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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Triathletes And Runners Comment On Ous Mellouli

After the Olympic marathon swim, gold medalist Ous Mellouli famously described the swim as "hell...there is no other way to describe it.

The last 100 meters, as I lifted my head to look at the finish line, my shoulder was so heavy, my legs were tight, my lungs were burning, my whole system was in shock for the last five minutes.

It's like what a marathon runner goes through but it's even more painful than that. The 10km is probably one of the toughest events in all sports combined

While swimmers around the world - especially Mellouli's fellow Olympic marathon swimmers at the 2012 London Olympic Games - completely understand what Mellouli described, his words were not taken lightly by his land-based endurance counterparts. Triathletes, cyclists and runners are of the opinion that their own particular event - the Ironman, Tour de France or marathon runs are harder.

Swimmers are not going to convince those on terra firma of the pain they feel or the relative difficulty of swimming at a fast pace for long distances in the open water. Those who have competed at a face pace in triathlons, runs, rides and swims realize there is a different lactic acid burn feel when the body is in a horizontal position. When one's audio-visual perceptions are limited in the open water, swimmers have no choice but to focus on (ignoring) the physiological stress that they sense (elevated heart rate, increased lactic acid, cardiovascular stress).

Swimmers can't see anything below them, they can only hear the splash of their arm strokes, and they can see relatively little ahead of them. Their mind is trapped within the pain they feel; they do not hear the labored breath of a competitor near them like runners or cyclists and they often have little idea of their position relative to their competitors.

A swimmer's perspective is entirely focused inwardly with relatively little audio and visual clues to help shift their mind elsewhere. While the cyclists can see off in the horizon and the runner can hear the cheers of the crowd, the swimmer hears their heart beating rapidly while their brains are narrowly focused on their whole-body pain. The unique sensory deprivation of swimmers intensifies the physiological discomfort.

Therefore, given the fundamental sensory deprivation in the water and the resulting intense psychological focus on their discomfort caused by stresses on their internal organs, it is common for swimmers to believe nothing could be more difficult.

This is not to say that other sports like triathlons, marathon runs or cycling are less arduous or less painful; rather "this was hell" is more of a statement that swimmers who have experienced such pain in an open water swim can never imagine any other athletic endeavor more painful.

But when those swimmers finish, their joy is so very obvious and wonderful to see.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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