Women Outperform Men in Ultradistance Swimming: The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim from 1983 to 2013

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
Restricted access


Recent studies suggested that women’s and men’s ultraswim performances may be similar for distances of ~35 km. The current study investigated both the gender difference and the age of peak ultraswim performance between 1983 and 2013 at the 46-km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim with water temperatures <20°C.


Changes in race times and gender difference in 551 male and 237 female finishers were investigated using linear-, nonlinear-, and hierarchical multilevel-regression analyses.


The top 10 race times ever were significantly (P < .0001) lower for women (371 ± 11 min) than for men (424 ± 9 min). Race times of the annual fastest and annual 3 fastest women and men did not differ between genders and remained stable across years. The age of the annual 3 fastest swimmers increased from 28 ± 4 y (1983) to 38 ± 6 y (2013; r2 = .06, P = .03) in women and from 23 ± 4 y (1984) to 42 ± 8 y (2013; r2 = .19, P < .0001) in men.


The best women were ~12–14% faster than the best men in a 46-km open-water ultradistance race with temperatures <20°C. The maturity of ultradistance swimmers has changed during the last decades, with the fastest swimmers becoming older across the years.

Knechtle, Rosemann, and Rüst are with the Inst of Primary Care, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. Lepers is with the Faculty of Sport Sciences, University of Burgundy, Dijon, France. Address author correspondence to Beat Knechtle at beat.knechtle@hispeed.ch.