Wet Suits and Marathon Swimming
- Marathon Swimming is an endurance sport - it does not include the use of Wet Suits.
- Wet Suits provide extra buoyancy that can lead to artificially increased speed, or apparent endurance, of the person wearing the suit.
- In the photo on the right, Jim Dreyer sports the full wet suit (with hood) used for his attempt to cross Lake Superior in 2002. Jim's
wet-suited swims on the Great Lakes raised significant funds for charities, as he strove to match the traditional marathon-swimming
achievements of Vicki Keith on the Great Lakes.
- Even in the frigid waters in-and-around the United Kingdom, both the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA) and
the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) refuse to recognise or monitor swims involving the use of wet suits. In the English
Channel, a separate body, the Channel Crossing Association, provides safety support for "aided" swims, so that there should be no
confusion with respect to the achievement of the pure Marathon Swimmer. At this time there is no formal listing known to the
WebMaster of such aided swims.
- Chicago native, Ted Erikson, was the second two-way conqueror of the English Channel in 1965, conqueror of the Farallon Islands
to the Golden Gate Bridge in 1967, and with legendary Abdel-Latif Abouf-Heif he was one of only two survivors of the historic 12-person, 60-mile race on
Lake Michigan in 1963 from Chicago to Benton Harbor. At 71 years of age, Ted concluded a discussion of wet-suits with the definitive statement:
If you need help to cross the lake, get in a boat.
- After a wet-suited swim, for fear of almost certain ridicule from "real" swimmers, don't even think of comparing your effort or your time with those of true
(non-wet-suited) Marathon Swimmers who have completed the course.
- There's no Athletic Honour in completing the Tour de France on a moped. Nor is there honour in beating Nature in a Barnum-and-Bailey circus show !
- Ironically, however, publicity is not always in proportion to the magnitude of the sporting achievement. This feature is well represented in Captain Matthew
Webb's crossing of the English Channel a year after Boynton's much publicized 1874 crossing in Merriman's 1872-patented survival suit with paddles. This
story is well-recounted in the book "The Crossing". The desire to associate oneself with the achievements of true marathon swimmers has been with us for a
long time !
Wet suits are worn regularly by triathletes and the public get the mistaken impression that such suits are accepted apparel for long distance swims or marathon
swims. To increase the number of entrants in their events (which helps to cover costs and/or maximise profit), a number of bodies have permitted the use of wet
suits in their competitions.
The Scientific Facts: The following papers were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They show:
- Use of a Wet Suit increases the speed of a triathlete on a 400 m test, but may have little effect on top-class swimmers over the same distance. Tests have not
been reported on longer distances. This effect may well be related to the buoyancy provided by the different magnitudes of subcutaneous fat characteristic of
the athletes involved in these two different sports.
- Tests in water above 20°C (68°F) showed that some swimmers may prevent a drop in core temperature by wearing a wet suit. Most marathon swimmers,
however, would consider 20°C as Warm, if not Hot. Swims during the summer in the English Channel will likely involve a range of temperatures from 12°C
to 18°C, while swims in Loch Ness and the Irish Sea will generally encounter water temperatures of 9°C to 11°C during the summer months.
- It has been shown that shaving off body-hair does reduce drag on a swimmer. A number of these papers are summarized in a separate file on Shaving Down.
Chatard,J-C et al. (1995): Wet suit effect: A comparison between competitive swimmers and triathletes. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 27(4):580-586.
Toussaint HM et al. (1989): Effect of a triathlon wet suit on drag during swimming. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 21(3):325-328.
Trappe TA et al. (1996): Physiological responses to swimming while wearing a wet suit, Int. J. Sports Med. 17(2):111-114.
Trappe TA et al. (1995): Thermal responses to swimming in three water temperatures: Influence of a wet suit. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 27(7):1014-1021.
A separate report also exists on the web, attributing the data to the Human Performance Laboratory at the Faculty of Kinesiology. of the University of Calgary
in Canada. The authors, however, are not identified and it is not presented as peer-reviewed material. The report outlines significant advantages, in terms of
reduced times, when wearing the VO2 Stealth wetsuit, or other wetsuits, when compared to a conventional swim suit.
Created: 17th October 1999
Last Updated: 17th October 2004