Thursday, December 25, 2014

Beat the Clock

The Ironman Clock is cruel. It is unwavering and uncaring. If you don’t cross the finish line by midnight, it doesn’t count. If you don’t make the cut-off times for each leg or loop, your day is over. I have been there on more than one occasion to see a friend fall victim to the Ironman Clock and, well, it sucks. (Happy to say that they raced again and became Ironmen.) As cruel as the Clock is, it’s part of the Ironman mystique, and part of the reason why when you become an Ironman, you REALLY earn it.

So I respect the sanctity and the ultimate authority of the Ironman Clock. Yet something happened at Ironman Arizona this past November that put an interesting spin on things.

Because of the draught, Tempe Town Lake was much lower than normal and it meant racers couldn’t use the normal dock space to enter the water. Instead, they had to go further along shore to a smaller entrance, creating a huge bottleneck. I was spectating near the swim entrance at 6:50 am and there were still hundreds of athletes still on dry land. There was no way everybody was going to be in the water in time for the 7:00 start.

But there was another hitch: once athletes entered the water, they had to swim 3/10 of a mile just to get to the starting line. I think I was freaking out more than many of the racers: I will tell you that I am far from the slowest swimmer in an Ironman race and it would take me more than 10 minutes to swim 3/10 of a mile. So I was stressed out on their behalf, worrying about how everyone was going to make it even close to the starting line on time. I know many people were still pretty far from the start when the gun went off.

As it turns out, I knew someone who missed the swim cutoff by just a few minutes. I don’t know the details of exactly how far away she was from the start line when the gun went off but clearly the race as a whole had a problem. Had she entered the water earlier would she have beat the clock? If the race organizers had a more efficient way of getting people into the water and to the start line on time, would she be an Ironman today?

What it all boils down to is, “Is it fair?” And the answer is “No.” But Ironman is not fair. You might wind up racing in brutal winds, or heat, or crash into a random traffic cone. It’s not fair, and it’s especially sad that the Arizona swim problem (which I believe may have affected many people) could have been avoided with a little bit of extra planning on the part of the race organizers. But even there, I can’t really blame them because hindsight is 20/20.

To anyone who missed the Arizona swim cutoff this year, you were dealt a sucky hand and I just hope you come back and race again. We say that clocks have faces, but I say they have asses too and you need to kick this one.

(happy birthday steve)