The first Law of marathon swimming

loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
edited August 2016 in General Discussion

This "Law" is more of the Murphy's Law or @Andiss' excellent "The Rules" flavour, than the MSF Rules or EC rules.

I doubt I've been the only one thinking this for some years.

Back in 2007 there was a story of a fake NC solo that got a lot of media coverage in Ireland. I still remember listening to the radio interview with the guy early on a Monday morning, where he'd literally claimed to be out on a training swim from Portpatrick with his (never named) pilot, and felt good so just kept going. The media never once questioned that, or anything else.

That should have been an early warning to me, but I'd only done my first marathon distance swim the previous year, and I was, as I stayed for too-long a time, enraptured of the sport and believed I was surrounded by marine heroes whom I could never emulate.

I also heard first hand from people who tried to witness parts of a very well publicised very long duration & distance relay attempt, and were not able to find the relay during a time when they were supposed to be in the area. The people attempting to find them were sailors on their own stretch of coast, not likely to make a mistake.

I really began to think about this Law in 2011 when I heard the story of a new record English Channel. That record? A three minute swim, almost certainly less than 200 metres. The shortest channel swim attempt known (since of course attempts don't enter any record books).

Another evening that year, I was on the Dover pontoon with some friends, Channel swimmers and aspirants, weathered out. About half the fleet was moored and loading prior to heading out, mostly relays. (One two person relay team has a guy wearing a wetsuit, flippers over booties, pull-gloves, hood, snorkel & full face mask, the only part of him touching seawater was his chin). The other half of the pilots had't even considering heading out. We'd turned down our slot based on the forecast.

One gent I spoke with was heading out on a solo, and he was ebullient on the pontoon, centre of attention of the relayers, calling himself "a real channel swimmer now". (Uncharacteristically for me you may say, I keep my opinions on this claim to myself).

That year I'd been advising (for only a short time, they'd left it way too late) one previously very successful ultra endurance athlete and his coach via email, and I met them that same day in Dover. I'd warned them not to go out that night, they still had the full window ahead, that I wouldn't go out, and I like rough water.

The guy I'd been advising had a Red Bull camera crew with him. He got sick while swimming the 50 metres from the pilot boat into Shakey, before the start. He toughed it out though... and lasted almost two hours.

The other guy, who'd called himself "a real channel swimmer" lasted 60 minutes.

I later heard that what real channel swimmer guy and three minute attempt lady had in common, was a contract with a charity. That alleged contract specified that they must attempt the swim, but having done so, the charity would pay all expenses. The significant difference between the two was that real channel swimmer guy's contract had specified a minimum swim time of an hour, but three minute lady had no minimum swim time.

Then another time there was the TV presenter, who also had a documentary crew follow him around Dover as he drove his little 2 seater convertible, hood down (in Dover, in the rain), while looking very windswept and interesting. His boat crew included a World 10k Fina Champion & a national swim coach, though his speed was about 2k an hour. He got seasick on the pontoon before getting in the boat.

And I don't even live in the UK. These were just the things I was seeing on my crewing trips to Dover. I asked myself; just how much did @Nickthefisk11 and Kevin and Freda and everyone else see by being there all the time?

Then of course we have some of the more recent ones, fantasists Ripley Davenport (that's his assumed Boy's Own adventure story name, and I could write a very long tale on him including one of the most bizarre emails I've ever received), Darren Jaundrill and of course, She Who Must Not be Named, all blithely and unquestioningly accepted by the media

I recently ran foul of a swimmer (front cover of a recent H2Open as "inspirational") who repeatedly broke forum rules, sent abusive PMs and tried to harass me on Twitter, because I implemented forum rules as the swimmer was spamming their fundraising link for their hyped three way channel attempt ... which actually lasted less than three hours.

These are just the "swims" and "swimmers" with which I've had some personal intersection. Our sport has had fantasists and frauds since the beginning, like Dorothy Logan and others.

Many swimmers tell me they don't care. That these people don't affect them or their swims, and I acknowledge that feeling.

I don't have that option.
I have to care, because MSF and the messages we get from genuine swimmers wanting to swim something old or new, makes me care.

Success to me is no longer about the time or the distance. They are interesting but as we see often irrelevant. Success is about having integrity, about what I now think of as swimming with honesty.

Success is you guys being honest when no-one but a few of us sometimes seem to care.

I don't like to speak for @evmo, but I can say that running the MSF had provided us both of us with information that has called some other swims into question. I think I can say that such has occasionally left us both shocked and questioning the sport.

The MSF Rules arose partly because of the events around She Who Must Not be Named and the bullshit "review panel", and also because this type of thing is more common than we acknowledge or many of you realise, but also because I still believe the majority of marathon swimmers swim with honesty and most of you also care.

All this is a long introduction to the Law,

The greater and more widespread the pre-swim hype, the more likely the swim is to be bogus.



  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber
    edited August 2016

    The greater and more widespread the pre-swim hype, the more likely the swim is to be bogus.

    Can I put that on a t shirt?

  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    edited August 2016

    The greater and more widespread the pre-swim hype, the more likely the swim is to be bogus.

    I agree with the spirit and sentiment, but respectfully suggest an alternative wording:

    When there is pre-swim hype, consider the swimmer’s background. If either the swimmer’s history or training is atypical of such events, the swim may be bogus.

    The original statement is in the same vein as statements like “The bigger the gap between first and second (compared with second and third), the more likely the winner is to have doped.” The statement may be true, but it’s not a sport-building statement: it tinges the legitimacy of epic performances (such as Katie Ledecky).

    Vicki Keith is a marathon swimming legend in my mind. Her epic swims have raised more than a million dollars, and she has made a lifetime commitment to her charity of choice. (She continues to support the population she fundraised for in her “retirement”, by coaching an swim team for swimmers with disabilities and their siblings.) She’s had pretty big support teams in place for her fundraising, and it would be hurtful to cast a shred of doubt in her direction.

    The way the current statement reads, one of Vicki's swims (which have historically had national-level coverage) would be more likely to be bogus than swims that tend to only have regional coverage.

  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber
    edited August 2016

    When there is pre-swim hype, consider the swimmer’s background. If either the swimmer’s history or training is atypical of such events, the swim may be bogus.

    But that won't fit on a t-shirt.

  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    edited August 2016

    @suziedods said: But that won't fit on a t-shirt.

    Abbreviate it to "Pre-swim hype? Ask good questions." ? :-)

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    Actions speak louder than words.

  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Senior Member

    As loneswimmer says, it's all about honesty; or lack thereof. We can't prejudge about it, but we should report it and bring it to light if we find some shadows. The more people are aware of these stories, the better.
    Then perhaps it's better to hand them a T-shirt saying something like "cheater" or "moron"...

  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member

    Donal's Law:

    ∁ = lim┬(h→∞)⁡〖1/h〗→ 0, where ∁ is swim credibility and h is hype.

    The proof of 〖1/h〗→ 0 is trivial and left to the reader.



    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    @Leonard_Jansen is back! So good to see your name here again! You've got some catching up to do, brother!


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    IronMike said:
    @Leonard_Jansen is back! So good to see your name here again! You've got some catching up to do, brother!

    I've SO been wondering where he's been!

  • AnthonyMcCarleyAnthonyMcCarley Berwyn, PACharter Member

    I thought the First Law was stated by Captain Webb, “Nothing great is easy.”
    (Not looking to pick a fight with loneswimmer – I hope he was making a point, rather than actually claiming the First Law.)

    While it may be debatable what should be called “great”, it appears that there are at least a few people who didn’t/don’t realize that swimming a really long way isn’t easy.

Sign In or Register to comment.