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Swim start rumors!

Shock! Buzz! Speculation!

Want a rumor to generate a huge response in the triathlon community? Ironman may be changing the way they start the races.

That's it. That's all. But triathletes will happily spend days and countless discussions unpacking that. You'd think I'd have something to say given my complaints about the Chicago Marathon switching to a corral and wave start system. I'm intrigued--that's about it. As someone attempting my first one, I'm much more concerned about preserving the 17 hour time limit. You tell me how to get in the water and that's how I'll do it though.

It always amuses me to write a general audience blog that covers very specific topics because most of you come to it to read about something particular...and couldn't care less about other subjects. So I never know whether to aim for those in-the-know or take the time to explain to the uninformed. In this case, the basics may help some of you diehards keep it in perspective.

There are only so many ways to start a swimming race--it's always the first event of the 3 in triathlon. Many races, like the one I'm doing as my first triathlon in June, are "wave start." This is usually done by age group with perhaps 100 swimmers in each wave sent into the water every few minutes. (Keep in mind there are also deep water starts where you tread water before the gun and beach starts where you run into the water at the gun.)

Then there are "time trial" starts...like Ironman Louisville...where you essentially get in a long line to jump off a dock. The clock starts when you cross a timing mat to jump in.

Then there is the start that Ironman is famous for...like Ironman Wisconsin...where all 2,500 athletes are treading water, waiting for a gun, and they all begin at once. Usually swimming over top of each other, elbows flying, drafting (which is illegal in the bike event), and swimming in a group. There is a certain status that comes from the mass start--a badge of honor--which is what is driving the debate about a possible change.

Then there is the rumor that Ironman will be changing a particular race out west--and possibly all future Ironman races?--to a "flow start." In essence, something of a seeded time trial/wave mix where people are in line according to anticipated swim time. Then groups of, say, 50 athletes are released every 30-60 seconds to ease congestion.

So...there you have it. Walk up to a group of triathletes, tell them you think the mass swim start is over-rated, then watch the chaos you've unleashed. Try it. It's fun!

Personally, I'm more worried about the 2.4 miles of swimming that comes AFTER.

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