Training Plans for Marathon Swims
There's one question (or category of question) I get asked more than any other (through the MSF contact form & FB page, through the SBCSA, etc.) --
I just signed up for [insert name of swim]. Do you have any good training plans for that?
I suspect that anyone who's been around the sport for a while, probably gets this question quite a lot. So, I hope this thread will serve two purposes:
- For people seeking info about how to train for marathon swims -- as a useful, practical resource.
- For experienced marathon swimmers -- as a simple, effortless "answer" to the constant barrage of requests for training plans. Just send a link to this thread!
Here's one approach:
- Start with a thorough evaluation of your stroke technique - preferably with video-assisted analysis from an experienced coach. Identify 2 or 3 focus points, and work consistently for at least a couple of months before significantly increasing your training volume.
- Try to swim almost every day - let's say, 6 out of 7 days in the week. Build up to this gradually, if necessary. Pool or open water - doesn't matter much at this point; just swim.
- Join a Masters team. Swimming with other people == "free" motivation.
- Once you're swimming almost every day, add a "long swim" on the weekend. Let's say, at least double the time or distance of your typical swim session.
- Maintain a training log. How much are you swimming now, per week?
- Compare your current average swim distance per week to the distance of your goal swim: Are these two numbers close?
- If so, good job! Keep it up for at least 3 months before your target swim (preferably 6 months).
- If your target distance is significantly greater than your current average per week, you need to swim more. But build gradually.
- If this is your first rodeo, consider building your weekly average to somewhat above the target distance. With experience, you will develop an intuitive feel for "where you are" vs "where you need to be."
- Plan a "long swim" of half your target distance. How did it go? Regroup and iterate as necessary.
- Plan a "long swim" of 2/3 your target distance. Note: these intermediate long swims can be "official" swims, too!
- e.g., using the 12-mile Anacapa (SB Channel) swim as a training swim for the 20-mile Catalina Channel swim.
- If your goal is a cold water swim, you need to train in cold water (at least some of the time).
- If your goal is an ocean swim, you need to find some wind-whipped rough water and swim in it.
- Read loneswimmer.com. Read "Take it too far." Read other blogs and old swim reports. Watch Driven and Sea Donkey.
- Read the Marathon Swimmers Forum.
Sometimes people are unsatisfied with this advice - it's too abstract. They want specific details! They want a training plan, day-by-day, week-by-week, telling them exactly what to do. Is this a triathlon culture thing? "You need to do X on the bike, Y running, and Z swimming." I dunno, but I've never trained for swimming like that.
So that's why I'm putting this out there as a Forum thread rather than a static blog/article somewhere. Perhaps by pooling our collective wisdom and experiences, we can shed light on the important parameters of marathon swim training, as well as provide a few specifics for those who crave specifics (and thus help make our sport more accessible).
And if you're one of those people who are constantly fielding requests for training plans, perhaps this will make your life somewhat easier.
The floor is open...
Question prompt 1: Choose one marathon swim you've done, and describe how you trained for it.
Question prompt 2: In general / conceptually, how do you approach training for marathon swims?