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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Man Is Not A Marine Mammal

After Paul Lundgren was pulled after swimming 32 miles in 24 hours across the Sea of Cortez yesterday, there will be other big-names in the sport (Stephen Redmond in the Tsugaru Channel and Penny Palfrey and Diana Nyad in the Florida Strait) soon setting off on their marathon journeys.

And we are constantly reminded how our audacious their dreams are and how much better suited mankind is for land-based endurance events.

Although there are 86 confirmed members of the 24-hour Club, cold-water marathon swimmers must get hardened to the cold water for swims across the English Channel, Cook Strait and Catalina Channel, and their warm-water counterparts must similarly get acclimated to the salty waters of the tropics and lower latitudes.

"Compared to cold water swims, swims in warm water are easy" is not the case when the swimming distance is a marathon.

There are sound reasons why swimmers like Palfrey and Nyad (shown above) train where they do (in warm, salty waters) for their upcoming 103-mile attempts from Cuba to Florida.

Certainly hardening of the skin and a sharpening of one's mental focus for cold-water swims take time and significant effort, but there is not too much humans can do to minimize the debilitating effects of salty water, humid conditions and a searing tropical sun other than lather their backs in white zinc oxide and sunscreen.

When the salt water swells the tongue, mouth and lips, it is a discomfort that turns to pain with every breath and every swallow. Facial skin softens and goggles and the swim cap bury themselves in the softened facial skin, leaving deep etches across the face. With the softened skin, chafing becomes more problematic and each rub feels like sand paper being rubbed against an open flesh wound.

Ultra marathon runs are undoubtedly difficult, Ironman triathlons are exceptional feats of endurance, long mountaineering climbs and Polar expeditions are beyond the capabilities of most humans, but we are constantly reminded by the top end of the marathon swimming world how many obstacles a marathon swimmer faces.

While both endurance events on land and in the sea are difficult, humans is fundamentally a land-based mammal. Mankind has what it takes to survive on land; the same is only true for a relatively short-period of time in the open water.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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