Why is marathon swimming not popular at all in my place.

miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongNew Member
edited February 3 in General Discussion

We have all the perfect environment for open water swimming: beaches within 15 minutes from city centre, great water temperature (16°C - 28°C) throughout the year, both calm and choppy water, and a large numbers of 50 m pools for training.

https://m.scmp.com/sport/hong-kong/article/1845771/meet-young-masters-open-sea

However, marathon swimming is not popular at all, when compared to other endurance sports, and also when compared to the general swimming population. Marathon running races here sell out every year, ultra-endurance trail running races also have lots of participants too. However, except the national championship, the marathon swimming races normally have only 10 participants doing solo every year, and less than 5 doing unassisted.

Although all public swimming pools are full of people all year around, the number does not seem to translate to open water swimming. The guarded beaches in the city are mostly empty, even in weekends, and most of the swimming clubs here seem to focus on children (as seen from their promotional materials) for their competitive interschool (short distances only), only very very few specifically focus on open water / triathlon swimming, even counting triathlon clubs in.

Actually why is that? What can we do to leverage our natural environment to increase the popularity of marathon swimming?

Comments

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    I wonder why people might be reluctant to try open water swimming. Fear of sharks? Stories of people drowning in rough water? Just lack of any examples/traditions/role models? I'll admit I've had the fears mentioned, but hearing stories of the joy and the challenge of the sport attracts me despite any fears. So maybe people need to hear the positive stories more. The news accounts seem often to focus on the danger. But how to communicate the inviting aspects of open water and marathon swimming? Social media? Maybe hold an event of a modest distance, say, a mile or even a half mile,* so people get a feel for what it's like while not being overwhelmed. Maybe connect it w a run (aquathlon). That might draw runners to try something new. Just a few thoughts....

    *In my area (US - Philadelphia), there's a series of half mile river swim races during the summer, so those who might be intimidated by longer distances can try the half mile swims, and triathletes get to practice open water skills without having to take on all 3 disciplines the same day. More experienced ppl take them on for a fun sprint + barbecue. :)

    Kate_Alexander
  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongNew Member
    edited February 4

    @dpm50 said:
    I wonder why people might be reluctant to try open water swimming. Fear of sharks? Stories of people drowning in rough water? Just lack of any examples/traditions/role models? I'll admit I've had the fears mentioned, but hearing stories of the joy and the challenge of the sport attracts me despite any fears. So maybe people need to hear the positive stories more. The news accounts seem often to focus on the danger. But how to communicate the inviting aspects of open water and marathon swimming? Social media? Maybe hold an event of a modest distance, say, a mile or even a half mile,* so people get a feel for what it's like while not being overwhelmed. Maybe connect it w a run (aquathlon). That might draw runners to try something new. Just a few thoughts....

    There are actually some relatively popular open water races selling out here every year as well, including:

    • New year swim (600 m)
    • Chinese New Year swim (500 m)
    • Winter swimming championships (Dec, 500 m, popular with swimmers from mainland China)
    • The short classes of the national open water swimming championship (600 m or 1.7 km, once respectively each year) - the long classes (5 km or 10 km) are held to FINA standard being elite level only
    • Cross-harbour race (1 km, the most popular race here due to cultural heritage)
    • Tolo Harbour race (2.6 km, the longest race which is popular by local swimmers, and entry is limited to local swimmers)

    In those popular local races, some of them have most quotas in non-competition group just for fun, and some competitions are entered by swim clubs with lots of college kids to gain participation points, while the club's main focus is still in competitive interschool.

    Also there are 3 aquathons each year, with about 150 people participating normally, which is not bad when compared to single-digit participation in marathon swimming, but much less than thousands of people doing 10+ km running races every month.

    I've just noticed another observation, which I don't know if this related the root cause of the problem - the active open water swimming / marathon swimming community mainly consists of English-speaking expatriates (westerners), and it seems that the locals are not connected to that community. Please don't take my words to be racial discrimination. The expatriates and local community don't mix very well. Here in Hong Kong, more than 90% of people primarily speak Cantonese, which is the local ethnical language, and the remaining (mostly expatriates) speak English. The participants of marathon swimming races (excluding the national championship), and the other club races by that community, are mainly expatriates as well, and those races are not well known by the locals. There are some magnificent charity swims with news coverage in these 2 years as well, and those heroes are also expatriates in the active OW community as well.

    This fact alone already makes me very unpleasant. Olivier and Lloyd, please don't get offended if you happen to read this message. It seems that the open water swimmers of Hong Kong are actually mostly open water swimmers of Hong Kong expatriates.

    Apart from swimming, I'm also a member of an orienteering club as well, and the orienteering community here is very local, without any trace of expatriates in races. Triathlon is a sport here where locals and expatriates participate together, but it seems that the locals participants in triathlon seldom come over to the open water swimming / marathon swimming community as well. If we somewhat can get those locals to try out marathon swimming that will be good.

    I've just joined a triathlon club this year, which is formed by people joining my university's tri programme. That programme is known to be open water centric and produced some great marathon swimmers apart from training triathletes. I joined that club just because of convenience of training in the university that I work in, but it turns out that the members are actually those we meet in our weekly group OW swimming consisting mainly of expatriates, rather than "locals". As a result, although I am a 100% local, born locally and receive local education, I am feeling totally disconnected to the local swimming community as well.

    I love open water swimming, and I have visited most of the beaches all round the year. Excluding the summer weekends when a lot of people just go for a dip, most of the swimmers are elderly who do healthy morning swims. They swim regularly every day / week at the same time and become friends. I occasionally chat with them, and some of them also do those popular local races as well. When I mention the existence of the OW community (consisting of expatiates), they refers the community as "a super fast group of westerners who swim very far away" (Yes, they are really fast, the fastest are around 1:20 pace), and when I talk about the 15 km race, they think it's too extreme.

    I will definitely chat with the OW community about these things later, but do you think this is some marketing problem between the expats and locals? Even with a thousand people participating in 2.6 km Tolo Harbour race, the conversion rate to marathon swimming seems none.

  • GlobalSwimmerGlobalSwimmer New York NYMember

    Hi Michael, all valid points and I have no definite answer either.

    I started swimming with OWSHK in 2011 and was amazed by the conditions that the island offers to swim in the open waters all year round - so much that I fell in love with OWS and haven't looked back. However, I was also surprised by the small number of swimmers given HK population, and especially by the lack of locals.

    Lloyd, Ian, Olivier, Doug and others have done / do an excellent job in promoting all sorts of competitions for all levels, and for locals and gweilos alike, so I don't think it's them to blame, or a marketing problem at all. Perhaps it is a cultural thing, as OWS is not as big in Asia as it is in other parts of the world. Or perhaps it is the "shark net effect" that keeps people away from the beaches. But I do agree that the potential it is huge.

    Perhaps you can join Olivier in co-organizing the events and doing some marketing among locals (e.g. a new OWSHK page on FB in Cantonese, that copies the info from the one in English)? Just an idea.

    All the best and I hope to see you in the Clean Half next year :-)

    evmoJaimiethelittlemerwookieJSwim
  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    Marathon running is pretty popular because a lot more people run than swim. I see runners every day all over the place. (I see swimmers every day too, but that's because I'm a swimmer.) If you aren't a swimmer, you don't normally see swimmers.

    Even though I'd have to say running isn't exactly a spectator sport, it sure attracts a larger audience than marathon swimming. And realistically, I'd say that marathon swimming isn't exactly telegenic.

    Lastly, marathon swimming is hard. My guess is that I could probably stagger my way through a marathon run even though I'm not a runner. Even if I failed, I wouldn't drown, I'd just sit down by the side of the road, slightly embarrassed that I actually thought I could run a marathon. A marathon swim is a whole different animal. So the end result is that marathon swimming remains a niche sport. Although it is certainly gaining in popularity as evidenced by the number of new members signing onto this website.

  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongNew Member

    I've just met a large local triathlon club yesterday doing their open water training, however, they don't have interest in doing long distance swimming.

    I think that the triathlon community is a good starting point for expanding the group of marathon swimmers, but it does not seem to be the case from my experience.

    The triathlon club that I'm in produces a few marathon swimmers, I originally think it is the norm, but it now seems to be the exception. I joined the club merely due to convenience (based in the uni I am in), and didn't realised the fact before.

  • @miklcct said:
    I've just met a large local triathlon club yesterday doing their open water training, however, they don't have interest in doing long distance swimming.

    I think that the triathlon community is a good starting point for expanding the group of marathon swimmers, but it does not seem to be the case from my experience.

    Why not swim with them anyway? It sounds like you are looking for training buddies. They might be nice, and swimming is swimming. Does it matter if they ever decide to take on a solo marathon swim? Outside of a few hot spots, I'd guess that few marathon swimmers have the luxury of swimming with other marathon swimmers on a regular basis.

    evmoJSwimJaimieBridgetKatieBunSolo
  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganMember

    @thelittlemerwookie said:
    Outside of a few hot spots, I'd guess that few marathon swimmers have the luxury of swimming with other marathon swimmers on a regular basis.

    So true!!

    Bridget
  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongNew Member

    @Kate_Alexander said:

    @thelittlemerwookie said:
    Outside of a few hot spots, I'd guess that few marathon swimmers have the luxury of swimming with other marathon swimmers on a regular basis.

    So true!!

    I will be very lonely then. I have already no social life apart from my triathlon club and orienteering club. I think I'm already getting mad except in the brief moment when I swim with my club.

    When my friends train for marathon running (42.195 km running race), there are lots and lots of people supporting them and even train together. I just want the same when training for marathon swimming (>= 10 km swimming race).

  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganMember

    @miklcct said:

    I will be very lonely then.

    Yes, it's lonely. There aren't very many swimmers or tris who enjoy long distance. I have trouble finding anyone willing to swim more than 1 mile. So I usually swim alone, and take all the necessary safety precautions (time of day, route, safer swimmer float, carry ID, let a friend know my plans, wear bright colored suit, cap and zinc, etc.).

    Bridget
  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    Swimming can be odd. I never use a kick board, so that whole chat in the lanes thing doesn't happen, but when I am in a pool, seeing other swimmers in other lanes doing their own things keeps me company. I am very much a solo swimmer. Nobody in my area does marathon swimming, and as you noted, triathletes don't always want to do the distances. I do have a small triathlon group I've been swimming with for a few years- a few train for IronMan, but our swims together are usually just a mile. I often keep swimming if they head out on bikes. Swimming takes time, especially at my pace. I've had to wrap my head around swimming alone, along the shore, so I can swim in the early hours before work, or swim the sun down and light up my tow float. While swimming in my lake, I'm happy to see fish, turtles, watch the sun move, and so on. I sometimes yell hello to people I know whose docks I swim by. It is a big treat when I can swim with a paddler. When I do a solo swim, I need a support crew and that is a serious team effort, but mostly, I train alone. It generally works, as long as I can be in touch with other marathon swimmers in a forum like this, or chat in a locker room with people and compare goals, or just figure I am social at work. Swim time is my "in my head" time- for brainstorming, mentally listening to music, or just letting the landscape slip by.

    Not sure this will be helpful, but I hope you are able to enjoy your swimming, wherever and however you make it work.

    JaimiethelittlemerwookieflystormsStephenKatieBunSolo
  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongNew Member
    edited February 17

    Today a few of my orienteering friends has run the 42.195 km marathon race, but unfortunately none of them do any swimming at all. I haven't successfully persuaded any of my orienteering friends to do open water swimming yet.

    Is this the harsh reality, or is there anything I can do to get some of them to do open water swimming?

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    @miklcct , sometimes you have to bite the bullet and accept that you have to train alone much of the time. You may find you have company for shorter training swims but the longer ones may just require sheer strength of mind on your part, to go it alone. If it gets tough, remind yourself of your goal.

    evmorlmKate_Alexander
  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongNew Member
    edited February 17

    I know a group who does long training swims (5 km and up), but they don't welcome me because the speed difference is too large. They are somewhere around 1'40" / 100 m or even less but I'm about 2'10" / 100 m or even more.

    I'm now swimming with another group who does shorter distance, but even 4 years ago they didn't welcome me either because they had speed requirement as well and I hadn't got to that speed yet.

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    @miklcct - i swim at most 1/3 of my yards with my Masters swim group the other yards i swim alone this time of year. and when it comes to training in the open water the most i can get out of other people is maybe 1-2 hours, not nearly enough. and when i swim with them they are also mostly faster than me. what we do to accomodate multiple speeds is to swim loops. so we mark off that we swim to the green house and back to the pier. this puts us all in the same area so if anyone does have an issue we're close and yet still lets everyone swim their happy speeed. also somedays i put on bouy and swim parellel to shore, in water i can mostly stand in. you got to toughen buttercup if you want to swim marathons. you have to get your yards in, swim distance, swim sprints, swim pools, lakes, rivers, oceans. you got to do what it takes. there are no massive groups of marathon swimmers except a very few places....because if it was easy everyone would do it. all this training alone toughens you mentally because when you swim a channel or a bridge or 36 miles in a river, there's no one there with you, no big group...just you and kayacker. training alone prepares for this.

    thelittlemerwookieKatieBunStephenIronMikeSolo
  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    There are also ways to swim with faster swimmers even if you can't keep up their pace. Of course, it helps to find accommodating swimmers.

    A few years ago I swam pretty regularly at this pool where there were a couple swimmers fresh out of college. They were a little too quick for me and their sets were at pretty tough send offs for this old guy. We found ways that I could mix in with them and we all got a great workout.

    Here's an example. They were doing 100's @ 1:10. At the time, a 1:10 was about as fast as I could go, let alone use as an interval. So I'd blast the 100, get my tenth of a second rest and swim a reasonable 50. Then I'd watch them finish their hundred and we'd sync up and I do another hundred with them. So I was getting a great workout chasing them and they were not having to modify their workout.

    This gets a little trickier if you are swimming open water. Maybe if you are doing a loop swim, cut the corner and sync up with the group as they are going by the other way. Your goal will be to try and get where you are cutting less and less of the loop off until one day, you stay with the group the whole loop. On a point to point swim, maybe start further along the route and try to beat them to the finish. Then make your start point closer and closer to their start point until you can swim the whole way with the group. Just some ideas for you...

    The other thing that is fun about swimming with faster swimmers is that they push you and you improve. So hopefully you can find a group that is willing to work with you. I think the best way to do that is you be the one to mix in with their workout without diminishing their planned workout. They will be happy to swim with you if you don't slow them down. The only time swimmers get pissed is if someone is impeding them.

    rlmflystormsKate_Alexander
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