MIMS 2013 was a disappointing, even heartbreaking experience for a number of very accomplished and competent marathon swimmers. Of the 39 soloists who started from Pier A, only 11 made it around the island unassisted – compared to 100% finish rates in 2011 and 2012.
I’m not in a position to grasp all the factors that contributed to the situation on race day – I daresay none of the swimmers are, either – but my sense is that it was a perfect storm of bad luck. Perhaps some human error (as should be expected in chaotic, stressful situations), but mostly just bad luck.
- A storm (literally), producing several inches of rainfall that swelled the rivers, inhibiting the predicted flood tide and amplifying the predicted ebb.
- Unseasonably cold water temperatures (61F/16C in the East & Harlem Rivers; a couple degrees warmer in the Hudson). The qualifying swim of 4 hours in 61F is designed to weed out unacclimatized swimmers; nonetheless, some swimmers were unprepared for the cold.
- A stable of escort boats still recovering from Sandy, leaving far less leeway for no-shows.
- Inevitable no-shows among the remaining escort boats, leading to chaos and last-minute reassignments at the starting line…
- leading to a delayed start, thus missing the peak flood current in the East River…
- leading to the slower two-thirds of the field missing the tide change at Hell Gate.
There may be (and has been) a tendency to blame the event organizers for the disappointing outcome. And while I don’t mean to completely absolve the organizers of blame – again, I don’t have enough information to judge (and neither do you!) – I would caution people against this tendency. I would encourage them to think of how many things have to go right in order for an event as complicated as MIMS to go off in the first place.
What does it say that people have come to expect 100% success rates?
Nothing is “guaranteed” in marathon swimming. Shelling out $1000s doesn’t entitle you to a successful swim – unfortunately, even for those whom the $1000s are actually significant.
My experience of MIMS 2013 was different than most. I was honored to be asked by Paul Newsome (founder of Swim Smooth) to serve on his crew. Paul was not only one of the 11 finishers; he was first among them. By my analysis, the delayed start and storm-shifted tides benefited him (due to his speed – and thus his ability to beat the tide changes) in the same way that it doomed the prospects of the slower swimmers.
More on this in Part 2…