Over the past several months, there has been quite a lot of activity in the world of triathlon relative to swim safety. Rev3 launched a Swim Safety Initiative earlier in 2013, announcing that they would be increasing training to their staff, doing heart health screenings at races, and employing more open-water professionals versus ordinary lifeguards for enhanced safety on the water. WTC announced that they would be making changes to the swim start of several of its Ironman race venues as well.
All of these changes are, without a doubt, great news. The swim leg of a triathlon is the one where a death is more likely to occur. USA Triathlon completed a study in 2012 reviewing race-related fatalities. Of the 43 deaths in USAT sanctioned races from 2003-2011, 30 occurred during the swim portion of the race. Recent news has highlighted swim deaths in triathlon venues. An athlete died during the swim at this year’s Escape from Alcatraz. A California man died just last week at the Redondo Beach Triathlon. It’s seemingly becoming more and more common.
Statistically, the probability that you will die during the swim leg of a triathlon is much higher than either the bike or the run – so it makes complete and absolute sense that race organizations place a bigger emphasis on safety during the swim leg. It’s in everyone’s best interest.
Whereas major incidences during the swim leg tend to have binary results (you either die, or you don’t), the long-term impacts don’t seem all that serious. Now, I could be completely wrong here (and I don’t have any scientific evidence to back this up) – but if you drown and die, you don’t suffer any other long-term effects. Correspondingly, if you don’t drown, odds are that you won’t have any long-lasting effects, either.
The bike leg, on the other hand, offers the potential for some serious long-term implications. Moreover, the potential for even slight injury seems much higher.
By this, I mean the potential for long-term, life-altering injuries seems much higher during the bike than any of the other legs of triathlon. Catastrophic trauma can result from a bike crash. Bones can break. Brains become concussed. Road rash happens. Deaths occur. Granted, the risk of death during the bike segment of a triathlon is much, much lower than swimming, the sad fact of reality is that in general the odds are much higher that you’ll be injured whilst biking than any other portion of our sport.
I don’t think, necessarily, that triathlon race promoters or race directors need to invest significantly in upgrading safety during the bike portion of a race. Statistics show that they don’t need to. Conventional wisdom generally supports that also. I do think, however, that we as athletes MUST get better at how we handle ourselves on a bike.
I suspect that many crashes and injuries could be prevented with a heightened sense of bike awareness and even a modicum of skill development by the general triathlete. Over the next several blogs I’ll share some thoughts on what I see as the most important bike skills that we as triathletes should have.