Do Open Water Swimmers Have Big Hearts?
Figuratively, the answer is most definitely a yes.
But what about literally? Physiologically, do open water swimmers and marathon swimmers in particular have physiologic eccentric hypertrophy as has been well-documented in endurance athletes?
There has been no specific research on this topic as has been documented by cyclists, rowers and cross country skiers with the athlete heart syndrome.
A group of researchers including Tim Noakes of the University of Cape Town, Robert Shave of Brunel University, Darren Warburton, Jessica Scott and Ben Esch of the University of British Columbia, David Oxborough of the University of Leeds,, and Keith George of Liverpool John Moores tested 79 male and 26 female ultra-marathon runners (ranging from 24-76 years) who were recruited from the 160 km Western States Endurance Run in the U.S. or the 89 km Comrades Ultra-Marathon in South Africa. They found that 26% of ultra-marathon runners have evidence of eccentric hypertrophy. This percentage and magnitude of the hypertrophy are not as great previously believed.
This kind of research on open water swimmers of various ages would be fascinating to learn. But from our non-scientific perspective and observations of marathon swimmers around the world, we know that it is truly difficult to measure the heart of endurance athletes…especially those who swim in the open water.
Underwater photo of a channel swimmer in Hawaii is courtesy of Matt Bittick.
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