What's A Marathon Swim?

What’s A Marathon Swim?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The answer depends who you talk to. But for much of the open water swimming world, the accepted distance of a marathon swim is 10 kilometers. Why?

10 km is the distance that is defined by the International Olympic Committee, FINA and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as a marathon swim.

The roots of this determination derive from the fact that it takes world-class swimmers about 2 hours to swim a 10 km swim in almost all venues and conditions – which is nearly the same time it takes world-class marathon runners to run a 42 km marathon.*

The governing bodies and association wanted to make the duration of the marathon swim performed by world-class athletes roughly equivalent to the duration achieved by world-class runners.

Some traditionalists believe marathon swimming distances do not begin until a minimum of 15 km or 25 km or 20 miles and use the term ultra marathon swim to define swims of longer distances. The distance of 25 km (15.5 miles) is the often used minimum distance of an ultra marathon swim. This is similar to the running community that defines an ultramarathon (also called ultra distance) as any running event longer than the traditional running marathon length of 42.195K (26.2188 miles).

* The world’s top male swimmers can complete a flat-water course in about 1 hour 52 minutes and the world’s top female swimmers can complete the same course in about 2 hours. Their running counterparts on land complete marathon runs between 2:05 – 2:10 for men and 2:20 – 2:30 for women.

Photo courtesy of Rob Aquatics. Examples of other definitions of marathon swimming are here.

Copyright © 2011 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones