Ironman alters swim start

LAKE PLACID – The Ironman Lake Placid triathlon will have a bit of a different look this year, as the event’s mass start has been modified to a rolling start where athletes will run through an access point on the beach and into the water to kick off their long day of racing.

All 14 previous Ironman Lake Placid races have begun with the spectacular age-group mass start in Mirror Lake that has become a traditional highlight of the event. This year, however, competitors will stream through a corral and a controlled access point before entering the water.

The Ironman’s new rolling start was first used this year in the Couer d’Alene, Idaho race, and Jeff Edwards, Ironman’s vice president of operations, said the feedback has been positive.

“People have more space right from the start,” Edwards said. “We want to give them more room, and looking at Couer d’Alene, the swim times were better and more people made the cutoff. We are trying to provide a better athlete experience for the race.”

The direction swimmers will travel during their two laps has also been reversed from counter-clockwise to clockwise. Edwards said that change will help reduce a bottle-neck effect as competitors leave and re-enter the water to begin their second lap of the 2.4-mile swim by cutting down the angle they use from 90 to 45 degrees.

Professional racers will have their own start time at 6:20 a.m., followed by the first age-group triathletes entering the water at 6:30 a.m.

The new type of start is part of Ironman’s Swim Smart Initiative, and has been incorporated into the Lake Placid race due in part to the narrowness of Mirror Lake. In other Ironman events where the swim course is held on a wider body of water – including the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii – the mass start will still be used.

“The configuration of the lake, the beach, the ocean, whatever the site may be, is taken into consideration,” Edwards said. “Mirror Lake is not humungous and there isn’t a lot of room for swimmers to spread out. A goal of this start is to reduce anxiety for the smaller, less experienced and less aggressive swimmers.”

Edwards said the only change for spectators of the swim start will be that the area between the tennis courts and the lake (where the weekly mini-triathlons start), will be blocked off. Athletes will have access to the water directly in front of that area for their swim warmup.

Competitors will line up in the swim corral based on self-seeding of their projected finish times, with athletes expecting to be faster entering the water toward the front of the pack. They will start being clocked as soon as they cross the timing mat at the swim entrance.

“All the swimmers should get in the water within 20 minutes,” Edwards said. “The swim is going to be the same spectacle that it always has been.”