Marathon Runners vs. Cyclists vs. Ocean Swimmers

Marathon Runners vs. Cyclists vs. Ocean Swimmers

When open water swimmers challenge themselves to swim from one island to another, or to swim across a channel or to traverse from point A to point B, they are exposing themselves to nature in ways that runners, cyclists, mountaineers or adventure racers can barely imagine.

And sometimes, it hurts. Hurts badly.

The swimmer wears no protective armor; their skin is fully exposed to the cold and to the warm; they bear the brunt of everything and anything Mother Nature throws at them. This is not to minimize the experiences of an ultra-marathon runner or a cyclist as they accomplish their endurance feats on terra firma, but it is only to say that the swimmer is relatively speaking vulnerable to an extreme degree.

And this is the challenge, allure and beauty of the sport where swimmers feel a profound sense of accomplishment when they finish their swim and crawl back up on shore.

While the box jellyfish and Portuguese man o war can ravage a swimmer’s arms, legs, torso and face causing blinding pain and excruciating discomfort, runners and cyclists are generally well-protected from stinging or biting creatures.

Venomous jellyfish – like the box jellyfish – and the Portuguese man o war are all over the world, and increasingly so in the polluted low-oxygen environment of the contemporary Planet Earth. Jellyfish blanket the earth’s salt-water waterways – and open water swimmers are like canaries in the coalmines, running into problems that our community did not know existed.

For up until now throughout the entire breath of human history, there has been no desire to know about the presence of venomous creatures 10, 20, 30, 40 kilometers from shore. Previous generations of humans never had the desire (or opportunity) to swim in these areas.

But now, ultra-marathon swimmers like Paul Lundgren, Penny Palfrey, Diana Nyad, Ventura Deep Six and the Night Train Swimmers are venturing further and further away from shore in areas previously unexplored by humans fully exposed.

While swimmers have to deal with stings and bites, imagine the reaction of the world’s media if marathon runners or cyclists were regularly and repeatedly bitten by tarantulas or stung by scorpions across their bodies during their runs across the desert or rides across the country while wearing itty-bitty gear like swimmers do. Nyad explains here on how marine stings feel:

Photo of Diana Nyad by Christi Barli.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones