Marathon Swimming and Relationships

JbetleyJbetley UKMember
edited May 2013 in General Discussion
Marathon swimming obviously needs a lot of time spending on it, often (at least in my case) at unsociable hours. How do people find that affects your relationship if you are in one? Do people have partners who are into the same thing? If not, do you feel supported in what you are doing, which might be perceived as being inherently a little selfish?

Personally, I am in the process of separating from my wife, as we are no longer making each other happy. It is not acrimonious (at the moment at least), and she is actually still incredibly supportive of my EC aspirations next year.

What other experiences do other people have?


  • I just pretend I need somebody to watch me for safety and drag my girlfriend to sit on the shore and watch if the weather's good. She's very supportive and a little proud of my swimming.
    Sorry to hear about the separation hope it all works out in the end.
  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member
    So far, it hasn't been a problem for my relationship. I swam before we started dating. Her Dad runs marathons, so she has some familiarity with the time it takes, and some of the mentality associated with an endurance athlete. This also helps her realize I'm not insane.

    When we started to get serious, I think she'd sometimes get a little frustrated by how early I go to bed, but she doesn't stay up very late, so it was okay. I make sure to say "I love you" when I leave for the pool and she's still asleep, and as long as I do that, she doesn't seem worried (although if I forget, something doesn't register in her subconcious, and she says she'll get worried).

    She paddled for me in the training swims and my first 25k. She saw me close to my worst, but she was very encouraging and helped me get through a swim that, if left to my own devices, I'm not sure I would have. She did get a little frustrated that I wouldn't tell her with more advanced warnings about long training swims, though.

    She isn't paddling for me this weekend, but she is paddling for me at Kingdom Swim in Vermont this July.

    I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I think you can make it work. It takes some sacrifice and compromise on both sides, but it's nothing that can't be overcome.
  • worthyadvisorworthyadvisor Chicago, ILMember
    The way I see it, my wife and I have compatible obsessions. I swim and am a pastor, she's an engineer and musician. There are times where I tell her to go practice her music, and she tells me to go swim when I'm not entirely feeling like swimming. She also used to be an olympic-level yacht racer, so she really understands about mental prep, weight training, etc.

    I suppose what it comes down to is having a partner that accepting *and* encouraging. Someone who gets that sometimes the obsession outranks $0.02

    I'm the Wiccan Christian that was profiled in USMS's Swimmer Magazine in 2017. Soon, I'll be moving to Zurich, Switzerland. Also, I pray to St. Adjutor, the patron saint of open water swimmers.

  • molly1205molly1205 Lincoln, NebraskaSenior Member
    Assuming we can coast to September, my husband and I will have survived 25 years of marriage, which doesn't make me an expert, but I've found that it's not the quantity of time we spend together, it's the quality. We do little rituals - a daily "morning update" email - and always take a vacation together once or more a year. So even though we are doing our own things most of the week, we make it a priority to reconnect over a nice dinner or just hanging out together for some R and R on the weekend.
    I'm sorry to hear about your separation @jbentley. I hope you can find some peace in your swimming. In a good relationship, I don't think you have to choose between your passion for swimming and your spouse or significant other.

    Molly Nance, Lincoln, Nebraska

  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    I traveled in triathlon circles for a couple of years and it was well known that moving up to the full Ironman distance wrecked more than one marriage/relationship.

    As for me I just keep reminding my wife how old I am and how little time I have left to do these kinds of things. She has no idea what I have planned next, and I'm going to keep it that way until the dust settles after this years swims. By then I'll be even older and, presumably, have even less time do do these kinds of things. ;-)
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    I am a lucky ba$tard, as my wife is fully supportive. My family are as well. I spend most nights at masters practice and then jet off on our family's dime to these weird locations to do stupid swims, yet she's okay with it.

    We've been married a long time and we're a (retired) military family, so she's used to inconsistency and the vicissitudes of our life, as well as the fickleness and capriciousness of my "hobbies."

    And, in a moment of weakness, she admitted that she loves telling people her husband is a marathon swimmer. So I can always throw that back in her face. ;)

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member
    evmo wrote:

    Very interesting read. I have seen some of the effects of that, but I do try to keep my swimming time to times when she doesn't have much going on (like 3am when I'm swimming and she's sleeping, or saturday morning, when she's probably sleeping). I do sacrifice some of the sleep that I'd prefer to stay up and either spend time with her, or to help her out with something. I've skipped a few morning swims to stay out with her and her friends. It helps me out in the long term, I think (I hope)
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    edited May 2013
    evmo wrote:
    ...but mostly untrue. I know JW. It seems the author (I will stop short of calling him a journalist) had the narritive all worked out before the “research” even began.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    ...but mostly untrue. I know JW. It seems the author (I will stop short of calling him a journalist) had the narritive all worked out before the “research” even began.
    Untrue or misleading? Did the author fabricate the quotes?

    That's unfortunate if JW was portrayed unfairly, but clearly the narrative rings true to many endurance athletes and their families.
  • JbetleyJbetley UKMember
    It is very interesting to have everyone's ideas. Just to be clear, it is not my 8-9 hours in the pool every week that has caused my relationship to founder, it's a bunch of other stuff around being different people with different ideas, and not making each other happy. My wife is being incredibly supportive of my EC goals next year, to her absolute credit. I want to be the world's best ex husband as well if I can. W really rate each other as individuals, just not as a partnership!

    Again, to echo some other posts, little does she know that my aspirations may not end with the EC (should I be lucky enough to get across). There's a lot of exciting swims out there!
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    edited May 2013
    evmo wrote:
    That's unfortunate if JW was portrayed unfairly, but clearly the narrative rings true to many endurance athletes and their families.

    i would say misleading...

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • BillBill Member
    The 2 rules to the survival of my marriage:

    1. No workouts after 5:00 PM. That's family time
    2. Let her sleep in on Sunday morning as long as she wants and make sure my 2 and 4 year olds don't wake her up.
  • WaterGirlWaterGirl Scottsdale, AZCharter Member
    I hate that article.

    Good relationship: Wow, I'm feeling overwhelmed with work/care for elderly parents/childcare/yardwork, etc. This may not be the year for me to attempt an Ironman or a channel crossing. Unless my partner has some creative ideas for how we can simplify our lives to help make room for a new project.

    Bad relationship A: If I do xyz this year, my partner will divorce me.
    Bad relationship B: I'm a work/triathlon/swimming/video game/etc. widow(er)

    Plus, I hate the part about how the spouse becomes so much better looking by training 20 hours per week. Twenty hours per week of training does not make you look better than 5. It may make you look much, much worse.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    Hate is a strong word.

    I like the article (but don't LOVE it, because that would be too strong) mostly for the comments. There is nothing quite like the sanctimonious outrage of a Wall Street Journal reader, except maybe the outrage of a New York Times reader.
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    Well played, @evmo!

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    I was married to a man who couldn't handle when I trained for 10k swims....3-4 workouts a week, only 2 of which got me home late. He didn't understand dedication and sacrifice, and working hard to reach a goal. He also didn't have a way to entertain himself with his own hobbies and friends when I wasn't around. We split for a lot of reasons, and it fairly amicable, but he just didn't get it, and was vocal about it. I decided to get into marathon swimming about the time we split, mostly for my mental health, and I knew as I was training, he'd never have let me get away with it. Now, I'm engaged to a guy who simply gets it. He understands compulsive and extremist behavior and is incredibly proud of what I do. Sometimes we argue over weekend plans, but generally have learned to compromise. If he asks me to skip, I will, because I know he'd only ask if it was really important to him. Otherwise, we have our own hobbies and support each other. I take swim trips, he takes fishing trips. We make it work, not always gracefully, but it works. And if it came down to it, I'd pick the swimming. ;-)
  • JoeBJoeB Member
    My wife and I have been together for over 27 years. A big part of our relationship has been doing things together. We have done quite a few marathons and ironmans together but marathon swimming is something we can't do together. Even though she does swim a reasonable amount, marathon distances don't interest her and she has even more trouble then I do with cold water (yes @ssthomas, there is someone that is worse in cold water then me). Due to her understanding of the dedication and sacrifice for endurance events, she supported me through the multi-year effort to train for my EC and MIMS swims. It is my decision to back down quite a bit from marathon swimming to get back to doing things with her. I do not want to lose what we have and basically love doing things with her which I can not do with marathon swimming. We each have to make decisions on what is important in our lives and she is that important to me. This does not mean I will stop swimming, just reduce it to a more balanced level with other life pressures.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited May 2013
    One more thing on this, and then I'll shut up :)

    Like with many social phenomena, it's important to distinguish between correlation and causation. While it may be true that some marriages & relationships fall apart in the context of endurance training, it's not necessarily true that the endurance training causes the break-up.

    It could be that the relationship is falling apart anyway, and one partner uses endurance training as an "escape" - which only hastens the inevitable.

    It could also be that the endurance training and resulting time apart reveals flaws in the relationship that had gone unnoticed before.

    It could be a number of things other than the Ironman/EC training directly causing break-ups. So yes, the article title "A Workout Ate My Marriage" is simplistic and in some cases misleading. A journalist oversimplifying things to tell a juicier story?! I know -- shocking.

    But I would guess the less juicier version of the story - the correlational story - is probably true, and it's interesting and worthy of discussion. Is the "Ironman widow" a myth? No, I don't think so... just a more complicated truth than is typically portrayed.
  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member
    @jbetley To sympathize with your original post, 2 months before MIMS last year, my girlfriend of 5 years and I split up for the same reasons you two are. She had been with me since I got into the sport.

    Being an scientist (or at least someone with a science degree) I won't connect the sport to the end of the relationship; as @evmo points out: it shouldn't be done. To say the sport changed me or something like that might be true, but I think it is far more important to acknowledge that we were in college when we met and, swimming or not, different people five years later. Swimming may eat relationships, but it may not, or it may to the Robin Hood thing and steal from some while giving to others.

    To her credit, take a look at this picture from MIMS last year, then remember: the girl in the red kayak and sun hat next to me the whole way around the island had just moved out a month earlier. Supportive.

    Best of luck. And if you ever need an escape from it all, may I recommend you go for a swim?

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

  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    The Court Without Appeal and I have been separated and living apart, but not divorced, for 2.5 years. Swimming did not directly cause the rift - my mental illness did that - but it did highlight some fundamental differences between us. Things like that my first consideration in planning my days revolves around when I can swim and that my years of endurance training have made me an poster child for embodying excessive delayed gratification.

    If 29 years of marriage goes down the drain, I won't marry again - there is just no reason to subject another woman to dealing with the kind of all-consuming lifestyle that long distance swimming engenders.


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • WalterWalter Southern CaliforniaMember
    edited May 2013
    I am fortunate to have received a lot of encouragement from my family. No proof of causation here, but I conduct almost all of my training while they are asleep and try to avoid whining about swimming or its effects. On second thought, maybe they don't even know I'm doing this and the encouragement is to get started already!

    I'm not very popular around here; but I've heard that I'm huge in Edinburgh!

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    I have an obsessive personality... Marathon swimming isn’t my first obsession, but it might be my last.

    Thankfully, Clare has embraced this one; not because she wants to swim 20 hours straight or anything like that, but I think she really enjoys being in and around the water. The OW community is a warm and welcoming bunch, and we both have many close friends who are in it deeply.... that helps too.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • paulmpaulm Senior Member
    edited May 2013
    I met my wife while we both training for the EC in 2009. One big swim was enough for me but she has continued with her marathon swimming. Our week involves lots of 5am training for her, 60,70 and sometimes 90k plus training weeks. We approach each of her swims as a team and it works well for us (that said an extra occasional sleep in would be nice :) ) We have met some great people and continue to along this Journey
  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    edited May 2013
    Interesting topic.

    Between kids, study and work I've managed about 117 miles so far this year. Total. It's almost the end of May. This is normal achievable yardage for me.

    I think sometimes partners will be jealous of any passion one has that doesn't fit into their image of how their "loved one" is meant to behave. In that case, things are doomed anyway, probably. I'd previously spent more time and money on tennis and lunches and that was apparently ok.
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    I'm at 112 miles now, I we can both lament about our lack of yardage on July 15th. ;)

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    Well we won't be injured!
  • VanMouVanMou San Luis Obispo, CASenior Member
    edited February 2017

    When I was 23, I discovered what it is to swim; in my fifties I have been swept off my feet by marathon swimming.
    My son Kyle has always been my main escort, manning a ten-and-a-half foot surfboard we call the Blue Beast.

    Three years ago my wife Lisa and I, and our other son, Adam, watched as his life was nearly taken from him, in a slow-moving horror show.
    With filmmaker Michelle Aguilar, Kyle and I tried to capture this experience in a short, water-centric video....

    ....A father and son explore the encountering of Self. Life presents herself to them, and through this they learn, in a small way, what it means to be human....

    Here is our story:

    To learn more about Kyle's illness, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, please visit here.

    The filmmaker:
    Michelle has an M.A. in Social Documentation from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has produced numerous non-fiction multimedia projects in cultures and communities across the world. She is currently a Staff Producer at Meridian Hill Pictures in Washington D.C. You can learn more about Michelle and her work here.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Dave. A beautiful and moving narration, over evocative imagery and film clips. I think you've touched on something deep that draws us to this activity. And that your elective journeys are tied so closely to your son's decidedly non-elective medical journey, reveals further meaning.

    Loved seeing some fleeting glimpses of your amazing Estero Bay swim, too!

Sign In or Register to comment.