Sometimes basic principles need to be stated. It is surprising how often media reporting of marathon swimming – and even swimmers themselves – get this one wrong.
A swim route is a predetermined, abstract path between the start and finish, composed of either a straight line or (if the straight-line path is interrupted by another land-mass) a series of connected straight-line segments.
For example, the route of an English Channel swim is the straight-line path between Dover, England and Cap Gris Nez, France (approximately 20.5 statute miles, typically rounded up to 21 by the CSA and CS&PF).
A swim route is typically the shortest path between the start and finish, though in some cases a longer path may make more sense (if certain characteristics of the shortest path make it undesirable, e.g., adverse currents).
In contrast, a swim track is where you actually swam – including navigation error, tidal movements, and other variables that cause differences between the abstract/ideal path and the actual path. A swim track is typically recorded with a GPS device.
For example, here is the track of a slower English Channel swim: The swimmer is first pushed southwest from Dover by the ebb tide, then northeast by the flood, then southwest by another ebb, then northeast by another flood and into the French coast.…