Recent chatter amongst athletes I coach, overheard conversations at the pool and the odd post on social media has prompted me to pen my thoughts on the ‘rolling swim start’ planned for Ironman Melbourne.
Firstly I sympathise with the Ironman romantics out there. The mass swim start is a thing of beauty; it creates such a sense of occasion for spectators and athletes alike. It has been an integral part of our sport for over 30 years. The sound of the single cannon shot, signifies the end of long Ironman build and almost instantly eradicates months’ worth of nervous energy. According to laws of physics energy can neither be created nor destroyed and this massive bottle neck of nervous energy is converted into the most incredible release of physical power. An incredible sight for the spectator, a moment of tension, adrenalin, fear and excitement all rolled into one for the competitor.
So yes, I do believe that the loss of the mass swim start does detract from the Ironman experience for competitors and spectators alike. It also signifies the ‘dumbing down’ of our sport somewhat to perhaps make it more achievable (read: marketable / less risk in our litigious society)
However; whilst the rolling start is not ideal for the reasons listed above I do see positives and sound reasoning as to how this can enhance the Ironman experience for all competitors. It will also result in fairer racing across the board (As demonstrated in Port Macquarie last year).
A) Firstly this is Championship race and the female Pro’s who make a living from this sport and deserve a clear race uninterrupted by lead male age groupers will be given a 17min gap, (still not really enough for the calibre of the race but the women in the money, so to speak should be able to hold off the AG racers for the majority of the bike.
B) Ironman Melbourne is notorious for large packs forming. (I guess inevitable when you put 2000 people on immaculate slightly undulating hot mix). This has a negative impact on fair racing for all competitors. Any move to spread the field out is a good one and can only enhance the chances of a clean race, resulting in the fittest and fastest getting the chocolates.
C) For you the individual even if you are not in the hunt for a podium, kona spot etc, you have a better chance of an uninterrupted race and can be truly proud of the result you achieve, knowing it was done within the spirit of non-drafting triathlon
The rolling start offers many benefits to you the athlete. However this requires all athletes to respect their fellow athletes by choosing the correct wave start. I have heard whispers of people thinking they will start in the sub-60 group despite knowing they will not swim this time. I don’t think this is in the best interest of the individual athlete and certainly shows disrespect to your fellow competitors.
A) By placing yourself in the sub-60 group when you can’t swim sub 60 you are forcing athletes behind you to swim around you. Ok so no big deal if one person does this but if half the field does then chaos occurs.
B) You are negatively affecting your own race by creating undue stress on yourself once faster swimmers start coming over the top of you. Creating stress and anxiety. All stress, be it physical or mental negatively affects your performance by compounding throughout the day.
C) You will most likely get dropped from the group of 6 you set-off with very early, if you start with a group of similar ability you will end up with a faster swim by getting a draft and sharing the workload with swimmers of equal ability or perhaps ever so slightly quicker.
D) Remember your time starts when you start, not before so while you are waiting for your start, chill-out relax avoid un-due stress (pre-race nerves are enough without peaking out about your start position)
E) You avoid surging, whilst you want to start strong there is no point going so hard you blow-up. The majority don’t have the swim fitness to avoid fatigue caused by dipping above threshold for extended periods early in the race. You will most likely pace your swim better in the correct group, maximising speed over the whole distance and minimising residual stress/fatigue for the rest of the day. Meaning you will ride and run better.
Yes it will be a bit of a shame for the pointy end of the AG field as there is no way of knowing exactly how your comparing to the guy/girl your running side by side with and this does detract from excitement a bit, but I believe a better chance at a fair race mitigates this.
Anecdotally last year in Port Macquarie the feeling pre-race about the rolling start was very negative with similar concerns as discussed above. Post-race the feeling was very positive, it was managed very well by Ironman staff and athletes cooperated. This made the rolling start a very efficient and stress free process and resulted in a well spread field on the bike with minimal packs forming.
So my advice, the swim start at Ironman Melbourne is what it is. Don’t waste any mental energy on it pre-race, pick the correct group for your ability, be patient and when it’s your turn go for it and have a great day.