By Dana MacCorquodale

When you think about swimming, what is the first thing that pops into your head? For most people, images of a pool with crystal blue water come to mind. However, if they’ve grown up swimming on a competitive team, it’s often the smell of chlorine, lane lines, thoughts of spending hours staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool, flip turns and time clocks.

There is a new breed of swimmer whose stomping grounds are lakes, rivers and oceans. They discovered a new found freedom by taking their love for swimming into the open water. Memories of hours of practice spent at the pool fall away and are replaced by nature’s beauty, fresh air, and the limitless possibilities provided by open water. Not to mention, it highlights the importance of having clean water to swim in and clean air to breathe. 

Marathon open water swimming is a sport brought about by those who want to lose the shackles of swimming in a pool. There is a freedom in the open water. Your stroke lengthens, you get into a rhythm, and you relax while feeling the water rush past you. You look up and see blue sky, clouds, and feel the sun as it warms your face. Honestly, there is nothing else quite like it! I should know… I have swum a 10-mile swim, the Suck River Swim in Chattanooga in 3 hours and 57 minutes. I also completed a 10-mile pool swim to raise money for the local YMCA. 

When you tell people you’re going to swim 10 miles, they look at you like you’re crazy! Just as I imagine people looked years ago when runners said they wanted to run 100 miles. Ludicrous! Impossible! Ridiculous! 

Did you know that Martin Strel has swum the entire Amazon River? He swam 3,273 miles in 66 days breaking the world record; that is longer than the width of the Atlantic Ocean.

In August 1987, American swimmer Lynne Cox swam the Bering Strait, a length of 2.3 miles from the US side of Little Diomede to the Russian side of Big Diomede. She swam in water that was only 37.94 degrees Fahrenheit with no wetsuit, bridging our two countries and helping to ease the waning cold war tensions. 

Nearly all aspects of a pool swim can be controlled to some extent. However, the open water provides many more variables, thanks to Mother Nature. Water temperature, current, waves, and wildlife are all in play during an open water swim. No two swims in the open water are the same. This makes every time you get into the open water for a swim an adventure! It’s exciting, exhilarating, and one of the best workouts you can get. If you’ve never swum upstream against the current, you have to try it! It takes not only physical strength but also mental tenacity to keep swimming when you are seemingly swimming in place making no progress. It builds character, endurance and mental fortitude!

The human body is capable of so much more than we can even fathom. Events that test endurance both physical & mental are gaining in popularity. Double Ironman and 100-mile runs and events are becoming more commonplace. These races lure those with a desire to see just how far they can push their bodies, to test their limits and see what they are really made of. 

We choose to stand apart from the crowd, to go to bed at 7:30pm, get up at 3:30am and get in a workout or two before work. We squeeze in workouts during our lunch hour and fit our long training days on the weekends. Our down time is spent recovering, eating, planning our next workout and spending time with family. 

So what’s holding you back? Take the plunge. You won’t regret it!

I also have to give a huge shout out to the husbands, wives, and children of these athletes. It takes a huge time commitment to do a marathon open water swim. We could not do it without the help and support of our families!  Thank you to anyone who has a family member tackling a long distance event. Your love and encouragement make it worth while. If you weren’t waiting for us at the finish line, I promise, we wouldn’t be able to go nearly as fast! Thank you for all your love and support, we couldn’t do it without you.

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Dana MacCorquodale is the Head Masters & Open Water Swim Coach at TIDE Swimming in Virginia Beach. If you have an interest in open water swimming, contact her at CoachDana@TideSwimming.com. Dana is also  available to do marathon swims for charity! If you have a great charity with a need for some PR and a long distance swimmer, she would seriously consider jumping in the water for you! She is currently looking to do a 12 or 13-mile swim.