Monday, October 10, 2011

About Getting To Kona

A trip to Kona to participate in the Ironman World Championships is to a triathlete like a trip to Boston is to a runner.  Trying to figure out how to qualify for a spot in Hawaii has proven to be as difficult as trying to figure out when it will be your turn to sign up for Boston, that is... after you qualify.

And this question comes up this time of year more often than any other.  Most of us... well okay, a lot of us, spent the majority of last Saturday glued to the Internet watching the awesome performances by some equally awesome athletes and thinking while we were doing this:  What if?  What will it take?  How can I get there?

It really is not as difficult as one may think.  The qualifying part is, not the trying to figure out how.  Let me explain.

Up until now there has been three ways to get to Kona.  Actually four.  One is to earn a spot at a qualifying event, two is by being selected in the Ironman Lottery Program and three by winning a slot in the Ironman Charitable eBay auction. The fourth and lesser know way is to be selected as a featured athlete.  These are spots that NBC gets to feature athletes with special and extraordinary stories.  "Up until now" I said, because the WTC has added a new way.

There are 200 spots in the lottery and this is pretty straight forward.  You buy your spot in the lottery for $40 and if you get picked you get in.  The eBay spots are also pretty simple to get, if you have the means, financially.  The NBC spots are obviously more difficult to come about but if you have a story that's worth sharing, get in touch with NBC sports, you never know.

The bulk of the spots come from the qualifying Ironman events. Each and every Ironman distance/sanctioned event serves as a qualifier.  Additionally, six Ironman 70.3 events serve as qualifiers, 70.3 Asia Pacific Championships, 70.3 St. Croix, 70.3 Hawaii, 70.3 Eagleman, 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake and three hand cycle spots are available at the 70.3 Antwerp.

Each event is allotted a certain number of qualifying spots.  Despite the massive amount of research performed, I could not find out how this number comes about.  Each age group in the event is given at least one qualifying spot.  The remainder of the spots are divided proportionately to the number of athletes in the age group compared to the total number of athletes in the event.  For example,  if 40-45 males have 8% of the participants then this age group will get 8% of the spots.  In case there are no participants in an age group, the spot will roll down to the next group.

These spots will be issued at the end of each event and you have to be present and ready to ante up the $700 registration fee or your spot will roll down to the next qualifying athlete.

And so there it is.  Pretty simple, right?  But there's more.  A new way to get to Kona.

According to Andrew Messick, head of the WTC  "If you're a serious and dedicated triathlete who has participated in 12 or more Ironman sanctioned full distance events you will be given a chance to go to Kona." But these will not be added slots, these will come from the lottery pool.

You can listen to the podcast that includes the interview with Mr. Messick. Discussion on the new policy starts about minute 20.   Source credit goes to DC Rainmaker

Triathletes that have more than 12 lifetime Ironman distance events under their belt will be chosen first until all that meet this new qualification have their day.  The number of slots to be allocated is not clear yet, so it is unknown how many years it will take for all to be cycled in.

As for myself, I'm a realistic when it comes to Kona.  I'm not fast, not even close.  I can not expect to get a qualifying spot at a qualifying event... not yet.  I do not see myself participating in the eBay auction either. And having only completed one Ironman distance to date, it will take me eleven years to even think about the new qualifier... that is provided I do one each of the next eleven years, which is highly improbable.

So, if I really want to get to Kona, as I see it, I have two options.  One would be to write a 13 year plan to qualify in the 70-74 age group or, the lottery!

Decisions, Decisions.