In 2021, I signed up for a series of swims as part of a personal challenge - to swim 100 kilometres or more of unassisted marathon swimming in a single season. You can read more about that here if you like! It became a good opportunity to document how I prepare myself for long swims, in the event my practices and experiences help others in their own preparation. I'm learning as I go.
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This post is about how I plan my training.
My planning and tracking workbook
I created a simple but effective excel workbook, made up of a number of tabs that can be used for different things related to training and planning forward. I don't use anything else, this is it. I like excel because you can customize things to look and work exactly as you want them to, I can make it work entirely for me, rather than having to adapt myself to the way something else works.
How much swimming will I need to do leading up to the big day?
Great question! There's a few strategies that you can use:
Swim at least 75% of your longest event distance at least 1-2 times beforehand. The theory here is that if you have the skills and stamina to go 75% of the way, you'll most likely manage the remaining 25%.
Swim the distance of your longest event as the total training per week, at least a few times beforehand. There is a longstanding notion in marathon swimming that whatever you can swim in a week in training, you can swim in a single day during an event.
Swim the distance of your longest event in smaller chunks over consecutive days. The idea here is that you can "stack" the swims one day after the next, and by the end of it you're as tired as if you'd done them all in one day.
Swim what you can, build a decent base, and let your technique work and feed plan carry you forward.
Let's start with that last one - good efficient technique and a solid feed plan will always carry you far, no matter what you're training for. It should be your priority in the early months as you start to train, and something you work on every time you touch the water. Technique should be appropriate to your body's natural movement, be able to carry you over long distances, and leave you able to swim another day - uninjured. Your feed plan needs to be spot-on, so that you have the energy to keep going for hours on end. Are efficiency and perfect fueling enough to get you through a long swim if you can't rack up the training mileage? Some athletes simply can't devote days on end hitting high swim volumes, due to work schedule, family commitments, etc. You'll still need a good base of regular swimming in order to succeed, and a few longer swims, you can supplement it with cross-training and core work. It's been done...
I'm always working on technique and practicing my feeding plan leading up to long swims, that's a given. But I also like the confidence of mileage, and I do a combination of strategies #1, #2 and #3 wherever possible. Just don't move up in distance too much if you're still having any technique or injury issues, it's just a recipe for disaster.
Strategy #1 - 75% of your longest distance in one swim
In my 100km+ challenge, my longest swim is 40km, and that's in September, at the very end of the swim season, so there's lots of leeway leading up to it. To meet strategy #1, I have registered for a number of progressively longer swims leading up to it. 16km in June, 25km in July, and 30km in August. The 30km swim will be 75% of the 40km swim, and it will give me the confidence at that point to know I can tackle that extra 25%. Does your 75% swim have to be done in a single day? Not necessarily, and sometimes it's just not possible. While I am hoping to do a double crossing of Lac Massawippi in August, we've already been told it may not happen, so as my backup plan I have registered for 3 days of swimming back-to-back, which will total 30km. This will do just fine. If those long swims fall through due to weather conditions, I'll have to replace them by swimming equivalent distances at home, or supplement with something from strategies #2 and/or #3.
Strategy #2 - distance of longest event over the course of a week
- plan backwards for the big stuff
- plan upwards for the base
Planning and documenting your training
how will you get to your goal?