I’ve been to many Ironman award ceremonies. No matter how exhausted I was after a race, I’d always go both to celebrate the fantastic performances I’d witnessed and to make sure I didn’t miss getting a slot for the world championship—if some athlete who finished ahead of me turned the spot down and the opportunity arose for it to “roll down” to me.
I got close to that coveted slot many times, too. At one particularly weird award ceremony, I was even in line to pay, with my credit card at the ready. But as soon as I got to the front, I was told the last slot had just been given to the person in front of me.
That’s when I realized that trying to qualify for an Ironman World Championship shouldn’t be the main focus of my training or racing. I needed to enjoy and cherish the fact that there was so much more to the sport—and I needed to not have unrealistic expectations that would lead to unjustified frustrations. Of course, I still went to the award ceremonies, because you never know, but as soon as I refocused my energies on the process of training and enjoying my racing, my best and most consistent results arrived and stayed. I still hadn’t gotten a slot, but I didn’t care. I was happy with how I was tackling triathlon.
Then came last year, the pandemic, and my first child. I didn’t plan any long-distance races last year or for this year. I figured that being a new parent with a highly energetic daughter would be my Ironman.
That was until Feb. 2, when I received an email from Ironman – All World Athlete. The subject line read: “A special invitation to you, Nick.” I thought: Spam.
Instead, surprise, surprise: “Nick, as you were a Gold All World Athlete in 2021, we invite you to accept a slot and join us at the 2021 Ironman World Championship presented by Utah Sports Commission on May 7, 2022.” I got goosebumps reading the message.
But! What’s the saying: When you stop looking is when love finds you? I had just decided not to race. Now, what should I do? I mean, a World Championship is a World Championship, right?
After a solid week of family discussions, pro and con lists, and friends’ suggestions, I decided to accept Ironman’s invitation and buy the slot to compete in St. George in a little less than three months.
I’ve heard the complaints and read the comments online about this process. Some triathletes seem to think the only acceptable way to get a spot at an Ironman World Championship is to earn the right to pay by winning one of the allocated slots at a qualifying Ironman, or by arbitrarily getting one of the spots when someone who beat you turns it down or doesn’t show up to claim it. (Ahh, the beauty and brutality of roll-down.) The die-hards are offended by my racing in St. George. They say: People like me shouldn’t get to race. We’re just buying our way into this prestigious event. It’s not right. It’s not a real world championship.
I may not change any of those minds, but just as I felt good about my decision to stop chasing that elusive roll-down spot, I feel good about my decision to race this history-making world championship event. Why? A long-list of reasons:
- Since I first saw pictures of Ironman St. George 70.3 in 2016, I’ve dreamt of racing there. The scenery and the course are two of the main things that attract me (and, likely, many athletes) to the challenging event.
- On a personal level, I discovered that I’ve actually been through St. George twice in the past. I was undertaking a monster drive from L.A. to Beaver Creek in 2015 for work and, on that occasion, met my now-wife. On the way back to L.A., I stopped near St. George, had lunch in front of a canyon, and decided I had to change something in my life to be with her. Two months later, we moved to London together. Going back to St. George is a way to thank the place for the energy I felt when I made that decision.
- OK, enough romance, more triathlon. First and foremost, a World Championship is still a World Championship, whatever the naysayers may say. A world title is on the line, athletes have qualified to be there. No matter where it is held, it is an Ironman World Championship race.
- Witnessing the battle that is going to go down between the best triathletes in the world over a demanding course, at the same time I’m covering the same course, makes it all worthwhile.
- Getting a chance to race an Ironman World Championship, wherever it is, is a titanic endeavor. It’s often an out-of-your-control, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kind of thing. And if you get that chance, you should take it. (My two cents!)
- I received the invitation because I was an “AWA Gold” athlete. That means that the points I scored in a set number of previous races had put me in the top 2% worldwide in the Ironman rankings—those were the results I achieved as soon as I stopped worrying about getting a slot. It’s hard to argue that the top 10% of athletes deserve a world championship spot less than any individual athlete who snags one on a given race on a given day.
- Some people have suggested that Ironman is “selling” these slots to fill the field up. But, you always had to pay ($1050, now!) for your spot on the Big Island, whether you earned it by winning your age group at a qualifying race, by getting a roll-down slot, or by going through the Legacy program. No one races for free.
- In fact, I don’t see much difference in taking an AWA spot or getting one through a roll-down. I have a friend who once raced Kona after finishing 200th in his age group. No one showed up to the award ceremony to claim the spot, and he got it. (Lesson here: If you care about getting a spot, always go to the awards ceremony.)
- A friend told me that the universe had spoken, and I had to seize the opportunity. Thanks, Irene!
- Another friend told me that if my wife was OK with it (she was), and I had the fitness required (I did), my daughter would want me to go. Life’s too short, he said. Thanks, Richard!
- Fitness-wise I know I’m nowhere near where I was when I raced my last Ironman, but I know I’m strong and kept some consistency. I’m confident I can deliver a good race. And this may be my last Ironman ever, or for a long time, so I want to enjoy the atmosphere and the opportunity as much as possible.
- The fact that it’s not in Kona makes it even more special to me; this is a historic event that’s never happened before. I’ll race Kona another time (or not!).
And, did I mention that a World Championship is still a World Championship and should be respected? So, that’s what I’ll try to do: respect the event, despite the short amount of time left, a full-time job, changing nappies, cleaning the kitchen, cooking, and helping my wife—and definitely not listening to the naysayers.
Because we’re triathletes, after all, and when have we ever worried about the haters.