Thursday, May 9, 2013

SwimSmart

Swimming Smart is a phrase that's near and dear to me. I've been swimming since I was 6 months old. I've always had a love of the water, an obsession with mastering the way my body moves through it. My skin has soaked up enough chlorine that "eu de chlorine" became a legit perfume.

Remember those t-shirts, __(sport)__ is Life, the rest is just details; yeah swimming was my life. {It's the "Keep Calm and Carry On" of the 90s} Swimming is still is a very important part of who I am. I teach swim technique to triathletes and stress the importance of what swimming smarter, not harder {Triathlon Lifestyle Coaching motto} is all about.

My parents spent money sending me to swim camps {to have fun with friends} to improve my technique, and ultimately {make the Olympic Team} swim in college. {Great return on investment!} They spent countless hours on the road and in the bleachers cheering me on and following my career. They have a little tablet with EVERY swim and split time I've ever swam in a competition. They have every program/heat sheet with more times. Not kidding. They are my parents, and they are WONDERFUL. I seriously cannot thank them enough for the time, effort, and money they put into making me swim smarter. {How convenient that Mother's Day falls this Sunday?}

Okay, I understand that most people do NOT have this passion for swimming, especially triathletes. In the same way that I dread the run, I'm sure most triathletes dread the swim. But guess what? It's a triathlon; a swim, a bike and a run. We all have signed up to do ALL THREE SPORTS. So when a corporation tries to tell me that Swimming Smarter means changing the protocol, I get upset.

WTC {Ironman} released their swimsmart program today for selected North American Ironman races.  http://www.ironman.com/triathlon-news/articles/2013/05/swimsmart-initiative.aspx#axzz2SnhE5WWu
We have known this was coming with the rumor mill aka Slowtwitch.com and Ironman CDA but I can help but be shocked that its finally "official." Ironman states they've inacted this policy to "improve athlete satisfaction {obviously not mine} and to reduce anxiety during the swim." I think they are doing it for the lawyers. Everyone is scared of the lawyers. It's not about those who have died, it's about the money they'll lose if the right person passes. My sincere blessings are with the families of those who have gone. Heck if I happen to die swimming, I hope someone reads this at my funeral. I will have died a happy woman, in an element that I love! Here's my take, and a blunt one at that. 

The Good {or the "duh" answers}
1) Swim buoy numbering. Obviously this will help on course support maneuver to aid a participant in need. Good call. As a race director myself, I believe we will initiate this at our 2013 race and make sure all personnel are briefed ahead of time.

2) Water temp rules. Below 52 or above 88 and swim is cancelled. Okay, fine. I don't prefer to swim in a frozen lake or hot cest pool. But I swam IM St George in 52 and had it been 51 and cancelled, lets just say it wouldn't have been pretty. Tahoe, you better warm up for September, okay! 

3) Pre-race warmup. YES! I am a huge proponent of warmup. I would like to bet that most triathletes who have a so called "panic attack" experience this within the first 3 min of the start. Warmup people!! It's all too often I go to a sprint/oly race and maybe 1/6 of the people in my wave have gotten wet. And getting wet is not a sufficient warmup. Would you run a 400m race without warming up? People warm up before the beer mile. This is Ironman; if you think you'll get too tired from a 10 min warmup to compete the 2.4 mile swim, then you didn't prepare and shouldn't toe the line. I think the warm up zone should be mandatory and on the way to an in-water mass start. {see my proposal below}

4) Increased rescue personnel and boats/watercraft. All good unless they leave the 2 stroke motors idling in front of me as I choke on the fumes. I kid, I kid. There should be regulation on number of lifeguards/boats per number of participants in the water at one time. 

5) Education. This only works so much, but it can't hurt. We are paying $700 for something, so using those resources to create videos, training suggestions, and more communication is always good. Luckily, most {ironman} triathletes are type A people who read the athlete guide cover to cover and email the race director because of a grammatical error. So WTC will probably have good luck with athletes actually reading/watching their stuff. 

Wow, so I didn't expect to get 5 nice things to say about this article. 

The Bad and Ugly

1) Resting Rafts. Have any of you been to a YMCA with a giant inflatable? We got one in middle school and it was awesome! A giant polar bear floating in the middle of the pool to crawl onto and jump off. Oh what fun it was until someone popped it. Or Floatopia, the famously banned party on the water. Spectators could pay money to get the best seat in the house!


This is ridiculous. I hope the resting rafts have a floating bar attached as well. I'm sure Powerbar will pony up the sponsor dollars to have their gels and drinks on board. If you are a swimmer in distress, can you imagine pulling yourself onto a floating/moving raft?! No way.

The rest have to do with changing the iconic mass start that has made Ironman famous. These races used to be "ready, set, go" and that shouldn't change. This is the one time when, as a woman, I get to start FIRST {well behind those pro athletes...some of which I actually passed at IMSG}. This is when we all toe the line as equals. As individuals who paid to enter ourselves into a community of insanity, as triathletes starting on this 140.6 mile journey, I wish to start this race with those competitors.

Sports Photographer of the Year Donald Miralle
2012 National Geographic

2) Rolling Starts. Let's just say I'm glad I'm not doing CDA, Lake Placid or Louisville. The first two are switching to a format already in place at Louisville. This is one of the many reasons I didn't and won't sign up for that race {temperature, course, location}. But now that they are in my opinion ruining two of the most iconic North American races, ones that I've had my eye on, it's over. The swim start is becoming a running road race start. A self-seeding start whenever your foot crosses the start line. So say I'm on that line and I start. And a girl in my age group decides to start near the back 20 min later. She crosses the finish line 19min 59 sec after me and I've officially just lost a sprint finish I didn't realize I entered. Of all three of the proposals, this is the worst.

3) Self-Seeding. Do you really think that triathletes are a realistic bunch of people? What are the DNF rates at these races? People pay the money. No one starts the race thinking they won't finish. But it's Ironman; something does and always will happen. So why should official self-seeding change anything? Isn't that what we are technically already doing? Unofficial self-seeding. I warmed up, and swam to the front of the start line at St. George. I treaded water on the front line. I actually raised my feet/body as they counted down to the start. I looked over, and saw people STILL ON THE BEACH for a in-water, mass start swim. Isn't that self seeding; those folks were uninterested in toeing the line with me and my big shoulders? In a running road race, how much passing and re-passing is happening with the self-seeding corals? What's the point? Lawyers. Right. They think that my using the defense, of oh, that guy drowned because he self-seeded himself too high and had a panic attack when the faster swimmers came blazing by and inhaled water while having a heart attack. It isn't our fault. Well right, it isn't. But changing the protocol didn't help save his life.

4) Wave Starts. This is how most triathlons start. Everyone has their gripe. Girls are usually last. At SDIT, my wave is usually after the 60+ men, Clydesdale and Challenged Athletes. Seriously? I don't look forward to swimming over any of those individuals, nor any other participant! I signed up for Ironman because of peer pressure, and because of my memory of watching the start of IMAZ 2008. It brought tears to my eyes and I knew that one day I'd be in that water with 2000+ competitors. Wave starts make it just another event, just a really really long day at another event. At least you'll be able to actually compete with others in your age group in a better head to head competition than the self-seeding time trial starts. But it won't be the same.

Okay, less gripes vs. positive reactions.

My proposal

In-water, mass swim starts with a start line at least 300 yards away from the swim entrance. Not that 300 is enough, but I can see too many gripes from the peanut gallery if that distance increases - "I didn't enter a 2.4 mile + 300 yard race!" {Well hey, the way the 2 loop course at Tahoe works, there is a beach RUN during the swim and I sure as hell didn't sign up for a race where any more unnecessary running is added...it's Lake Tahoe for gosh sakes!! It's not like there isn't enough room.} The beach starts bring unnecessary anxiety and heart rate spikes. In-water starts force competitors to at least get wet and "warmup" to the start line. No sprained ankles, or anyone getting trampled {my swim fears}. St. George was the easiest swim I've ever experienced in my triathlon career and I say that with sincerity.

This topic obviously strikes a cord with me. Feel free to facebook/twitter/email me if you'd like to vent. I'm looking forward to the status quo at Tahoe {officially or unofficially self-seeding}, and I'm sure as heck working on my beach starts this summer. I will not get trampled.

Save the mass start. Learn to swim. Register for something that is an obtainable goal for YOU, make a plan, and get some!! It's too bad that money, lawyers, and the underprepared are changing the world of triathlon.

Yours in Swimming Smart,
Rachel

 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Unfortunately with WTC races the athletes basically have no say... in anything. When you have thousands of people willing to spend $700 in 6 seconds online, what power can we hope to wield to change the way they (WTC) do things? There is no voting system; the only voting system you have is with your Active.com registration.. It took death to get these people to change anything about the way the race is run.

I feel like if you want to race Ironman events, you are forced to accept their rules. If they can do something to make less people die on the course, so be it. It is still a dangerous undertaking, and no one will think any less of you for competing in a swim event that has floaty rafts with powerbar gels. I'm definitely stopping by one of these things if they have hot coffee, by the way :).

Unfortunately it is as it always will be. $$ talks, so the only thing we can do is not sign up. And when it comes to that, I'm not willing to not sign up for the mother of all triathlons just because legally WTC has to cover their own ass.

There are multiple, less band aid fixing ways for them to approach the problem (like forcing people to compete in a lesser race prior to the Ironman), but that probably still wouldn't completely solve the problem of cardiac arrest due to insufficient warmup or hereditary physical issues.

I'm still racing!