The Future Of OWS?

Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
edited November 2012 in General Discussion
It's clear that OWS is gaining in popularity. That makes me wonder what the future of the sport will look like. I found the following quote about the difference between running races "then" and "now" to be quite interesting. Doubly so because it is dead-on according to my observations in 43 years of experience with running/track/racewalking and also because it may portend the future of OWS. Does anyone care to venture some predictions about the future of OWS?

“Back in the day, road races were just that – races. You got a bunch of guys in short shorts lined up, they ran fast, they got in their cars, and they went home. There wasn’t a band, and a beer garden, and a post-race concert, and a two-day health and fitness expo, and people didn’t travel across the country to run a half-marathon. What you’re seeing now is what the market has dictated, what the market has [borne]. If you’re going to tell the full scale of the story, you need to tell how races are also forced to provide value in a way that was never done before.”
“Runners are demanding more from their events, more of an experience. They’re demanding technical t-shirts and entertainment. [Many] don’t even consider themselves runners, they consider [finishing a marathon] crossing something off their bucket list.”
- Competitor’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series spokesperson Dan Cruz, talking about the changing demands of today’s road races and how that has made race registration prices skyrocket over the years.


“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde


  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    The 'ultra' community is at a whole different level than the 'marathon' community in the running scene. While some marathon runners demand (as Dan stated) the bells and whistles of the race, ultra-runners (particular distances in my opinion of 50+ miles) enjoy the sounds of Mother Nature, to a shirt or other 'entertainment'. I would equate this to the marathon swimming community in that swimmers who are looking to swim English Channel distances are not interested in the 't-shirt and medal'. I do not feel they will ever be interested in this form of motivation as the sheer feeling 'enjoying the experience' is all they need.

    I will compare your post to my Pittsburgh Marathon run, and then running the Mohican Trail 50-miler 6-weeks later. The Pittsburgh race, although memorable, was full of lights, sounds, entertainment and awards. When I ran the ultra, it was a group of people camping out in tents by the starting line, eating dinner over a campfire and having the race meeting in a small pavilion at a state park prior to running 50-100 miles! The ultra was where I felt at home. Interesting enough, I would not know where I would be today if I was not injured due to that race, and had to take time away from running. It was during this time I discovered marathon swimming...

    I do not feel our marathon sport (I cannot speak to the 5K, or 10K swimming community as I am not involved in that aspect of the sport) is in jeopardy of being overrun with 't-shirt and medal' swimmers. The intrinsic (internal) motivation of enjoying the experience of completing a Channel swim drives a swimmer; not an extrinsic (external) reward like money, medal or t-shirt.

    I would be shocked if someone would admit to being extrinsically motivated, having zero intrinsic motivation, to swim a Channel distance... Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member
    In my experience, the field sizes, at least in this part of the country, aren't there yet for racers to demand the bells and whistles for a race like that. Most of the athletes in the USMS Zone (Dixie) that I'm in, who are interested in open water at all, are triathletes. So most races longer than 2.4 miles don't get too many people. The shorter events have more popularity, but are used as tune ups for triathlons.

    With field sizes that small, race directors can't put together events like that. I also don't think that many people realize how expensive it is to put on an open water event, so they might get disappointed when they don't get t-shirts and finishing medals and such.
  • bobswimsbobswims OregonCharter Member
    "I would equate this to the marathon swimming community in that swimmers who are looking to swim English Channel distances are not interested in the 't-shirt and medal'."

    I have to take exception to this. My Catalina Channel & MIMS medals hang prominently in my office, and I would love to have an English Channel medal to keep them company. Of course I have to get across first.
  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    @bobswims - You got a Catalina Channel medal? I believe I missed out on this glory; I'll have to double check my stuff. Being extrinsically motivated means that you swim primarily because of the medal(s) and not because you are enjoying the act of swimming. I do not believe there is anything wrong with displaying trophies or medals, as I know I have some up on the walls as well. Does the medal drive you, or the adventure of ocean swimming? will definitely get across the Channel my friend!! Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Member
    @foreverswim: I have a Catalina medal, too!

    I'd like to agree with you, since I do think that those of us who do the ultra marathon swims/channel swims are motivated differently than those who just do the shorter 10k or less swims. I know many in the shorter distances crowd really are motivated by winning, getting a reward, being recognized, etc. I've found that most of us in the channel crowd really aren't motivated by those things. The things that have meant the most to me so far are being able to get my name on the wall of the White Horse, a note of congrats from my grandma's church, and getting to talk to my mom's 3rd graders who think I'm a hero because they love my mom. ;-)

    I like to hope that it stays that way, but I'm not entirely convinced that it will. Right now, I feel like we're a community of people who share a passion and love for pushing our limits in the water. It’s about dreaming and accomplishing a personal goal, for most of us. If a record or award comes because of doing what we love, that’s super awesome, but not our single motivation. But, our sport is growing, and I think we have a responsibility to help keep it pure. With more people will come more demands, more expectations, more publicity circuses. I actually have felt that in one of my last swims where I could tell people weren't prepared, but they were seeking the experience and notoriety that goes with finishing a marathon swim. It's dangerous, but also discouraging. It diminishes the massive amount of training and prep that most of us do. It didn't sit well with me, and I worry that this trend is coming faster than we think. Maybe the ultra swims will last longer than the 3k and 5k swims, but I do think that the issues that marathons and ironman races are facing will come to us eventually, too.
  • IronMikeIronMike Arlington, VACharter Member
    I do mostly "shorter 10k or less swims" (or, more to the point: organized OW swims) because they're cheaper and easier to plan for. We all can't afford channel crossings, either because of money or time.

    Despite what some think, I don't do these swims for the tshirts, although that's a happy coincidence. I do them because I like the feeling of swimming for hours and completing a significant distance.

    Don't get me wrong. I'd love to do a channel someday. But with 4 kids under 18, I've got other things to spend my money on. ;)

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Member
    @ironmike- Please don't think I meant to imply that ALL people who do the shorter races are motived by extrinsic factors. I know when I was still doing the short stuff I was doing it for the fun of it. I just happen to know a few more people in that category who are more highly motivated by the hardware than the actual swim. Likewise, I'm sure there are a few ultra marathoners out there who are after the recognition.... I was just speculating on trends that I've observed. I hope you do get to do a channel some day!
  • oxooxo Guest
    edited December 2012
    Seems to me that equating the future of open water swimming with the future of open water events is as incongruent as equating the future of rock climbing with the future of competition climbing. Yet given the ever more scheduled lives these days of adolescents, I suspect the distinction will become lost if it hasn't already. Does anyone else on this forum swim to swim?
  • It's odd really, because I feel the opposite. I seem to have discarded all the cheap medals, trinkets and certificates awarded for accomplishing an organised OWS race eg Torbay, Windermere etc. But I treasure the certificate on my wall for the English Channel. It represents a fantastic journey, recognises the enthusiasms shared with training companions, the salt water sore, the jellies, the cold, the coach, the family. I swam for a childhood dream, the certificate is a delightful reminder.
Sign In or Register to comment.