Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Christmas Present

Christmas morning, I got a present that many wouldn't consider a present--not me! I got a paid trip to the Arizona Ironman slated for Saturday, November 23, 2008. This event is a qualifier for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii (for 2009, since Kona happens every year in September).

My initial thoughts were as follows:

  1. Excited because this is something I have really wanted to do for a long time (my goal was to complete it before turning 40); I also did a half-ironman last year and really enjoyed it. It's addicting!

  2. Stressed because an event of this nature takes a lot of preparation, dedication, discipline, time, MONEY, blood, sweat, and tears! Furthermore, I have tendency to set high expectations for myself.

Registration for this event opened the last weekend of November and was closed in 10 days. Over 2,300 applicants registered. The registration fee was $500 per entrant--that adds up to a lot of scheckles. In my age category (35-39 Men), there were 403 participants/competitors. My age category, which is generally the biggest, is allowed 15 qualifying slots for Kona. From a straight percentage perspective, I have to be in the top 3% to get a slot; or, in other words, I have to beat 97% of field.

In looking at other full-distance Kona qualifying events, my finishing time needs to be below 9 hours and 30 minutes to qualify for my age category. That means 1 hour swim, 5 hour bike, 3.5 hour run. Ask any athlete if these individual events' times are challenging, you'll get an affirmative response. Now stack them on top of each other, and you'll get something most will shrug their shoulders at as impossible.

So, you may be asking yourself: "Why would anyone want to do this?"

Believe me, I've pondered this question many times. The best answer I can come up with is this: "Because I love it." I love to push myself beyond limitations. I like to recollect after a hard workout and feel the buzz of exhaustion. Sometimes when I'm really tired and I close my eyes, I'm so exhausted that my body feels perfectly calm. I like the strength it gives me. There are times when I'm just suffering and my body is screaming to stop, yet I keep going and push through the pain. Honestly, if it paid the bills, I'd do it full-time.

There are only three ways to get the ticket to the big show: 1) win a lottery selection, 2) qualify in a full ironman distance race, 3) qualify in a half-distance race. I've never really been lucky, so I can't count on the lottery-there's only 200 slots awarded via lottery, and 50 of those are to European applicants. The half distance is uber-competitive because the distance is much shorter. For example, people qualifying in my age category are punching the clock with 4 hour times. Do the math on that: 30 minute swims, 2 hour bike rides, and 1 hour 30 minute runs. That's a drag race. I figure my best chance is the full distance. Competition is little less stiff just because of the sheer magnitude of the event--most athletes do only 1 (if that many) full iron distance events per year, but they'll easily slam 3-4 half distance events. Also many people do an Ironman event as a once in a lifetime quest--asked if they'd come next year to do it again, and they'd laugh in your face. Furthermore, if I fail to qualify; at least I can say I finished. And, that's resume material.

In many respects, it's unfortunate that one has to compete with others to qualify for Kona. I'm not so fond of the competition side of the event. I've never done well in my competitions--in road racing, I'm always happy to finish with the pack. I've never lamented not winning a race. But, afterwards, I always come away feeling good about finishing well. This may sound like a contradiction. The way I see it, If I'm fit enough to finish with the best and not get hurt or humiliated, then it's alright. In road racing, team tactics and strategy play a large role in the outcome. Rarely, is there a situation when raw strength is pitted against raw strength. This isn't the case with an Ironman. You can't draft on the bike. You can't send someone up the road to blow up the competition. You can't have someone fall back and pull you back to the pack. It's all you. You have to manage your pace, your nutrition, and your tactics.

I hope to provide a perspective to all those that sponsored my entrance that will let them see the joy and pain their gift has given me. I'd also like Tanya to share her experiences; so everyone can see the roll a supporting wife plays in a goal of such magnitude.

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