The Swimmer Who Ran A Marathon – A True Story

Vanessa Steigauf - Marathon

The Swimmer Who Ran A Marathon – A True Story

By Vanessa Steigauf, Swimming World College Intern

As someone who is used to exercising horizontally, generating most of the power from the core and shoulders, and all that in an almost weightless environment, running was quite new for me in several ways. Not only was it a huge challenge for my legs, but also a whole new environment to race in. But even if swimming is different from distance running, I was glad I could draw on past experiences from my time in the pool. And after the completion of my first marathon, I can say I learned so much from my running experience that will benefit me in swimming.

The Training

It’s a process. That’s probably one of the most important lessons you learn throughout your swimming career. Months of daily practice in the pool and weight room to be prepared for that one day when it all counts teaches you a form of patience that is hard to learn from anything other than sports. And I needed a lot of patience in my running progress. Bad days and injuries are part of every athletic journey you will take on. Knowing a way to focus on the process and never lose your goal out of sight is one key element of success.

The Race

I am not going to lie, there is a monotonous aspect to endurance practices in every sport. But getting in “the flow” definitely helps to get through it. Swimmers are for sure specialists at enduring long and tedious practices. Going back and forth in a small pool and staring at the bottom for two hours is what we do every day. We know how to cut out everything around us and keep going without thinking for a while.

The way we learn to read our body during long and hard practices also helps in every other sport. During the Marathon I knew how far I can push my body and when I needed to take a break and refuel. Swimming teaches us to differentiate between situations that require us to slow down and others where we can tell our body to shut up and push through the pain. Knowing this difference and responding accordingly is an awesome skill to have for any situation in life.

The Finish

Touching the mat and crossing the finish line generate incredible feelings. From swimming, we know how to celebrate a good race and recognize the bad ones. We know we can be proud of ourselves even if we don’t always drop time or get on the podium. I still haven’t fully processed that I ran a full marathon. But I feel how much this achievement means to me and that all the hard work in the months before has paid off.

What I Learned from Running

There are several more or less important things you realize during a 26-mile race. And usually they are pretty hard to forget about after the race. That’s not so much an advantage for random facts, like weird shapes of clouds you come across, like it is for existential (and sometimes overly philosophical) realizations about life. During a marathon race, there is this feeling of shared identity and solidarity. We all ran together. No one was racing anyone and trying to be faster or better. As a swimmer, this was a welcome change to the mindset of sports. Even if we all swim in our teams, there is always that competitive thought in the back of our heads.

And technically, that’s what makes us good athletes. The never-ending desire to improve pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us practice harder. But sometimes it is very refreshing to step out of that mindset and simply do a sport for the sake of doing it. I didn’t run a marathon to prove anyone I could do it or to run a good time. I ran it because I like running. It’s that simple. And sometimes we might need that reminder for swimming as well. We love swimming – that’s why we are here. Such a mindset can help us push through rough days and remember the reason why we are practicing.

Sore Muscles and Realizations About Life

After all, this marathon gave me so much more than sore muscles and the realization that swimming a mile isn’t actually that long. I met awesome and inspiring people along the way. Some of which like to tell their whole life story, and others who simply enjoy running with you to not go through the pain alone. At the finish line, I realized that this marathon was about so much more than the running. It was about building friendships, getting to know your body, and achieving something that makes you incredibly proud of yourself. And it is like that with swimming as well. Some realize that early on, others need to endure the pain of a marathon first. But whatever kind of person you are: Go and find something that makes you realize the beauty of our sport.

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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