Ironman SwimSmart Initiative And My Thoughts

[caption id="attachment_8131" align="alignright" width="259"]ironman swimsmart - triathlon - race - swimming Numbered Buoys Will Be A Big Help In The Ironman SwimSmart Initiative.
Source: DC Rainmaker[/caption] Ironman SwimSmart was announced recently and it seems everywhere I turn there are more and more opinions about it.  The opinions on this topic range from A to Z and it seems that not one has been the same.  I have put my own opinions into groups and discussed it on LinkedIn, but I also wanted to put it out here on the blog.  The Ironman SwimSmart initiative is a rather large change in my opinion but at the same time I wonder if people are making much ado about nothing.  The problem for WTC (the company that owns the Ironman brand) is that it is the lightning rod for triathlon and so when they make a decision the masses swarm to discuss it and the Ironman SwimSmart has been no different. If you don't know what the Ironman SwimSmart initiative is please read this link: IRONMAN Introduces SwimSmart Initiative in North America and understand what this initiative is all about and why it is a game changer for both the pro and con camps.  I am going to put what I think are the biggest changes in bullet form but recommend you read the post yourself for a deeper understanding. First, the Ironman SwimSmart initiative is not affecting all races but there are a number that are being affected and it could lead to a change in all races.

Ironman SwimSmart Initiative Changes By Race

  • Ironman Coeuer d'Alene, Ironman Lake Placid

    • Both will feature rolling starts in 2013. Athletes will enter the water in a continuous stream through a controlled access point, similar to how running road races are started. An athlete’s times will start when they cross timing mats under the swim arch.Athletes will be directed to self-seed on race morning based on their projected swim time. Volunteers and staff will be in the staging area with signs and will assist with this process. Self-seeding will not be mandatory, but will be encouraged. At both events, all athletes will have access to a dedicated warm-up area in the water located adjacent to the swim start.Age-group athletes will begin entering the water at 6:35 a.m. for IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene and 6:30 a.m. for IRONMAN Lake Placid, and will have the two hours and twenty minutes from the time the last athlete enters the water to complete the swim. An athlete’s time does not begin until he or she crosses the timing mat located below the swim arch.
  • Ironman Mont-Tremblant

    • IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant will feature a wave start based on age group. There will be eight waves with each wave entering the water five minutes apart, starting at 6:25 a.m. All athletes will have at least 17 hours to complete the entire event (subject to intermediate cutoffs). The two-hour and twenty-minute cutoff for the swim will begin when the final wave has started the swim portion of the event.
  • Ironman Florida and Ironman Lake Tahoe

    • IRONMAN Lake Tahoe and IRONMAN Florida will feature a mass start based on self-seeding. Athletes will self-seed into swim start corrals based upon their estimated swim finish time. All athletes will have the traditional 17 hours to complete the entire event (subject to intermediate cutoffs).

Ironman SwimStart Thoughts

  1. The idea that athlete's will self-seed scares me.  Have you raced a pool triathlon where they are self-seeding?  It can become a disaster and while this isn't touching a wall and going back there is a good chance, and a very good one, that slow swimmers may seed themselves toward the front to get as much time in the water as possible.  This could cause a situation where faster swimmers are swimming around slower swimmers because they did not seed themselves properly.  Races affected: IMCdA, IMLP
  2. Swim corrals can cause the same problem that corrals cause at running races.  People want to be with friends and family and line up in the wrong corrals and cause issues at the start of those running races.  Why would a swim start be any different?
  3. With athletes starting at all different times and having 17 hours to complete the race what happens to the countdown at the Ironman finish line?  Mike Reilly waving his towel encouraging people to finish as the clock creeps up on 16:59:59 yet that athlete started at 6:25am and has already missed the cut-off.  The finish line is a spectacle and is essentially taken away with the Ironman SwimStart initiative.
  4. Safety has been the reason most often stated and while I agree that the mass start can be crazy is WTC going to start making changes to other portions of the race because of safety reasons?  I crashed at IMAZ and luckily was able to continue.  What happens if an athlete cannot continue on the bike?  Will they shorten the bike portion at that point or put us all on spin bikes?  I read, not confirmed, that running deaths occur most frequently toward the end of races.  Does this mean that if that occurs at an Ironman event that the race will become 132.6 miles?  Where does the line get drawn?
  5. Why start the initiative this year?  Why not wait until 2014 and allow the athletes to choose what races they want to register for based on the new setting?  Athletes paid their money for a particular race experience and now in 5 of them that is being changed.  When the athletes pressed register, and when they go to the expo to pick up their bibs, they know what they are getting themselves into with the mass start.  We all sign a waiver regarding this and so we know the dangers heading into these races.  I am still not 100% sure, other than lawsuits, why the rush to change the start now instead of 2014.
I am sure there will be a comment made, maybe not typed in the comments section, about how if it saves one life that it is worth all the commotion.  I don't disagree with that theory that the Ironman SwimSmart initiative is worth it if it does save one life but I wonder about the change in the sport.  If people are truly concerned about mass starts or really the number of athletes at the mass start there are other races that don't have the start of 2,000+ all at once.  Ironman Louisville is a time trial start.  HITS and Rev3 have 140.6 races with less athletes starting and there are local races, such as Redman, that also have less athletes starting.

Ironman SwimStart Initiative Is Not All Bad

The Ironman SwimStart initiative is not all bad or controversial though.  I have yet to read anybody complain about the following swim course additions:
  • Numbered course buoys to assist in positioning of water assets/personnel and provide more accurate communication for locating and rescuing distressed swimmers.
  • Anchored resting rafts to be strategically placed along the swim course (please note that athletes will NOT be disqualified by resting on these floats).
  • Increased professional swim course personnel to enhance the overall athlete experience.
  • Additional rescue boat and personal watercrafts (PWC, kayaks, paddleboards, etc.).
As a person with OCD and the love of math having the ability to countdown the buoys is HUGE for me.  I love counting down as I know I am getting closer to finishing so the numbered buoys is a big lift.  Anchored resting rafts are also a big help as I know first hand what those kayaks and the volunteers can mean to an athlete.  Last year at the US Open Championships I was completely frozen.  I could barely swim and stopped at 4 different kayaks and along the way was encouraged to keep fighting.  If it weren't for the kayaks and the volunteers I probably would have pulled out of the race (probably should have considering IMAZ was around the corner and I was a popsicle but that is for another discussion.) Like anything else these days, the simple act of a press release with changes causes what seems to be mass hysteria.  This Ironman SwimStart initiative is no different and in a year from now we will all accept that it is the way it is and still plunk down $700 to race 140.6 miles.  This change does not affect my mindset to continue to live and race this lifestyle but it does make me wonder where the next line will be drawn.

What Do You  Think Of The Ironman SwimSmart Initiative?

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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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