Does A Marathon Run Compare To A Marathon Swim?

Does A Marathon Run Compare To A Marathon Swim?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In the Olympics, the marathon swim is 10 km. How can or does this accomplishment compare with the traditional marathon run of 42.195 km?

Stroke after stroke in the cold, rough water or step after step under the hot sun, which is harder? Which kind of marathon requires a greater effort? Which is a greater accomplishment?

For the elite athletes, the top male marathon runners finish in less than 2:10 while the top male marathon swimmers can swim 10K in under 1:55 under ideal conditions. The top female marathon runners finish 42 km in less than 2:25 while the top female marathon swimmers finish close to 2:00 – relatively close in time, but these elite athletes are not representative of the human population.

At the mass participation level, it is estimated that 1.8% of Americans can swim 500 meters non-stop. Of this 1.8% of the American population (approximately 5,526,118 people), it can be assumed that 420,000 individuals could swim 10 miles non-stop (approximately equal to the total number of registered USA Swimming + US Masters Swimming members + NCAA Division I, II and III athletes + junior/community college athletes).

If 10% of those 420,000 individuals are motivated to complete a 10 km swim, those 42,000 people equal about 0.013% of the American population. Because an estimated 467,000 individuals finished a certified marathon run in America in 2009, more people seem to be able (or motivated) to finish a marathon run than a marathon swim. However, this may be based on the fact that there are more opportunities to do a marathon run than a marathon swim.

What are your thoughts and opinions? Which is more difficult or a greater accomplishment – a marathon run or a marathon swim? This is something to consider while you are swimming 10 km in rough conditions against the current or running uphill under the hot sun.

Copyright © 2011 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones