Surviving a Mass Swim Start

Surviving a Mass Swim Start

Posted Kevin Koskella Ambassadors, Articles

I was taken by surprise when I was told that the IRONMAN New Zealand swim start would be a mass start. It is one of the last remaining mass swim starts on the IRONMAN Calendar, so was under the assumption that New Zealand would have followed with wave starts for each age group. Although it was a surprise, I had worked hard and knew that as long as I kept calm and stayed to my plan, I would come out of the water without any trouble. I had been in mass swim starts before, but the most people I had faced previously would have been about 300 other swimmers, so taking this up to about 1,200 was a bit of a change, but the following plan kept me on pace.

Stay calm
There is no point getting anxious or over excited for the mass swim start. It’s going to be a long swim and you need to conserve your energy. Especially if you are completing an IRONMAN, there will be plenty of time to catch up if you have lost any time in the swim.

Find some room for yourself
This could be difficult, especially if the start is a deep water start. Everyone else will be trying to do the same thing, so if you bump into someone, don’t worry, the other person will most likely be trying to move away from you as well. Wade out into the water and keep clear of other swimmers around you. Make sure you are mindful of your own ability and where you should be in relation to other swimmers. You don’t want to be at the front of the pack before the gun goes off if you don’t belong there.

Look for signs of anxious swimmers
It will be pretty certain that there will be other swimmers in the water who have under prepared or be new to swimming in general. These swimmers can be unpredictable in these situations and can be hard to point them out in the swim start. Look for someone that is struggling to tread water or trying too desperately to make room for themselves.

Ride the current through to the major turning buoy
When the gun goes off, the strong swimmers will move to the front of the pack, the weaker swimmers will drop away. You have probably practiced drafting in the water, and the good thing about a large mass start is that you don’t really have to go very far to be drafting off someone. For a large amount of time you will simply be able to ride the wave of someone else’s hard work.

Increase your stroke speed to give yourself a little room
When approaching a turning buoy or maybe you are getting squeezed by a group of swimmers, there is a good chance that you have been conserving some energy specifically for this occasion. Increase your stroke turnover and increase your speed a little to give yourself the room that you need to clear any trouble.

I was really happy with my swim in New Zealand and I left the water in 58 minutes and 41 seconds. Conditions were the best that I could have hoped for and the result of the swim set me up for a great day both physically and mentally. Other times I’m sure I wont be as lucky, but as long as you prepare yourself for everything, you can still turn it into a positive experience.

Vince Sesto


Vince Sesto

Tri Swim Coach Ambassador

Vince works as an IT Engineer in Melbourne, Australia where he lives with his cat Tim Tam. He has been a runner for longer than he can remember. He competes in distance running races, open water swims and long course triathlons.