Training for marathon swims: Pool vs. open water

Training for marathon swims: Pool vs. open water

Newbie marathon swimmers often wonder how they should allocate their training time between the pool and open water. There’s no simple answer: It depends on a variety of factors unique to the individual. A few questions to ask yourself:

What’s the target swim? Distance, water temp, conditions, etc. The further outside neutral conditions your target swim is, the more open water you’ll want to incorporate into your training. (To train for cold water… swim in cold water.)

Are you training to finish (regardless of time), or are you training to race? The more speed matters in your target swim, the more high-quality interval training in the pool you’ll probably want to do.

What’s most convenient? If you live next to a safe body of open water, but far away from the nearest pool, this may tip the balance towards OWS. In my experience, convenience promotes consistency — and consistency promotes results.

What do you inherently enjoy? If you have access to a high-quality Masters pool squad with good coaching and fun lanemates, this may tip the balance towards the pool. If you get blissed out by open water, this may tip the balance towards OWS. …

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A chlorinated swim

A chlorinated swim

Last weekend I drove 90 minutes for a 19-minute swim – which would be unusual for me nowadays, even for an open-water swim. But this was a pool swim! Heresy!

There were other good reasons for the trip, however. I met up with my old buddy Rob D., as well as fellow SBCSA director Dave VM. Dave joined me for 30 lengths of freestyle, while Rob lap counted and shot some video with his GoPro. Later, we caught up on the latest OW/marathon swimming gossip over beer and burritos. Good times.

San Luis Obispo Swim Club occasionally puts on combined USA-S/USMS meets, and this was one such occasion. I had no interest in hanging out on a pool deck all day dodging 10-year olds… but they were offering a 1500 (LCM) as the last event of the day, and it was tempting. I could sleep in, show up early afternoon… get in, get out…. one and done.

When I showed up, the kids’ meet was still in full swing and they were running only a single warm-up lane.…

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In praise of the pool

In praise of the pool

Pools sometimes get a bad rap among open water swimmers. Marathon swimmers who live outside the Sun Belt are known to bemoan long winter hours in the “concrete prison.” David Barra memorably quipped to the New York Times:

The free spirits want to be outdoors, and have a relationship with a body of water…. You don’t have a relationship with a chlorine box.

Hearst Castle. San Simeon, CA.

But pools have their uses – even for marathon swimmers. Especially if one of your goals is to get faster. Alex Kostich was a U.S. National Teamer, an All-American distance swimmer at Stanford, and a training partner of Janet Evans in her prime. Now 41, Kostich is possibly the fastest Masters open-water swimmer in the country at the short distances (up to 5K). In the July/August issue of USMS Swimmer, here’s what he had to say about pools:

 

The easiest and most efficient way to get faster in open water is to do quality work in the pool.

Kostich is an open water specialist. He lives in Los Angeles. Yet he doesn’t train in open water.…

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Short Course: The bad news

Short Course: The bad news

I recently noted an unforeseen benefit of doing long swims in a short-course pool: It’s easy to monitor your stroke count without counting!

That’s the good news.

The bad news?

Swimming for a long time without stopping in a short-course pool can increase the risk of tossing your cookies.

I assume this has something to do with flip turns, and I also assume it depends on what you’ve eaten recently. I didn’t have a problem in the One Hour Postal last year, but I occasionally do get nauseated during these swims.

It goes with the territory. Just ask Dave Barra, who did a memorably gruesome 30,000 SCY workout at about this same time last year.…

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The joys of short course

The joys of short course

As I alluded to a couple weeks ago, I won’t have access to long-course water until mid-April. And Lake Michigan won’t be swimmable until probably late May (maybe a bit earlier with a wetsuit). Which means my ramp-up into Tampa will take place exclusively in short-course pools. Yuck.

At least once a week (see last Wednesday’s workout, for example), I try to do some long, aerobic steady-state swimming. 15 or 20 minutes at a time, to mimic my feeding schedule – or, as I build up, a series of such swims.

In doing these long swims, I’ve observed a couple things about short course that, in all my years of swimming, I had never noticed. There’s good news and bad. We’ll start with the good:

In a short-course pool, it’s much easier to monitor stroke count, and therefore swimming efficiency. The reason is, at any given pace my stroke count generally has a range of only 1. (N.B. I define “strokes” as the number of hand entries, counting both arms.)

For me, at a typical workout pace (say, 75% effort) my stroke count is usually 14.…

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Finding love (and lap pools) in NYC

Finding love (and lap pools) in NYC

NOTE TO VISITORS WHO CAME HERE LOOKING FOR LAP POOLS IN NEW YORK CITY:

Hannah’s blog, 40 Pools, is the most comprehensive resource available.


(Actually, this post is just about lap pools. As for love – sorry, you’re on your own.)

New York City’s a great town and all, but not exactly a mecca for lap swimming. I would assume, in a city where space is at such a premium, it’s tough to make the economics of a lap pool work. As a result, almost any pool of regulation length is either behind the walls of expensive and/or exclusive athletic clubs, $1000/night hotels, or, if public and reasonably priced, then extremely crowded.

I learned this the hard way when I arrived in town the day before the Little Red Lighthouse Swim last fall and tried to find a place to swim a few laps. Pools are scarce, but so is information.

(For what it’s worth, the Metro LMSC has a decent list of USMS teams here, and Swimmer’s Guide hosts an occasionally-reliable database of lap pools here.…

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