The Miracle on Ice Redux

The 4th event of triathlon is one that people don’t talk about, but it is the most fun.  It’s the retelling the story of the race to anyone who will listen.  Even the most minute detail becomes exciting to rehash.  This is especially fun to do with fellow racers, who feverishly compare and contrast experiences.

“Oh my gosh, I got punched in the face during the swim and my goggles fell off!”

“Wow, that’s crazy.  I flew down the descent into Keene at 45mph in aero!”

This is what a group of us were standing around doing on Monday morning while waiting in line to get into the finishers gear tent.  The pattern was disrupted when Henry Tragle turned to me and said, “Lisa, I think you’re great and you should go to roll down.”

Now, to give you a little background, in case you don’t eat, sleep and breathe triathlon (I hear these people exist), the Ironman in Hawaii, that you’ve probably seen on television, is the World Championship for the sport.  In order to qualify to go, you’ve got to get a slot at another Ironman race.  These spaces are highly coveted and hard to get.  The number of slots that a race gets are then divided among the male and female age groups according to the percentage of total finishers that come from their age group (or something like that).  The exact math behind the process is still a bit unclear to me, but that’s close enough.  I’m pretty sure there is also a magic 8 ball and tea leaf reading involved.  At any rate, if your age group gets 3 qualifying spots and you finish in the top 3 of your age group, you are an automatic qualifier.  You, then, have 2 hours to accept and pay for your IM Hawaii race registration or it goes into “rolldown”.  Rolldown is a process by which all the available spots are passed out.  If, for some reason, an automatic qualifier doesn’t take their spot, they start running down the list of names in order of finish until all the spots have been claimed.  Because they are so coveted, a spot doesn’t typically roll down too far.

For the last 12 months, getting to Kona (as the IM Hawaii race is referred to) has been my holy grail.  The dream of it has consumed me.  It’s what I wish for when I find a lucky penny.  It’s what I’ve day dreamt about.  We’ve been paying obscene amounts of money to drink Kona coffee.  Ryan has even bought Kona beer.  It’s been ridiculous.  I know that it was an absolute long shot that I would qualify at Lake Placid, but that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming.  It’s also why I had so much trouble dealing with this series of injuries.  I felt like my training was coming along really well and I was starting to let myself truly believe that I had a real shot.  That is, until May.  It was really crushing at first to realize that I had to let the dream go.  I know that I’m young and I know I’ll have other chances, but I was really, really bummed.

Things got so dramatic in the Albrecht household that after getting home from the doctor’s appointment where I found out my fibula had a hairline fracture, Ryan came home and in an emotional fit (his, not mine), he threw a full bag of Kona coffee in the trash.  (I dug it out immediately.  Do you know how expensive that stuff is?!)  It was tough to let that dream go, but, for the most part, I had.

I knew that in 2010 my age group (women 30-34) had received 3 spots.  I also knew that the slowest time to get a spot was 10:46.  On paper, the week before the race, I jotted down my best hope for times.  I figured if I could pull out a 1:10 swim, a 5:45 bike and a 3:45 run, I would have a chance.  I knew it was a long shot to be able to run that time with my limited training, but it was possible.  On race day, my swim was 1:14 and my bike was 5:54.  Going into the run, I knew that I was already behind my goal by 15 minutes.  I also knew that there was no way I could make up those 15 minutes on top of my goal run time.  It just wasn’t possible.  It was at that moment that I completely lost the eye of the tiger and mentally and emotionally filed away my Kona dream in the “maybe next time” file.  My marathon at Lake Placid became about not blowing up and enjoying the experience as much as possible.  At the finish line, I had no regrets.  I was really happy with my Ironman PR.  I was really happy with the run that I was able to hold together and I was on cloud nine for Ryan who had the race of his dreams.  I was really and truly at peace about the race. 

So, when Henry mentioned roll down, maybe a part of me rekindled a little hope.  I was already planning on going just incase, but my hope grew a little.  A friend of mine, Alice, told me she was going over at 9am because they would post how many spots were available for each age group.  “May as well go over and see,” I thought.

I knew from the initial online results that I was sitting in 9th place in my division.  I also knew that those wearing wetsuits would be removed from the list since it was a non-wetsuit swim.  I was doubtful, though, that anyone above me would have worn a wetsuit.  If you are that fast, you aren’t going to compromise your race by wearing one.  I didn’t expect much help here.

The official list came out and I had moved up to 8th.  One person above me had worn a suit.  Wow.  That puts me a little closer.

Now we were just waiting to see how many spots were available for each group.  In years past, my age group only had received 3 spots.  I wasn’t hopeful.  With only 3 qualifying, the top 3 women PLUS 2 others would have to turn down their spot in order for me to get one.  Not a chance in hell.  I knew there was no way 5 women above me were going to turn down a Kona spot.  No way.

I went outside to fill in my coach, who was in line to register for IM Lake Placid.  He had some very valuable info to share with me.  For starters, the woman who finished first at IM Lake Placid had already qualified for Kona at a previous race.  The woman who finished second, who was a friend of Scott’s, had already told him she wasn’t accepting it.  Whoa.  This is getting more real now.  That means that if there are three spots only 3 others have to turn it down.  It drastically improved my chances, but, still, it was a long shot.

I went back in to check the board of how many spots were available  for my age group.  Holy shit.  FOUR.  The printout listed FOUR spots available!  Now only 2 others have to decline.  This was the first time that I started thinking that I could actually have a shot.  Just then, an official came out and told us that there had been a mistake, and they were recalculating how many spots each age group had.  The wind left my sails a little.  I knew four seemed like a lot.  Oh well.  I knew it wasn’t meant to be.  Next time.  Still, though, I waited for the revised sheet to come out. 

When it was reposted, my stomach dropped.  FIVE.  Oh.My.Freaking.God.  There are five spots in my age group.  I know the first 2 aren’t accepting them.  Only one more has to decline.  It was 9:30am.  The roll down wasn’t going to start until 11am.  “Go home and try to relax,” Scott told me. 

I was kind of stunned on the walk home.  It’s like my brain just wasn’t prepared to handle the ups and the downs and the ups again.  Could it be possible that after all this I might actually get a Kona spot after all?  I just couldn’t believe it.  I tried not to get too excited, but I knew there was a chance.  We got back to the house and my mom was still in bed.  I told her that we needed to be back at the school by 11am because it was possible I could get a rolldown slot.  I swear my mom, who is a slow mover in the morning, literally jumped from the bed into her change of clothes.  I have never seen her get ready that quickly in my life.  She knew what this meant to me. 

It was a long hour and a half. 

On the walk back to the school, my father in law said, “Can I ask you a stupid question?  Do you want to go to Kona?”

“It’s been my dream,” I told him.

We got back to the school about 10:45am.  There was already a large group of people crowded into the room where the roll down would occur.  I found a group of FeXYies sitting in the back.  There were a few of us with outside chances.  For a rare moment in time, I did not want to talk. 

Ryan told me that I could go in and find out how many of the 5 automatic qualifiers had taken their spot.  I was expecting that the first two had declined as Scott had told me, but if just one of the remaining three had passed it up, I would know that a spot would be mine.  I went into the room holding my breath.  I couldn’t even find the W30-34 list because I felt like my eyes wouldn’t focus.  Finally, I found the 5 names.  As expected, the first 2 had passed.  The remaining three had all taken their spot.  My stomach clenched a little tighter.  There were two more spots remaining and two more women above me.  My only remaining hope was that one of the two passed.

I went back out to the room where our teammates and family were gathered and sat down.  An official came out a few minutes to 11am and said that the rolldown wouldn’t start until 11:15am.  Ugh.  More waiting.  I sat on a bench with my head between my hands.  My heart was pounding.

Finally, the official came out again.  She announced that due to some age groups not having finishers, there would be two spots reallocated at the end of the rolldown…and then she began.  The process is quick.  Really quick.  She calls your name and if you aren’t there she instantly moves to the next.  She started with the younger age groups, but it was moving fast.  A few of my teammates who had had such great races were in age groups called before me and had not fared well.  The knot in my stomach grew.  Finally, she began.

“In women 30-34, there are 5 spots, 3 have been claimed so 2 will roll down.  The first name is……”.  A small celebration ensued.  My heart sank a little deeper, she was here and she claimed her spot to Kona.

The official began again.  In that moment I prayed and prayed and prayed, to nothing and no one in particular, but I prayed.  I had a vice grip on Ryan’s hand.  “The next person is…..”.  Another woman cheered.  I exhaled deeply. 

Well, it just wasn’t my time.  It’s okay.  I will be okay.  Someone rubbed me on my back.  It just wasn’t meant to be.  I was fighting the initial reaction to just get up and leave, but then I remembered that there were those two mystery spots remaining.  She hadn’t mentioned what age groups were going to get them, so I still had some sliver of hope.  I was pretty sure that they would be reallocated to the two largest age groups which, I was pretty sure, would both be mens age groups.  It was a long shot.

The rolldown continued as I pondered this all.  My head was racing with thoughts.  Finally, the initial rolldown was over and the official began again. 

“Okay, we have two additional spots to allocate.  We are going to start with….”  She paused. 

“women 30-34, women 30-34,” I willed her in my brain.

“Women 30-34,” she said.  Suddenly all the blood rushed into my head.  I felt dizzy.  It took every fiber in my to not just jump out of my chair and rush her.  Except, when she started announcing the first name, it wasn’t me.  She announced the next name.  It still wasn’t me.  I know I was next.  What is happening?!  My brain was spinning.

“Wait, that can’t be right!” I yelled.

She stopped and looked down at her list again.  I, at this point, felt like I was going to pass out.  “oh, wrong list,” she says.  And then,…….

“Lisa Albrecht.”

The howl I let out was somewhere between a cheer and a yodel.  I heard the people around me scream and cheer and I ran for the door to the room to register.  On the way, I just put my face in my hands and started crying.  I just couldn’t believe it. 

I was shaking when I gave the woman my I.D. to get in.  I was just completely stunned, like I was having an out-of-body experience. 

Standing there, I texted Scott, my coach.  I’m Kona bound, I texted. I know.  I’m here, he responded.


I heard someone call my name.  I looked up and saw Scott on the other side of the room.  He was standing there with tears in his eyes.  I ran to him and gave him the biggest hug ever.  It was a happy moment.  I was happy he was there.

After paying for my entry, I walked back into the room where my friends and family were waiting.  There were lots of hugs and lots of red eyes.  I hugged Ryan, “Can you freaking believe it?” I asked him.  We had dreamt of this moment and talked about it 1,000 times.  I couldn’t believe it was happening.  He told me that when he looked around right after I was called, he saw my mom sobbing, Scott and my father in law tearing up, people hugging and cheering.  I am so blessed to have these people in my life.  So, unbelievably blessed.

Me with my Golden Ticket!

I don’t know how it happened.  I feel like something happened cosmically in the universe that led to the chain of events that made this possible for me.  I feel unworthy, sometimes, of the good fortune that has been bestowed upon me.  I live, truthfully, a charmed life.  I keep saying over and over, I am Grateful.  I am Grateful.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating with dear friends.  I felt like a shower of love and support rained on me all day long.  I just don’t know what I did to deserve it all.  I am Grateful.

Later on the next day my good friend, Kristin, told me to visit a blog post I had made on my training blog earlier this year.

This is a direct excerpt from my March 5, 2011 training log:

i REALLY didn’t feel like swimming after this trainer session.  really really.  we headed to the pool around 5pm.  i was trudging along and as we were passing Ledo’s there were a ton of people in there eating dinner.  i said to ryan, “ugh, why can’t we just go in there an eat pizza?”
ryan didn’t hesitate a second, turned to me and said, “it will all be worth it when your eating your authentic hawaiian pizza after kona.”

i don’t know if you can actually get hawaiian pizza in hawaii and i know that getting there is a total long shot, but i couldn’t stop smiling after he said this.  it definitely made swimming less painful. 

I totally would not be having this experience without him in my corner.  For starters, it was his dumb idea to get into this sport to begin with.  In addition to that, though, he pushes me and supports me more than I am worthy of.  Even after racing an amazing sub 11 at Lake Placid, he made the next few days after the race all about me and Kona.  He couldn’t be more proud.  Even now, almost two weeks after the race, he’s still telling strangers in elevators that his wife is going to Kona.  He routinely displays the kind of support and love and genuine selflessness that a person would be lucky enough to experience just one day of their life.  I get it every day.  I am Grateful.

My mom, who is my biggest (and loudest) fan, still cannot talk about Hawaii without crying.  I am Grateful.

Seriously, could my mom look any happier?

In 1980, the year I was born, the Miracle on Ice occurred in Lake Placid.  In 2011, I feel like a Miracle occurred in that very same place for me.  I am SO Grateful.