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Ordering of swim waves
CREATED: 07/05/10 by markhakd REPLIES: 6
markhakd's ravatar markhakd    JOINED: 10/8/09    POSTS: 217
Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/05/10 5:53 PM

I have been wondering about how race directors decide the order for the swim waves at larger races. Here are two examples of swim wave ordering:

Obviously the pros and elites always go first, and I assume swim waves are combined to make the size of each wave relatively similar. But past that, there is no clear pattern to me of how the waves are ordered. It doesn't appear to be slowest to fastest, or fastest to slowest.

Any theories, or perhaps even some first-hand knowledge?


bsull184's ravatar bsull184    JOINED: 2/6/10    POSTS: 283
RE: Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/06/10 7:30 AM

IIRC, DC Tri was just men's elite, mens waves from youngest to oldest, women's elite, and womens from youngest to oldest.

Bgambo    JOINED: 4/15/10    POSTS: 4
RE: Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/06/10 10:07 AM

I'll be doing the National Tri for the first time this September. Any idea on how they wave the swim?

This is my first tri (ever) so it will be a new experience for me. Swam collegiality so it is definitely my strong leg.


kmwpro's ravatar kmwpro    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 257
RE: Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/06/10 1:04 PM

I asked a friend of mine who is an actual race director...there are a lot of factors that go into ordering the swim waves. It's pretty interesting. Here's part of what he said:

There are several different factors that a race director must consider when choosing the order of the swim waves.

-The length of time that the city/police/permit allows for a race director to access to a safe bike course. Women typically take more time then men on a bike course, so if a RD has a tight time schedule with the permit, they will typically have the women and slower bikers go ahead of the faster bikers in the swim to give them more time on the bike course before they are forced to open the roads up. If there is no time limit on the permit, or if it’s a smaller not so crowded open course then the waves have a better chance to the order being from fastest to slowest.

-The number of life guards in the water or the difficulty of the swim. Some swimmers are faster than others and if the slow swimmers start first there are usually more swimmers in the water as the fast swimmers that start later will catch up with the slower swimmers. If you have a calm, flat swim course and plenty of life guards to handle that then it’s usually not a problem. But if you have choppy seas and are limited on your life guard #’s then you typically want to order the waves so that you have the least amount of swimmers in the water at the same time. So you would start fastest to slowest.

-The size and safety of the bike course. If you have a one lane bike course with open traffic then you don’t have room for much safe passing on the bike and will typically start from fastest to slowest.

-Entire course cut off time. No race director likes to see anybody pulled from the race. If you have a tight course cut off time then some might start the slower crowd first to give them the best chance to finish the race without being pulled from the later portion of the course.

-Some RD’s have such a open course that it doesn’t really matter what the order is, so they change it every year. Over the course of the years, every group will have a chance to start early.

-The heat. Some have to look at the fitness level of the waves and adjust accordingly for safety due to the fact that conditions get hotter later in the day.

-Size of the wave. Sometimes a RD is able to combine different waves together because the math just adds up to create that perfect # of lifeguard to swimmer ratio.

These are just a few general factors that a race director has to keep in mind when choosing the order of the waves. All courses have different challenges that are factored in for safety sake. Some courses have multiple factors that contradict each other’s reasoning so it’s truly a RD’s call as to why their waves are set up in the certain way.

trisha's ravatar trisha    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 131
RE: Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/06/10 1:23 PM

that is interesting - so, you're saying it's not an elaborately orchestrated conspiracy designed to force me to run at the absolute hottest time of day?? And I thought for sure it was all about me!

It is nice to hear that the RDs are actively trying to give people the best chance to finish when they can.

markhakd's ravatar markhakd    JOINED: 10/8/09    POSTS: 217
RE: Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/06/10 11:22 PM

Wow! Ridiculously good answer, kmwpro. Gold star for the day!

Seriously, thanks. Very interesting.


hallecksonb's ravatar hallecksonb    JOINED: 6/24/10    POSTS: 2
RE: Ordering of swim waves
POSTED: 7/07/10 1:46 AM

I would like to thank you all for that question and awesome answer. I'm in the same boat as markhakd; I'm doing the Nation's Tri and it will be my first ever. Think I'm getting plenty of good training in and tons of coaching so unless I freak out (which is always a possibility ;) I think I'll be ok. ...this group should help tremendously though!

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