Training Advice for Newbies

evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
edited December 2014 in Beginner Questions
The forum has many pages of valuable advice about training for marathon swims in the TRAINING category, which can be accessed from the right-sidebar. A friendly reminder to please read these threads thoroughly before posting super-general (non-specific) questions about training.

If, after browsing through the forum archives (using the category & tag listings in the right sidebar) and using the search box, you still cannot find an answer to your question, feel free to post it to this thread.

Examples of useful details you might include (hat tip to @lakespray for these ideas):

- About how old are you?
- What's your current fitness level, how much are you currently swimming etc?
- Do you consider yourself under, over weight or just right?
- What is your swim background, i.e., did swim competitively and if so at what level?
- When did you last time a 1500m pool swim and how fast did you go?
- What training facilities (pools) do you have access too and what are your open water (OW) training possibilities like?
- How much time can you train per week?
- Will you be able to swim with a team?
- What is your current OW experience?
- How competitive do you want to be in these races? for example just finishing them or do you want to win and at very least be in top five overall or age group etc.
- Do any of these races have web sites with results if so please link one or two of them.
- Generally, what is the water temp for these races?
- Going with or without a wetsuit?


  • Advice on break from training for injury.

    I need some advice please from those of you in the know. I have been training for a 20k open water ( Rottnest channel ) swim for most of 2014 with weekly distances of 10 - 12k. Since October I have pushed up to 20k a week and completed my first 10k ocean swim. I found this swim difficult but managed to complete it.

    Two weeks ago I injured my back ( disc protrusion L4 L5 ) and was ordered complete rest. No lifting, no swimming.......

    Now I have been cleared to return to training after two weeks of physio and stretching. With the swim on the 21st of Feb I am wondering,

    How quick do you lose fitness/strength and how quickly can you get it back?

    Thanks for any advice you might have.
  • mczeemczee Member
    edited May 2015

    24 years old, part of a team, some open water experience but no a lot, I want to just finish races

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Wow, totally missed this thread last year. Sorry to @TerryKeogh for no responses.

    I've had up and downs in my training, mostly because of personal reasons. But now I'm stuck in a place with few options for swimming in the winter. I just got back in the pool a few weeks ago and it took me about a week until I got my wind back, at least to handle an hour of straight swimming w/o pain.

    But speed. Well. I do have experience from a year or so ago. Two years ago I trained pretty hard and averages about 3.4k per hour (good for me). I managed Swim the Suck with no unusual pain or anything like that. In fact felt great enough to push it hard the last 45 minutes (of the 4:44).

    Fast forward a year (to 2014) and with little training at all, my usual (slow) 5K of 1:40-ish turned into a nice round number of two hours. And I felt like I was pushing the same. Still no problem finishing the race, none at all. But I was shocked when I saw the time.

    So I think it'll take time to come back. This is probably moot by now.

    @mczee, if you just want to finish races, then get lots of "horizontal" time. That's what I call it anyway. You want to get used to staying horizontal for quite a while. No stopping at the wall in OW! Do some long slow swims with little to no stopping.

    N.B., that this advice is coming from a very new, inexperienced marathon swimmer whose only marathon swims are in the 10K to 10 mile range.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • Alright I've got a few questions. I'm new to marathon swimming but was a competitive swimmer in the past. It's been about 10 years since I competed and I didn't swim much at all during that time. I'm working on getting my fitness level back up, and I have about 40 extra pounds that I'm working on shedding. I did my first 5k in July but that'll be it for this year as there are no local open water swim races.

    My goals for next year are to do END-WET as well as a couple other shorter swims (5/10k). I'm limited to training 3x per week on my own because of kids and work and my husband's schedule etc. So I can do roughly 1.5 hours on Tues & Thurs and a longer swim on Saturdays.


    1. How often do you do longer swims where you practice feeding and everything? I'm thinking I'll take a vacation day once a month to do a longer swim during the day when there are available pool hours.

    2. When I'm practicing in open water I'm usually by myself. I use a safer swimmer buoy, but I also find myself sighting pretty much every second breath, and sometimes I get into a panicy state realizing how vulnerable I am and also just worrying that I'll swim right into another person/boat. Is this just something you get over? How often do you sight when you're swimming?

    3. Goggles. I've tried a whole bunch of pairs in the last year, and so far they all press on this one area of my eye socket that causes a pounding headache if I'm wearing them for more than 45 minutes or so. When I did my 5k I started feeling nauseated in the last 20 minutes from the headache. Has anyone had this problem and what did you do?

    That's all for now although I'm sure I'll have many more in the future!

  • andissandiss Senior Member
    1. To gain confidence you kind of just need to bite the bullet and keep exposing yourself to different type of conditions. Try to gradually build it up otherwise it will backfire.

    I sight more if i need to sight more - like if you swim in a harbour or if conditions are bad with strong currents.

    I find a personal mantra that you repeat to yourself helps. Can be something simple like - Do NOT think negative thoughts.

    Check this article its runners but you get the point

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    One: Once a week to once a month, depending on time, weather, escort, etc. It helps if you can do it in open water under conditions similar to your big event. It's good to know in advance how your body will react to the time and conditions you expect to encounter.

    Two: I almost always swim with an escort nearby, (or a buddy), but sometimes he's keeping an eye on a bunch of us who are spaced apart by several hundred yards. I think frequency of sighting depends on the amount of potential hazards present. Flat water with no boats in the area, I might only sight every 20-30 strokes. If it's rough and hazards (driftwood, boats, etc.) are present, I probably sight around 6-8 strokes. Sometimes more if there's lots of driftwood, because running into driftwood really sucks.

    Three: My goggles start hurting my eye sockets around 2 hours, so I reward myself with putting them up on my forehead while I feed.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    @Deema Glad you're here. And good luck with your marathon swimming career!

    END-WET is a remarkably ambitious goal for your first year out of the gate. I don't want to discourage it, because I don't know you or what you're capable of. However, you might want to enter some shorter events along the way, just in case...

    As to your questions:

    Sighting First, you need to learn to swim straight. This isn't a patronizing statement of the obvious. It is a learned skill that can become natural and instinctive over time if you practice. Spend focused time on each of your OW swims on practicing swimming straight. Here are some ideas:

    (1) Get intimate with your movement in the water. Become more self-aware of your stroke. Take 15 strokes without sighting. Course correct and do it again, and again, and again. Is there a pattern? Why? Feel your stroke. Look at your hands entering. Feel your roll. Feel your pull. Get LONG. What are my legs doing? Am I scissoring or fluttering? Does it change when I breathe on one side? If you have a natural bend one way or the other, figure out why and adapt. Pay attention to how your natural bend changes as you fatigue. Or when you speed up/slow down. A few strokes before you sight, try to guess what you're going to learn when you do sight. Were you right? If not, spend then next 15 strokes trying to figure out why. Then try again.

    (2) Learn to use visual cues all around you, such as sediment in the water, plants/rocks on the bottom (if you have clear vis to the bottom, tilt your head 15 degrees forward and you'll swim straight as an arrow!!), the location of the sun when you breathe (or on bright days, the glare in the water), the direction of waves/chop/wind, the shoreline, adjacent boats/buoys/objects in the water. If you learn to pay attention, there is a wealth of directional information all around you. If you practice being aware of the cues, your awareness becomes almost subconscious. You'll start to "feel" straight or off (tip: "feelings" are not always reliable!!)

    (3) Sight less, not more. Sighting is a crutch. Using it excessively will only increase your reliance on it and atrophy the skills discussed above. If I'm paying attention, I typically sight every 12th stroke (I'm an automatic bilateral breather, so every other left-side breath, I'll sight). If I'm taking a tight turn, approaching an obstacle, or in a dog fight with another swimmer, I'll sight more frequently, even every breath. But most of the time, I'm just cruising along, not paying attention. In which case, I have no idea how often I sight. Not often, though. But I swim very straight.

    Panicky Feeling This will recede. In the meantime, try sticking to the shoreline, perhaps 20 meters off the shore (or off the dock line, if docks) and avoid deep, wide-open crossings where boats are an issue. Fewer boats closer to shore and the boats expect people. Also, try swimming early/late in the day, when there is less boat traffic. In addition to less risk, there is much less (or none) boat noise underwater, such that you can easily hear approaching boats. Alternatively, find an area lake with a very large designated swimming area. There is one about 45 minutes from me with a 500 meter long row of buoys. Not only am I protected from boats (more or less), but I have defined distance markers for pacing/interval sets. I've also used long bridges for a similar purpose (swim along the pilings).

    Long swims in general, my desire is to do one 10K a week year round, but it seems to end up being only around 2 per month. When training for a specific objective, I do more frequent and/or longer long swims. I almost never "practice" feedings or anything else. Out of necessity, I need to feed on long swims, so I try to use the same formula I'll use in an event swim to get used to it and deal with any digestive issues (this is important!). But you might want to do some "rehersal" long swims to figure out dietary needs and to build up your "kit" of extra stuff you might need. I never did much rehearsing, just learned through trial and error, but I didn't start as ambitiously as you are.

    Also, on END-WET (and other swims), you'll be escorted by a kayack. Whole different animal. This DOES require practice, planning, patience and communication. But that is the subject of a whole new post...


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • Thanks for the input everyone!

    @Niek - I don't know how anyone can swim with their nose covered in those types of goggles, I get claustrophobic whenever I put them on! I'll keep trying different types of goggles and I'm sure I'll find one that works for me.

    @andiss A mantra might be good. Better than what's currently running through my head during most of my swims - I have young kids and I often get songs from toddler shows stuck on repeat in my brain. Good times.

    @loneswimmer I always find that when I put my goggles up in the middle of a swim I can never get them back on with a good seal or in the right spot. Have you run into this problem?

    @Spacemanspiff Thanks for all of the advice! The year of END-WET would be my 2nd year out of the gate, but still I only got in a 5k this year so it's a big leap from that to a 36 mile swim for sure. I'd like to do some shorter distance swims before it, but this swim season is pretty much over for me since I'm out of money from being on maternity leave. I was looking at the Las Vegas 10k in May, but it looks like they aren't putting it on any more or they're taking a break, I'm hoping they start it back up in 2016 because I have a relative that I could stay with there and enough air miles for the trip.

    Great advice on sighting. I've been practicing closing my eyes in the pool. It's an odd feeling.

  • mjstaplesmjstaples Atlanta, GA, USSenior Member

    Loosen your goggle straps, a lot. That helped my headaches. And as for sighting, end-wet is a pretty narrow river. I just kept my head down and sighted solely off my kayak. I had her on my right and she stayed even or a little behind me about 10 feet or so away. If she got close I knew to pull to the left and if she got far I'd pull to the right. So no need to lift my head until I was near the finish.

  • @mjstaples my goggles are already the loosest they'll go, but after my last swim I tried something different...I took my hair out of the pony tail before putting my cap on. I feel like an idiot - my goggles are working a lot better now that the back of my cap is flatter. Maybe I'll get a hair cut before my next event.

    Thanks for the additional info on end-wet. I was curious if I could use the kayak for sighting or if they would just hang back and follow me.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    edited September 2015
    > Niek said:
    > These kind of goggles are entirely legal by all the channel rules.
    > ![intex-reef-rider-snorkelbril-kind[1]]( "intex-reef-rider-snorkelbril-kind[1]")
    > ![intex-sea-scan-snorkelbril-kind[1]]( "intex-sea-scan-snorkelbril-kind[1]")

    Can you exhale from your nose with those things? I wouldn't think they would be desirable for anything other than snorkeling. I think EVMO likes Swedes (they're awesome in a mass start at protecting your eyes from getting kicked in the face), and I've always used Speedo Sprints. The old Compy goggles were used by a lot of swimmers back in the day.

    My main issue about the "mask"-type goggles are that you don't look very cool or badass when wearing them. If you look the part, people will treat you as such. Look like a dweeb (must have cap on sideways and a stopwatch stuck to the goggle to qualify) and you'll get your feeds stolen, or you're escort will abandon you in shame. :D
  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    LOL!!!! I love those (non-badass) dweebs who wear their caps sideways! Thanks, I can't stop laughing! 8-}


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • I am brand new to the Forum, and open water swimming in general so forgive me if I ask something that is "common knowledge".
    I am a life long swimmer (competitive through college), I took an extended break after college and tried running (ICK). Needless to say a bad knee and ruined plantar tendon later, I found the water :-)
    I joined my local masters team not quite a year ago, and this summer was my first foray into open water. I easily finished 1 mile, 2.5 mile, and 3.1 mile swims over the summer- now I think I caught the open water bug...
    So now I have so many questions....
    I live in the cold winters of the Midwest, so any open water swimming is over till next summer I am 35 reasonably fit, and train at least an hour a day with my team. About 10K a week in quality yardage.

    What should I be adding to my training?
    What would a good starting point be for next year, 7 miles, 8 miles, 12? Is that reasonable?
    Any race recommendations? I am far less anxious when the race is well organized and safety seems to be forefront.
    What type of swim suit do you gals prefer? (I tend to get suit burns after about an 1.5hrs)
    Do you find that open water swimming and training impacts your in pool racing/ times?

    I know I will have tons more questions... but those are top of mind right now.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Let's say you're going to do a 10K next summer (or 7 - 8 miles even). You could probably do it on the training you are doing now, but you might regret not doing a bit more. Once you get past your normal duration of workout, your body can react differently, although you probably did some crazy-long workouts in college, so maybe it won't be a big deal for you.

    I'd say that to get yourself ready for a 10K+ swim, you should add 15-30 minutes (now) to your existing workouts, maybe twice a week, if you can fit it in. If you normally do ~3K in an interval workout, take it up to 4-5K here and there, so you are used to a higher effort level for a longer durations. Make sure there is a fast set near the end, so the feeling of swimming hard when you are tired is familiar.

    In the spring, I'd highly recommend doing a (mostly continuous) swim that's longer than 2.5 hours, at least once. The more times you do it, the easier it gets. You will want to practice feeding to find out how you will feel, what you can/can't eat & how often, if your arms are going to fall off, etc. You can do it in a pool, to start with, but if your OWS is going to be much cooler than pool temperature, you need to get out in the open. You need to practice with your paddler (if you're going to have one), feeding without standing up, and find out if you are able to sustain a pace over time that will keep you warm down to X temperature. Wind and waves are something else to be prepared for. Don't be temped to stand up in shallow water, I got pinched by a crab for doing that!

    For distances of 5K or less, I like the Agon Pro-back kneeskin (as tight as I can stand it) for speed. Much longer than that, it starts cutting into my skin. For my 10Ks, I wear the same style of suit that I train in, (TYR Diamondback), although I use a new one that hasn't been stretched out in the pool. Don't wear a polyester suit for a 10K, it will feel like sandpaper after a couple of hours, especially in salt water. Use some sort of lubricant (Body Glide, grease or whatever works) on the spots that normally chafe and practice with it, because you want to make sure it stays on long enough. Bottom line, wear a comfortable suit. You certainly don't need that bugging you at mile 5!

    For me, there is a correlation between the type of training I'm doing and pool speed. I'm nearly 50 at this point, so your experience may vary. I was lots faster in the pool at 35, especially over shorter distances, (training 10-12K/wk.) but I've had some of my best long OW swims in recent years, (training 18-25K/wk.). Some of that is due to eons of OW experience and also because I've trained more specifically for OW. I do interval training several times a week in the off-season (Oct-April) with our USMS association champs meet in April as a goal. The rest of my days are longer intervals or long swims and I try to do 3-4 OW swims a month during the winter, for toughness. I'm definitely quicker when I do intervals, but it takes more time to recover (that time goes up with age), so I mostly stop doing intervals when I get to OW season (mid-June). I race almost every weekend, sometimes multiple races in a day/weekend, so during the week I'm trying to recover and feel good again by Thursday, practice swimming fast a little bit, then get rested to race again. As the season wears on, I get pretty exhausted and terminally sore, I can't swim fast intervals in the pool at all, BUT...somehow, those intervals I swam all winter (and adrenaline) still enable me to hammer the last 3-400 of a race if I need to. By October, when I get back in the pool full-time, I feel like a snail. It takes a month or two to get back in the groove for a 100 or 200.

    You have to decide which goals/events are most important during a season and focus on them, being willing to give up performance in one discipline in order to gain it in another. I recall doing reasonably well at many things in a season when I was in my early 30s (OW, pool meets, triathlons, bike racing) but not having a stellar performance at any of them until I was willing to specialize. In 2015, I planned to do a few less (17 rather than 22) OW races and add a 14 mile marathon swim toward the end of the season. By mid-August, I was really tired, but went ahead and swam a 10K anyhow, mostly for training. Due to a number of reasons, (a streak of bad weather, boat issues, $, excruciating neck pain) I didn't get that 14 mile swim done. Mostly, I was just totally exhausted. I had a really good OW season with some PR times but I also learned that in order to make that long, cold swim, I'm going to have to make it a priority. I'm either going to have to do it early in the summer or give up some other events.

    Hopefully some of this lengthy ramble is helpful! :D


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited October 2015

    Wendy...thanks for the detailed advice. I'm older and nowhere near as fast as Camille, I'm sure. But I'm slowly moving into some longer distance swimming. I've been a runner for years but this past summer I've focused on swimming -- partly because of a couple longer (not by the standards of most here) swims and partly b/c of a couple running injuries. I still enjoy running but have slowed down a lot. And it's a hard trade-off but it's good to see the rewards. I got a PR in a 5.5 mile swim and see improvements in my swim workouts. I still want to be 20 yr's younger but won't hit the rocking chair as long as I can do this stuff. I'm near my mid 60s so I can't afford to stop. :)

  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganSenior Member

    on suits - I find 85% polyester and 15% spandex to be the softest and kindest for OW. Speedo's Endurance/LBT fabric is the worst for chafing, especially in salt water. You can use grease of some kind (vaseline, Aquaphor, etc) on your skin where the suit chafes.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    One particular TYR Durafast suit I got felt like it was made of fiberglass. I was getting shoulder chafing after an hour in the pool. It was also a horrible pink pattern, which is way out of character for me, but hey, it was $22. I was so happy when the elastic in the strap gave out 2 months later and I could throw it away!

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    The Tyr suits are actually my favorites though I got one polyester suit that fell apart pretty quickly. But in most cases I've liked them. I wore my current one for the first time in my first marathon swim (went 7 miles which is on the low end of "marathon," but still...). As a runner, I'd call that a rookie mistake but the suit stayed comfortable the whole time. My body seems to like Tyr for some reason.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    @Camille, you would be amazed at what you can do on your weekly yardage if a) you just want to finish and b) you just want to finish unhurt.

    Seriously, I did my first 10K training in a 15m-length pool and no OW. A couple months before the swim I did an 7000-m workout, and about a month prior I did a 9K workout, but other than that, I was only able to do about 10K a week in 3-3.5K chunks. (Work, family committments.)

    The 10K went well. I finished in a great time unhurt.

    Fast forward a couple years, and the same type of training, and I failed at a 10K, completing only 8250m before course closure. And in absolute pain (lower back). First 5K in 1:40-ish, next 2.5K took almost the same amount of time. And this was one month-ish before a 10-miler.

    I think it was because my training yardage was crap yardage. Little to no concentration on technique. Simply in the pool to finish the laps. Crap.

    For the remaining month I changed my training to long sets. I was still only doing btwn 10-15K per week, but my sets were more along the lines of 10x500. I felt I needed more time "horizontal" for my back. I also did a 3-hour swim a couple weeks before the 10-miler (basically, 6 x 30 min with :10 to drink).

    The 10-miler went great!

    Common theme in all this is my overall goal of just finishing. When I do good quality yardage (I don't know that I've ever swum more than 15K per week), and I mean good quality, I do fine. When I do trash yardage, I feel it during the race.

    Hell, my most recent 5K I did after 3 months of swimming 3-4 times per week for one hour, sometimes 90 minutes each time, tethered to the wall of my tiny pool. And that 5K was the best I'd ever felt in an OW swim of any kind. Absolutely incredible. I felt fast the entire time and only got tired during the last K. I think this was the first time I can say I pushed it the right amount for that swim; I could not swim anymore after finishing. I spent a lot of time horizontal, concentrating on technique, with the occassional bursts of speed (intervals while tethered...who'd'a thunk it?).

    BL: Quality over quantity yardage and you'd be amazed at what you can do. Good luck and welcome to the addiction.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    The best thing to come across my desk this week and great advice for newbies:

    Don't drown!


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • Thank you all for the advice and tips. Iron Mike, I agree that I always feel better with good quality yardage, I know right away when I am swimming "junk" yards.

    WendyV34, thank you so much for the post- my biggest concern in doing more OW swimming is the time commitment. Hearing that adding a couple longer sets and some extra pool time a couple days a week- that I can do!
    I have been addicted to the TYR line since getting back in the pool- same model too (diamond back). I became addicted to TRIglide at an event in Lake Michigan where wetsuits were mandatory due to a crazy drop in lake temp (in the middle of Aug!!!)

    We are entering indoor meet season, so I am focused on my meet times right now, I am hoping to hit some PR's and have a slim shot at a masters national qualifying time in the 1000 & maybe 1650. In order to do that I am going to be adding some weight training and extra pool time anyway.

    I am going to be watching the posts and looking at races to see if I can do far more OW swimming and racing as soon as I can. Has anyone done the Race around Key West?

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    I've done Key West 4 times in the late 90s. There are now two organizations hosting a race around the island. It's a very simple course to get around. You're either close to land or in shallow water for most of it, so nothing to panic about. The water is extremely hot, so be careful. I used to drink every six minutes and still managed to cramp up.

    At its height during the 1999 swim, there were probably close to 100 soloists and a out as many relay swimmers.

    It's an honest 20K without too much tidal/current assistance. A few times I had to swim through Cow Key Channel (about 10 miles into the swim) the same time all of the Atlantic Ocean decided to pour through the channel.

    Overall, it's a very good first escorted swim for newcomers.


  • Chris,

    Thank you for the info! I personally LOVE warm water, I have always been a warm water gal! I think that will be a huge challenge for me as I get more involved in OWS, the cold temps!

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member


    If you swam in college, you should be able to destroy those NQTs for your age group. =D> Especially if you're the sort of person who gets up for competition, which, it sounds like you are. I still haven't figured out how I manage my competition times, based on the speed I swim in training. My training partner/coach says "Where did that come from?" I think it's the adrenaline...and it doesn't hurt that our regional competition pool is really fast!

    Here's the main (SCY) set we did today that felt perfect for a miler:

    4x200 @ 3:00 moderate (respectable?) pace
    1:00 rest
    3x200 @ 3:00 hard (red face)
    1:00 rest
    2x200 @3:00 all out (snot coming out of your nose)

    Go get it!


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • Wendy,
    Thanks for the vote of confidence!
    I am going to need to find some more speed, and do some dry land work (ick!)
    I will use that set as one of my work outs :-) and let you know how the mile goes!

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Strength training will definitely help. So will working on going hard at the end of your sets. Here's what I'm planning on today:

    2-3x [400, 300, 200, 100 @ 1:30 base, going faster as the distance gets shorter + 100 EZ back]


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • gtswimgtswim PennsylvaniaMember

    Here is a good set for speed work. We did it on Monday as the last set of the workout. SCY

    2x100 on 1:25
    2x100 on 1:20
    2x100 on 1:30
    2x100 on 1:20
    2x100 on 1:35

    The 1:20 swims were considered active recovery. The 1:25, 1:30 and1:35 swims were hard. The goal on those was to decrease the swims. For example, if you go 1:10 on the first set of 2 on 1:25, the goal was to go 1:09 on the 2 on 1:30 and then 1:08 on the 2 on 1:35.

  • 1.20 is "active recovery"?!! I could barely do that 25 years ago, much less now. :((

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    suziedods said:
    1.20 is "active recovery"?!! I could barely do that 25 years ago, much less now. :((

    Yes, that's in my wild daydreams! :)

  • I love the support! I am really glad I joined this group. You guys are moving in those sets!!! That is why I joined the team, there is no way I could get myself to move that fast on my own, but my lane mates can sure push me.

    Here's a question that popped into my head, in the pool I can gage my pace by the walls, and people around me. I found it really hard to feel a "pace" in the open water. I know I could have pushed harder because I finished with too much energy. How do you gage your pace and speed for these long distances?

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    Camille said:

    How do you gage your pace and speed for these long distances?

    Here is my time-tested technique:

    Step 1: I start with a very specific plan--something to do with breathing, heart-rate, SPM or some other currently popular objective gauge of energy output. It is very important this gauge be objective, so you can know how you are performing relative to it, rather than how you "feel."

    Step 2: I test my gauge repeatedly until I believe I can somewhat accurately predict max output for a given distance. It is important to test under many different conditions so that you know what you are really capable of and are not misled by how you feel.

    Step 3: I develop some sort of mantra I can repeat over-and-over again before & during goal swim to make sure I stay focused and committed to my objectively measurable pace plan. It is very important that the mantra be something short and unambiguous: race-day feelings are powerful and misleading. You've got to trust your training.

    Step 4: Approximately 10 minutes into the goal event, I realize I should toss my whole plan out the window because I feel freaking awesome. "Today is different. Must have been my taper... I think I can win my age group! Hell, I might just be able to get on the podium!" It is very important that you not waste precious seconds considering the mountains of contrary evidence, including the laws of physics. Something magical has happened and you can, in fact, swim like an 18-year-old today.

    Step 5: After the event, I make sure to learn from my mistakes. Sometimes, I even write about my errors to clarify and reinforce my learning. It is very important that you learn from your mistakes or you will keep doing the same thing over again.

    Step 6: Repeat


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    I have a bit less organized method of judging/regulating my pace in open water and tend to use how I feel more than anything else, (I love step 4). One of the things I like most about open water swimming is the interactive nature of it. I tend to swim much harder when I'm motivated by others and of course, when I feel good.

    My pool times seem to be meaningless compared to my OW times and swimming in open water is so much more enjoyable, that I don't worry much on race days. I do train hard, put in the distance and prepare (rest, nutrition and a good warm up) for each event appropriately for the priority I've given it. When I've done my preparation right, I get that euphoric sensation Spiff describes in step 4. I tend to only swim as hard as I need to, so having someone trying to catch me or drop me is the best possible scenario for a great performance.

    In a multi-lap situation, I try to negative split the last lap, knowing that's a strength for me. It's satisfying to put a pesky foot tickler away on the last corner or catch someone blowing up in the last 200m. Try picking up the pace on your last lap or even from the last turn, until you get more comfortable with the distance you are capable of swimming at a harder pace.

    I have a few "speeds" that I use in open water:

    "Cruise" is a pace I use for most of a 5-10K, breathing mostly every 3 or 4 strokes. A little faster than comfortable. I think about good technique, being strong and steady. I might sit in behind someone and cruise for a few minutes in order to get some rest before applying a harder effort.

    "Hustle" is a faster pace that I would swim most of a 1.5-5K in, breathing every 2 or 3. Getting toward the end of a 5K at this pace starts to get fairly painful. I know it will hurt to raise my arms the next day. I try to focus on putting that hurt on someone else. I might need to hustle to keep up with a faster group. I hustled the last K of a 10K last year and passed 2 people in the last 600m.

    "Hauling Ass" would be how I describe swimming a <1K. Breathing hurts, arms hurt, lots of kicking. I might mix hauling ass into a longer race if it seems like I can drop or catch someone with a couple of hard efforts. I try to haul ass out of corners, as a rule. Lots of good moves are made out of corners, don't zone out there.

    "Flat Out" is what you might consider sprinting. I don't have blinding speed, so I can't really call it sprinting. It's 100% effort, which I might need for the first and/or last 200m of a race. Pain and large quantities of snot result.

    As you get more experience, you will become better at getting the most out of yourself, (step 5). When I first started swimming 5Ks, I was afraid of going out too hard, so I wasn't swimming nearly as fast as I could. Don't be afraid to try something and risk failure once in a while, you'll build confidence that way. The same rule applies to pushing your tolerance for cold or your maximum distance. Just for fun, pick out someone you want to beat (maybe a friend, team mate or rival) and start next to him/her, then use that person for motivation. Use positive self-talk, (hey, you trained hard all winter for this!) and always have fun.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • Spacemanspiff said:

    Step 4: Approximately 10 minutes into the goal event, I realize I should toss my whole plan out the window because I feel freaking awesome. "Today is different. Must have been my taper... I think I can win my age group! Hell, I might just be able to get on the podium!" It is very important that you not waste precious seconds considering the mountains of contrary evidence, including the laws of physics. Something magical has happened and you can, in fact, swim like an 18-year-old today.

    I thought this step was only for us pool peeps! Ha, you have no idea how many times this happens to me in a race (like every 500, ever!)

    Thanks for the advice, I know that in my races over the summer I know I went out too conservatively since I was only concerned about finishing. I don't think I have as many gears as Wendy! I must be one of those older 3 speed models! I know I need to work on pacing, and temperature tolerance this coming year. Maybe I will even venture into Lake Michigan prior to mid July!

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    My attempt at sarcasm was perhaps too dry and complicated. So as not to be misleading, I want to be clear that whole post was meant to be humorous. My pace methodology is very simple: I measure/control output based upon breathing.

    For "short" pace (less than 2 hours) I aim for 2-on, 2-off rhythm (i.e., breathe, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe, breathe). But in a swim this short, there's a pretty wide margin for error. I'll push hard if I feel like it.

    For "long" pace (over 2 hours), I aim to keep my breathing no more frequent than every third stroke. If I have to breathe twice on one side, I back off.

    If I'm going "really long" (over 5 hours) I visualize paddling a surf board. Long, efficient, glide with as little effort as I can expend without letting the surfboard compromising my efficient movement through the water (I try to stay right at the tipping point where slowing down anymore would cause my hips to drop). In this zone, I want to be so relaxed that I might (and do) forget to breathe.


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • That makes a lot of sense. I did get a good laugh at your original post.
    I swam an indoor mile at a meet this weekend, the good 'ole 1650- and actually stuck to my race plan (I was very proud of myself for that!). Seeing as I have not swum that event in 15 years, I was happy with my overall pace and time, but I know I can push harder- and I have got to figure out how to keep my stroke from getting short as I get tired.

    Thank you for the laughs and support!!!

  • Hello! Glad I found this topic as it sort of applies to my question!

    I am a 44 yr old male, maybe 15 pounds overweight, don't exercise at all.

    On Sunday I went to a gym and found myself in their pool. For some reason I decided to try to swim for the first time, in well, ever. I started doggy paddling (as that's the only swim move I know) and went, I dunno, maybe like half the entire length of an olympic size pool doing that. Had no problems, no pain, left feeling pretty good.

    That's where the fun stopped. For the last three days (and since) I've had some debilitating muscle issues at the base of my spine towards my buttox, mostly on the left side. I can't even get up in the morning without slowing bending over and swinging my legs over and slowly standing up. It hurts pretty much all the time and cramps up it seems after a few hours. I've had muscle pulls/strains before but this is in a whole new realm for me - trust me when I say it is excruciating and not just a minor pull.

    I know no one are doctors here and I will see one tomorrow - but does this reaction seem possible to whatever the motion of doggy paddling might do? I guess it sounds reasonable to me, but it was so quick (like under 3 minutes) and I didn't feel any pull or strain doing it. Thoughts??

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Doggy paddling isn't very good for your back. You could have strained your lower back.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • Thanks IronMike. It seems so. You ever have major muscle pains that last for days, maybe even weeks?

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    SteveW said:
    Thanks IronMike. It seems so. You ever have major muscle pains that last for days, maybe even weeks?

    Yeah...after a 10K my back was so sore it took a week to feel normal again.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    I needed chiro work on my arms and shoulders after the Valley Forge Marathon Swim this year. Thankfully, I was able to finish, but maybe going to swim practice the very next day wasn't my wisest move. ;)

  • TL;DR: do I need to vary my swim training from simply doing 2.5k daily?

    Hi all,

    Long time lurker but finally decided to come out of the shadows. I’m pretty new to OW (certainly by a lot of yours’ standards) but next year my target is a couple of 5ks and possibly a 10k. I’ve done a number of 2k OW swims (which required training in OW beforehand) so I’m not a total beginner. My current problem is making sure my training is actually benefitting me. I use my hour lunch break to swim each day (Mon to Thurs) and was making nice gradual improvements to time/distance swam. However I feel I’ve now plateaued at swimming 2.5k in 45 minutes. I’m worried my body may simply just adapt now to my straight 2.5k swim. I’ve looked at your lunchtime sets etc… and I’d struggle to do sets (i.e. 400s) because my swimming pool is pretty casual for the most part and I suspect I’d get comments for continually stop starting. I’ve continued to just swim a solid 2.5k on the basis that runners simply increase distance/time when training for distance runs and “I’m not doing any harm”. So my question is: is my 2.5k daily routine now actually hindering me?

    Any advice is greatly received!

    Cheers all!

  • I am curious what the thoughts will be on this as I am not an expert at all on training. I come from a pool swimming and racing background, but found open water racing last summer. Needless to say I was hooked. This summer I wanted to get past a 5k, so I aimed for a 10k. The people on this board have been an continue to be one of my main resources for training info and inspiration.

    One of the comments about training I follow is that you should aim to swim your anticipated race yardage each week- meaning if 10k was my goal I needed to make sure I swam at least 10k when I added up my weekly totals. This made sense, as it was similar to the training I did when I ran. Along the way I tossed in some long continuous swims as well.

    My training is varied each day with different focuses, I work on speed sets, distance sets, even some stroke work as this works different muscles and helps me with conditioning. I am lucky because I work out in a dedicated training pool, so starting and stopping is expected. Perhaps if you let your lane mates know what your working on they may understand the starting and stopping? (if not just push them out of the way...ha!)

    For me- this variation works for me, but I am still a beginner , so I look forward to reading more ideas.

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    One of the big challenges in getting in a solid workout is whether you can get a decent lane. There are a couple ways to deal with this.

    1) Scout pools and best times to swim. Sometimes if you vary your schedule a bit, you can find a clean time where there are few swimmers at a particular pool.

    2) If you always seem to find yourself in a pool with lanes that are filled with three or more swimmers, there are a couple ways to deal with this. If they are steady lane plodders, you can start to figure their sequence and build sets around them. For example, if you are faster than them, leave just before the clog arrives and swim until you catch the tail end. Then rest until the clog arrives. It's almost like having a clock. It's not the best and you really have to adapt, but in pools where I'm not a regular, I have found that it can work pretty well. I also am really friendly with whoever is swimming in the lane and I let them know what I'm doing. Most of the time, everyone plays well together.

    3) I have also swam in pools where I'm able to get a little group together and set up a workout where we are all swimming the same set. You kind of have to accommodate all the swimmers, so it requires a little bit of imagination. You can end up doing 100's a lot because the fast people catch up to the slow people. But you can do IM's or mix it up, just to compensate. The other way to go is tell the slow people to let the fast people by and then tag along at the end again. They get a rest and the fast people get the distance. What's neat is that the slow people get involved and have fun and the fast people don't get pissed off.

    Best thing is communication. Not everyone knows about lane etiquette and generally misunderstandings occur because of lack of communication. Also, it's fun to get other people involved in your workout. I can't tell you how many people I have coaxed into swimming better, farther and faster than they ever imagined they could. So instead of making an enemy, you have made a friend. The more friends you have in the pool, the easier time you will have getting a good workout.

    Hope these ideas help.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Sam- it really depends what your goals for swimming a 5 or 10K are. You can definitely swim a 5K on your 2.5K workouts and possibly a 10K, depending how strong/fit/efficient you are. If you want to swim that 5K faster, you'll need to do some intervals. Also, losing to someone in the last 200m by 8 seconds really stings.

    You can give yourself a better chance of success at a 10K by adding a long (let's say ~2hrs) swim every week or two. Muscular fatigue will set in at some point and if you have any quirks in your stroke (or injuries), you could be subject to pain in a specific body part, (shoulder, hip, neck), so you want to be familiar with how your body will react to a 3 hour swim. Your goggles could become intolerable after two hours.

    Another reason to practice long swims, is to get yourself used to fueling during a swim. Some people can swim 10K without fueling, but most people need to consume some calories and hydrate. I saw a guy do it a few years ago. He ran out of gas at 9K and I passed him like he was standing still, after he'd skipped all the feed stops. He didn't have much body fat and was pretty miserable, pale and shaky when he got out. You'll want to find what works for you nutritionally over time, because stomach upset can take you out. If you fail to stay fueled and hydrated, you are more vulnerable to cold.

    If you can do those long swims in open water, even better. You want to ensure that you can tolerate the water temperature for the amount of time you will be swimming. As you get tired, it can be more difficult to tolerate cold, especially if your stroke rate drops. :D


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • DanSimonelliDanSimonelli San Diego CASenior Member

    High head position, whether dog paddling as you did or lifting head forward in freestyle breathing stroke, or sighting too much, strains lower back.

    Get some regular coaching and swimming experience will be much more enjoyable, productive, and injury free!

  • Hi Guys/Gals, thanks for all the really great and detailed responses. I hopped into a larger more professional pool set up over the weekend and managed my first nonstop 5k swim. My pace felt comfortable (certainly not tiring) and honestly felt like I could have continued for another 2.5k if needed. My time wasn’t fantastic 1hr 38 minutes – but it gives me a good base to start. My thinking is that I need to get the time close to 1hr 25 minutes (as a realistic target) because I think I swim slower in OW.

    It looks like intervals is pretty important then from all of your advice and if improving speed/time is a goal (which it kind of is) then I need to find at least one session per week to dedicate to intervals – perhaps in place of my weekend long swim I could do the intervals instead occasionally.

    Does anyone use lane counters/watches that record lengths/distance and if so can recommend any? I suspect they may be helpful if I start intervals.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    If your pool doesn't have a pace clock, then you will want to bring a watch. It sounds like you have been using one, since you know what your times have been for longer swims. A pace clock is nice because, if properly placed, you don't have to stop to read it as you are swimming.

    You definitely need it if you're going to do intervals, unless you are going to use something like "count to 20" as a rest interval. Knowing the times that you are swimming your repeats in helps you to maintain a more consistent pace and gauge improvement. As you get toward the end of a set, the effort required to maintain your pace will increase. Knowing when my times are slipping helps me to know when to apply more effort, or give up, LOL!

    I use the pace clock to keep track of distance as well, since I usually space out around 675 yards and forget how far I've gone. Again, it reminds me when I'm slacking off.

    You will most likely will take longer to swim 5K in OW than a pool. You may not be swimming more slowly, but you don't have 6 yards of coasting off the wall every 25 and you will probably swim further than 5K, even on a well marked course. Unless you are swimming a point to point course, even comparing times year to year can be tricky because buoy placement can vary, as well as other factors (weather, tides, temperature, other swimmers, etc.).


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNSenior Member

    Simple lap counter for you. I use mine all the time as I tend to space out even on a 200 if I'm not paying attention to time as much as I should. I click the button for every 50

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    @flystorms That's pretty cool. I haven't seen one of those before. Of course the way I space out, I would forget to click it. I use the clock and even then I confuse myself because I'm numerically challenged and I will spend the next 100 yards trying to calculate where I think I am.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Sam said:
    My time wasn’t fantastic 1hr 38 minutes – but it gives me a good base to start. My thinking is that I need to get the time close to 1hr 25 minutes (as a realistic target) because I think I swim slower in OW.

    hahaha! I'd love that time.

    Sam said:
    I hopped into a larger more professional pool set up over the weekend and managed my first nonstop 5k swim. My pace felt comfortable (certainly not tiring) and honestly felt like I could have continued for another 2.5k if needed.

    That is the best feeling. My first few OW 5Ks I felt that way. I realized that meant I didn't pace myself correctly. My last 5K (out and back in a brackish "lake") was perfect. I had nothing left in the tank at the end.


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

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