What Is Rolling Start And Self-Seeding In Triathlon?

It’s pretty well-known that every second in the triathlon is precious. And therefore, a triathlete aims to get everything on point from the beginning.

The beginning is the best time to think about the end, so let’s talk about how you can get a good start by shedding light on these triathlon practices – Rolling start and Self-seeding.

What is Rolling start in triathlon? The rolling start is one of the formats to start the swim in triathlons. The triathletes wait in queue for their turn and are positioned according to their predicted swim finish time. The fast swimmers are at the front of the queue, whereas the slowest swimmers are at the back end. Triathletes are then released in waves consisting of 1 to 10 individuals at a time. This practice was introduced in 2017 intended to enhance the safety of triathlon races by avoiding crowded swims.

Although each wave of athletes will start at a different time, the ranking is eventually calculated based on each individual accumulated time using the start and finish time reported by the timing chip.

What is self-seeding in triathlon? Self-seeding is the act of positioning oneself in a swim queue. Triathletes self-seed themselves in the starting pen according to their expected finish time and ability. Improper self-seeding can leave you with the regret of not being in the place that suits your ability. 

So, seed yourself in front if you’re a pro at it and in the mid if you’re a mid-level triathlete.

This video can best explain the pattern followed in the rolling swim start.

Pros and Cons of Rolling Start Races

Assuredly, this strategy has gained more preference over mass and wave swim start. Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside was the event where the first rolling start was utilized. It was important to put more deserving swimmers on the front foot.

Triathletes are now encouraged to compete fairly in triathlons. Wasting precious minutes in making a way out of the crowd of slow swimmers is disadvantageous to fast swimmers.

I have enjoyed reading the views(favor/opposition) of triathletes with their experiences in a rolling start. I would like to requote them under pros and cons of the rolling start.


  • Each swimmer gets a chance to swim around the swimmers of the same ability.
  • Triathletes can seed themselves according to their expected swim finish time.
  • It helps in reducing the formation of bottlenecks in the path of fast swimmers.
  • Slow swimmers can swim easily without worrying.

“I loved swimming with people of my similar speed and ability,” said age-group athlete Lorie Tucker. 

He further added one of his experiences that proved rolling start to be a much better choice than mass swim start.

According to him, self-seeding in a rolling start helped him to get a great and comfortable start. The swimmers were more spread out according to their swimming speed, which made it more comfortable than a mass swim start. (source)


  • It has lost the competitive touch and has become more of a time trial.
  • Rolling start takes longer to complete the whole event of triathlon.
  • It’s hard to deduct where one stood in rolling start as compared to mass swim start.
  • It’s a bit challenging for event organizers to manage cutoff times.
  • Triathlon is an individual and a team sport. And, this is where the team sport is missed.

“It completely changed the competitive focus for me. It felt like a solo effort and I did miss the feel of racing the other women in my age group,” says age-group athlete Christine Gould. 

There’s a lot more which proves triathlon as a team and an individual sport. Check out the article we wrote about

Is Triathlon A Team Or Individual Sport? What Is Triathlon Relay!

The Best Way To Approach Rolling Start In Triathlon

Well, the rolling start works best if you can seed yourself properly. But why is self-seeding mainly associated with the rolling swim start?

When the swimmers are sorted up righteously. The swimmers will more likely be around swimmers of similar ability.

In this way, each swimmer in the swim can easily deduce where he/she stood. Otherwise, you might be swimming over on or around slow swimmers or maybe the one in their place.

You might be the last one in the rolling start, but that doesn’t count if you possess the right plan of action. However, each triathlete in the swim queue is responsible for correct self-seeding, which becomes a base for others in a queue.

You can hear more about the best way to approach rolling start in this video.

Why Organizers Opt for Rolling start and not Mass start?

The rolling start is now the most desirable swim start format for the event organizers. The reason being, it’s more manageable and results in less congestion. Eventually, this helps in reducing clogging through a bike course.

Whereas, wave start invites the group of swimmers with similar swim finish times and abilities. The swimmers of different groups mixed up. This results in more congestion than a rolling swim start.

On the other hand, the mass start involves large groups of male-female pros and age group triathletes. The bigger the group, the more the contact and the more it’s easier to mix up with other swimmers.

About 84 swimmers fail to finish the swim or miss the exact cutoff time in the Coeur d’Alene and Lake Placid events. The rolling start helped these numbers to reduce to 17 in 2013. (source)

“The rolling starts at the Coeur D’Alene and Lake Placid Ironman events have both received tremendous feedback,” says Tim Johnson of Ironman.”

It was just a trial that took place in May 2013. And it went so smooth that it replaced the mass swim start from the Ironman events.

The rolling start has proven to be the safest and fairest for all. And therefore, organizers opt for rolling start.

To know what else can ensure the safety of the swim leg, read our article about Why Does Triathlon Start With Swimming? How Risky Is It!

How To Seed Yourself Effectively?

There are several corrals assigned by the organizers with the same time length. The triathletes choose one of the corrals most suitable according to their records.

However, in my view, seed yourself in a way that you are not behind slow swimmers, and not at the front of fast swimmers.

In this way, you will be right at the back of fast swimmers but not too close to them. This will help you manage a good cut-off time without becoming an obstacle in their path.

However, self-seeding in the front of the swim queue is more effective. You will get a clear path and the fast swimmers along your side may take you along. (source).

The major factor that makes self-seeding effective is that you are correctly self-seeded as well others in the queue.

What Not To Do In A Rolling Start?

Triathletes are advised to refrain from things like:

  • Do not seed yourself with the swimmers above or below your ability.
  • Avoid contact with swimmers in front of you.
  • Do not choose a corral not suitable with your expected swim finish time.
  • Avoid swimming along slow swimmers, you might get dodged.
  • Do not panic by first line swimmers going into transition(T1) phase. Keep swimming at an even pace.
  • Do not waste your energy by passing through a crowded portion of the swim. You might have to swim a few yards, but this will save your energy for last minutes.

Have a look at the guidelines that work best for Ironman swim start. (source)

Check out our post on Triathlon Etiquette; What Is Dunking and Short Chute? How Super League Triathlon Works


Rolling start and self-seeding are part of the new initiative. It made swim leg safer.

In this new strategy, the swimmers self-seed according to their expected swim finish time and abilities. The fastest at the front and the slowest at the back of the queue.

However, each triathlete’s start time is individually observed using a timing chip on their ankle. Hence, each swimmer gets equal time to complete the race. For more on this, check out our post “What Do Triathletes Wear on Their Ankles And Why ?!

The rolling swim start has made swimming more enjoyable yet keeping it safe. The traditional rules of triathlon have greatly evolved with time and stardom. I am sure you are here to leave no stone unturned in the struggle of becoming a professional.

You might be in search of every possible move which can bridge a gap between beginner and elite. Therefore, we try our best to keep you posted and make important triathlon information accessible to everyone.


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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