Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ironman SwimSmart Initiative.

The way an Ironman swim is conducted is all about to change.  Andrew Messeck, WTC's CEO, recently described the changes as a way to curb the fear of the athletes.  I, on the other hand, think it comes out of the organizer's fear of having another swim death.  I can think of three incidents in the last year alone.  

Swim Deaths
- IM New York City
- IM South Africa 70.3
- Escape from Alcatraz

And that doesn't even touch on those that happen on the non-international level.  What about the local triathlons that you never hear about? 

There's no two ways about it, statistics show that the swim is the most deadly portion of a triathlon.  Between the adrenaline of race day, the anxiety of the race and the swim conditions, the shock at times of the water temperature, and the fact that more and more non-seasoned athletes are joining the sport causes for an increased risk of incidents in the swim.

WTC, the owner of Ironman, sat down and decided to try out a few new ideas for making the swim portion of their Ironman races more athlete friendly.  They call it the SwimSmart Initiative.   They are unveiling new swim course changes this year for five of their events; Ironman Coeur d'Alene, Lake Placid, Mont-Tremblant, Lake Tahoe, and Florida.  Here's the quick run down of the changes.

General Swim Course Changes
  • Buoys will be numbered
  • Anchored resting rafts will be strategically placed along the swim course to allow athletes to rest without disqualification

Swim Start Pilots
  • Self-seeded, out-of-water, rolling start at Coeur d/Alene & Lake Placid
  • Wave start based on age group at Mont-Tremblant
  • Self-seeded mass start by corrals at Lake Tahoe & Florida

These changes are meant to be a test, to see what works, what doesn't, and how the athletes like them.  Andrew Messeck says that they'll take the opinions of the athletes (and I have to assume the statistics of how many people get pulled, use the rafts, etc) and make a decision at the end of the season as to how to change the swim more permanently. 

Ironman Mass Start
As a swimmer, I've never really feared the swim.  I've even said that my lack of fear in water is probably unsafe.  However, I will never argue for keeping my preference as a swimmer over the safety of those who are not as strong.  If they come back and say that you can swim with a buoy if you'd like, then I'll start speaking up.  But if you want to stop and rest on a raft, you should be able to.  If you feel safer starting amongst 2-300 people in your general area instead of 1500, then that's a smarter way to race.  Granted, those people should be at the fringe of a mass start to begin with, but again, I'm not going to argue it. 

I do hope that Ironman sees a positive result from the initiative and finds a much more athlete-friendly swim start that will also be accepted by the more competitive members of the group.  My vote is for the wave start.


1.  What are your feelings about the swim start?  Does it scare you?  Do you get anxious with all the arms swinging and churning water?  Or is it just another day at the races?
As a swimmer, it's never bothered me.  Sure, I'd like to avoid the smack to the back of the head or the unintentional punch to my back side, but I just swim a little harder and get out of the tangle.

2.  Is anyone participating in one of the above Ironman races?  
I will be at Lake Placid and I know a number of people that will be at Coeur d'Alene and Mont Tremblant.  

3.  What are your thoughts on the SwimSmart Initiative?

Dream.  Believe.  Achieve.  


Coy Martinez said...

It's funny all the triathlon blogs I read and you're the first one that I've read in I don't know how long that's brought this up. For me, the swim is a bit of an enigma. I'm a strong swimmer but I struggle with anxiety when I get in the water with a large group of people. When I'm on my own, I take off and I'm fine, group, not so much. It frustrates me to no end that maybe it could be years before I see what I'm capable of in a pool translate itself into OW.

I've seen some crazy stuff in just the 2 years I've been doing triathlon. Especially in my last race where the water was 58. I've never see so many people swim for shore, get hauled out, etc. I'm with you though, I think small waves are the way too go.

Bron said...

Interestingly I'm an incredibly weak swimmer, but swim starts have never bothered me. In some ways all the bashing and thrashing reassures me that there's people around.

That being said, the biggest wave I've ever been in was probably about 80 competitors, and my longest distance swim is 2km.

The initiatives being looked at sound really interesting, I think it will reassure nervous 1st time iron people. Can't wait to see how it turns out