Saturday, October 31, 2009

Observations On Marathon Running And Swimming

In the October 27th issue of the New York Times, Tara Parker Pope wrote a thoughtful and insightful article on why and how The Human Body Is Built for Distance.

Although Tara Parker Pope writes on marathon running, she makes observations that are relevant to open water swimming.

Her opening sentence, "Does running a marathon push the body further than it is meant to go?", presents an intriguing issue for marathon swimmers.

If we ask this question to World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year nominee Lisa Cummins (35 hours 36 minutes in the Channel), Great Open Water Swim of the Year nominee Lianne Llewellyn (27 hours 35 minutes) or Japanese Channel Queen Miyuki Fujita (29 hours), the answer may be, "Perhaps, but we gotta try."

According to Tara's article, 425,000 individuals finished a marathon run in the U.S. in 2008. This number of terrestrial marathoners is more than the number of open water swimmers (183,000), but not if you add triathletes to the mix (1.2 million).

Tara also writes about how evolution has favored endurance running. With the explosive growth of open water swimming since Captain Matthew Webb first swam across the English Channel in 1875, we wondered if evolution also favored open water swimming.

But Genadijus Sokolovas, ex-Director of Physiology & Director of Sport Science for USA Swimming, says, "Fish do not have knees or necks like humans. Their kick is much more efficient than our kick. Humans do not have the same propulsion on our up-kick and down-kick. Also, because humans have a neck, we are not as streamlined in the water like fish. But, the world's best swimmers have a good up-kick and down-kick and they look straight down when they swim [freestyle]. This straightens out their spine and makes them much more streamlined in the water. If we keep our necks strong and firm while swimming, then we can efficiently break the water like the bow of a boat and swim faster."

But we have a long way to go before we can swim like a dolphin.

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