The Open Water Swimming community is abuzz about an article by Scott Zornig, president of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, entitled "What's Wrong with Marathon Swimming?" Among other things, he questions whether wetsuits have a place in open water swimming.
He doesn't speak for me.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not interested in swimming with a wetsuit. But this Purity of the Sport business hurts me more than it helps me. For two reasons.
How can this be? A wetsuit makes you faster, so it would be unfair to group wetsuit and non-wetsuit swimmers together. Right? Makes sense, but that's not how it plays out.
For one thing, wetsuits aren't that big of an advantage in terms of speed (gasp!). They do improve your balance, especially if your balance is poor to begin with. But a wetsuit doesn't make a slow swimmer fast. It doesn't even make him/her average.
If I can just beat you without a wetsuit, you'll probably just beat me if you put one on. So? If I want to win, I should swim faster anyway. As far as I'm concerned, you're helping me by pushing me a little harder.
(I've never seen a study that quantifies how much extra speed you can get from a wetsuit. I've also never heard from anyone who's done a time trial on themselves. Wetsuit salesmen claim it's a huge advantage, but I've never seen any data that bears that out. So far, my best information comes from my own observations.)
So how does separating Wetsuit and Non-Wetsuit results penalize me?
When Wetsuits and Non-Wetsuits are separated (as they must be in any USMS-sanctioned event), guess which division the weaker swimmers choose? The Non-Wetsuit division is usually a small field of fast swimmers. Plus me, bringing up the rear.
In my last USMS-sanctioned open water race, I came in 5/7 in the 1,000-Meter Non-Wetsuit event. But my time would have landed me 5/12 in the Wetsuit division. Bottom third vs. top half.
Maybe I'll outgrow this point of view
if when I get faster. I doubt it, though. The top Non-Wetsuit finishers in the race I mentioned were minutes faster than the top Wetsuit finishers in most events.
I have no interest in using equipment that makes me artificially faster. Even though I'm not very fast, I'm proud of myself. I work really hard, and I'm improving. I don't want to dilute that accomplishment by taking an "unfair" advantage.
On the other hand, I have no problem cheating Mother Nature. Neither do mountain climbers, by the way. When's the last time you saw a guy climbing Mount Everest in a Speedo?
I think protective gear should be allowed in marathon swims, as long as it doesn't make the swim easier or faster. A few examples of protective gear:
To protect against the cold, marathon swimmers usually pack on a few (30-50) extra pounds. Hot-dog-eating champions are leaner than marathon swimmers.
So I should deliberately gain weight? Come on! I already look like I was raised by wolves. For one thing, the chlorine has not been kind to my hair. Also? My swim cap leaves a tan line on my forehead. And my goggles leave marks around my eyes. Those extra pounds would downgrade my look from "natural" or "athletic" to "slob".
Why is extra weight more "honest" than protective gear? Am I the only girl out there who's more afraid of the weight gain than the cold, the distance, the fatigue, the loneliness, the chop, or swimming in the dark?
A few of my favorite bloggers have already weighed in on the subject: Freshwater Swimmer and Gord's Swim Log. Those guys are great swimmers, and I'm sure you'll find their points of view to be very professional and without a trace of vanity.
I hesitate to ask...What do you think? Am I more alone in this point of view than a solo swimmer on the open sea?