20 Mile Marathon swim order (?)

DuganaddyDuganaddy Needham, MAMember
edited May 2018 in General Discussion

It seems that many of the well-known marathon swims are around the 20 mile mark

English Channel - 21 miles
Lake Tahoe - 21.3 miles
Catalina Channel - 20.1 miles
Manhattan Island Marathon swim (20 Bridges) - 28.5 miles
Mephremagog swim - 25 miles

As we swim our endless laps, the wandering mind can’t help but aspire to one of these swims. Even if it is just a brief ‘What if…?’

My question is – which one is the most appropriate (or least!) to start with? Does it matter?



  • My question is – which one is the most appropriate (or least!) to start with? Does it matter?

    Swim the one that speaks to you -- the one that most excites you.

  • bluemermaid9bluemermaid9 Boca Raton, FL, United StatesMember

    For the EC you have to book two to three years in advance... Many of the swims in your list are more accessible. I agree with @thelittlemerwookie. What speaks to you? Lakes, the ocean, nature, the city... They all have their special allure.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    For your first one, do the one you can't resist. It doesn't matter what anybody else has done. There are other things you can consider, like costs, water temperature, salt or fresh water. Decide what appeals and then go for it. My first one was accidental and only turned into a 20 mile + just before I swam it. Enjoy your planning. It's all part of the fun.

  • emkhowleyemkhowley Boston, MACharter Member

    I'm a veteran of all of those swims you list, and I started with Catalina. Conditions can very widely on the day, but with the swims and days I had, in retrospect, I was glad to have started with Catalina. It prepared me well for the others without frightening me off the sport forever. I would advise pushing Tahoe and Memphre toward the end of the list when you have more experience and have really dialed in your nutrition because a) altitude is a bitch and b) 25 miles in fresh water at Memphre feels significantly different from 20 miles in salt water at Catalina. Both can be very windy swims, too, and I found both to be more challenging than the day I had in the English Channel.


    Stop me if you've heard this one...
    A grasshopper walks into a bar...

  • Karl_KingeryKarl_Kingery Denver, COMember

    emkhowley said:
    I would advise pushing Tahoe and Memphre toward the end of the list when you have more experience

    Or you could just knock out the tougher sea trials on your first go-around, get em out of the way. If you do Tahoe first, most swims 20+M in distance are downhill from there (literally).

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    order doesn't matter.... but do them all in one season!


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited May 2018

    @Duganaddy, there are a number of well known marathon swims that are less than 20 miles, so don't feel like you need to "start" with Catalina or any of the swims you listed.

    The swim from Anacapa Island (Santa Barbara Channel) is 12.2 miles, and the perfect stepping stone between the base marathon distance (10K) and the 20-milers.

    Wouldn't the Strait of Gibraltar (14K) qualify as a "well known marathon swim"?

    If you want to do the length of Tahoe someday, the width (10-12 miles, depending on route) is a reasonable stepping stone.

    The individual 8 Bridges stages are great training swims for 20 Bridges.

    No need to start with 20 miles!

    Karl_KingeryKatieBunDocScottdavid_barrarlmIronMikephodgeszohogregocthelittlemerwookiessthomasand 4 others.
  • MpolMpol Toronto, Ontario, CanadaMember

    Try the first 2 lakes of SCAR! Then, do all 4 the next year!

  • DuganaddyDuganaddy Needham, MAMember

    Thanks for your comments everyone.
    Even though shorter marathon swims are out there, there here is a certain mystique that the 20 mile swims have that makes them attractive. Maybe that's just in my mind alone. KInd of on par with the Western States 100 miler and the Hawaii Ironman. I will keep aspiring and see which one gels with me the most.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Manhattan is pretty easy due to favorable tides and currents usually giving you a push. It's a good one to start with. Many of the others don't help you out so much. Memphremagog is a kick in the b*lls.

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