Friday, May 10, 2013

My thoughts on SwimSmart

Yesterday World Triathlon Corporation announced (to much fanfare) their new swim safety program.

They call it SwimSmart.

I digress for a moment to wish that companies would stop squishing words together and adding unecessary capital letters but that doesn't really matter to anything except my annoyance level.

There was a lot of online hubaloo on slowtwitch and beginner triathlete about these changes. And to that I say, "yawn."

I won't repost the whole thing here - go and read it and see what it says. But at some races they will be changing up the traditional mass start of the swim.  At all North American races they will have a warm up area and they will have floating rescue rafts.

I read it. I have to say I think that the changes they are making are reasonable and probably will have an impact in the comfort level of swimmers in these races. A best case scenario what they change has an impact by saving a life.

Also it's interesting because I admit that going into Ironman France I do have apprehension about being a part of such a large swim. So I had - as I mentioned been looking at videos of the start already trying to mentally prepare myself.

What I think is pretty good
Specifically, I find that an active warm up in the water helps me a lot in reducing panic at the start. So I think that's good.

Secondly while some people online are joking about the rescue rafts I think this is a potentially really important change from a safety standpoint. Think about this for a second because it allows for standing guards to scan the swim area from up above. This should massively improve their sight line looking for swimmers in distress.

It also provides a platform within the swim area for rescue efforts including CPR which simply cannot be done on a kayak, maybe it could on a paddle board but a larger floating dock seems superior. Yes, swimmers can also rest here but the biggest advantage of this that I see is for a standing life guard with much improved visibility.

Format Changes
Next some races will change from a mass start to a rolling start with a self-seeded coral system based on time. The 2h20 cutoff will begin with the last swimmer. Each racer will have a clock time and a net time.  Two races will not use this method IM Florida and IM Mont Tremblant have a wide-enough start area that they will simple use corals on the beach so that swimmers self seed and they will have a standard beach start.

These start changes got a lot of online flack from some seriously opinionated people. The first race that will see this happen is Ironman Coeur d'Alene. What's important about this is that IM CDA has one of the roughest IM swims by reputation. I have a friend that raced it last year and he said it was full contact including seriously scary contact at all the buoys from start to finish. That sounds to me like a race where some improvement might be needed. But that's just my opinion.

Additionally the water at CDA can be extremely cold. In fact a few years ago it was so cold that it is the only IM swim where booties and neoprene caps were allowed.  Cold water with no warm up is one of the factors that may potentially lead to in-water anxiety.

To give you some perspective this is the 2012 CDA start. It looks like it takes about 2 minutes for all the swimmers to get into the water.

So there is no IM race that I know of that currently has the rolling start with the run over the mat start. Therefore no video to share. But the race I'm doing in June does have self-seeded corals for the mass start. This is what WTC is changing for Mont Tremblant and Florida. Here's what that looks like.
What I want to point out with these 2 videos is that the races both have about the same number of participants 2500 ish. But both races take about 1 and 15 seconds to get all the IM France racers in the water. That's it.

So in reality it doesn't seem like that change makes much of a difference.

WTC isn't making anybody go to a time trial start.  IM Louisville currently is a time trial start. There are some things about this start that people really don't like.

All 2500 racers line up in a first come first serve basis and they go one by one  into the water. Even this way it looks like it takes about 15 minutes to get all the racers into the water. The 17 hour clock starts when the last swimmer enters the water so that that person gets the full 2h20 minute time for the swim. Apparently slower swimmers will get in line hours in advance to get the benefit of that extra time. 

Starting in front of faster swimmers is a double-edge sword because you will then be passed by every single person who is faster than you in the swim. I have only ever done one time trial start race (Lifetime MLPS) and sure enough it was very congested with slower swimmers blocking my path.

So, there is some concern that with the new format weaker swimmers will self-seed in a too fast group and cause a bottleneck for the faster swimmers. Could happen - I don't know - My gut says not too likely. I would think that if it's only a 2 minute difference there is less incentive. I can also say that while I'm neither the fastest or slowest swimmer I prefer to pass people than to be swum over so I for one will never do that.

In Conclusion - My thoughts
I was a little entertained by the emphatic online banter that ensued following the announcement.

But after a while: yawn.

It is after all just a race. Plus it is the race director's playground - they make the rules. They figure out what they are going to do for the course, for the start and whatever and our choice is do we want to do their race. That's really it.

Now, I can see the point if you were super excited about a 2.4 mile wrestling match in CDA and it's been changed on you 45 days from the race you could be upset. But I would say that if you happen to be super upset about this change perhaps you need to dial back your testosterone supplement because it really isn't that massive a change.

Sure maybe some people will try to game the system for a slightly longer time to swim ... whatever. Newsflash: there are always people who work the system. There are (gasp) always people who cheat. Our decision as participants is always limited to will that be us. All I can say is that it won't be me.

As a last word for those who are stuck rigidly in the "tradition" argument of this. I am not an Ironman expert or historian and I've only been in the sport 3 years. But, I think that if you went back 10 or 15 years the races weren't the same as they are today.

Time marches forward and in another 10-15 years there will be other changes. To be sure some of this is because the races have gotten much larger in the number of participants. I agree that there is probably a part of this where WTC wants to make sure that these races can get as big as they can for bigger paydays. Whether we like it or not they are a for-profit company and that's their job. I think that they will always make the choice to make more money whether that's adding more registrants or more races or offering generic cola on the course.

That's it - those are my thoughts. Feel free to share what you think in the comments below.
Race safe everyone.

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