Ironman’s New SwimSmart Initiative

There was big news in the triathlon community yesterday: Ironman announced their new swimming initiative called “SwimSmart.” Some people are complaining, saying that it’s making the Ironman “soft,” where as I couldn’t be more excited.


Here are some of the changes that I’m looking forward to:

A few 2013 IM events (including IMCDA) will feature modifications in the swim start. Including a pre-race swim warm-up, new water temperature regulations (if the water is too cold or too warm, the swim will be altered), and self-placed rolling starts (aka “waves” like in running races).

For those who are as lucky as I am to have open water anxiety, I was terrified of the IMCDA swim start. Formerly, they didn’t allow for in-water warm-ups and it was a mass start: you literally just run from the beach, into the water with thousands of other people. The old plan would mean that I wouldn’t be able to do my in-water anti-anxiety drills and warm-up, and I was just going to stand in the back and try to stay calm. In other words, it might have been a disaster.

But with the changes, I can do the critical warm-up and drills that I desperately needed to get my heart rate in the right place. Furthermore, it won’t be a mad dash. I’m used to waved starts, I like waved starts, I won’t have a heart attack. This is awesome.


In addition to these modified starts, there is a second phase:

The second phase of the initiative will feature a comprehensive effort to educate athletes about reducing anxiety associated with the swim portion of IRONMAN events, focusing on pre-race screening for potential health issues, pre-race training and race-week preparation. Such efforts will use all IRONMAN media platforms and will include a checklist and on-line videos. Swim-specific educational communications will begin at the end of May. 

I can’t express how grateful I am for Ironman taking notice of the anxiety that open water swimming causes. For those who are complaining about this new change, try getting an open water panic attack and then come talk to me about these changes. I value life over a running start any day.

Details on the IMCDA swim start are as follows:

IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene will feature a rolling start…athletes will enter the water in a continuous stream through a controlled access point… An athlete’s times will start when they cross timing mats under the swim arch.

If you are now complaining that your finish photo won’t match your gun time, welcome to the running world. They never match.

If you can’t tell already, I am SO EXTREMELY grateful for this change. Thank you, Ironman.

Now it’s your turn: what do you think about the new Ironman SwimSmart changes?

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17 Responses to Ironman’s New SwimSmart Initiative

  1. Shirin says:

    Totally agree that the SwimSmart program really helps with a big portion of open/water swimming.

  2. Kathy says:

    I wonder how this will affect the midnight cutoff time? I mean if someone starts 15 minutes later, shouldn’t they still get the full time allotment to get across the finish line?

    • Nicole says:

      Midnight will still be the cut off time – basically the swim start waves will begin at 6:30 a.m. and then the 2:20 time cut off for the swim will begin when the last swimmer enters the water, which is supposed to be by 7 a.m. So the last swimmer should have 17 hours but really those 6:30 starters will have 17.5 hours., which they probably don’t need.

  3. Kim says:

    Such a relief! I don’t have much anxiety over the open water swim once I get in the water…but, the thought of being stuck behind folks punching/kicking/clawing at me in the start of a 2.4 mile smile is less than ideal. I’ve dealt with the clawing in shorter swim races and I emerge covered in bruises, no bueno! I’m so glad that the folks at WTC put this into place and that it will quell your nerves for the swim portion of the race!

  4. Nicole says:

    I also just wrote a blog post about this. I definitely see both sides b ut I’m on your side – if these swim initiatives even prevent ONE death, then they are totally worth it. And I’m sure t hey will do that.

  5. Nelly says:

    How are people up in arms about this? Everything you have here sounds pretty basic race structure to me. Surprised that they didn’t have this stuff before. Seems like they are almost copying the runner style wave starts now for ironman.

  6. Kathleen M says:

    Is IMCDA a race where you have to do two laps in the water? My only concern over the new plan is that the fast swimmers are going to be on their second loop and swimming right into the swimmers who self seeded themselves 45 minutes behind the faster folks.

  7. discorunner says:

    I blogged about this briefly yesterday as well. I am also VERY excited, as I’m doing IMLP this year as my first IM and I was super nervous about the mass start! I think this is a good move.

  8. Nelly says:

    And if you want to read about crazy swim conditions, check out this recap

  9. christa says:

    I did IMTX last year (mass swim start) and it was pretty hectic though not as bad as I had been led to believe. however, it differs from CDA in that all the athletes start in the water (by treading for a few minutes) before the cannon goes off. I think it was the right decision for CDA. running starts make me nervous anyway, let alone in an IM!

    I would have the same concern as Kathleen – for the two loop swim courses, the faster swimmers will end up catching up to the slower (and perhaps weaker) ones. that might not be pretty.

  10. I’m not positive how I feel about it, but hopefully it’ll ease anxiety for a lot of people (myself included)! The only thing I don’t quite understand is will it really make it less congested if people are constantly going in? And will there be an issue with the two loops?
    Canada is still a mass start, so I’m sure after that one I’ll say I much prefer rolling wave starts!

  11. Kara says:

    I’m doing Lake Placid and I’m thrilled! I know others aren’t so happy…but I think it’s a great decision :) So much less anxiety now!

  12. Kelly says:

    I have no problem with the wave starts or warm-ups. All perfectly good plans. The mass IM starts were always slightly ridiculous.

    The placing rafts throughout the course so that people can stop and take a break seems a little weird to me. That doesn’t seem like swimming? And the water temp regulations are also odd, because there’s already guidelines from USAT about water temps I’m pretty sure and most races are within those, so I don’t understand what that’s about.

    Someone also pointed out, and I think this is probably true, that the big problem that this is supposed to be fixing is all the people who are completely unprepared and then end up really hurting themselves or others. But, some of these changes may just give a false sense of security to those people and encourage more signing up for IMs without proper preparation. That doesn’t seem like a good idea.

  13. Gin says:

    hey! maybe it was meant to be that you had an injury to prevent you from participating in the previous ironman! it was meant for you to participate in this current one instead so that you wouldn’t have open water anxiety! you can now perform to your greatest potential! things happen for a reason :) so happy to hear about the changes!

  14. Beth says:

    I hear ya with being happy about the change. There are probably a lot of people who will now do an ironman that would not have with the mass start. IMCDA last year was an experience, I don’t enjoy being dunked or punched in the temple a bunch of times but I will say I am glad I experienced the crazy mass start once before it changed.

  15. I think this is a great idea…seeing videos of crazy swim starts makes me nervous and I’m not even there! I don’t know why people die in the water, but if this helps to minimize that, then I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    For IMNY, everyone jumped off the back of a boat and started swimming, so their finish times didn’t match their clock times on the finish line. They’re all fine, ha.

  16. Michaela says:

    Love this. I’m thinking about doing IM Canada next year and am happy to hear the new swim rules!

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