racing in the Super Bowl of triathlon. Only bigger. It's an incredible honor to be selected" I responded.

Upon getting selected, Mark Rouse from Runners High 'n Tri went out to lunch with me and went over the Kona course and preparation for the race. Mark is one of the guys who did the race in year one or two of Ironman on Oahu. Few know more about Kona. In the coming months I met a host of people, Commander John Collins, Dick and Ricky Hoyt, Joanna Zieger (fresh off of the first Olympic appearance for triathlon) - I didn't really get to know Joanna. We had the same coach Troy Jacobson. Troy had done Kona many times before too. He got me into coaching before we went our separate paths.

Here is the time where I am supposed to tell you about how tough the training was. It was tough. As I mentioned earlier, I was working at Aon. Who put me on a project that had me traveling to 40 cities across North America (Canada, US, Mexico and the Caribbean) in the months leading up to Ironman. Oh, and did I mention that I got married in May of that year? My second 20 mile run was on my honeymoon on the island of St. John. I ran out of water eight miles from the finish. I did 400s up a mountain (because there was no track or flat road anywhere). I swam Pillsbury Sound with a US Navy Seal celebrating his 10th wedding anniversary. That's 6 miles (or so) in open ocean. No support boats. Dodging ferry boats and freighters in the shipping lane. I don't advise that swim without support. Our only protection, my USN buddy's scuba knife. After a short discussion of what we'd do if we had a shark approach us (not kidding) we were off. In July and August leading up to Kona, no two workouts were done in the same city except for weekends.

I heard for months that "lottery winners didn't earn their slot and should be banned". I trained hard. I went to the Buffalo Springs Lake Half Ironman in Lubbock, TX. This race is run by Mike and Marti Greer who I think are great people. It is a brutally hard race which attracts top talent. Want a test? Go to Lubbock in late June. So on a day where it was 100 F before sun up, I validated my lottery slot. After the race, I was asked if I wanted a Kona slot (via roll down) and I told them I had a lottery slot. Made the guy who finished behind me a happy man.

Figures.

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