Athletes in the 12-29 age group begin their 2012 Boulder 5430 Sprint Triathlon on Sunday at the Boulder Reservoir.
If you go

What: Boulder Sprint Triathlon

When: Sunday, June 16, 7:30 a.m.

Where: Boulder Reservoir

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The 2013 Boulder Sprint Triathlon will pioneer a new swim start that allows athletes to arrange themselves on the sand by ability rather than by age group, race organizers say.

The amateur-friendly race, which draws more beginners than the two longer-distance races in the Boulder Triathlon Series, will be safer with the change, said race director Dave Christen.

Historically, triathlons have started with either mass starts, in which everyone jumps into the water at once, or with age group starts, in which racers split into waves based on age.

At the Boulder Reservoir on Sunday, athletes will self-select which wave to join based on their 100-meter swim time; the fastest swimmers start the race, with the slowest swimmers bringing up the rear, so to speak.

“What happens if you get people that swim at similar speeds together is you don’t have the climbing over top of each other and the bumping and the disorganization that happens if they’re not lined up that way,” Christen said.

With age group starts, slower or newer swimmers often feel intimidated by faster swimmers coming up behind them, or may overexert themselves to keep up with faster swimmers in their age group, which can lead to dangerous situations, Christen said.

Christen, who works for the race’s organizer, Ironman, worked with Boulder’s Scott Fliegelman on the new concept. Fliegelman, founder of FastForward Sports, said he’s been working on this concept for much of the last decade.

Organizing athletes by ability seems like a no-brainer — it’s the same organizational style running races like the Bolder Boulder use, Fliegelman said. He added that he doesn’t know why it has taken so long for someone to implement this change.

“The person in the room 20 years ago who said ‘Let’s put people in waves by age and gender’ must’ve been the dominant one, and ‘How about by swim speed?’ was the meek person,” Fliegelman said, laughing.

Typically there’s a five-minute gap between age group waves, Fliegelman said, to allow each wave to distance itself from the next. It can take up to 75 minutes just to start the race, he said.

But with ability waves, it’ll be a rolling start, which will take significantly less time, Fliegelman said.

The plan is to implement the new swim start at the two other Boulder Triathlon Series events, the Boulder Peak Triathlon and Ironman 70.3 Boulder, using the sprint race as a test run. Organizers will make tweaks based on how it goes Sunday, Fliegelman said.

The sprint race has no prize purse, which means no one knows which top athletes — if any — will show up. Last year’s winners, Boulder’s Drew Scott and Australian Lisa Marangon, both say they aren’t returning. Some 1,200 people are expected to race, organizer Christen said.

Four-time Olympic runner and Boulder resident Colleen De Reuck, 49, began competing in triathlons last year as a change-up from running all the time, she said. De Reuck’s husband Darren will also compete.

The most challenging part of training for De Reuck has been getting used to running after cycling, she said.

Melinda Downey, who works for a Boulder-based company that provides audio and video for all Ironman races, will compete at the sprint with her 69-year-old mother-in-law, Doris.

“She’s most likely going to beat me,” Downey, 42, said.

Doris Downey, a retired University of Colorado professor and assistant dean, said she wanted to do something “extreme” before her 70th birthday, in December.

She’s been training everyday to prepare for the race she said, including “dusting off” her bike, which has been sitting in the garage. She visited the Boulder Reservoir last week to test out her wetsuit, and was surprised to find so many helpful athletes to give her advice.

“This sport is so congenial and supportive of other athletes, it was really quite amazing to me,” she said.

–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.

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