Edit: I’m now being assured there WILL be a mass start at Wisconsin. Let’s hope this holds true.
I’ve heard a couple rumors that Ironman Wisconsin is changing to a rolling swim start this year and have mixed emotions. Fear can be a great motivator and I can honestly say the looming mass swim start at Wisconsin has pushed me to work harder in the water.
It’s not that I think a rolling start will be easy, but the thought of battling my way through a sea of humanity has crossed my mind nearly every day since I signed up. I’ve watched dozens of online videos and am always captivated. I imagine myself right in the middle, fighting for position, trying to keep calm, then emerging to settle into my race. It has literally been one of the most exciting thoughts in my life.
Check out this video where you can even hear Mike Reilly (The Voice of Ironman) in the background around the 40 second mark say, “You are witnessing one of the greatest spectacles in sports today, the mass swim start of an Ironman.”
I definitely understand their safety concerns and don’t want to criticize the decision, it’s just that I really wanted the experience. I can talk about the bike course all I want, but when I show friends and family the swim start, they are typically in awe.
The truth is, doing Ironman has a certain level of danger and I completely understand the anxiety of the swim. Earlier this year I had to stop and catch my wits in the middle of a 300 meter pool leg of a Sprint. But, I have worked very hard to be a better swimmer and get past my fear. It’s part of the deal. When someone signs up for Ironman, they know what they’re getting into and have to realize a mass start is not a little picnic down by the beach. I have worked very hard to keep my cool in the water. To me, it’s a big part of the training.
It’s really no different than flying down a hill at 45 mph on the bike. If someone is afraid or anxious about that, they use their brakes, and I feel like the same should be true of a swim start. If you’re not feeling up to a scrum, start in the back or off to the side and slow down.
I was reading a forum on Slowtwitch.com and someone brought up an excellent point about mass starts, in particular Wisconsin. They said people will typically get in the lake 15 to 30 minutes before the start and tread water, which helps you warm up, get acclimated to the water, and relax. On time trial and rolling starts, you just jump in and go, which I think is a lot tougher on the anxiety meter.
It’s not the end of the world, but a mass swim start was definitely one of the factors that had me fired up about Wisconsin. The lake is wide and perfectly suited. While many talk about fear of the “washing machine,” I’ve heard and read plenty of reports that there was plenty of room. I’ll be there either way and it won’t take away from the accomplishment, but I truly wanted to be amidst the swell of humanity that makes for one of the most amazing visuals in sport.