Thursday, September 15, 2011

Water Walking Woes

There's one main aspect of the Fingerlakes Triathlon that really bugs me.  It's the water depth (this would be the 'con' section of the post). The deepest part of the race seems to be about 4 feet. Scratch that. The depth is not important in this scenario. It's the choice of triathletes to walk the swim portion in the shallow waters that grinds the nails on the chalkboard.

I find myself being a bit stubborn on this aspect of the race. Sorry to those who are offended (I'll defend your perspective in a little bit). A triathlon, by definition, is a swim-bike-run. That's the point of the race. First swimming. Then biking. Then running.

I'm not talking about a short, "Crap, I just swallowed some water and I need to cough" scenario. There were literally people walking a vast majority of the swim course. It was as if these people had planned to do a triathlon with the goal of not swimming. Why bother getting your hair wet when you could just stroll around the buoys?

I'm not willing to go so far as, 'If you walk during the swim, you should be DQ'd,' but I am really close, (like on the edge, don't-push-me-over close). The USAT rules state that, 'Swimmers may hang on to a bouy, boat or a pontoon to rest without disqualification so long as they are not pushed or propelled in any way.' This is sort of how I feel about the bottom of the lake. Swimmers can stop and rest but not use the terrain for propulsion.

Since I'm sharing my feelings on the topic, here's my stance: If you have to walk the swim portion of a triathlon, for what ever reason, triathlon may not be the best option for you. Skip this race. Go through the Swim Progression. Train. Join a team, learn to swim, get comfortable, and race next year. You'll still be awesome.

Just to prove I am not a complete egomaniac, I have thought about reasons that water walking during the swim is acceptable. I can justify the behavior on multiple levels:

First, walking during a triathlon gains you no competitive edge. In exactly zero of the waves, historically, has anyone in the top slots of the race or age group been a water walker. Walking through water is horribly slow. The friction and resistance forces created between your feet and the bottom of the lake are complicated due to offsetting buoyancy forces.

Second, water walking is not energy efficient. Not only will the athlete move slower, but s/he will most likely use more energy in doing so. When trying to run through 4 feet of water, your body uses the same systems as running on land. But, the density of water is exponentially greater than that of air.

Third, walking is an acceptable form of propulsion in other areas of the race. Should an athlete have a mechanical problem on the bike, the athlete is allowed to walk (or run) the bike back to the transition without any penalty (other than not riding). If an athlete needs to walk during the run portion of the race, s/he may do so without violating any rules. I may have, umm, in the past taken advantage of this flexibility in another race this year. (But, just one, I promise.)

So, given that there is actually nothing wrong with running/ walking during the swim, it just feels wrong. Perhaps it's because I have a swimmer's background and gliding through the water is one of the pleasantries of life. Perhaps it's because of the conflicts I have had in the past with the water walkers in the pool refusing to share lane space. Perhaps it's because walking during the race, although sometimes necessary, should not be the mode of choice in any discipline. Perhaps, it's because I am an elitist jerk.

Whether you water walk or swim, I am happy to have you on the course. I will help you in transition. I will race you with every intention on beating you to the finish line. I will celebrate it when you cross. Please reserve your walking for emergency purposes only, which is, hopefully, never during a race.

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