Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Playing the Lottery
As someone with a background in math, I don't play the lottery. I think most people know that the lottery is not a good bet - and I am very aware that the odds are so low that your chance of winning is essentially zero. If you'd like to gamble, you'll find much better odds in Vegas - though you're probably going to lose there as well. So why am I playing the lottery today?
Today I entered the 2009 Ironman World Championships Lottery. My odds are not good in this lottery (2.5%, or about 1 in 40) but that's orders of magnitude better than the California state lottery. Oddly, my motivation for signing up is the same that motivates millions of people who cannot really afford lottery tickets to spend their paychecks on scratch off tickets - desperation. The IMWC in Kona is the superbowl of long distance triathlon. There is only three ways to get there:
1. Get fast. The main field in Kona is made up of 1800 of the fastest IM athletes in the world - those who placed in the very top of their age group in qualifying races.
2. Get rich. You can get invited to the race if you are famous or interesting enough to make a good story for the television coverage. This includes the CEO Challenge, the charity eBay auctions, as well as just being a celebrity.
3. Get lucky. 200 people will win slots via the lottery - 150 from the US, and 50 more internationally.
Obviously my preferred method is to "get fast" - though "get rich" wouldn't be bad either. I'm trying to get fast, but realistically that's not likely. I did IMAZ in 12:29:11, in order to qualify for Kona I would have needed to go about 9:15:00. That's 25% faster, a total of more than 3 hours! I believe I can improve on my IMAZ time, but to get down near 9 hours is maybe not in the cards for me - those are some incredible athletes at that level. I sometimes forget it, but I'm a software engineer - not an athlete. I don't really have a time goal for IM Wisconsin yet - but I can safely state that it won't be anywhere near 9 hours.
So I'm in the lottery because it's the only choice I have. I'm still young, and I have a lot of years of entering the lottery ahead of me, which will increase my odds of making it to Kona someday. In the mean time I'll work on the other two options.