Marathon Swimming

As a triathlete, I was always a better swimmer than I was in the other two sports and I began more adventures in marathon swimming.

I’m not a marathon swimming purist so to speak, and I’ve made some modifications based on my experience and desire to remain a multi-sporter.

When I first started marathon swimming, I entertained thoughts of doing the Ocean’s Seven. I quickly realised the expense involved in such a goal, and while these swims are absolutely worthy goals for swimmers around the world, I decided that the expense was too great and I didn’t want to devote all of my time, money and holiday time to marathon swimming.

I also realised that for the most part, the enjoyment I’d get from, for example, crossing a beautiful Kiwi lake would be just as satisfying as a recognised ocean swim and much cheaper. At one point, when I was thinking up a swim that would cost us over $6000, my wife said to me, ‘Would you enjoy crossing Lake Tekapo less? It’s a beautiful place and it would only cost you a hotel room and buying your kayak supporter a pizza.” Her logic turned out to be sound. So with my decent by not wealthy income, I can be a marathon swimmer as well as a multi-sporter and also have occasional holidays that – gasp! – do not involve a long-distance challenge.

I have a long term goal of swimming across most of the Kiwi Lakes, sometimes in a multi-day format that includes some of the rivers that flow into or out of them. I have a goal of swimming the perimeter of the Banks Peninsula from Sumner to Akaroa, a distance of approximately 80km that I estimate will take 3 days. I’ve got a lot of routes planned through Marlborough Sounds and would like to do a big swim in the Golden Bay area.

I also generally wear a wetsuit when marathon swimming. This practice is extremely frowned upon by many in the marathon swimming community, however, I found it to be a necessity. Being Canadian, I’m not bothered much by colder water, however, I just found that extremely cold water just simply isn’t fun for me. I respect and admire cold water swimmers who go without wetsuits, however, I’ve just found it isn’t what I enjoy so I gave myself permission to get out there in a wetsuit.

The other key reason I wear a wetsuit is out of necessity for sun protection. I am a fair-skinned redhead with freckles and my sun repelling genetics are about as bad as can be. Even with thick sunscreen, I can only have my back exposed to the sun for about 30 – 40 minutes before I’ll burn to a crisp. I tried experimenting with a non-neoprene covering but found the long sleeve triathlon suits chafe my underarms badly, even with a lot of lube whereas for some reason it doesn’t happen in a wetsuit.

I decided my main purpose in marathon swimming was for personal fun. Since I’m not an elite swimmer and have no chance of setting records, I decided I wanted to have fun, not get extremely sunburned and not get badly chafed.

I encourage marathon swimmers to decide how they enjoy the sport with this sort of reasoning, not based on angry internet commenters who scorn wetsuits. My logic is that if you enjoy cold water swimming and won’t get badly sunburned if you can do your swim without a wetsuit, that’s fantastic, go do that. If wearing a wetsuit makes a swim more enjoyable and/or safer for you, go do that. If you aren’t out to set records, I encourage marathon swimming in whatever way makes it fun for you.