average speed of a marathon swimmer compared to a marathon runner

miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongMember
edited February 11 in General Discussion

The MSF has just posted statistics on the Facebook page about how fast an average marathon swimmer is. The speed is quoted as 3.2 kph at 10 km for amateurs. This translate to about 3:07:30 for the whole race.

As a 10 km swim is comparable to a full marathon, This time / speed is just unbelievable for an "average" swimmer. If you can run a 3:10 or 3:20 marathon, I think you are already better than the VAST majority of runners! So I find out how fast an average runner can run a marathon. And, in a news article, it is quoted as 3:52:35 in 1986 and 4:32:49 now, which shows that as marathons get popular the world gets slower, and I think it is normal.

However, what makes me really shocked is that the vast difference between the average speed of swimmers and runners and it really makes my self-esteem low. I am training for marathon run and marathon swim at the same time and targeting the same time in both marathon run and marathon swim. If I can complete my marathon run in that time, it will put me in the upper half of the runner population. However, even if I can swim my 10 km at that time, I am nowhere near an "average" swimmer, so it gives the perception that I'm a bad swimmer.

What are the reason that, a 10 km swim and marathon run are done in similar time in world-class athletes, but not by an average amateur? Why are amateur swimmer "faster" than amateur runner by so much when the elites are doing them in similar time? (unfortunately triathlons with both a marathon swim and a marathon run haven't gone mainstream yet - most races are biased to the bike then the run and underweight the swim, otherwise we can get more useful insights if the swim and run are done by the same population)

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  • PasqualePasquale Antwerp (Belgium)Member

    @miklcct I had some experience with running before badly injuring my knee.. My guess is that running is much more popular then swimming for such a distance. Almost everyone can run a marathon (of course with some training ) since there is no technical requirements and when you are tired you can switch to walking or even seat down for few minutes. That allows a lot of people to run a marathon in 5 or even 6 to 7hours.. On the other hand, swimming 10K requires much more confidence. Even for triathletes, 10K is perceived as a very big distance. And you cannot just "walk". In my opinion the average technical level is much higher for marathon swimming then running. I think the rule 1:4 is valid only for decent/good swimmer. swimming for 5-6 hours can be much harder then running at allow pace for same amount of time simply for the fact of being in the water and need to control your breath..

    While the average jogger that runs 2 times a week can go for a marathon, I think the average swimmer who hit the pool 2, 3 times a week will never attempt a 10K swim.
    I also know several decent amateurs that run a marathon in 3h or a bit more. Usually people who train seriously and run 4 times a week or more, and usually people with a low BMI will benefit much more. In running being light is a huge advantage, so 3h wall can be perceived as hard just because you really need a low BMI to run so fast...

    If you rule out all the people that run a marathon without proper training, walking big parts just to say "i did it" I think then the numbers will start to match again... Also if we do the same comparison for shortest swimming distance.. Lets say 1 mile, that allows a big number of amateurs the avg time for swimming will result much higher ...

    Honestly I would not like swimming to become as much popular as running.. The swimming pool are already to busy... running you can do it everywhere and in any season and this also why it is so much more popular..
    My 2 cents

    KatieBunCopelj26ruthSoloevmoangel55
  • ColmBreathnachColmBreathnach Charter Member
    edited February 11

    A 10K swim is not comparable to a 26 mile run. A 14-15K swim is probably more accurate.

  • AkweAkwe Oxfordshire, UKMember

    The speed vs effort profiles of swimming and running/walking are very different

    I'm not the fastest but swimming I can range from around 2km/hr (virtually asleep) to a sprint speed of around 4.5k/h ie maybe 2 or 2.5 times faster.

    The equivalent on land for many will be slow walk at around 2mph to a sprint of around 15mph so maybe 7 or 8 times faster.

    As most (non pros) will be able to operate anywhere near to there sprint speed over marathon distances, for running the time drop off will be much larger due to the wider speed range.

  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongMember

    @Pasquale said:
    @miklcct I had some experience with running before badly injuring my knee.. My guess is that running is much more popular then swimming for such a distance. Almost everyone can run a marathon (of course with some training ) since there is no technical requirements and when you are tired you can switch to walking or even seat down for few minutes. That allows a lot of people to run a marathon in 5 or even 6 to 7hours.. On the other hand, swimming 10K requires much more confidence. Even for triathletes, 10K is perceived as a very big distance. And you cannot just "walk".

    Well, in swimming, when you are tired you can also roll onto your back, stretch your arms as well. And you are basically weightless in water.

    In my opinion the average technical level is much higher for marathon swimming then running. I think the rule 1:4 is valid only for decent/good swimmer. swimming for 5-6 hours can be much harder then running at allow pace for same amount of time simply for the fact of being in the water and need to control your breath..

    I have done marathon swims of 5-6 hours in time. I'm now training for my first marathon run, and until now my longest run was about 3 hours in length. By the last hour, basically every step is a pain for me, and after it my feet becomes swollen. It simply hurts to run for so long with my body weight pounding against my feet every step. Does that mean my running form is bad?

    While the average jogger that runs 2 times a week can go for a marathon, I think the average swimmer who hit the pool 2, 3 times a week will never attempt a 10K swim.

    I don't think an average jogger that runs 2 times a week can go for it. The risk of injury is simply too high. I think I'm in a big trouble now because last month I was only running 2 times per week with not that high mileage, and I need to correct myself to have more runs in the week otherwise I'm afraid I won't be able to complete the marathon.

  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Chicago, IL (Los Angeles, CA)Member

    I think you are making a flawed argument when you base it on the assumption that a 10km swim and marathon run are equivalent? Why do you feel the need to make direct comparisons anyway?

    slknightPasqualeSolomke84evmoCopelj26thelittlemerwookieBridgetflystorms
  • PasqualePasquale Antwerp (Belgium)Member

    @miklcct , I don't wanna say that running is easier in general, of course it is very tough on your legs and the risk of hurting yourself is high, but a lot of people do run marathons with little training, just to finish, at the risk of get injured and this increases the average times. I see this does not happens that much in swimming, all the people I know that swim 10K or more are good swimmers and with solid training.. With running, the fact that you are in an environment you can control (air and soil) it helps mentally to finish a marathon even without proper training. Yes, you can roll and rest also in the water, but treading water does not come so easy for everyone, also you have to deal with the cold, waves slapping your face, currents and wind so it is not always possible... What I am trying to say is that running does not require technical skills (at amateur level) and is accessible to a wider audience. Your feet will hurt like crazy after 5h run, maybe more then your shoulder do after same time in swimming, but you do not risk drowning if you get a big cramp....

  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member

    @miklcct said:
    ..."in a news article"), it is quoted as 3:52:35 in 1986 and 4:32:49 now, which shows that as marathons get popular the world gets slower, and I think it is normal.

    I don't think that necessarily means that the world has gotten slower. I think that's reflective of the increase in popularity of the marathon for many. My daughter who took up running a few years ago, would run for 20-30 minutes 2x to 3x a week decided her first ever organized run would be the Moscow Marathon. She did it in 5:55. She ran/walk/ambled through the whole thing. She was ill prepared for it, but she finished. More than I could do and her mom and I were crazy proud of her. She runs more now because she's in the Army and when I mention "marathon" she has a look on her face like she's gonna use some Army voodoo and choke me out.

    Let's all remember that the 1:4 ratio thing was thought up by the IOC and/or FINA purely for spectator reasons. They wanted a non-pool swimming event that would take about the same time as the marathon run. Two hours is a comfortable chunk of time that can keep someone's attention, whether they're marathon fans or (swim) marathon fans. If the Olympics had taken up the 25K as the marathon distance, I think most of us would have to subscribe to some sort of service so we could watch the entire 5 hours, and NBC (or whoever in your country) would just show us highlights.

    Point is, I don't think the 1:4 necessarily translates to us recreational marathon swimmers. Certainly, it doesn't necessarily translate in one and the same person. Perhaps at lower distances by those trained equally in both sports. Maybe a pro triathlete could today swim a 2500m swim in 35:00 and tomorrow run a 10K in 35:00. Then can we say that s/he is equally fit in both sports? Who knows.

    I'm with @Pasquale. I think we have a smaller population of people who think 'I'm gonna get in shape/lose weight and my goal will be to swim a marathon.' Swimming for that amount of time with the constant possibility of drowning is vastly different than running/walking your first marathon.

    @miklcct said:
    Well, in swimming, when you are tired you can also roll onto your back, stretch your arms as well. And you are basically weightless in water.

    Um, but are you making forward progress? Maybe if in a current-assisted body of water. Maybe you're being pushed back (damn you, East River). Rolling onto your back is not the same as walking in a marathon run.

    PasqualeSolo

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

  • mke84mke84 Milwaukee, WIMember

    Just a theory, but in addition to what others have said, I think the greater availability and lower overall cost to participate also allow for more "casual" runners to enter marathons which brings their average times down. For example, I can think of several annual marathons that are close enough to drive to the morning of, so the only cost would be registration. The nearest 10k swim to me is something like 6 hours away, so that's the registration fee + gas + hotel + meals. If that "$90" swim is now costing in the hundreds (more if it's a race where you need a kayaker, which I would also have to pay for), you better believe I'm going to be as prepared as possible for it, compared to runner who may just gut it out.

    IronMikeCopelj26
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 11

    Here is the original post @miklcct is referencing:

    How fast are marathon swimmers? The 57,000 results in the LongSwims database provide some insight.

    At 10km, the average professional (FINA) marathon swimmer swims 4.9 kph, while the average amateur swims 3.2 kph. At 25km, the pros are swimming 4.6 kph and the amateurs 2.9 kph.

    Both pros and amateurs swim 2% slower for every additional km of total distance.

    Footnotes: these data are limited to swims between 2000 and 2019 in current-neutral water (generally, lakes and loop courses), with at least 10 swims per given route.

    A couple points:

    • The fastest pro marathon swimmers swim 10km about 15 minutes faster than the fastest pro marathon runners cover 26.2 miles, so the two distances are not really equivalent.
    • 3.2kph in no way represents the "average swimmer," but rather, the average speed among those who attempt and complete 10km swims, which is already a very select subset of the general swimming population.
    slknightIronMikeCopelj26thelittlemerwookieSolo
  • abeabe australiaMember

    I have raced a 50km ultra and a 15km swim - enjoyed both but not sure how to compare the 4 hour swim to the 5.30 run/walk (the walk hurt more but that could of been 45km)

  • jendutjendut Charter Member
    edited February 11

    My $.02 - I am a VERY SLOW (inefficient, messy, etc) RUNNER. I did (and trained for) a 5.5 hr and a 6 hr trail run this fall in my "off season," and I have to say the amount of sensory stimulation on land makes a pretty big difference in comparison. For me I can more easily (and with less preparation) swim 6 hours than run it but the six hours of running up and down actual mountains (even in the pouring cold rain and 6 inches of mud) was still in some ways easier mentally. *People talk to you, you can walk, you can look around, you can wonder what those people over there doing, you can listen in to conversations as people pass you (lots of people pass me)... if ONLY I had the mechanics to run for as long as I can swim!

    But I just remembered the question was speed not ease! I think there are a lot of factors in comparing the two.

    IronMikethelittlemerwookieSoloBridget
  • Guyco111Guyco111 IsraelMember

    see also on openwaterpedia about Sub-3 x 2 Marathon Club:
    "The Sub-32 Marathon or Sub-32 Marathon Club (also Sub-3 Squared Club or Sub-3 x 2 Marathon Club or the Sub 3 Squared Marathon Club) is a select group of endurance athletes who have swum a full 10 km marathon swim without a wetsuit, fins or paddles under 3 hours and who have also run a full 42 km marathon run under 3 hours".
    For any professional athlete in each field by itself, this is not an exceptional result, however if combined - it seems as if not even the most professional endurance athletes in the world have managed to achieve this. Especially when required to run and swim an event within 1 week.
    So what I am saying is - swimmers are good at swimming, runners are good at running. doing exceptionally good in both is almost unheard of. You can compare times of runners to those of swimmers but don't put your hopes on reaching the same "time level" as your nr. 1 when comparing to others.

  • abeabe australiaMember

    I would love to achieve that but I think a lot could...I am not a professional but have done a 2hour 15 10km swim and a 1hour 22 half marathon (that was 20 years ago) so back then think I could have hit both with some extra run training

    Pasqualemiklcct
  • "Runners" can take rests....jog, plod, walk, SIT if they need to and "finish" a marathon. Heck, you see posted "finish times" of marathons upwards of EIGHT hours. You didn't FINISH that marathon....you just traveled the distance. Swimmers must SWIM the whole time. No place to sit on a bench and stretch your quads or calves, etc. if you need to. There are no real "breaks" and there are actual cut off points where they will pull you out of the water. To me, that is what makes ultra marathon swimming "harder" and is why so few people do it. NOW, for the ELITE in both sports, that's hard to say which is "harder." It's apples and oranges. I do think if you are an elite marathoner or an elite ultra marathon swimmer, you are in EQUAL classes of your own.

    IronMikePasqualeSoloKatieBun
  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MAMember

    I always find this discussion so interesting.

    I've completed two running marathons - Boston (on a charity number, in 5:50 - I fondly refer to it as the "tour de portapotty" and let's just leave it at that) and New York (in 7:02 - I had a massive wardrobe malfunction at mile 4.5 and ended up with fist sized bleeding "chafe" spots on my inner thighs. Sometimes you SHOULD drop out of races).

    I've also completed two swims 10k or greater - one of the Memphre Kingdom Swim Week swims that was probably around 6.5 miles or so (4:00), and the current assisted Swim the Suck (4:48).

    So yup, I'm slow. I'm also buoyant enough that I can rest while swimming - yes, I don't make much forward progress, but I can lazily paddle and move forward. I can also rest while running with lazy walking. Either way, honestly, it doesn't make the day go much better to give up on it. If I'm out there, I'm racing and I'm moving as fast as I should be according to what's going on with my body, my brain, and my race plan. If it looks like lazy ambling to you... well, I'm happy for you that you're speedy. Save me a bagel at the finish line.

    MLambyKatieBunCopelj26IronMikemiklcctnooravalkonensosophiaphiaBridgetSolo
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