SwimRun Training Plans

"What about SwimRun training plans?" is a question that crops up
regularly when I talk to other swim runners.

Because it's a relatively new sport, a lot of people are unsure about how to make up a training plan. How often per week to run? How often to swim? And how far?

A lot of people come to SwimRun from a running background, or a triathlon background. Nearly all athletes will be used to having a distance-based training plan.

From our own experience, and also from talking to other athletes from endurance sports such as Ironman triathletes, we think you have to use a time-based plan. The way to look at Swimrun training is to look at how long you estimate it will take for you to finish the event you have planned.

In our most successful SwimRun race (from the point of view of planning and training) in Bologna, Italy, we carefully calculated how long it would take us on each leg of the course. Our final estimate of finishing time was 5 hours 40 minutes. Our ACTUAL finishing time was 5 hours 20 minutes. So our planning was good; but our training was even better!

What did we do? How did we train?

When it comes to SwimRun training plans, there are a number of possibilities; but we have boiled them down to just 3, depending on the distance and the expected time of the race you are training for.

There are usually just 3 times to look at;

  1. a race lasting around 3 hours or less
  2. a  race lasting more than 3 hours to around 5 hours
  3. a race listing from 5 to 8 hours.

How will you know how long YOUR race is going to last? You will have to work it out by doing some rough calculations first, then firm up your estimates during your first few training sessions.

swimrun training plansSwimRun Training

SwimRun Training Plans

What’s the first step?

First, you have to work out your approximate running pace. In a wet suit. With wet shoes. And with your partner.

That means you have to get together with your SwimRun partner, put on your wet suits, and  head to some water for a short swim. Next, head to shore and start your 3 to 5 mile run, in all your gear.

Don’t be shocked if your pace is nothing like your normal 5 mile or 10km pace. That’s normal! For example, we normally run at around 6 minutes per kilometer on anything over 10km; under that we are closer to 5 minutes per km.

BUT in full SwimRun gear we are closer to 8 minutes per km, no matter the distance.

SO, after your first trial training session, you have an idea of your running pace.  And that’s all it is; an idea. BUT it gives you an idea of your race pace for the running sections of your race.

Next, you have to do the same thing for your swim sections. BUT you have to do it in race trim - that means in full SwimRun wet suit, shoes, socks, float, and paddles. EXACTLY as you would be dressed for a race. It’s the only way to get a reasonably accurate idea of your likely race pace!

SwimRun Training with paddles

So, go for a 1.000 meter swim in full SwimRun race gear, WITH your partner, and tethered by your tow-rope. In the sea or a lake. NOT the pool! Try to get an accurate reading of time taken over 1.000 meters.

BUT a word of warning - most GPS running watches do not have an open-water swim function. The best you can do is put your watch into “walk” mode while you swim.  In my experience, most watches will over-estimate the distance, sometimes by up to 25%.

Better - get a watch with an open water swim function.

Now you have some solid figures to work with - your average time running in full SwimRun gear, and your average time swimming in full SwimRun gear.

NEXT, you have to look at the route and distances for your planned SwimRun event. Total up the run distances and the swim distances.

Now you have a distance for the runs, and a distance for the swims.
AND you have your average pace for running and swims in full race trim.

Now you can work out how long the overall race is likely to take you.

For example, we calculated that the SwimRun in Bologna in 2017 was likely to take us a total of 5 hours and 40 minutes. SO we tailored our training towards developing the endurance needed to complete a SIX hour event.

As in training for a marathon, you are unlikely to do the full distance in training. More like 80%. And so, working on a time-based training plan, we plan to do 80% of the estimated race time as our longest training session, 3 weeks before the actual event. This allows time for your body to recover from the heavy training schedule before the race itself.

Of course, you don’t stop training 3 weeks before the race - but that is when you start to taper - you start to reduce the time and distance covered in your training sessions from the peak time/distance.

Once we know what our longest time-based session will be, and exactly WHEN, (in relation the Race Day), we can make our plan!

Here is an example of a 10 - week plan, concentrating on the weekly "Long Session";


Weekends before Race Day                 Time of Long Session (% of estimated Race Time)

        10                                                                20%                                                                 

          9                                                                 30%

         8                                                                  40%

          7                                                                 30%

         6                                                                   50%

         5                                                                   70%

          4                                                                  60%

         3                                                                    80%

          2                                                                   50%

           1                                                                   25%

     RACE DAY !                                                   100%

So much for how long you need to be out training on the weekly Long Session. But how much of that time should be spent running and how much swimming? And how many transitions should you work into the mix?

AGAIN, the answer is to look at the race you have planned. Check how many transitions there are, and the percentage spent running and swimming over the whole race. For example, our Isles of Scilly race has NINE transitions, and swimming makes up 20% of the total race distance.

The aim in training (no matter how long we are out there for) is to REPRODUCE these requirements. So, whether we are doing a 2 hour Long Session or a 6 hour Long session, we would always try to work in NINE transitions, and make sure that the swimming sections add up to 20% of the total DISTANCE covered on the day.

As you can see, putting a SwimRun training plan together takes a bit of work at first, BUT you get the benefits of doing your homework come Race Day!

SwimRun Training Plans

I will add my own plan for our Ötillö Isles of Scilly race in the next few days, with the solid times we are doing, plus what you need to be doing during the week!

Bookmark this page and come back soon to find out more!