Midmar Mile getting too big to handle safety?

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  • Having watched the recent video of the swim I am amazed that any safety is feasible. With that many people all throwing their arms and kicking their feet it is near impossible to see if somebody is in great distress. I also wonder how easy it is for a safety boat, or kayaker to get within the crowd to carry out a rescue. Sadly, this is no longer a disaster waiting to happen, with 2 people dead and the families in grieving this has already been disastrous.
    I believe as long as the vast numbers of people compete there can be no way to truly ensure the safety of the swimmers in the water.
  • DavidDavid Member
    edited February 2014
    Yes I was there yesterday and did two races.
    I love the Midmar mile so much I return all the way from Britain when I am not in SA.
    I can tell you its organised like a military operation. It is extremely well run and the use of technology is highly impressive. Every year there are more features added to enhance safety. As an example your race time gets sms to you within a minute or so of finishing. The timing system is great with other safety features to. The organizers are tops in my book. Where the event is falling short is the almost unavoidable chaotic large starts! Less experienced open water swimmers seem to swim across you / over you. I mean right over you like what was that? I was kicked by one idiot who had just swum straight into me, then over me at 45 degrees. In other words he was not sighting and had no idea where he was heading. This I might add is in the top seeded group of swimmer wearing orange caps. What its like in the lower seeded groups I can only guess. This happens because you have all sorts of swimmers together. I am not referring to swimming speed / or times but ability in open water. The open water purists if I can call us that are fine because we do many similar races each year and are comfortable in open water. The triathletes are I am told agro! These guys seem to like fighting / punching their way round the marker buoys, that's my unfortunate experience any way. Add in a few thousand pool swimmers who are lost without lane markers and you have got yourself a midmar mile start.
    It is worth mentioning that there are lifesavers on boards all the way across on either side of the swim area. Watch the video below. I personally believe the organizers have safety at the top of their list. I know Wayne Ridden and I have personally watched him directing these large events. He does not take any chances when it comes to safety. He is a master at what he does. On Saturday the weather conditions deteriorated and he made a decision to stop all 13 and under swimmers from the last event. In addition to the 130 lifesavers there was a large contingent of Navy divers on the water and the SA water police have members there.
    Another thing to consider is that after five minutes or so the group of swimmers spreads out so the bunching up effect is reduced. I normally expect to find reasonably clear water to swim in after about five minutes.
    Its a wonderful event however it has got very large in resent years.
    I have never felt in danger only a little disappointed that fellow swimmers indulge in what I feel is inappropriate unsporting behavior!
    If the organizers did one thing they should publish a swimming code of behavior that sets out the rules for swimmers to observe. Not because they will be disqualified for breaking them but because it will enhance everyone's race and further the cause of overall safety.

  • Niek wrote:
    David wrote:
    It is extremely well run and the use of technology is highly impressive. Every year there are more features added to enhance safety. As an example your race time gets sms to you within a minute or so of finishing.
    What has getting your time has to do with safety?

    Hi Niek
    I had a feeling someone would ask this. I said "more features added to enhance safety As an example ..." It is a part of a safety system. Getting your time does not have a lot to do with safety on its own but when you factor in that they are using the timing chips to count you into the water and count you out of the water I feel it does play a part in tracking swimmers. From what I have heard in years past some swimmers used to exit the water / quit without officially registering this fact with the race organizers. Swimmers also have a bar coded tag they hand in at the finish to track their completion of the swim. On its own it wont do a thing but together with the other measures it forms a part of a safety system.
    Ultimately however if someone does goes under the water there will always be a chance that this goes unnoticed unless you have one lifesaver for each swimmer! Sadly a swimmer seems to have drowned again. Nothing in life is ever 100% safe. There are risks involved in open water swimming. Risks we all accept when we enter these events and sign an indemnity.
  • Niek wrote:
    David that's all nice for registered swimmers but won't solve the problem with unregistered swimmers. Also it's only a verification after not during the race.
    I do agree with what you are saying. As far as unregistered swimmers goes its virtually impossible nowadays to start this race unofficially. I am not saying it cant be done because anything is possible in life. It would be very difficult though to get into the holding pens without a timing chip on your left ankle. There are many officials at every stage as you progress towards the start looking for this sort of thing. If you are caught swimming unofficially its a life ban from the event. Not worth it when it cost only R190.00 to enter that's about $17.00 :)
    I would also like to point out something I tried to articulate in my first post above regarding the seeding groups. Look at the photo you posted at 4:05 See the mix up of different colored caps. This is because fast pool swimmers are seeded in the same group with experienced fast open water swimmers. The pool swimmers don't always transition into open water as well as hoped especially if conditions are rough. The different waves of swimmers often combine into larger groups. Therefore your comment about to big and too close after each other is correct. Maybe they need to look at having smaller waves of swimmers starting further apart.
    In my first race I was seeded in the first group in orange and finished in this group. When I exited the water I looked back and could see many orange caps still in the water. In the second race I was seeded in the second batch with a blue cap. When I exited the water I looked back and once again could see many orange caps still swimming. Should I have been seeded in the top starting group both times? Unless I am wrong this indicates to me that the seeding system is not always working properly. My two times were 17 second apart.
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    Its impossible to say that smaller waves would have prevented this latest swim event death. Even an autopsy report can’t determing that said person would have survived if only rescuers were able to reach them sooner.

    Personally, huge events have considerably less appeal to me than do smaller ones.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    Niek wrote:
    Midmar Mile and Alcatraz are in my eyes to big at the moment. Their number of swimmers can't be monitored adequate any more. but both organizations have winkers on. They only want to get even bigger. Prestige and money make them blind for safety.
    'Alcatraz'? FYI there are several mass-participation Alcatraz swims each year. You should be more specific so you don't create misunderstandings. Pretty sure the one you mean is the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, which as the name indicates, is actually a triathlon, not an OWS like Midmar.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    According to what metric and/or analysis? Have you ever seen this event?
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    As it turns out, I was in SF Bay at the same time as last year's Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, escorting a solo swimmer from a R.I.B. I had a direct view of the event.

    Their problem is not coverage or "security." Their problem is allowing poor swimmers to jump in 51 degree water in the first place, thinking they will be protected by wetsuits. That is a screening problem, not a coverage problem. The guy who died last year died within seconds of jumping off the boat. That is not a coverage problem.

    Your statement that "Alcatraz" is "too big" undermines your own argument about Midmar, which may actually be correct.
  • DavidDavid Member
    edited February 2014
    Niek wrote:
    The administrator of the organisation expressed that the fuss about safety is unwarranted, as participants sign an indemnity form.
    Yeah, you sign a waver and toodeloo with safety. No need any more.

    Hi Niek

    Me again :)
    Without wanting to be too controversial here may I respectfully point out something that I believe is not very obvious to non South africans. Having lived in Britain and south africa my observations are made from first hand experience. Lets for argument sake call the UK the developed world and SA the developing world with a frontier mentality. As a people south africans are NOT risk averse (Not in the true economic sense of risk aversion but as in they will take risks) . In the UK people need health and safety to hold their hand or the government to tell them what to do but in south africa people do crazy things because life moves at a different pace. I know signing a waver has nothing to do with safety but in SA thats the sort of thing that happens. People not event organizers take chances.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    There's a tow float debate on the Out door Swimming Society facebook page at this moment. Opinion seems to be divided as to how useful they would be in a large mass start event.
  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    I think that event is too big and 500 in a wave is too many. If 20K people visit a lifeguarded beach in one day, the lifeguards will definitely be making some rescues. If you spread that many people out over a mile with inadequate coverage, someone is eventually going to die.

    I'm against mandatory tow floats in races. I tried one belonging to a friend, once. I won't swim at a race that requires them. I'd rather see mandatory qualifying swims/times and floats optional for people that want them, provided that they start at the back or in a separate wave, so as not to tangle up anyone who is racing. I just don't think a cheap blow up thing is a substitute for having enough lifeguards on the course and managing the race at a safe capacity.

    Although the floats will facilitate quicker recovery of bodies, they won't prevent drowning. An active drowning victim (who is in a state of panic at that point) is frequently unable to grab a floatation device, (I've personally seen this many times over 15 years as a lifeguard). If a swimmer becomes unconscious due to heart attack, seizure, etc. they can drown in about 30 seconds. Lifeguards (or well trained observers) need to have eyes on everyone and be able respond quickly.

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • This is why I stick to lone sea swims - maybe a max of one other swimmer with me. This totally ridiculous aim of being the largest will see more swimmers being hurt !
  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member
    How did I miss this thread for so long? I could spend hours here... Haven't read all of the thread, so apologies if any of my comments are re-hash or offensive.

    The problem with the question as framed is that it implies and objective, measurable standard. "Safe" and "dangerous" are relative, subjective terms with definitions as diverse as the human race. To complicate the debate further, even people with similar definitions of safe/dangerous will still have radically different risk tolerance levels.

    The more important issues in my mind are transparency about the risk and responsibility for consequences. In an ideal free society, as long as (1) the race director is taking reasonable measures to promote safety, (2) fully discloses the risk/history and (3) the participant nonetheless accepts full responsibility for potential the consequences (i.e., doesn't expect the RD, taxpayers, etc to pay for rescue, medical, disability or burial costs), why is my opinion as an outside observer even relevant? Freedom includes the freedom to take risks and even to die.

    Unfortunately, we're not an "ideal free society." Once we accept individual healthcare as a collective responsibility, it is only fair to grant the collective control over otherwise individual choices about health risks. As I become more and more responsible for the healthcare costs of others, I expect I'll grow increasingly frustrated by lifestyle choices I disagree with (smoking, obesity, hypochondria, etc) and expect some form of input ("why should I pay higher premiums so he can eat cheeseburgers and play video games all day?") But shouldn't I expect those people to object to my choices as well? ("Why should I pay higher premiums so that idiot can swim in the ocean? That's what freaking pools are for!!").

    I have much more to say on these issues, but I fear I have already said too much. So I will go back to work now... Discuss B-)

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    None of the swims I've ever participated in have been that large. I don't think I'd want to be in something that size. In fact, one thing I like about the longer swims is that (a) they often require individual kayak escorts so that someone knows right away if you're having any problems and (b) they tend to be a lot less crowded. But I'm fine with the smaller (no. registered) 1-2 mile swims since they do involve a better ratio of boats to swimmers. Swims aren't like road races where if a person is in difficulty, s/he can step off the course and seek help (yes, there are still deaths in road races from cardiac arrest and such--but at least the chance of getting help is better than if the same person suffers a heart attack in the water and isn't noticed in time b/c they've submerged). So a swim shouldn't grow in the same way that a run might. If the organizers of swims use runs as models, that's a problem waiting to happen. There's much more need of watchfulness in a swim than in a run, I would think.
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