Forget snakes on a plane.
Get ready for snakes in a pool.
The Alaska Gold Nugget Triathlon, the wildly popular all-female race in danger of becoming a duathlon this year because of the unavailability of the Bartlett High pool, will be a three-sport event after all, race officials said Thursday.
The 27th annual running of the triathlon, scheduled for May 17, will use the Chugiak High pool instead.
And because the Chugiak pool has just six lanes to Bartlett's 16, racers will do what's called a "snake swim" instead of the "circle swim" used at Bartlett. The snake-swim format accommodates more swimmers than a circle swim, which means more girls and women will be allowed to enter the race -- and that's an important factor for the Gold Nugget.
Last year, the race was capped at 1,400 entrants, and within 20 hours after the midnight registration kickoff, entries hit the limit.
This year, the limit will be upped to 1,500 -- thanks to the snake swim.
In this case, "snake" refers to the snake-line pattern swimmers will follow.
"There will be no water moccasins wandering through trying to get anybody," promised Lisa Keller, part-owner of Up and Running Event Management, which puts on the triathlon.
In a snake swim, swimmers enter the pool in 15-second intervals, swim up and back a lane, duck under the lane divider into the adjacent lane, swim up and back in it, then duck into the next lane, and so on. Gold Nugget swimmers will swim up and back each of the six lanes, from left to right, for a total of 300 yards.
"It feeds a lot of people through the pool," Gold Nugget board member Claire Norton-Cruz said.
In the circle-swim format used at Bartlett, two swimmers share the same lane the entire time. Norton-Cruz said if the circle swim was used at Chugiak, officials would have to limit entries to about 800. With the snake swim, they can accommodate almost twice as many racers, she said.
Keller said the snake swim is routinely employed in big Lower 48 triathlons that use pools. She's been urging race officials to try the format for a while, Norton-Cruz said, and the move to Chugiak provides the perfect opportunity to try it out.
"Hopefully it will go great this year and they'll realize this is the way it needs to go to grow the race," Keller said.
She's done the math and says using the snake-swim format at Bartlett's bigger pool could put 2,880 swimmers into the water over a six-hour period. With the circle swim, officials need eight hours to get 1,400 swimmers through the Bartlett pool.
Board members voted Wednesday night to adopt the snake-swim format. Some board members are a little intimidated by the new format, Norton-Cruz said, but for racers really worried about the new format, the triathlon will continue to offer "lane bids" to those willing to pay extra.
Last year's lane bids cost $125 on top of the $52 entry fee, and 75 racers paid the extra money to get early start times. This year, the extra money will buy both an early start time and the chance to circle swim in a single lane.
Entry fees and lane-bid prices haven't been decided yet, Norton-Cruz said. Entries will open at midnight April 1, as Tuesday turns to Wednesday.
With the move to the Chugiak pool, the entire race course will move north.
The logistics of the new setting will reduce the distance of the race. The 500-yard swim becomes a 300-yard swim, the 10-mile bike becomes 9 miles and the 4.15-mile run becomes 3.1 miles. The bike route will mostly follow the Bike For Women bike course, "but it won't include the big hill everyone hates," Norton-Cruz said.
Norton-Cruz said race officials will do their best to publicize the new swim format. They might even jump in a pool themselves and have someone video them as they demonstrate how it looks and put the video on their Web site. It sounds more complicated than it is, Keller said.
The key, Norton-Cruz said, is to preserve the triathlon, which is the oldest all-female triathlon in the country. With Bartlett's pool undergoing renovations this spring, officials originally were faced with either a cancellation or a run-bike duathlon.
Once they learned the Chugiak pool was available on the third Sunday of May -- the race's traditional date -- they faced another choice: continue the circle-swim format and limit the field to 800, or try the snake thing and open the race to 1,500.
"We didn't feel good about (shrinking)," Norton-Cruz said. "The mission of the race is to improve the lives of girls and women, which means reaching the most people possible."
Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.