Extreme Swimming Challenges Around the World

Competitors in the Swim for Alligator Lighthouse, an open-water, long-distance event, round the Florida Keys lighthouse and head to shore Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, near Islamorada, Fla. The event began in 2013 to help raise awareness about preserving the almost 150-year-old lighthouse as well as five other lighthouses off the Keys. This year’s contest attracted 461 swimmers. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Steve Panariello/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Extreme Swimming Challenges Around the World

By Vanessa Steigauf, Swimming World College Intern

Whoever said swimming was not an extreme sport hasn’t heard of the many unique challenges that exist around the world. Every year, they pull swimmers out of their sheltered swimming pools into the waters our planet has to offer. And you don’t have to be Veljko Rogošić, the world record holder of the longest distance ever swum in an open ocean, to do extreme swimming. Here are some milder challenges that still require a lot of grit for swimmers who look for more than just daily tile-counting at the pool.

Swim for Alligator Lighthouse, Florida Keys, Florida

This extreme swimming challenge, the Swim for Alligator Lighthouse, is an 8-mile (12.8km) swim, starting at Key Largo in Florida. While there are probably no real alligators swirling around your feet, you might share the water with some tiny sharks that help to spice up the race. Several decades ago, the artist “Lighthouse Larry” had swum out to the lighthouse all by himself and everyone thought he was crazy. Now, this has become a yearly event that hundreds of courageous swimmers participate in.

Sweden – The Mecca of Crazy Swimmers

In Sweden, you can always find someone to show you the closest lake or pond to swim in. No question they established several official races for all the enthusiastic extreme swimmers as well. The most well-known races include the ÖtillÖ SwimRun in Stockholm, and the Vidösternsimmet in Tånnö.

ÖtillÖ means “island-to-island” in Swedish. It was the result of a bet between two friends who wanted to see whether they could swim and run a chain of 24 islands. The whole race will consist of six miles (10km) of open-water swimming and 40 miles (65km) of trail running. The Vidösternsimmet is a 13-mile open water race – this time without running in between. But what all the races in Sweden have in common is a totally different challenge than just long distances. The water is usually freezing cold. So, when you do finish your race, retain some energy for the sprint to the sauna.

Morocco, The Desert Swim

When you finally feel like your toes have recovered and you would like a warmer challenge, try the Sahara Desert Swim Trek in Morocco. Here, swimmers will have to compete on four consecutive days, with 4, 5.2, 6.2, or 3.1-mile races each day (6.5, 8.5, 10, 5km). The fastest combined time will produce the overall winner. Staying hydrated will get a totally new meaning once you raced in the rare lakes of the Sahara Desert.

Following in The Footsteps of Roman God Neptune

During this race, you might not really feel like a god, but the feeling after finishing will be even bigger. The Neptune Steps in Glasgow, Scotland, is another extreme competition for aquatic athletes. With a total of 400 meters of swimming per round, it isn’t very impressive distance-wise. But once you see the obstacle-course-like setup, you know why it is only done by some of the craziest athletes. Seven canal locks and short pool segments with brutally cold water are swum and climbed through for prelims, semifinals and finals. It’s a real challenge for everyone looking for some cross-training outside the pool as well.

This might make you feel like the 200 fly or the mile aren’t so brutal. How about trying one of those extreme challenges yourself during the next offseason? You already put in the work in the pool – now it’s about adapting to extreme environments. Now that temperatures start to fall, it is the perfect time to get your first ice swim in and prepare for your first extreme swimming challenge.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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