Radically Rethinking Distance Swimming?

SuddethBSuddethB Member
edited January 2017 in General Discussion

I read the article about considering the level of difficulty in a swim as a metric in calling it a "distance swim" on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming recently and hadn't seen it commented on here (link below). It was mainly focused on the challenges of ice swimming, but I know I've mentioned to Steve Munatones before that the 10K distance in OWS being done at around 2 hours being comparable to the 2 hour time in marathon running can also be compared to the 2 hour times for a 5K OW swim times for the best butterfliers. Has anyone else read that article? Thoughts and comments?



  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member

    I think adding what can only be an arbitrary and artificial level of difficulty as an extra "qualifier" is of no value, and even contrary to my own vague of the ideals of marathon swimming. This is one aspect or problem with ice swimming to use one of your examples, that people are conflating or equating such swims with marathon or channel swims. Postulating that 1 mile at 4c is equal to 10 miles at 14c is utter nonsense or 20 miles at 18c or whatever such equivalences are used is tripe. (And let's not forget, that the reason such patent bullshit is mooted is to promote a specific aspect and particular people in ice swimming for the specific advantage of some self-promotors to their gain).

    I'll fall back on my favourite example and the gold standard for marathon swimming: All English Channel swimmers distance is 21 miles. Regardless of time. Regardless of actual distance swam. I can think about my own swim, and think of how difficult it was, but those challenges were entirely mine, and I can't extrapolate those to anyone else. Nor can I really understand what someone else's internal challenges may really be. There is no way to quantify "difficulty".

    If one person puts everything they have into a flat calm incident free crossing and another puts everything into a event laden crossing, who is say that one was more or less difficult or successful? Hey, what if the first lost their job, or had a bereavement before the swim. What if the calm swim took more resolve and internal strength than the rough crossing? The success or otherwise is in what we ourselves put into each swim. How far inside we reach and where we redefine our personal limits as a consequence. How we train, what we share in the accomplishment, what we commonly understand when we say "I am a marathon swimmer". These are what unite us. Not "I suffered more than you because my swim was X".

    By taking the geographical distance as the measurement as the standard, we don't set one person above another. Instead we foster and encourage the sport and the community and the sense that we share a common understanding, a common definition, a common way of measuring success, a common language, common (to us) experiences. Even to some extent, and what we know is not universal, but common ideals.

    And who is going to grade the swims? And how? The idea overlooks one of the most specific aspects of marathon swimming: Every swim is unique. Trent Grimsey, Sylvain Estadieu, Hayden Welsh, Matthew Webb and Jackie Cobell are all English Channel swimmers. Fastest, slowest, backstroke, butterfly. Who am I , or anyone else to judge what any one of those swims took out of any of those people? I can have swims I admire more, I can understand that empirically some swims encounter more challenges or produce results which we admire. We value certain swims; longer, farther, etc. but we do so based on the aforementioned common understanding, not because there an imposed imposed gradation. We do not look to the media, to what the public say to appreciate any swim. We look to ourselves, to our community, to our personal experience and understanding of what it means to be a marathon swimmer.

    To be more explicit, no, a 5k butterfly is not equivalent to a marathon swim utilizing any stroke. Nor is an ice mile. They are their own things, and those things are not marathon swims. A 9.9k swim also is not a marathon swim, (and this has happened with a swim submitted to MSF), though to any external view, even the swimmer, the difference seems arbitrary and meaningless.

    But it's not. And that is who we are. Or at least, that is who I am.



  • bluemermaid9bluemermaid9 Boca Raton, FL, United StatesSenior Member

    I question the need for 'redefining' marathon swimming on the basis of 'incredibly difficult circumstances and frigid conditions.' Distance, the basis for defining a marathon swim, can obviously be quantified. But difficulty? How does one quantify such a thing? So many things one can consider! Let's start with intrinsic conditions. How's the swimmer feeling today? Tired, sick? What's the swimmer's mental or emotional state? Is the swimmer undertrained or overtrained? Is the swimmer injured? Extrinsic, too: Did the swimmer show up for a cold water swim that turned out to be much warmer than than usual? Is the swimmer not used to fresh/salt water? Is the weather less than ideal? Is it too choppy or not choppy enough? Are there giant mats of seaweed? Is there wildlife that makes one nervous? Are there boats that make one nervous? Does it smell like diesel? How about creosote? I could go on and on. My point is that difficulty depends on many aspects that cannot be quantified.

    In my opinion, as a community, marathon swimmers are actively engaged in upholding the accepted definition of our sport. There are very long threads in this forum where we do just that. Is there a community of ice swimmers demanding the 1-km or 1-mi events be redefined as a marathon swim or is this just one individual throwing ideas out there for the sake of causing some sort of uproar? 1-km or 1-mi ice swims seem like quite unique events and certainly the swimmers who can accomplish such events are just as unique. Is there a need to do away with that uniqueness? I would like to know what the ice swimmers think.

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member

    This is just musings by Steve. I don't think he is equating an ice mile to marathon swimming, I just think he is calling a mile in cold water a distance swim. Of course that distance is a mile and therefore not a marathon swim.
    Calling an ice mile swim equal to a marathon swim would be like saying running a mile on a track, naked, in the winter was like running 26.2 miles in good weather.
    You can't call an orange an apple just because it is in the form of a frozen smoothie.

  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member

    My age-group coach put me in the 500 again! Why does he think I'm a Distance swimmer?

    I ran a marathon today! It was 4k (but I'm really out of shape).

    We watched a Firefly marathon yesterday. (It was only one episode, but we drove 26.2 miles while watching it.)


    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.

  • Excellent! That is what I'd hoped to hear. A "distance" swim can be what ever is a challenge for that individual, but a marathon has a specified distance now. One person's "distance" swim is what most people here call a warm up.

  • If a marathon swim distance is officially 10K and up, is it time to settle disputes as to what distance constitutes "ultra-marathon" distances?

    "10 kilometers is the distance that is defined by the International Olympic Committee, FINA, many national swimming federations and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as a Marathon swim. "
    "An ultra marathon swim is similarly defined as any swim longer than the recently accepted marathon swim distance of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). However, different interpretations of the minimum distance of an ultra marathon swim vary between 15 kilometers, 25 kilometers and 20 miles (the distance of the English Channel and Catalina Channel). "

    "Ultra marathon swimming is swimming for long distances generally considered at least 25 km (15.5 miles)."
    "Ultra marathon swimmer is an athlete who attempts and completes solo open water swims that is defined as any swim longer than a marathon swim (distance of 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles). However, different interpretations of the minimum distance of an ultra marathon swim include a minimum of 15 kilometers, 25 kilometers and 20 miles (the distance of the English Channel and Catalina Channel)."

  • Ahhhhh. I can smell the fresh air... I'm perfectly satisfied with the responses I'm seeing and concur. THANK YOU. Now to go after my next "double secret uber marathon swim." ;-)

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited January 2017

    A long swim is a long swim. It can be made harder or easier by varying wind, waves, currents, and extreme temperatures. Like Justice Stewart's obscenity test, "I know it when I see it."

    "Marathon" is specific to running, anyway. Solo long distance open water swimming is precise but verbose. So "marathon swimming" is probably here to stay, thanks to our canonical text Wind, Waves, & Sunburn ("A brief history of marathon swimming"), the IOC, and ironically enough, this Forum.

    People get obsessed about what "is" and "isn't" a marathon swim or "ultra" marathon swim, but it's futile because they're just words, defined by arbitrary distance cutoffs, made even more arbitrary in cases of current assistance (the Little Red Lighthouse 10K was not a marathon swim!).

    Who cares? A long swim is a long swim. When we're forced to draw a line, we'll call it 10 kilometers without assistance from currents.

    Donal mentioned the situation where someone's documented swim submission was declined for being shorter than 10km. The most interesting aspect wasn't the distance itself (9.9 vs 10.1 km ... who cares?!) -- but the route measurement method, which had the effect of overstating the distance.

    Proper swim route measurement -- now there's something I can get behind!

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