Friday, August 17, 2012

re Ironman swimming death

by now most of you have heard of the death that occurred at the recent inaugural Ironman New York. for those of you who haven't, a competitor was pulled from the water during the swim portion of the race and taken to a hospital where he later died. at this point, the cause of death is still unknown.

you can read a couple of news announcements here:
this marks the most recent high-profile death at a triathlon to date. the number of deaths that occur during triathlons has risen in recent years. in part, this is to be expected, since the sport has grown and the number of competitors has increased. despite this, news reports still find the numbers disconcerting, especially with the incidence of fatalities being higher in triathlons than it is in other endurance sports like marathons. this isn't new--they've been stating this for several years. you can reference:
i've already written my piece on these fatalities, so i won't repeat anything here. you can reference:
what i will say, however, is that what struck me about the fatality at Ironman New York was the description of the victim given by his friend: he was a veteran triathlete, seasoned athlete, and a model of physical fitness. as far as the news reports say, he had no history of health issues or cautionary preconditions that made him a potential fatality.  in short, he was not the kind of person people might think of as being "at risk" of injury or death from competition.

i think this stresses just how serious an endeavor triathlon, particularly Ironman, races are. no athlete is immune from the dangers of injury or death. they're not to be taken lightly. not by competitors, not by race organizers, not by volunteers, not by host communities, not by spectators, not anyone.

which means that there's plenty of opportunity, if not responsibility, to go around for everyone involved to make them as safe as possible. apart from my comments in previous posts as to what can be done, i came across an excellent Slowtwitch article by Dan Empfield that echoes a lot of my sentiments but adds in some further insight and recommendations:
as a final word, i recall that USA Triathlon convened a task force in 2011 to investigate the rise in deaths at triathlons and make recommendations on how to mitigate them. i haven't heard anything about what the task force has done, but i'm curious. especially now in the wake of what happened at Ironman New York. i think there's now some cause for a sense of urgency about the task force, and i think many others in the endurance sports community are starting to feel the same way.

be safe out there, folks. this is serious stuff.

Monday, August 13, 2012

wisdom to live by: NEVER do an inaugural race

i don't know if anyone caught the announcement from the World Triathlon Corporation regarding registration for the 2013 Ironman New York. apparently, they've suspended registration due to issues that arose with the inaugural 2012 race held this past weekend. you can reference:
 i don't know what happened. and i suspect we never will. at least not officially. i think that as in all things, the only transparency we'll ever get as to what really happened will be from those who participated in the race and are willing to share what they learned. in which case, all we'll have are the words of wisdom shared between athletes.

but that's probably the most important thing to consider.

there are certain words of wisdom that you pick up in endurance sports, wisdom that's rarely ever printed and certainly never stated to anything resembling the public or the press, but that's shared nonetheless among the community of competitors who have undertaken, are undertaking, and plan on undertaking endurance events. particularly with the big ones. it's understood that these words are just words, passed on verbally from one stranger to the next. as such, they're not rules and they're not official. and so you don't have to follow them. you can choose to ignore them. you can even deny them.

and many often do.

but being words of wisdom, they have a peculiar habit of persisting despite the intentions, negligence, or recklessness of everyone involved, and have an alarming tendency to be proven true at the most inopportune and most ignoble times.

and so they're understood to be the kind of things you ignore at your own peril.

one of them was something i learned when i first started in endurance sports from a friend of mine. a multi-Ironman veteran and seasoned endurance athlete, he told me that there were certain rules of endurance sports that he held to be absolute, and one of them was this: NEVER do an inaugural race.

it was partly in jest, partly out of superstition, but also deadly serious. his reasoning was that an inaugural event (i.e., a race being held for the first time) represents a learning experience for the race organizers and host community, and so entail a healthy supply of mistakes caused by people variously unfamiliar with an innumerable unnameable unexpected slew of issues, including the mechanics of doing a race, the logistics of operating public events, the chemistry of people new to working together, as well as the vagaries of the local geography, local weather, local society, local politics, and local gods of chaos, happenstance, misfortune, and accident.  there are many variables involved in the conducting of a race, and it does not help to compound them with the 1st-time growing pains that come from inaugural races.

are they insurmountable? no. are they impossible? no. are they insufferable? no. everyone, from competitors to volunteers to organizers to community, can work together to overcome them. the questions, however, are: what price will everyone pay to survive the growing pains? how will this affect everyone's experience and memories?

i admit, i've broken the rule a few times. but it was always in a situation where i figured that the price wouldn't be too high (i.e., i wasn't going to get injured...or worse), and the experience and memories would still be positive.

but every once in awhile i'm reminded of my friend's rule. and when i hear back from the people who've ignored that rule, i'm reminded of the perils that we have to recognize that comes from ignoring words of wisdom...and i'm glad that i didn't have to deal with them. because the bigger the race, the higher the stakes, the greater the presence of chaos, and the larger the consequences of whatever that befalls to you.