Nine hours after the start of Ironman France, on the other side of the Atlantic, Ironman Coeur d’Alene began. In most respects past results show Coeur d’Alene to be a typical North American Ironman event in athlete numbers and performances. This year though it was the first trial of the Ironman SwimSmart initiative‘s rolling start where athletes queue on shore, their race time beginning only when they cross the start line. I’ll look at the overall results first before discussing this new approach and then move onto front-of-pack age groupers and Kona qualification statistics.
The distribution of finisher splits in the 2013 race (top) largely ties with the cumulative distributions from previous events (2003-2012 excluding 2004). Broadly speaking results from 2013 appear typical of racing at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. The swim is definitely at the faster end of the spectrum, the bike appears a touch slower and the run is a close call perhaps slightly faster. These are all relatively small shifts and overall times seem comparable.
The average splits by division largely confirm the similarity between this year (top) and previous events. Differences in swim, bike and run are generally small relative to the overall duration of the event – 2013 was definitely a very typical year.
Except, of course, for the swim start.
I fully support measures that improve safety. I accept that a rolling start, where athletes enter the water at a slower rate, will alleviate some stress associated with the mass start, but I’m unconvinced this in itself will significantly alter the risk. Judging by the 15 second Instagram video tweeted from the event the new format lacked the spectacle of a mass start. The 90 degree turn and narrow arch before you entered the water ensured this wasn’t the sprint we see at Ironman Lanzarote. In fairness it’s hard to judge from 15 seconds, I’d need to be there to fully appreciate it, so let’s leave this by saying – I’m not keen.
I hoped start times would be available in the results – with that information I could have assessed how athletes seeded themselves and the impact this had on race congestion in swim and bike. Unfortunately the results give no indication so it’s hard to learn anything about the new format. I have seen statements that it’s faster, suggesting that for many the mass start holds them back (blocked by slower competitors rather than gaining a draft). If we compare 2013 with 2012 then swim times are faster, but compare them with the average over the last 9 years and the differences are small.
|2003 – 2012||2013|
In the results distribution at the top of this post 2013 swim times do appear to be faster than usual, but the times lie close to the averages from the previous 9 years (generally well within 1 standard deviation). Not that this is an in depth examination. Differences in swim times between the years will come down to many things: conditions on the day, measurement of course, the athletes and also the style of swim start. None of them can be completely eliminate as factors. The rolling start may be faster, but it may not.
Onto Kona qualification and the top age groupers on the day. As usual information on the exact number of slots allocated and who received them at the roll down isn’t available on the Ironman site. My estimates from last week are used in the graphs below.
Performances by top twenty age groupers in the men’s field were by Coeur d’Alene standards fast. In many cases times are faster than the previous bests for those race positions. In the women’s field performances appear to be more inline with past events until you hit 50 where times were faster than usual. Perhaps the new start freed up some swim congestion for some of these front-of-pack athletes (or they seeded themselves to benefit from chasing all day)? This year though you generally needed to be at the leading edge of past qualifying times to earn a slot.
Time will tell whether the rolling start proves to be a safer approach. It’s hard to determine if it had any bearing on race performance, if it did they don’t appear to be that significant. As a spectator I’m not sure it has quite the impact of a mass start or even a wave start and as a competitor I think I’d prefer the latter of those. Wave starts will be trialled in other events this season. Finally I’ve uploaded the Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2013 splits and results in spreadsheet format to Google Drive.