Important Swim Safety Information

The first leg of the Auburn Triathlon, the swim, lies in a secluded cove near the eastern edge of Folsom Lake at Rattlesnake Bar. Rattlesnake Bar is located on a rear extended ‘finger’ of Folsom Lake some 20 miles away from the Folsom Dam and larger Folsom Lake proper. You will be swimming in clean water that began as snow in the high Sierra and flowed into the North Fork of the American River. This intimate venue has narrow shorelines surrounded by high canyon walls and as a result always calm water which will hopefully lead to a wind sheltered early morning swim. The water temperatures can be brisk, but the clear water most likely will be in the mid 60s.

You will be only seconds from a shoreline at all times and attended to at all times by a team of kayakers, paddleboarders and a rescue boat in the water. You must wear your brightly colored swim cap throughout the swim to assist with your safety. The swim will start just around the corner southwest from the boat launch.

While the swim is the shortest event, it is often the most difficult for triathletes. You are expected to have the ability and conditioning to complete the swim safely. Please be sure that you are able to comfortably swim the requisite distance of your event in advance of race day. For example, long course athletes should be able to swim 1.2 miles (87 lengths in a 25-yard pool) in one hour or less before the event (without floaties).

Wetsuits are highly recommended especially for those in the half or those that are slower swimmers in the other two events.   No fins, paddles, snorkels, or flotation devices of any kind are allowed. No individual paddlers or escorts allowed. You will be required to be body marked in T1. Do not apply sunscreen or vaseline to areas where your number will be marked (right shoulders or thighs).

There have been an alarming number of deaths in recent years. There has also been much speculation and little certainty about the causes of these (non-drowning) deaths, with some experts suggesting the combination of cold water, open water/pack swim anxiety, restrictive wetsuit, and the sudden extreme exertion of the race start causing extreme cardiovascular and nervous system stress leading to fatality.

Please read the following articles as well as others posted on Slowtwitch.

In the interest of athlete safety and alleviating the anxiety of the swim event, Brad Kearns, creator and former Race Director of Auburn Triathlon, had always implemented a mandatory warm-up swim of 10 minutes before you start. This tradition will continue to be followed. All athletes must spend some time in the water acclimating the body and calming the nervous system to promote a safe, successful swim. All triathletes should be cautioned to gradually immerse themselves above the waist, and not over-hydrate just before the race starts. The hydrostatic pressure on immersion pushes blood from the legs into the abdomen, then into the chest vessels and heart. Blood volume in the lungs and heart can double, which raises blood pressure in the lungs and makes gas exchange less efficient. Over-hydrating could further engorge the blood vessels at the time of immersion. The pre-race ‘warm-up’ can help reduce this increased central volume by redistributing blood into the arms and legs. If breathing difficulty is experienced on initial immersion, he advises getting out and jogging in place. Brad also highly recommends that all athletes also lay down after donning their wetsuits to test whether their breathing seems restricted, since lying down also increases blood volume in the chest [hey better to look like a dork on dry land instead of in the water – BK].

Please seed yourself at the start according to predicted swim finish time. If you are anxious about the swim start, simply wait 20-30 seconds for the main pack to proceed along the course and give you undisturbed water to swim in. It is a long day, and waiting a little at the start can help relieve unnecessary stress, tension and danger of mixing it up with a pack of hungry swimmers!

Every measure will be taken on race day to ensure your safety, including the placement of lifequards, paddlers and kayakers throughout the course in case you require help.

Dr. Rudy Dressendorfer, PT, Ph.D. – a very dear friend of Auburn Triathlon is our medical adviser of sorts and is a frequent Auburn Triathlon participant as well as volunteer. Rudy has studied the effects of endurance training/racing stress on athletes extensively, and comments further on the issue, which is little understood by medical experts. Dr. Rudy’s comments are speculative and should not be considered medical advice. However, with little guidance from our national federation and minimal understanding of this phenomenon, which has resulted in a reported 14 deaths between 2006 and 2008, and nine deaths in the summer of 2011, we at Auburn Triathlon feel that it’s critical to educate all participants as much as possible, and to establish a firm policy of athletes warm-up up before competition begins.

Dr. Dressendorfer explains the importance of a warm-up: “Habituation to the water and race setting will reduce nervous tension and likely attenuate anxiety-related hyperventilation. The mandatory swim warm-up is especially important for people who faint easily, like when a blood sample is taken, or hyperventilate when feeling anxious.”

Dr. Dressendorfer offers further comments on the triathlon swim-related deaths: “I suspect the drownings are more likely due to pulmonary edema from over-filling of the right side of the heart and subsequent respiratory distress. If so, the panic attack is more a consequence of the physiological imbalance (between Ventilation and Perfusion, the so-called V/Q ratio) of the lungs rather than the primary cause. The major risk factors are water immersion (especially cold water) and hyper-hydration.