What Is the Swimming Equivalent to Running a Marathon?

swimming equivalent to running a marathon

Everyone knows that running a marathon is an impressive feat of mental and physical endurance, which involves covering a distance of 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) on foot.

However, not everyone is aware of what the swimming equivalent of running a marathon is. Since this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, you cannot say that the equivalent is to swim 26.2 miles.

There are several factors to consider when trying to determine the swimming equivalent of running a marathon. For example, swimming obviously takes place in the water, whereas running is land-based. There are also radical differences in weather conditions that primarily affect swimmers more.

Despite these differences, it is widely accepted that the swimming equivalent to running a marathon is doing a 10K swim. Regardless of the significantly shorter distance, it is accepted that it takes roughly the same amount of time and energy to swim 10K as it does to run a marathon.

There are some general guidelines that can be used to estimate the swimming equivalent of running a marathon which we will cover in this article. By examining research and expert opinions on the topic, we can gain a better understanding of how these two forms of exercise compare in terms of effort and intensity.

Comparing the distances

Let’s talk numbers for a moment.

The marathon distance for running is 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers). The swimming equivalent of running a marathon is a 10-kilometer swim (known as the “10K Swim”), which is approximately 6.2 miles. The 10K race is the longest distance in open water swimming events, but it is not this fact alone that makes the comparison to a marathon so apt.

Swimming a 10K requires a significant amount of endurance and skill. The race usually takes between two and four hours to complete, depending on the swimmer’s ability and the water conditions.

The 10K race is usually done in open water, such as a lake or ocean, rather than a pool. This presents a unique set of challenges, including currents, waves, and changing weather conditions.

Furthermore, to put the distance in perspective, consider that the average person swims at a pace of 100 meters per 2 minutes. This means that swimming a 10K would take approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes at this pace. However, elite swimmers can complete a 10K race in under two hours, swimming at a pace of 100 meters per 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Swimmers must be able to navigate the course, stay on course, and adjust their technique as needed to compensate for these conditions. Another limiting factor is that there is no wall to kick off from which will slow you down even more compared to swimming indoors.

Is running a mile the same as swimming a mile?

According to MarathonGuide.com, the running to swimming ratio is 4:1.

That means that most marathoners consider running 4 miles to take about the same amount of time and energy as swimming for 1 mile.

There are many factors that can affect this. Aside from the water resistance being significantly greater than air resistance, remember that marathon swimming takes place in the open water.

As such, you may encounter currents, waves, and changing weather conditions that can significantly hamper your speed and increase the difficulty of the course.

If we were to factor in the 4:1 running to swimming ratio, then a 26.2 mile marathon would be the equivalent of a 6.55 mile swim. Since a 10K swim is 6.2 miles, it is the closest swimming equivalent to running a marathon.

The swimming equivalent to running a marathon

FINA, the international governing body for swimming, defines a marathon swim to be one that is 10-kilometers (6.2 miles) long, and this is in line with the Olympic 10K marathon swim as one of its most visible races.

Other organizations have different definitions for how long a marathon swim is, however since FINA and the IOC are considered the foremost authorities, their definition is the one that most people agree with.

With that said, it’s important to note that swimming a 10K is not the same as running a marathon in terms of physical demands. Swimming is a low-impact activity that is easier on the joints than running, but it requires a different set of skills and muscles.

Swimming a 10K requires not only endurance but also technique and strategy. Swimmers need to pace themselves, conserve energy, and navigate the water currents and temperature. They also need to be proficient in different strokes, such as freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, and be able to switch between them seamlessly.

While a 10K swim is the swimming equivalent of running a marathon in terms of duration and energy expenditure, it’s important to recognize that swimming and running are two different activities that require different skills and training. Whether you’re a runner, a swimmer, or both, it’s important to find the activity that suits your goals, preferences, and abilities.

Swimming as a low-impact alternative to marathon running

Swimming is often touted as an excellent low-impact alternative to running, especially for those who are recovering from an injury or looking to reduce the impact on their joints. While running is a high-impact exercise that can put a lot of stress on the joints, swimming is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints.

Swimming works out the entire body, including the legs, arms, back, and core, making it a great full-body workout. It also helps to improve cardiovascular health, build endurance, and increase muscle strength and tone. Swimming is a great way to burn calories and lose weight, as it is a high-intensity exercise that burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

While swimming may not be for everyone, it is an excellent alternative to running for those looking for a low-impact exercise that works out the entire body and provides a great cardiovascular workout. Whether you are recovering from an injury or looking to mix up your workout routine, swimming is definitely worth considering.

Training for a 10K swim

Training for a 10K swim requires a significant amount of time, dedication, and commitment. Swimmers should start by building a base of swimming fitness by swimming consistently for several months, gradually increasing their distance and intensity over time.

A typical training program for a 10K swim would involve swimming six to seven times a week, with a mix of long, moderate, and high-intensity swims. Long swims should be done once a week, gradually building up to 5K, 7.5K, and eventually 10K.

Check out this video below to see how you would structure a 10K swim training program.

Moderate swims should be done twice a week, and should be shorter than the long swims, but still challenging. High-intensity swims should be done two to three times a week, and should involve speed work, interval training, or other forms of high-intensity training.

It’s also important to vary the type of swimming done during training. This can include freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, as well as drills that focus on improving technique, such as kicking or arm strokes.

In addition to swim training, it’s important to incorporate strength and conditioning exercises to build overall fitness and prevent injuries. This can include weight training, plyometric exercises, and core strengthening exercises.

Proper nutrition is also essential for swimmers training for a 10K swim. Swimmers should consume enough calories to fuel their training, and should focus on eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Staying hydrated is also important, especially during long swims.

Technique and strategy

Swimming a 10K race requires a combination of efficient technique and effective strategy. Swimmers must be able to maintain their technique for several hours, while also adjusting their approach based on the conditions of the water and the other swimmers around them.

The correct techniques are essential for conserving energy and maintaining a steady pace throughout the race.

For example, swimmers should focus on their body position, specifically by maintaining a straight line from head to toe, with their hips and legs close to the surface of the water. They should also work on their stroke technique, aiming for a smooth, efficient stroke that minimizes drag and maximizes propulsion.

Check out this video for some practical tips on how you can conserve energy during your 10K:

So that you are not completely blindsided the day of the event, swimmers should be scouting the course and identifying any potential challenges, such as currents or waves.

It’s also prudent to develop a pacing plan, aiming to maintain a steady pace throughout the race and avoiding the temptation to start too fast.

Also be ready to adjust your strategy as needed based on the conditions of the water and the other swimmers around them. For example, if you encounter strong currents or waves, you may need to adjust your stroke technique or swim angle to compensate.

In addition to technique and strategy, mental preparation is also essential for a successful 10K swim. Swimmers should develop a positive mindset, focusing on their strengths and visualizing themselves successfully completing the race. They should also be prepared for the mental challenges of swimming for several hours, including boredom and fatigue.