No shortcuts in marathon swimming

As a sort-of counterpoint to my post on Kevin Murphy, I want to highlight this item about Andrew Gemmell, winner of this past weekend’s Crippen SafeSwim 10K. Munatones writes:

He took off time from his collegiate career at the University of Georgia to train with world 10K champion Chip Peterson and coach Jon Urbanchek who has developed 28 Olympians winning 5 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze medals.

“I have tried to break [Andrew] down,” commented Coach Urbanchek. “But he is tough. He keeps coming back ready for more.”

Notice Coach Urbanchek doesn’t harbor any illusions about minimalist training or competing on “efficiency.” You don’t make it to that level without already being efficient.

What Coach Urbanchek does say is: “I am trying to break him.

Marathon swimming is now an Olympic sport, so objective standards become necessary – in particular, speed. At the elite level, “willpower” is necessary but not sufficient. To be an Olympic marathon swimmer, you have to be fast. And to swim a 10K fast, you have to train your butt off. There are no shortcuts.

You might be able to survive a marathon swim on “less than 20,000 yards per week… with most sets being 3000 yards or less” (to be clear, I’m not talking about Kevin Murphy here). But it probably won’t be very pleasant, and you definitely won’t be fast.

No shortcuts. That’s another reason I’m a marathon swimmer.

2 thoughts on “No shortcuts in marathon swimming”

  1. Evan
    I’m gratified to see you’ve read and linked to my blog. I imagine above where you quote “less than 20,000 yards per week . . . with most sets being 3000 yards or less: you’re making reference to the blog you linked to just below that.
    As it happens that was precisely the training I did prior to my first marathon, MIMS in 2002. As I wrote in the blog it was my specific intention to do that swim as a tourist, to celebrate having passed the half-century mark a year earlier. I also hoped to demonstrate that it was possible to complete an ‘ultra’ endurance event on relatively moderate training.
    As I wrote in the blog, I did that swim as a ‘tourist’ rather than emphasizing the racing aspects, stopping many times for pictures, etc.
    And contrary to your supposition, it was enormously pleasant and I recovered fully by the next day.

    I’ve done it both ways, training for last year’s Tampa Bay Marathon by doing 35-40k per week and training for MIMS 2006 with volume and set mix appropriate for races of 1 to 2 miles, rather than a marathon (i.e. <20k per week). I was very happy with my MIMS that year, finishing in a respectable 8 hrs, while also achieving the higher-priority goals I'd set that year of winning USMS titles and breaking USMS age group records in the 1- and 2-mile cable swims.

    As they say, Different Strokes for Different Folks.

    1. The quote came from a comment you made on Steven Munatones’ Facebook page on November 20, 2010. When Steve reported on Ned Denison’s group doing a set of 200x100m to prepare for their marathon swims, you smugly asked:

      How did I ever manage to complete the Manhattan Island Marathon twice, averaging less than 20,000 yards per week, and with most sets being 3000 yards or less? Ditto the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon.

      As several people pointed out, even if it’s possible to complete a marathon swim on minimal training, it’s a pretty terrible idea for 95% of aspiring marathon swimmers. And, because you’re someone who many people look to for guidance, your comment seemed especially imprudent. It’s also interesting to note that you decided not to continue your Triple Crown quest after finding Tampa Bay a less-than-pleasant experience on such minimal training.

      Whatever training you choose to do is your choice and none of my business. But don’t insult those who choose (rightly) to put in long hours in pursuit of their dreams.

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