Steve Otten does not think about qualifying for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
Not this Sunday, when the 30-year-old financial adviser from Ellicott City participates for the second straight year in the EnduraFit Ironman 70.3 EagleMan Triathlon in Cambridge in Dorchester County.
Maybe ever, Otten said with a laugh last week.
"It would be neat to think that [qualifying for the world championships] would be possible, but the athletes who do this on a larger scale on the professional side are so far beyond what I think could do," Otten said. "To be honest, I'm just happy to finish the race, especially one that covers 70 miles. This is what they do every single day. It's very consuming to get to the next level."
Otten finished last year's EagleMan — which consists of a 1.5-mile swim in the Choptank River, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile half marathon at Great Marsh Park — in a little over 6 hours, 37 minutes. Australian professional triathlete Craig "Crowie" Alexander came in first, nearly three hours before Otten.
The former Carroll County high school football and lacrosse player said he got involved with triathlons when he joined Tri-Columbia's Team Embrace, which helps raise money for Arc of Howard County, a volunteer-based organization that helps individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities assimilate into the community.
The 17th annual Ironman EagleMan Triathlon, which is run by Tri-Columbia, will attract more than 50 professional triathletes, including 2012 women's champion Meredith Kessler, 2010 Ironman World Champion and two-time EagleMan champion Mirinda Carfrae and two-time Ironman champion Andy Potts.
Otten will be among the rest of the more than 2,400 participants — many of whom, like Otten, are amateurs seeking to challenge themselves.
"The thing I like about it the most, it's a real positive experience," Otten said. "Anyone with any degree of athleticism can be involved, and oftentimes there are stories of beating cancer or being affected by some disability."
Otten recalled going into the Choptank River at last year's EagleMan with a competitor who was missing a leg. Otten learned later the man was a former Marine who had his leg blown off by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
"He did the race with one leg — that's unbelievable," Otten said.
Otten recently competed in the Columbia Triathlon with Team Embrace and some Special Olympics athletes.
"I think they are two different types of races because of the landscape — Columbia Triathlon is a lot of hills, where this one is more about preparing yourself for the longevity — it's more distance," Otten said. "People, when they train for these types of things, you have an idea how your body is going to respond. With Columbia, I could tell friends within about five minutes of what I was going to finish. EagleMan is a little more unpredictable."
Otten said he tries to recruit friends to compete with him "partly because I don't want to do it myself and also because it's great to get your peers and your colleagues involved. We're building a group that's getting more awareness of the sport, and doing it for charity is another way to do it."
For this year's EagleMan, Otten persuaded fellow Team Embrace member Justin Debes to try it only three weeks after the 27-year-old Debes competed in his first triathlon in Columbia, finishing in about three hours. Debes ran in a half marathon at last year's Baltimore Marathon.
"It is a little nerve-racking going into a race with 2,000 other people," said Debes, who works for the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. "I was training to finish the Columbia Tri, to have this thrown in my face, which is twice the distance, I tried to double up on the workouts to make up for lost time."
Debes, a multi-sport athlete at John Carroll who also played rugby for four years at West Virginia, was hoping for a little downtime after the Columbia Triathlon on May 19.
"Believe me, I wanted to start summer Memorial Day weekend, but it was back to training," Debes said with a laugh. "Mentally, I was thinking, 'Man, Columbia was rough, and now I have to go twice as far.' I've never done this distance back-to-back, all three events. It will be interesting."
Otten recalled when Team Embrace chairman Pete Della-Croce recruited him for last year's EagleMan.
"I kind of brushed it off, thinking it would be a lot easier than it was," Otten said of the 2008 Columbia Triathlon. "Once I did that first one, it was a pretty humbling experience, and I had to come back and redeem myself. I've got the bug, so they say."
Otten said most of his memories from last year's EagleMan are related to the heat.
"It was really hot," Otten said. "That's the thing for anyone who has never done a race like that; that's kind of the wild card that you can't prepare for. When you're outdoors with your running groups and you're training, you're not saying, 'Hey, it's 95 degrees, let's go out and do a 70-mile race.'"
Otten joked that he has spent the past few days on the Internet "refreshing Weather.com almost every hour."
Della-Croce, who competed in the 2010 EagleMan, said making the jump from the Columbia Triathlon to the EagleMan is significant but not as daunting as going from a Half Ironman to a full Ironman, which is double the distance.
"I think it's a bigger deal going from a half to a full [Ironman]," said Della-Croce, 37, who has participated in a full Ironman in Mexico. "EagleMan is such a unique race because of the location. It's one of the nicer venues being right on the water. Triathletes enjoy racing challenging courses. You might think it's a relatively flat course, but you have wind to contend with and heat to contend with."
The EagleMan is among a small group of Half Ironman events that offer qualifiers to the Ironman World Championship. There are 30 spots up for grabs for what Della-Croce calls "the Super Bowl" of Ironman events, as well as 40 spots available for the national Half Ironman championships this year in Las Vegas.
Della-Croce believes that while most triathletes dream about competing at Kailua-Kona, getting there depends a great deal on the age group. For someone like Otten, the EagleMan is just the beginning of the road that could lead someday lead to the world championships. The top three finishers per age group get a qualifier.
"The talent pool is so deep, from the point where you're just finishing a race to where you're competitive in your age group, there's a tremendous gap to get there," Della-Croce said. "If you stick around long enough, the competition thins out a little bit."