One of the most time-honored traditions of the Ironman is the mass swim start.
It truly is a sight to behold if as spectator you are witnessing your first Ironman start. You may wonder how everyone manages to survive out there with the incredible free for all that usually follows within seconds of the start gun.
Some feel its an accident waiting to happen and filled with danger for the beginner Ironman. It should be mentioned that normally over 50% of any Ironman race consists of first time starters. Some have never experienced a mass swim start of this magnitude.
The key to a successful swim is to go in with a race plan that will keep you out of trouble and away from the majority of the thrashing arms and legs. Yet time after time, athletes fail to seed themselves properly and just head out with the pack, unaware of what lies ahead.
Its not unusual for some people to just stay on shore, to terrified by what they are witnessing to even get in the water. I’ve been in races where it turns out that volunteers have managed to coax swimmers into the water and eventually everything turns out for them. Its just a matter of conquering the initial fear. Normally, once a swimmer can find some room out there and find a rhythm, they begin to relax and things go smoother.
There are those that feel its time for a wave start just out of safety concerns. It could be done fairly easily considering everyone wears a timing chip anyway.
Start the pros and everyone under 60 minutes first. A minute later start a second wave of everyone between 60 and 90 minutes and then a final wave of everyone else. The theory is that this will eliminate much of the mayhem of the mass start. And most likely it would. It would also make for less congestion out on the bike course as cyclists fight for room on the road during those early kilometers.
Some of the worst accidents I’ve ever witnessed in an Ironman bike leg have been within the first 40 kilometers. Usually this is caused by over-crowding as too many cyclists jockey for position.
Personally, I don’t feel you will ever see a wave start in the Ironman. The mass start is an Ironman tradition that will never be changed easily. It would probably take a disaster of major proportions to have race officials even consider it.
That being said, I feel its up to each individual athlete to go into the Ironman swim prepared.
Go in with a workable plan that will make the swim a safe, stress-free, enjoyable experience.
After many years of messing up the swim start, I finally came up with a plan that really worked for me. Not only did I enjoy it more and avoid the mob, my times became faster.