What is an appropriate weekly mileage for completing marathon swims?

JSGraefJSGraef Member
edited October 2012 in Beginner Questions
Disregarding water temperature and sea condition acclimatization, what type of weekly mileage should one achieve to be able to comfortably swim 10k, 25k, 25k+? Or is is more about time spent swimming, rather than distance? I understand this can differ wildly per person, but there must be a baseline.


  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    For the Dart 10K I trained no more than 4 times per week averaging 3200 yards per. And a few once per week 2-2.5 hour pool swims. Granted, the 10K was current-assisted. I finished it in what would normally equal 8000 meters.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited March 2012
    The two most common rules of thumb (and I think they're pretty good ones) are:

    1. Weekly training volume should be (at least) equal to your target swim distance, for at least several months.

    2. At least one training swim of 65-75% of your target distance.

    High-quality (by which I mean to say, high-intensity) swimming can compensate, to some extent, for quantity.

    And it goes without saying - make sure your technique is in good order, and never practice poor technique. Good way to blow out your shoulders.

    There's an interesting thread on the USMS forum currently, somewhat relevant to this topic: http://forums.usms.org/showthread.php?t=20306
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer Admin
    edited June 2014
    For an English Channel/Catalina swim (40k+), there seems a reasonable, but FAR from universal, thought that 40 to 45k per week is required from the start of the relevant calender year.

    This should be on top of plenty of swimming experience leading into it and a gradual buildup to the load also. I'm sure/hope there will be more thoughts and perspectives on this.

    I once read an old endurance runner's rule of thumb, you can run four times your maximum training distance for a one-off event (but not if you want to repeat the event).

    Another one guide is you can swim in a day what you train in a week.
  • ssthomasssthomas Charter Member
    For my first few open water 10k swims, I averaged around 25,000-30,000/week, with a couple longer swims mixed in.

    For the longer swims (Catalina, MIMS, and Tampa) I try to build into 6-8 weeks at 60,000/week. Of course, always listen to your body and build into the massaive yardage. You can't just go from 10,000/week and hit 60k, without hurting something. I also got pretty sick this year about the time I was supposed to be hitting 60k. I tried to power through it for a few days, but it was just making me sicker. A couple of days off, and a "ruined" training plan, were definitely the best choice in the end. Listening to your body is key!

    I'm also just 30, so my shoulders are still pretty young. I also know several successful channel swimmers who have made across it just fine on 45k-50k.
  • bobswimsbobswims Charter Member
    I know I am in the minority. I trained for Tampa & Catalina on 90K building to 130K for the 5 months leading up to Tampa. My swimming is limited by a compromised shoulder so I spent a lot of time on my bicycle trainer. For those longer swims I had no ambition to do it in a specific time. I swam very conservatively because I didn't want to risk coming up short. I had lots of energy at the end of both swims (and no shoulder discomfort). I also have the benefit of 40 years (off and on) of open water swimming. So the answer to your question is dependent on what your goals are, but frankly I don't think you need to do much more even if you are more ambitious. I just think your training program has to be more carefully put together, and you have to make sure that they are high quality workouts.
  • I trained up to 25K/week for the 3 months before last years 10 mile Kingdom Swim. Let's just say that I have never finished a swim and wished I had trained less. The big lake conditions took it out of me (and my paddler). I will make a point to get more training in rough water next time. Train for the worst and hope for the best.
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    edited March 2012
    Bob, please tell me those distances were per month...
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited March 2012

    Let's just say that I have never finished a swim and wished I had trained less.

    So true.
  • When your projected 40k swim turns into a 60k swim, you want to know you've done everything within your power in training to have been prepared. Or at least that's how I think, but it's not universal. I know one successful EC swimmer who faked the qualification swim, which appals me with the stupidity of it.

    It's also the case that a few people get lucky on weather. They undertrain but get a great day, and wonder what all the fuss is about. In the case of one guy, he keeps saying the Channel really isn't that tough. Meanwhile some of us half kill ourselves training and get Force 5 half way across. I think my max mileage in one week/8day period was 110k, all open water, but that was the Cork OW Distance Week, which included a four, six and eight hour swim. Max distance that year was one friend who hit 140k.

    But then there's Lisa's training to frighten us all!
  • bobswimsbobswims Charter Member
    edited March 2012
    IronMike, yes that was per month.

    While I started swimming the ocean at a very early age, I also have a fair amount of experience in mountaineering and wilderness travel (40 miles on skis in one day pulling a sled) along with some long bike rides in the mountains (145 miles + 18,000 climbing in one day). So my training plan has been strongly influenced by what I have found has worked for me in those disciplines. What I have found is that for me the quality of the preparation is just as important as the quantity (sometimes more). I think there is no end to how much we can improve our technique in swimming, but there are limits to how much our bodies can handle (although it is usually more than we think). I believe that the key to training is to keep training close to your limits, but not so much that recovery time becomes excessive. So for me I build to have my best day of swimming on the day (or week) of the swim.

    I think making sure you reach a certain amount of yards can lead to ineffective, or damaging, training. When I was 30 I could hammer away twice a day in preparation for a 5K rough water swim. Not so today. So I try to break down my training to address the things I need to achieve to be ready. Fitness is incredibly important, and I've found a big part of this can be done out of the water. There needs to be time to work on form, and I do a fair amount of this. I also believe you need strength in open water, particularly rough water, and I do this through very high quality interval training and core strength exercises. Finally there is mental preparation that comes with maintaining a hard pace for a very long period of time. I am lucky in this regard. I consider this to be my strongest asset, even more so as I've gotten older.

    In addition, I laid out a 3 year plan to prepare for the EC with each year focused on mastering a major element of what I thought I would need on EC day. I also transition very easily from pool to open water because of the years I spent in the ocean. All of these things affect the kind of training program I laid out for myself, and how I train is specially tailored to my strengths and weaknesses. I think following someone else's proven plan may lead to success, but I think an individually tailored plan maximizes the likelihood of success. Nothing can guarantee it.

    PS: faking a qualifying swim is just plain stupidity.
  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    I'm selling my kids for medical experimentation
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited March 2012
    I want to point to an excellent comment over at the USMS forum by Chris Derks, a four-time winner of the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim who was also a player at the elite level in OWS. The comment is response to a guy who is currently training 16,000 yds/week and wonders what it will take to build up to a 38-mile swim.

    Hopefully Chris will join us over here - I'd love to hear more from him.
  • This is the absolute best forum. So much great advice. Myself, I'm getting ready to train for my first 5k open water swim on April 21st. I've only raced 1 milers to date. Again great advice here!
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    Thanks Manuel, glad you're finding it useful. Watch out, though - the 5K is a gateway drug!
  • Also doing my first 5km in April and want to build to a 10 early next year then who knows. Some great advice in here
  • VanMouVanMou Member
    edited April 2012
    Here's an approach that I took, when I was training for a 34,000 meter marathon swim. Maybe this sounds like undertraining to some people (judging by some of the earlier posts of 60k/week), but, uhhh, I have terrestrial responsibilities too, and I also imagine there are a finite number of shoulder rotations in my life span.

    From time to time in 8 months of training I would do the distance of the swim on a weekly basis. And in the final 10 weeks I did this distance every week (except for the final 2 weeks pre-event.

    To do the distance on a weekly basis, I decided a confidence builder would be to swim the 34,000 meters in four consecutive days--8,500 meters per day. I called this a "four day tear" (I like to name some of my sets). I did a "three day tear" a couple of times, in which I swam 11,500 meters per day for three days in a row. And, can you guess that when I swam 17,000 meters for each of two days in a row, I called that a...."two day tear". These "tears" were good solid sets of working out--plenty of quality in them, and when I realized I could swim 11,500 meters/day for three days in a row, and still feel mostly normal afterwards, I developed great confidence.

    My longest single training swim was a 23,000 meter swim -- I think in the future I would make the longest swim be more like 26,000--e.g. a solid 75% of the event's distance.

    These tears were valuable because they felt very foundational to me, and they also gave me ample opportunity to experiment with different types of nutrition.

    To succeed in the open water, surely one must be fully trained for the event on a physical level, but equally important is that you feel confident in your abilities and in your feedings.
  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CAMember
    From my perspective as an older marathon swimmer and observing the almost fanatic bent to get more and distance and time in pool as a training regime is that most have it wrong and I believe the distance and effort should be saved for the periodic training swim say on the week-end with a recovery day or two (observe your body's recovery) after. As I note I have attached a couple or paragraphs from a recent study related to swimmers and getting enough sleep/improvement of performance...I also feel that over training increased the chances of blowing out the shoulders...just my take...take a look below:

    Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance
    by Faster Swimming on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 12:48pm •
    Participants in this ongoing study were five healthy students on the Stanford University men’s and women’s swimming teams. For the first two weeks of the study, the students maintained their usual sleep-wake pattern. The athletes then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for six to seven weeks.

    Athletic performance was assessed after each regularly scheduled swim practice. After obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.

    “These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance,” said lead author Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory. “While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers, it agrees with data from my other studies of different sports and suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the additional competitive edge to perform at their highest level.”


    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • ssthomasssthomas Charter Member
    I think weekly yardage amounts should be a combo of doing what you physically need to swim the distance AND what you mentally need to feel strong and confident. When I first started swimming 10k distances, I was training around 30,000-40,000/week- just because I liked it. Mentally, I can't tell myself that I can successfully swim 20+ miles on 45,000/week, even though I know plenty who have. I look back to my high school and college days, and try to mimic that training the best I can. That way, when I'm standing at the start of a channel, looking across to the other side, I can know, with confidence, that I'm going to make it.

    I 100% agree that sleep is essential to good training. I'm not a morning person, so I try to swim in the evenings as much as possible. Also, if there are days when I'm exhausted, I'll take a day off or sleep in or whatever I need. Granted, I do try to make it up later in the week with a longer swim. But, I do believe in listening to your body and letting it recover as needed.
  • mmeadmmead Charter Member
    For my English Channel Swim, I never did more than 8k in a single day, and probably averaged around 35-40k during the heaviest period. I made it and did well, but I think that mostly had to do with being young (22) and relying on 17 consecutive years of intense training. With a little more training, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

    For my Catalina Channel Swim, I averaged 45-50k a week during the heaviest training (more like 35-40kk for the bulk of my training), which included long training swims (up to 20k) on the weekends. I felt significantly better prepared for this than I did for my English Channel swim, and did very well. For channel swimmers, I think this is probably pretty ideal.
  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CAMember
    The above looks to be similar to what I used...about 2.5 miles per pool training day and an average of 6 hours in open water on the weekend say 12 miles....The pool was mainly was warm up and mostly intervals like a lot of 100s leaving before fully catching my breath.

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • Reading this and then wondering how people can dedicate so much time to swimming...

    Then I was doing some research for the job and I ran across this tidbit:

    Since the launch of Xbox One, the Xbox Live community has spent nearly 1.7
    billion hours on games and entertainment, an average of five hours per day per console.

    From a Microsoft press release.

    I don't begrudge them their time, but it DOES say something about priorities. And that's what dedication is all about, right?

    I don't claim to be. I'm just putting this here so when someone says something to you, you might remember this and say "Or I could be spending it glued to a fantasy killing machine!"
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    @Dredpiraterobts, it's hard to get all the hours in. But you can do "long" marathon swims w/o sacrificing family time or sanity time. I did Swim the Suck on very low mileage, compared to the folks in these forums. Granted, I was never at risk of winning, but I didn't care. All I wanted to do was swim the whole 10 miles.
  • bruckbruck San FranciscoMember
    IronMike said:

    I did Swim the Suck on very low mileage, compared to the folks in these forums. Granted, I was never at risk of winning, but I didn't care. All I wanted to do was swim the whole 10 miles.

    In fairness, the river did some of that swimming :)
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    True, @bruck. But for 2012, we had very little push (~10%).
  • From mid-February until race season I average(d) between 65-75K a week. 10,000 yd each PM after work, and a quick 45 mins (3000) before work twice a week. Weekend workout was usually a 2 hour ocean swim. If the ocean was bad, I could go across the street to the ISHOF pool.

    I moved to Texas in 2002 and managed to keep it up for USS 25K Nats (2003 and 2005), MIMS (2004), and USMS 25K Nats (2008). My work schedule and job were different than in Florida, so I would swim on Sundays and skip a day during the week.

    I would build up to 10K over a few months starting at 4-5K.
  • I'm going to be testing the threshold for the LEAST amount of yardage when I hit END-WET. Will let you know the results.
    Going on the 'consistency trumps exhaustion" theory.....

    Looking for the next big thing.. ... @suzieswimcoach www.suziedodsswimcoaching.com

  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    suziedods said:

    I'm going to be testing the threshold for the LEAST amount of yardage when I hit END-WET. Will let you know the results.
    Going on the 'consistency trumps exhaustion" theory.....

    Lol same here. Consistently not swimming.

  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member

    suziedods said:

    I'm going to be testing the threshold for the LEAST amount of yardage when I hit END-WET. Will let you know the results.
    Going on the 'consistency trumps exhaustion" theory.....

    Lol same here. Consistently not swimming.

    It must be going around...
  • SydneDSydneD Member
    This is all making me feel much better as I get ready for Lake Zurich in 6 weeks and am feeling underprepared.

    I swim at least 25k every week year round, and then build to 40k when prepping for swims of 10-15 miles. I make sure to do at least a few 5+ hours swims.

    I also run 3x a week at 8-12 miles per run.

    And I still beat myself up for feeling like I am not swimming enough. Then there's that pesky kid who I actually like spending time with. Oh yeah--and the husband. And the dogs. And the hedgehog. And work...........
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member

    Would be VERY interested in reading about your experience with Lake Zurich. I want to do that swim in the future. I'll be coming as a foreigner who'll need the organizers to get me boat support, will have to find an affordable hotel, etc. You have a blog?
  • SydneDSydneD Member
    I have a blog but haven't written anything about this yet. I certainly will after the fact.
    I am curious about how the boat support thing is going to work. My husband is generally my kayaker and lifeline and knows my swimming so well that I trust us as a team. Not sure about this other boat thing! Really hoping it's just going to be my husband in a kayak as usual.

    And the communication is a bit challenging so far. I can't quite figure out how it all works. I am assuming that I will learn a lot at the pre-swim meeting the day before. It seems they are very well organized and that once we are there, it will become clearer.

    I will be traveling a few days before, from Massachusetts to NYC to Zurich and a bit concerned about the jetlag factor too. Leaving on a red-eye on the 7th, arriving early morning the 8th, race meeting the 9th, and swimming the 10th. Hmmmm.

    Hotel was easy. The Hotel Speer in Rapperswil. I have gotten a ton of information from Jim Boucher who has done the swim and been a wealth of info. (And who I owe an email to and am so thankful for!!! Thank you!!)

    Mostly worried about my son's boredom factor being on a boat all day since my husband will be facing serious whining. Let's just say my son is, after all these years, rather unimpressed by this whole swimming thing. :)

    The blog, for future reference, is at swimcrest.com

    Hope to share more soon!
  • Just as a side note, my longest training swim was 3 hours in the SF bay..and a 3 hour pool swim. I did a couple of those. END-WET took me almost 10 hours. I took one day to recover. Over training is a worse evil than undertraining , I think....

    Looking for the next big thing.. ... @suzieswimcoach www.suziedodsswimcoaching.com

  • WarmWaterWarmWater SingaporeMember
    If you need any info on OW swimming in Europe, Jim Boucher is your man.

    That said, I hope for his sake he isn't about to receive 500 emails... ;-)

  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsMember
    edited June 2014
    @WarmWater I can perhaps take over half of his emails.
    I dare say I know something about open water swimming in Europe
    openwaterswimming.eu What's in a name?

    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!

  • Whatever the yardage is , it's more than I am doing now!!


    Looking for the next big thing.. ... @suzieswimcoach www.suziedodsswimcoaching.com

  • my view - after 89 Robben Island crossings , etc - is that less is more. I consistently train 20-22km per week so if I am planning a longer swim than 25km , I don't alter my training much as I have built years of baseline. When I have been tempted to increase distance/week - goodbye shoulders....

  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CAMember

    I can't agree more with Theodore.....establish a baseline...don't train miles and miles mindlessly in a desperate attempt to improve....on longer training swims you/crew will observe the results of your training...speed and stroke count....I have never seen a swimmer "not loose power" and speed on longer swims...so I say don't blow the shoulders out with mindless over training...and you will have more power and reserves for the big day!!!

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • LynneLynne Member

    Is it worth varying the weeks to preserve the shoulders. So a high mileage week followed by a more easy one?

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WAMember

    Absolutely! You definitely want to avoid shoulder injuries and you need rest/recovery time to be at your best. If you look at training plans for other endurance sports, there are usually blocks (several months each) that focus on endurance (base) or speed/intensity.

    When I was bike racing, we would start in the fall with months of base miles. Each month, the first 3 weeks would increase in hours (like 12,15,18) then we would take a rest week with just 6-7 hours. Within a couple months of the season, we would focus more on speed, with lower weekly hours and several really hard rides each week (intervals, hills, etc.) but it would still be a 4 week cycle with a rest week. I found that if I didn't take the rest week seriously, after the second month, something would give, (illness/injury). Once the season started in earnest, the races (usually a couple each weekend) were the hard workouts and the rest of the week would have recovery days and some specific areas of focus (like hills, sprinting, team tactics, time trials, etc.).

    I use a similar pattern with swimming based on my goals for the season. The last few years, I've swam about 20 races (1-10K) from mid-June to mid-September, with several of them picked out as priorities. I've felt pretty successful on 20-25K most weeks, with more volume in the winter, then adding intensity in the spring, throwing in a long swim (8-10K) every few weeks at that point. I usually add biking to work May-Sept, which helps my endurance without blowing up my shoulders. During the season, the races are hard and I need a couple of days to recover, (I'm 49), depending on distance, so I take more days off/easy and try to have a decent, intense workout by Thursday, so I feel primed for the next weekend's race(s). The base I do during the off-season is enough to cover a season of races, without losing my endurance. Recovery seems to become more important as I age, otherwise I end up feeling over trained.

    This year, in addition to ~16 races, I'm planning a ~14 mile marathon swim in Puget Sound. I've spent a bit longer on base training and have been swimming weekly (weather permitting) in the Sound all winter (in a sleeveless wetsuit) to stay acclimated to cold. I was able to ditch the wetsuit last week and I have to say that I've never felt comfortable in 60 degree water as early as April, or 54 degree water ever, but it seemed really easy this time around, so that was a good strategy for me. I'm certainly not worried about water temps for June! I need to get crackin' on some speed work now, because I feel slower than usual for this time of year, but I also feel more confident in my ability to make that long, chilly swim.

    Bottom line: Swim at a volume that is sustainable for you, give yourself time to rest/recover, change up your training to keep it interesting/challenging, add some long swims to give yourself confidence for your big events and...have fun!


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

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