Interest or Identity

Discussion title inspired by an Ezra Klein AMA podcast....
So, personally I’ve come to the reluctant realization that my slide toward the former has momentum and is quite possibly irreversible.
A list of reasons would cover a lot of ground; and I’m not about to go into it all in this post, though I may go into detail if this thread develops into an actual discussion. Numerous events of 2019 have disabused me of the notion that obsession has a net positive effect... though I’m trying to hold on to the notion that a healthy balance can be achieved.

...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.



  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited January 1

    I hear you, and I'm glad there are still topics of such substance posted here. Reminds me of an earlier time. Some scattered thoughts...

    The vast majority of marathon swimmers don't last more than a couple years in the sport. People tick their "box" - whatever it is - and move on. Training for long swims (let's say, 20+ miles) is hard. Doing them is expensive. The swimmers who keep pounding out big swims year after year (decade after decade some cases) are extraordinarily rare, and seem to have their lives set up in a certain way that just isn't possible for most people.

    Some stay involved by transitioning to event organizing & administration. Facilitating others' swims is perhaps a bit more sustainable - fulfilling in its own way, but also potentially disillusioning in its own way. Over-entitled swimmers and the burden of risk and responsibility exact a toll over time.

    I've been involved in the sport for 10 years now (>30, if I count pool swimming) - but only actively swimming marathons for 3 or 4 of them. My interest has been emotionally sustained by relationships and conversations with people I deeply respect - like you, @david_barra, and Elaine, Sarah, Andrew, Caroline, Anthony, and my SBCSA colleagues. My interest has been intellectually sustained by developing new projects like the database. Maybe one of these days I'll swim a few more marathons.

    wendyv34david_barraSwimmersuzflystormsthelittlemerwookieStLucia_ChannelKatieBunCopelj26j9swimIronMikeand 8 others.
  • Oh...such a great topic! Understanding one's motivation, at least for me, I have been able to sustain a long career in marathon swimming. For me, I have another totally different passion far removed from swimming which helps to keep my swimming in perspective.

  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongMember

    For me it is two-fold - I have channel aspiration but it will be an item in my checkbox which I expect to take months off and all my savings for that, then I will probably return to racing 10 km - 15 km as that's my comfortable distance, I'm truly interested in open water swimming, I like racing more than a challenge, and training for such a non-insane distance is possible while holding a full time job with social and family life.

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    i've been pondering along these lines too, maybe for different reasons. I started 10 years ago swimming, marathons for 6. I'm 58 and think that i have maybe 5 more years of swimming these kind of distances, the odds are my body will break or maybe my spirit. i look around and see many others in the same age range downshifting or stopping all together. The problem is that it has become my identity, but i can see from some of my own behaviors that its not always healthy. I have had other addictions in my life, I don't transition well. So i'll keep watching those a few yards in front of me and see what directions they go and if any resonate with me. I hope to gracefully move to something else or be involved in OWS in some way that's gratifying without breaking me. The problem is that its the best drug i've found so far...

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    @j9swim thanks for that, and thanks @david_barra for introducing the topic. Most timely. It's been on my mind for months and I haven't solved it yet. I'm also 58 and never intended to slide from interest to identity, but over the past 7 years, since I discovered marathons, that's what's happened and my obsession has become so all-encompassing that I have neglected certain very important people. Accepting it has been difficult and I'll admit I'm not ready to slide back in the other direction just yet. I'm trying to stop halfway between the two, for this year, run a few courses, do some more observing and crewing, do a 10k and an 8 mile BLDSA event but my next 20+ mile swim is booked for 2021 and the planned reduction in my training volume for 2020 is already getting to me. I feel adrift and incomplete without big goals to work for. That's just plain wrong and feels incredibly selfish. I am working on learning moderation but it's not coming easy. Like you, @j9swim , it's the best drug I've found....

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited January 3

    An interesting factor in this is social media. It has revolutionized the sport over the past decade, making it possible to connect with resources (people and knowledge) like never before. It has facilitated, accelerated, and geographically flattened the development of both interest in marathon swimming and identity as a marathon swimmer. How many of us have a swimming photo as our FB profile?

    But what are the downsides of our increased connectedness? Does social media also accelerate burnout? Since so many swimmers now "perform" their swims to a global social media audience, what happens when a swimmer (whose identity is tied to being a marathon swimmer) gets injured, takes a new job, or for whatever reason goes through a fallow period? Is it potentially alienating to see everyone else doing big swims, having fun, posing for their perfect Instagram shot at the end of their swim? Can social media exclude as much as it connects?

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    @evmo , Very good comments regarding social media. This site is one of the VERY few social media sites that I participate in. I think the positive environment of this site is extremely helpful for anyone involved in this sport. I agree that it has facilitated the interest in marathon and open water swimming. This is not considered a spectator sport, but I would have to say that there were a lot of people awake at all hours of the night watching a dot crossing the English Channel a few months ago. That would not have happened except for social media. I think that is really inspiring.

    I also agree that social media can have a bad influence and it's possible that people would be upset to see others doing great things while they are sulking doing crap workouts because their schedule has screwed up their plans. But I think that's more on the individual and their reaction to what they see on facebook or whatever. I know that there are people that post on some of those sites that are just showing the world how great they are and how perfect their life is. Other people who see this can either enjoy it or be envious. I like to use peoples achievements on this site as motivation. I'm not ever going to be a dot doing amazing things, but I am inspired to go out and swim my enjoyable swims and do my minor accomplishments because of all of the neat postings I read on this site.

  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member

    Great topic @david_barra and I hope I add rather than deduct from the discussion.

    You ask Interest vs. Identity. So much in so few words. I struggle with this. In my down periods I wonder why I swim (or why I'm not in the pool when I should be) because, well, I identify as a marathon swimmer. It's in my blog title. It's in my Twitter bio (or whatever that's called). It's why I was so struck a few years ago when I got called out. It's why I often struggle with the definition of "marathon swim" and why I question myself when I enjoy 5Ks more than longer swims, or when I look at my bank account.

    Dave, you mention "net positive effect" and I understand where you're coming from. (TMI follows; feel free to skip.) Very recently I had to make a professional decision that has some of my peers stunned but had to be done to keep my marriage strong. I gave up an assignment to a dream location with 365 access to open water, but of course I prioritized correctly. (Trust me, I didn't know the effect on my marriage until months into the hiring process and the minute I discovered my wife's concerns, I contacted the hiring office and told them I could no longer go.) In no way could I say the decision to bail on a 3-year assignment to Fiji (yes, that Fiji) was the wrong move as I place my wife much higher in importance to me than swimming. (TMI complete.)

    So then, question remains: Does that mean marathon swimming is an interest to me rather than an identity? Do I change up my Twitter and blog, etc.? Is there a category between interest and identity? Rabid fan? Active participant? I don't know. But I think maybe I'm in the between.

    With respect to social media, I'm not sure. I think there is definitely some positive with social media. Without it, would we have learned of those fraudulent claims by some the past few years? Whether marathon swimming is an identity or an interest to me, I still love posting my GPS tracks, even when they are only a mile or so in 50-something degrees. I post them as often (or more than?) as I post about the actual marathon swims I do.

    You know, I had planned a blog post after Swim the Suck this year but never got around to finishing it. My point of the blog post was the feeling I had at Swim the Suck like it was Homecoming for marathon swimmers. This community is one of the best I've had the pleasure to be a member of; whether one identifies or is interested in marathon swimming, at least they're accepted, supported and cheered. No matter how much I swim, I'll always remember that and will always be interested in what the community is doing!


    Just here troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries...

  • AnthonyMcCarleyAnthonyMcCarley Berwyn, PACharter Member
    edited January 3

    Don’t think of myself as a swimmer. Just a person who does marathon swims as a hobby.

    And I keep trying to quit this hobby. Almost every marathon swim since 2013 has been my “last” swim.

    In fact, much of the time, I hate swimming. I am no where near open water – so 99.99% of my training is in a concrete box filled with water. For a few months of the year, the concrete box is an outdoor 50m pool. The rest of the year it is a 25 yard, indoors, box. Almost never do I experience joy during a big swim that I read so much about others experiencing. Before and during a swim, there is a lot of fear, pain and misery.

    Marathon swimming entered my life because of a boyhood dream… to swim the EC. Every other swim is a bonus. But I just don’t seem able to quit. I keep telling everyone close to me that I am “retiring”… but, then… something catches my eye…

    I think if the people in marathon swimming weren’t so wonderful, it would be easier to quit. But being someone who does marathon swims, it means I am surrounded by people with great integrity. People all over the world with the same value system. Helping each other. Supporting each other. Following the rules. Most important, self-enforcing the rules.

    It is hard not to want to be around people like that. Because of marathon swimming I have friends on multiple continents that I would never otherwise have.

    Marathon swimming keeps me healthy (I have a very hard time getting myself to exercise without a goal) and sets an example for my kids… so I don’t think of it as selfish. I think of it as a way to be ready to be there for others.

    Then every big swim I learn something about myself. A big swim is like a big giant mirror into the depths of who I am… that I can only see through the fear, the pain and the misery.

    I wish I could be more like the people who find joy in the process of swimming (like the people Guardian article talks about: ).

    But, while I am just someone who just swims marathons, marathon swimming is still addicting.

  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member

    Regardless of how much I am swimming, I've always felt ambivalent about identifying as a 'marathon swimmer' because of the exclusions it potentially produces, but have been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of years while I've been largely unable to swim due to injury as well as struggling under difficult work conditions that have made it hard to find the time / focus to train in a way that is rewarding rather than self-destructive. Right now, i see myself as 'someone who swims' - maybe more, maybe less, but for whom swimming, and particularly open water swimming, is an important lifeline and love. But not as a marathon swimmer, necessarily (although still with a deep interest in the sport - to read, follow, track, discuss). This has come along with a growing disillusionment with the wider social world of marathon swimming, where the apolitical stance necessary to hold a disparate group together around a particular practice no longer feels tenable in our current troubled times, and where identifying as a 'marathon swimmer' necessitates the in-community silencing of more pressing identities and commitments (as a feminist, a socialist, a European, an anti-fascist etc).

    But I also don't think that intensity of practice and identity are necessarily the same thing either, and that waning / episodic engagement with the sport are the norm rather than the exception. That too may be what it is to be a marathon swimmer. I enjoyed being so thoroughly immersed in marathon swimming, but for me, that was not financially, temporally, bodily, politically or socially sustainable. Injury aside, which is an unadulterated nuisance, I'm happier with my current level of engagement with swimming - more for pleasure and interest, less all-consuming and with much less at stake, whether I do another long swim or not.

  • ViveBeneViveBene Member
    edited January 4

    Whenever I wear (with pleasure, and a little flutter) my MFO gear, I am also subliminally braced for the question: "And do you swim marathons?"
    No, and it seems an increasingly distant goal. How I spend the countable years remaining requires thought and goal selection.
    I am happy being a swimming enthusiast while applauding others' achievements.
    Thanks, @david_barra , for introducing this topic.

  • emkhowleyemkhowley Boston, MACharter Member

    I recently had a similar conversation with a friend I hadn't seen in about 8 years. We used to swim together on a super intense Masters team (like, if you were even 30 seconds late coming on deck for one of your 3 required practices that week, you were sent home to think about what you did wrong. Too many of those and you'd be booted off the team). His question was "what does it mean for an amateur athlete to retire?" He's done a few Ironmans and loads of ultramarathon running events, but life has intervened and he finds himself doing less of that as he builds a consulting business. And yet, every time he sees someone he hasn't seen in a while, the first question is, "what big event are you training for now?" It's both frustrating and a bit nostalgic, I think, as it reminds him of a previous phase of life where that identity as an endurance athlete took priority over other things.

    I get those questions frequently, too. It's almost like people don't know what else to ask about--I guess with social media I have made the swimming portion of my life the most visible part, and that's the default small talk question. At times, I get frustrated by that--there's a lot more to me than just marathon swims. But I do feel the need to constantly have something big on the horizon in order to keep that piece of my identity intact.

    Though I'm not only a marathon swimmer, it is a big part of who I am and how I engage with the world. And I don't know what it would look like if that went away for whatever reason.


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

  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Member

    For me Identity means a label, and I don't like to have them. Either you have a bunch of them, and then you look unfocussed, or you have one, two, three..., and then as
    @KarenT says, you are potentially excluding other identities. I don't even label myself as a swimmer!, so I wouldn't dare to add adjectives to that.

    I understand, though, that labels help us have the feeling that we are a member of a group, a community.

    But the downside of being part of a group (specially when the features of the group are clearly restricted) is precisely that, at some point, you wonder if you are still part of the group. Then the question arises: Do I still deserve to wear the label? Should I rip it off, or just store it in a drawer? identity, or just interest?

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