I know a lot of runners. They like to talk about running. That’s fine with me; I like to learn new things, even if I’m never going to use them. Sometimes they like to tell me how much they hate swimming, and that’s fine with me too, although I’m not really sure what to say about it. I don’t hate running. I just don’t see much point in it. There’s too much sweating and too much gravity.
But recently a runner asked me about my upcoming swim, and when I said it was 10 miles, he said, “That’s like a 100 mile run!” I don’t think that’s true, but it made me wonder about equivalencies between running and swimming distances.
You certainly can’t make comparisons based on the proportions of swim to bike to run in a triathlon. The reason there is a 2.4 mile swim in the Ironman triathlons is not because someone thought 2.4 miles swimming is equivalent to 26.2 miles running; it’s because 2.4 miles is the distance of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the water portion of the original Ironman, and 26.2 miles is the distance Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens (and died. “Why couldn’t Pheidippides have died here?” Frank Shorter reportedly said to Kenny Moore at the 16-mile mark of one of Shorter’s first marathons).
The swim section of a triathlon takes much less time than the other two sections. At the Ironman distance, according to their world championship rules, you have 2 hours 20 minutes to do the swim, 10 hours 30 to finish the bike section (that is, swim time plus bike time), and 17 hours to finish the whole race. And even so, that 2:20 cut off for the swim portion seems alarming long to me: if it takes someone that long to swim 2.4 miles, either the conditions are very poor or the person has very low levels of swimming competency. They give you 6:30 (more even, if you come in before 10:30 on the bike) for the 26.2 mile run, but you can sit down in the middle of a run to rest for 30 minutes and not sink beneath the waves never to be seen again.
The proportions are similarly disproportionate for shorter triathlons too: I see advertisements for events that are 500m swims, followed by 20K bike rides and 5K runs.
We could use time as a way of calculating the equivalent running distance to a 10 mile swim. I swim 30-minute miles, more or less. I can swim faster (I did 54 minutes and change for a 2 mile race in a lake last August; I can swim 4000 yards in an hour at top speed in a pool), but on long open water distances I have to factor in time for eating and navigating (cough getting lost cough) and whatnot. There are three waves scheduled for the 10-mile race in July, based on estimated time — less than 5 hours, 5 to 6 hours, and more than 6 hours — and I seeded myself in the middle one. I’m unlikely to swim it faster than 5 hours, but I will be a little disappointed if it takes 6.
So, however far a person can in run 5+ hours, maybe that’s equivalent to a 10 mile swim? How far is that? Or do you think there is a better way to compare swimming and running?
Part of the reason I know so many runners is that there are a lot of runners in the world, but another part is that FIRST: Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training is based at my university. I know these guys — they’re great people — and if you run, you need to check them out: they have a book and training programs, and they can help you be even more fantastic than you already are. None of the faculty has ever told me how much they hate swimming.