For those that are doing IM's this summer. Refer to this article regarding changes in swim format for several IM races. IM is experimenting with Lake Placid as well as two other ironman races to enhance safety features and to decrease swimmer anxiety. This includes a rolling start for Lake Placid, additional buoys and support, stationary safety rafts, and a change in swim direction. Considering that the highest portion of deaths occur in the swim, I believe it is good start in decreasing risk -
I've done Ironman races with mass swim starts (IMFL 2x),
I've done an Ironman race with a two waves start (IM Germany)
I've done an Ironman race with a true AG wave start (Challenge Copenhagen)
From my personal experience, I get into more body contacts and have to fight more to get swim space in a mass swim start. My best swim times and my most comfortable swims have been with wave starts.
Having said that, I'd take a mass IM swim start over wave start 100% of the time. It's a totally different feel and experience. A mass swim start is a unique thing to the IM distance that I look forward to. It puts a smile on my face every time I think about it. Standing on the beach, knowing that you're about to mix it up with a mass sea of humanity, gives you a pretty good adrenalin rush and some pretty big goose bumps. It's a beautiful sight watching everyone jump into the water at the same time.
As an Ironman triathlete who can't swim a lick, I find the mass swim start more exciting and fun to be a part of. When you get into the washing machine, mix it up a bit, and survive to tell war stories, it's like obtaining a badge of honor. I would consider it a shame if they got rid of it. For me, it would lessen the experience.
It's an Ironman. It's not supposed to be easy.
So true... Mass starts are definitely a thrill and I don't
find them that intimidating... I really just posted this as an FYI.
With that said, I do think that race directors and organizations
need to address the safety issue with large mass starts that
have limited support for those who need it during these races.
Most deaths in the swim at triathlons occur in wave start races, not mass start Ironmans. I suspect that the wave start initiative has more to do with selling more entries in these Ironman races. The first year I raced Lake Placid in 2007, 2,160 people started the race. By 2010 when I raced it again, 2,611 started, over a 20% increase. Mirror Lake is small and can handle only so many people. The issue that I now see is the faster swimmer, who started up to 30 minutes before the last wave, will now have to fight their way thru the later waves on the second loop. With the mass start, everyone spreads out by the first turn buoy. It will be interesting how this works out.
I prefer the mass start. Something about the cannon going off and 2,600+ people starting. Plus I like that I pass over 1,400 people on the bike & run once I get out of the water.
Tuan & Kevin- well said. I'll be a bit more blunt...
Though the first part of this (swim course additions) is a welcome improvement in course safety, the change from mass swim start to "self seeded" wave start is a fucking nightmare. Even if they get everyone off in 30 minutes, the pointy end of the race is going to plow right through the caboose on the second loop making it much more dangerous for everyone.
The existing format in Lake Placid was just fine as it was already "self seeded". Faster swimmers were up front, middle of the pack was treading water in... the middle, slower folks were standing waist-deep in the back, and those too scared of the mass start stood along the shore and waited for everyone else to go ahead of them so as to avoid the scrum. The faster swimmers had a fairly clean swim and the rest of the pack settled out by pace with little overlap.
The true problem is exactly what Kevin pointed out- they oversell the venue, thus putting profit ahead of safety. Instead of doing the right thing (reducing the size of the field), they implement some stupid silly CYA swim start policy that cheapens the experience and actually increases the risk of injury or death.
Oh, and how the hell are we supposed to know where we are relative to the competition???
Brilliant move WTC. Silly, stupid hacks.
Was NTP two years ago and did my first Oly
First 70.3 last year
Kinda gearing up over this year and next for first full IM next year, assuming progress continues.
I can't believe that I'm gonna miss out on the mass start (my chosen race is one of the one's switched). Yeah, its intimidating. But who hasn't watched an IM on TV and been in awe at the mass start. Will there be 16 cannons now, one for each wave? And I'm going to have to listen to "I remember when" stories for the rest of my triathlon days. Awesome.
And what is with the "resting floats" I understand WTC's analogy that you can sit on the ground during the run or get off your bike and rest during the ride, but those are NATURAL options. Encouraging resting on an artificial float cheapens the (wo)man overcoming obstacle challenge, imho.
Despite the triathlon death rate (1 in 76,000) being similar to the marathon death rate (1 in 75,000) lots of recent publicity of swim deaths leads to the political reality that "we gotta do something." Doesn't really matter what, as long as its something. Public relations triumphs over logic once again.
Here's what will really happen:
The slowest overall athletes will figure out that getting in the water at 0630 gives them an extra half hour.
The super-type A personalities will be awake at 0330 and will want to get into the water at 0630.
There will be a log jam getting in and all kinds of chaos.
I'll enter the water at 0745, get two flats on the bike and blowout a shoestring on the run.
And miss the midnight cutoff by 14 minutes.
I'm looking at this from the outside in, mainly, because I haven't done a triathlon since 1985. But I have been doing OW races of distances from 2K to 10 miles for the past 3 years. Some of those races have been organized by triathlon clubs and been attended mainly by triathletes. Just wanted to get the context of my comment(s) out first. All of the following is simply opinion from an outsider looking in.
I hear comments from triathletes at these triathlete-organized OW swims that lead me to believe that little to no prep for the swim portion is taken by some. I understand. The swim portion is such a small percentage of the total time you take to complete a triathlon. (But where have most triathlon deaths occurred?) I heard one particular conversation at a 4K OW race in TX between two triathletes talking about an upcoming IM. They both admitted that this 4K (in July!) was their first time in the water, to include the pool! They both looked like good swimmers once the gun went off, but in the end one of them got out of the water after one loop (4 x 1K loops) which took him ~25 minutes.
Understand that this was a small race, not even 100 swimmers. (If I can "place" in a race amongst triathletes, you know it was a small race!) There was little to no washing machine at the start, not like you'd get at a mass start for an IM.
My point is the swim portion requires practice. IN OPEN WATER! Of course you first have to get comfortable at the distance. You can do that in the pool. But the tactics of a mass start and a looped course need to be practiced, after you know you can do the distance.
I have heard some comments at these races, in forums and at MSP practices that scare me. Guess what folks, your wetsuit is not a piece of life support equipment! If you cannot do the distance both in the pool and in the OW with arms a-flailin', then do not think that you can do it when you're wearing a wetsuit. That is dangerous.
OK, enough from me. Good luck to all and get in the pool and SWIM!
MSP Coach and marathon swimmer