Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

What does the definition “non-stop” mean in the sport of open water swimming?

Is non-stop a literal term or figuratively used?

Does non-stop in open water swimming mean no stopping at all from start to finish? Or does it mean a swimmer can stop to feed or eat or stretch their muscles while treading water? Or does it mean a swimmer must not touch anything or any person and must remain buoyant or swimming under their own propulsion?

Whatever the definition preferred by each open water swimmer, there is at least one contemporary open water swimmer who defines non-stop in its most literal meaning.

Not only is Kathryn Mason the only marathon swimmer who truly traverses non-stop from start to finish, but she is also one of the few humans in history who participate in the sport doing butterfly.

Mason asks, “Do you see pool swimmers stop in a race? It’s not a picnic, but somewhere where I once trained, it was like a walk in the park. For me, it’s simple.

Swimmers – whether they are world-class athletes racing in a competitive event or soloists crossing a channel – generally stop between 20-60 minutes. They stop to get something to drink from their kayaker, to be fed something from their escort boat, or stretch a sore muscle, or to stop, to look up and check out their bearing or ask for directions or information,” comments Steven Munatones of the World Open Water Swimming Association. “Kathryn’s type of swimming is historically unique. Her physiology and her mindset to swim in such a manner is really inspirational.”

Yes, the definition of non-stop is no stopping,” explains Mason. “That’s my standard, but not every swim has happened that way due to navigational confusion at some point. Stopping even for a split second is stopping. My arms are going at every moment of a non-stop swim. I do it to the rules of course and have observers on the large swims – I touch the finish point with two hands or bring both feet down at the same time if it’s too shallow [note: as she swims technically legal butterfly].

I do not scratch during a stroke or get a leg movement wrong
.”

But arguably even more difficult is the fact that she never feeds or drinks anything.

I don’t get thirsty,” says Mason. “[Crossing] Windermere was under the British Long Distance Swimming Association rules/organisation and was officially observed by [Colin Hill,] an experienced and qualified observer with notes taken on stroke rate – which was even throughout and a bit quicker in one third chop in the middle.

All [my] swims in the UK were observed by the British Long Distance Swimming Association or were at least held under the British Long Distance Swimming Association rules except for Eton and are noted – but not as non-stop. [My] Northern Irish swims [Lough Erne 17 km by Martin Cullen and Billy Wallace, and Loch Earn 10 km] were all under Irish Long Distance Swimming Association rules
.”

Mason’s lengthiest non-stop swim was 17 km. “I have [also] trained several times in the past at that distance n-s. I’m happy at the same time with the observers knowing it’s a special swim.”

Mason is consistently non-stop: an uninterrupted swim, an unbroken crossing, an unceasing effort, unparalleled and unique.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association