How Far Is A Marathon Swim?

How Far Is A Marathon Swim?

A marathon run is defined as 26.2 miles or 42.195K, but is there a broadly accepted definition of a marathon swim?

Yes and no. It depends where you are and who is answerin the question. There are all kinds of definitions and perspectives out there in the open water swimming world.

A marathon swim is defined by FINA, the world’s governing body for aquatic sports, as 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in length with the Olympic 10KM Marathon Swim as its most visible race.

Then there is the Atlantic City Around-the-Island Marathon Swim in New Jersey which is 37K (22.5 miles) in length – and the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim which is 38.6K (24 miles) in length – and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim around New York City which is is 46K (28.5 miles) in length – and the Maratona Del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy which is 36K in length – and the Maraton Acuatica Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda in Argentina is 57K in length – and the Sumidero Canyon Swimming Marathon in Mexico which is 15K (9.6 miles) in length – and the Maraton Acuatico Internacional Ciudad Rosario in Argentina another 15K in length – and the Maraton Patagones Viedma in Argentina which is 15K in length – and the Ohrid Lake Swim Marathon in Macedonia which is 30K in length – and the Galata Varna Swimming Marathon in Bulgaria which is 4K in length – and the Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim in Lake Zurich, Switzerland which is 26.4K in length – and the PT109 Commemorative Swim Marathon which is a 5K swim in the Solomon Islands – and the International Swimming Marathon of Toroneos Gulf in Kallithea, Greece which is 26K in length -and the International Swimming Marathon Jarak- Sabac in Serbia which is 19K in length.

According to the venerable Ted Erikson, in the 1960’s, 16K (10 miles) was referred to as a marathon swim because of the relative times involved for completion.

Wikipedia refers to marathon swimming as 10 kilometers in distance in a nod of respect to FINA‘s definition. But many other definitions and explanations abound:

Timothy Johnson describes numerous marathon swims of various lengths in his comprehensive book, History of Open Water Marathon Swimming.

Conrad Wennerberg also provides a rich description of marathon swims in his authoritative book, Wind, Waves, and Sunburn: A Brief History of Marathon Swimming.

The Canadian Encyclopedia defines marathon swimming as swimming in open water for distances in excess of 1500 meters.

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand defines marathon swims as longer than 10K.

Neither US Masters Swimming nor USA Swimming define marathon swimming.

The World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation was formed in 1963 by that generation’s professional marathon swimmers and was the effective and authoritative governing body of the sport for two decades. The shortest swim on its circuit was 16K in length. Its role and functions have been absorbed and managed by FINA for nearly 20 years now.

Sports Illustrated has written about marathon swimming over the years. In one article, the magazine described one marathon swim by by Diane Nyad as 10 miles in length.

The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame defines marathon swimming as swims of at least 25K in length in any open body of water.

Tony Lyons had a specific definition of a marathon swim: he swam 42K (26 miles) or 1688 laps in a 25-meter pool in British Columbia, Canada in March 2009. The Lake Biwa Swimming Marathon in Japan, held in the largest lake in Japan just north of Kyoto, is exactly 42K in a nod to its land-based running equivalent.

Many others around the world define a marathon swim by a certain well-known geographic point: 21 miles (32K) or the generally accepted distance of the English Channel between Dover, England and Cape Griz Nez, France.

From our perspective, everyone has excellent reasons and valid justifications for believing their definition of a marathon swim is correct.

At the same time, given the exposure that marathon swimming has received from its inclusion at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, we believe the sport may be best served by keeping in line with FINA and the IOC for the following simple reason:

A 10K swim done by a world-class swimmer is comparable in time to a marathon run done by a world-class marathon runner. Male world-class swimmers (i.e., the top 25 swimmers in the world) can complete a 10K swim in about an hour and 55 minutes while female world-class swimmers can complete 10K swims in right around 2 hours in relatively calm waters without currents or waves. Male world-class runners are generally under 2:10 and women under 2:25 under favorable conditions.

We note that the marathon run distance was standardized in 1921 after various distances had been debated since the 1st century AD.

We trust the marathon swimming community will come to an agreement on specific distances in a shorter time frame than its running colleagues.

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