COEUR D’ALENE –Many people considering Ironman don’t do it because they’re intimidated by the 2.4 mile swim that, in years past, included more than 2,000 athletes jumping into the water all at once.
This year, Ironman is making three changes to try to take some of the fear out of the swim: athletes will be allowed to warm up for their swim right up until the race, resting rafts will allow athletes to get out of the way and catch their breath, and athletes will start in waves rather than all at once.
The changes are part of Ironman’s SwimSmart initiative. Six-time Ironman Coeur d’Alene finisher Kirk Wood-Gaines said the swim is the most crowded leg of the race by far.
“You get in that water, the fists and the heels start coming up and as you’re swimming you’re hitting the back of people and the feet are hitting your face,” Wood-Gaines said. “Your heart rate comes up, breathing starts shorting and all of a sudden you’re in a panic mode.”
After the professional tri-athletes set out for their swim at 6 a.m. (men) and 6:05 a.m. (women), the rest of the athletes will enter the water over a 25-minute period at a rate of a little more than 100 athletes a minute, beginning with the quickest swimmers. Each athlete will self-seed based on how long they estimate their swim to take.
“If they’re at the front of the pack and they’re gonna take two hours 20 minutes to finish, they’re gonna get swum over by 1,000 athletes that are faster than them,” Wood-Gaines said. “When you have someone come up behind you and you feel that hand on the back of the leg and back of the butt and you get pushed under, it’s very frightening.”
Ironman Coeur d’Alene’s race director said the new staggered start should ensure a more continuous flow of athletes throughout the entire race, on June 23.