This is purely anecdotal – I have no data – but in my experience few triathletes complain about shortened swims (bike and run are entirely different stories), so I doubt many were disappointed when 2.3 kilometres were cut from the start of Ironman Melbourne at the weekend. I suspect relief was the more common emotion when confronted with rough waters first thing in the morning. Conditions were tougher than last year, but inevitably with the swim so significantly abbreviated finish times don’t necessarily reflect this. I’m interested in comparisons though and a shortened swim makes this more of a challenge. Even so I’ve worked through the results and examined how a windswept Ironman Melbourne shaped up.
In raw form we see a race not too dissimilar in bike or run, perhaps marginally slower, but barely, and in the overall ever so slightly faster thanks to the much shorter swim. Conditions may have been tougher, but not so much as to make a significant dent in race results. However to better compare the two years I can apply the adjustments I made to the professional times yesterday, correcting swim times under the assumption that each athlete would maintain the same pace. The results below show a similar, but marginally slower race than in 2012.
Another way to consider the race is to consider the median split times across the different age categories and professional ranks. It eliminates some of the impact of the fastest and slowest and gives some indication as to the relative difficulty of each stage of the race.
For the most part, in both bike and run, 2013 is slower, but not always and not always by that much. Notably the slower average bike time of the male pros is countered by a faster average run time and the average bike split of the female pros was faster in 2013. As a general guide though we are seeing slightly slower splits, but as is often the case the impact of poor conditions is actually smaller than we imagine.
The front of pack can give a very different picture to the overall figures, particularly in a race that draws a strong age group field with a lot of Kona slots. Examining the top 20 in each age group may give us a slightly more stable set of results to compare across the years.
Each graph above also includes the “corrected” finishing times where I have proportionally adjusted the swim time. Obviously before adjustments the top 20 times are quite consistently faster than in 2012. Adjusting the swim times to estimate what might have been produces a more mixed picture – some performances still beat the 2012 equivalent while the majority fall slightly short. The differences are surprisingly small though, hardly significant over the duration of an Ironman.
I have heard stories of packs and drafting on the bike, but then I’ve heard these stories about every race and it’s not something I can discern from the timing data. Certainly with the shortened swim the number of athletes exiting transition at the same time would increase noticeably and this would likely create more bunching on the ride; groups would potentially reduce the impact of windy conditions on bike splits and subsequent run splits. I can’t say if it was a significant factor any more than I can for any other race and although it is an unfortunate reality of our sport it’s not an area I’m going to speculate on (for now at least).
You race what you get on the day and this time round that involved high winds and a short swim. Obviously a shorter race means quicker times, but adjusting for the difference in length shows performances on a par, or perhaps slightly better given the conditions, than 2012. Ironman Melbourne appears to be a fast race even in difficult circumstances.