Sunday, August 08, 2010

Reflections on Winning the Lottery

It started, as these adventures always do, innocuously enough.

My friend Sarah has run in the Hawaii Ultra Running Team 100-mile Endurance Run, aka the H.U.R.T. 100, for the past two years, and her stories of this notoriously difficult race have piqued my curiosity about maybe running it one day. From time to time, ascending a steep, rocky, rooty portion of the Mill Creek trail, she'd casually mention it's a "good trail for H.U.R.T. training." But this was just conversation. I didn't give H.U.R.T. much thought, beyond feeling fairly certain that my first 100-mile race wasn't going to be on an island four time zones away, with some of the most technical trails anywhere and 25,000 feet of climbing.

But then one night I came home from work to find this posted on my Facebook wall:
And then a dangerous thing happened: I started seriously considering it.

Mostly, it's because I have trouble passing up a good challenge. But the fact the race would take me to Hawaii - a place I've never visited before - also held some appeal. And if Sarah would be training for H.U.R.T. too, I'd have company on at least some of the long runs that training for it would require. I also figured that I'd be pretty unlikely to win a spot at H.U.R.T. Entry to the race is achieved via a weighted lottery, which awards points (or more precisely, "kukui nuts") corresponding to a number of categories, including experience at H.U.R.T. and service to the H.U.R.T. trails - none of which I had. I figured there must be loads of runners out there who would have priority over someone like me, so hey -- what risk was there, really, of entering the lottery?

So I went straight to Ultrasignup.com and submitted my name.

Some days went by. I didn't think much more about it.

Then yesterday, Lottery Day arrived. Christi and I had plans to see a movie last evening, but the lottery would be broadcast online starting at 6pm Colorado time. I figured I'd go online and watch 'til we had to leave. Surely the lottery would be over by the time we needed to leave for the theater.

I logged in to watch at 6, to find that the lottery was pushed back to 6:15.

At 6:15, no names appeared. I kept refreshing the web page... still no names.

Then at 6:30, a name appeared: Marian Yasuda. Sarah's sister was IN! I texted Andrea (crewing Sarah & Marian at the Headlands 100) the good news and kept refreshing the page.

A few more names appeared. Twelve minutes later, Sarah's name appeared. EXCELLENT! I knew she'd be thrilled. I texted Andrea again.

At this point, Christi and I needed to leave for our movie. The lottery obviously wasn't over yet, but I wasn't that concerned -- there was no chance I'd be getting in, remember? -- so we got in the car, Christi behind the wheel so I could check the lottery on my smartphone, just in case.

Name after name appeared as I refreshed the lottery page, but mine wasn't among them. We arrived at the theater, bought our movie tickets, and settled in. The movie would start at 7:30, which was quickly approaching, and I knew I'd need to turn off my phone when the lights went down for the previews.

So I refreshed the page one last time, and was astounded to see this appear:
Yes, that's my name, in the upper right, above Dave Walick's.

Oh. My. God.

I turned to Christi and showed her the phone. Her jaw dropped, and then we kissed. I got into H.U.R.T.! I'd be running H.U.R.T. in January! Breathless and in disbelief, I texted Andrea a third time to pass the news along. The lights in the theater began to dim, and I put my phone away.

Still stunned, I don't remember watching any of the previews. The movie itself, though, was a surreal experience. The film, "Inception," is all about lucid dreaming, and melds reality and dreams in unexpected ways. I'd get completely absorbed into the film, and then it would hit me: I'm running H.U.R.T.! And then I'd fall back into the movie again. Reality? A dream? It was all unbelievable.

The film ended, the credits rolled, and the lights came up again. It dawned on me, all over again, that I'd gotten into H.U.R.T. Or had I? Had my name really been drawn?

I pulled out my phone and refreshed the page. My name was still there.

Is this what it feels like to win the lottery? If so, it's amazing.

So now the hard work begins. H.U.R.T. is one of the toughest 100-mile races anywhere, and I will be training diligently to prepare. I really want to finish, even though I know the odds are long: fewer than half the 100-mile starters make it the full distance, even on a good year. There's also a wait list 56 runners long, filled with people who didn't make it into the race, and I owe it to them to make the most of this incredible opportunity.

It's the beginning of an amazing adventure, and a great challenge. But as the H.U.R.T. runners say, "'Aole makou e ho'ohikiwale kela." We wouldn't want it to be easy!

See you on the trail.
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