Marathon Swimming versus Marathon Running

Marathon Swimming versus Marathon Running

When the Night Train Swimmers begin their 228-mile (367 km) ocean swimming relay from Santa Barbara’s Gaviota State Park to Coronado, south of San Diego, they will be swimming concurrently while some of the world’s best ultra-marathon runners simultaneously run more than 300 miles down the coast. The ultra marathon runners will meet up with their marathon swimming colleagues to celebrate their charity event on behalf of the Navy SEALS Foundation.

An interesting question was raised: Who has a tougher job, the marathon swimming relay or the ultra-marathon runners?

It depends how you look at it. From the perspective of the runners, the land-based athletes might analyze the comparison like this:

While it takes world-class swimmers 1 hour 50 minutes to complete 6.2 miles of swimming in flat-water conditions, it takes a world-class runner 1 hour 50 minutes to complete 22.5 miles of running in good conditions (at a 2:08 pace).

Therefore, at the highest echelon of the endurance running and swimming world, the world’s greatest marathon runners can run 22.5 miles while the world’s greatest marathon swimmers can only swim 6.2 miles. In other words, the world-class runners can traverse a distance 3.6 times as far as a world-class swimmer.

So theoretically, if each of the swimmers does one-sixth of the 228-mile distance of the Night Train Swimmers, then each swimmer only swims a total of 38 miles. This equates roughly to 136.8 miles on land. But the runners, in this case down the coast of California, are running more than twice as far in a faster time.

So from this perspective, the runners are outdoing their aquatic colleagues.

From the swimmer’s perspective in contrast, there is no comparison for a few reasons:

1. Man is a land-based mammal that was meant to walk/jog/run. Human bodies are not built for aquatic endeavors.
2. Swimming is more technically difficult than running for a large percentage of the human race.
3. Running is relatively easier, especially as the distances increase. If we think of all the people in human history who have walked/jogged/run/biked 24 hours straight, there are multitudes of these people, even if they have slowed down to a crawl. However, throughout human history, there is only a handful of people who have swum 24 hours straight (e.g., the members of the 24-hour Club.
4. A swimmer can easily imagine how tough it is to run a marathon. They can imagine the training necessary and the pain that is ultimately involved. But a runner cannot easily imagine how tough it is to swim 26 miles, especially against currents or in extreme conditions/water temperatures. The perspective of seeing nothing, hearing nothing, smelling nothing, saying nothing with your head down for hours on end in the cold, rough water is something that must be experienced first-hand to be understood.

So from this perspective, the swimmer’s job is much more difficult than the runners.

In our humble opinion.

Note: The Nighttrain228 relay will begin on August 22nd.

The Night Train Swimmers (Vito Bialla (shown above), Phil Cutti, David Holscher, Zach Jirkovsky, Luane Rowe, Blair Cannon, Grace van der Byl, and Walter Bean Scott) will attempt to swim 228 mile (367 km) down the California coast while ultra-marathon runners David Goggins and Mike Trevino will run 300+ miles during the same time.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming
Steven Munatones