"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. But SwimRun training plans are different.
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;
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.
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!
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. Although a little expensive, you'll get accurate open water distance and times. I think the best value for money is the Garmin Instinct, available from Amazon.
Also good value is the Garmin 734XT, also available from Amazon.
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)
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 SwimRun training plans together takes a bit of work at first, BUT you get the benefits of doing your homework come Race Day!
Here is the plan we followed for the 38km Ötillö SwimRun event in the Isles of Scilly, U.K. on June 9th. You will see that we did not stick rigidly to the same exercise on the same day each week; We have to allow for weather and sea conditions, injuries and feeling exhausted on certain days - especially at our age!
We also work in a Long Run each week for marathon training, as we entered the Milan Marathon in April. We believe that marathon training lays a good endurance foundation for SwimRun events longer than 3 hours.
So flexibility is the name of the SwimRun game.
Twenty Weeks before event;
Saturday is a basic SwimRun intro, where we run for 30 minutes, followed by a 30 minute swim, followed by a 30 minute run, all in full SwimRun gear.
Sunday we do a Half Marathon as part of our full marathon preparation. We complete the 13.1 mile course in just under 2 hours. This also doubles up as our Long Run for the week.
Monday is a Full Rest Day.
Tuesday is an easy 5 mile run to ease out those tired legs!
Wednesday is a home gym session for core strength, followed by 20 minutes of arm exercises for swimming muscle.
Thursday is hill sprints day. This involves a 1 mile warm-up, then 6 sets of 30 seconds flat-out uphill with a 2 minute jog back to the start. After 6 sets, we run the 1 mile back as a cool-down.
Friday is Swim Day. This week it's 2,500 meters in the indoor pool. We do a "ladder" session, where we do a 500 meter warm-up followed by 25m, 50m, 75m, 100m, 125m, 150m, 200m, then back down the distances. After that, it's some 100m repetitions at 80% effort, and finally a cool-down to complete the 2,500 meters.
Nineteen Weeks before event;
Saturday is a moderate run, 6miles (10km), with miles 3 and 5 at 80% effort.
Sunday is an easy run, to recover, and involves 4 miles at an easy pace.
Monday is Long Run day, and we do 11 miles on roads,as part of our marathon preparation.
Tuesday is a Full Rest Day.
Wednesday is a mixed session, comprising 4 miles of road running, a 1 hour gym session, followed by an easy 1 mile run to cool down.
Thursday is a trail run on rough paths, 6 miles (10km), to get used to running off-road.
Friday is a mixture of Swim Day with some running. We do a 30 minute sea swim followedby a 20 minute run in full swimrun gear.
Eighteen Weeks before event;
Saturday is hill sprint day, so we do a 1 mile warm up, followed by 8 sets of 30 seconds running uphill as fast as possible, followed by 2 minutes jogging back down to the start. After 8 sets, we run the 1 mile back home at an easy pace.
Sunday is cross-training day, and we do a 1 hour home gym session for core srength and arm exercises for arm strength (for swimming).
Monday is Long Run day for the Marathon, and we do 14 miles on roads.
Tuesday is a Full Rest Day after the long run.
Wednesday is a moderate run, 4 miles at an easy pace.
Thursday is a fast run, 2 miles as fast as we can manage, followed by 30 minutes of core strength exercises.
Friday is a Full Rest Day.
Seventeen Weeks before event;
We were in England for half of this week,which disrupted our training a little, but we adapted our plan to suit.
Saturday we did our Long Run for the marathon, and completed 10 miles. This was on wet roads, but went well.
Sunday is a Full Rest Day.
Monday we fitted in our Swim Day, and headed to the nearest pool, and managed to get a 1,400 meter swim done.
Tuesday was another Rest Day, as we were flying back to Spain.
Wednesday is a 6 mile (10km) run, along a seafront promenade. We tried to do this at a good pace.
Thursday is a Home gym session for 30 minutes for core strength, followed by a 3 mile run.
Friday is Swim Day, and involves 1,500 meters of swimming in the pool. This session includes multiple sets of 100 meter repeats, at 80% effort.
Sixteen Weeks before event;
This was an odd week, as we had to be away from home for several days.
Saturday was a 30 minute Home gym session, for core strength.
Sunday was a 10km road and trail race, which we finished in decent times!
Monday was a Full Rest Day.
Tuesday was our weekly Long Run before our planned marathon, and we completed 16 miles on road. This was a hot day, and this run was hard work!
Wednesday was a full rest day.
Thursday was 4 miles of sprint repetitions. We warmed up with an easy mile, then did 60 seconds as fast as possible followed by 2 minutes easy jogging, for 10 repetitions. Then just under a mile back to cool off.
Friday is Swim Day, and we headed to the pool for a straight 2000 meters of swimming. No repeats or special sets, just a straight, long swim in one go!
Fifteen Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 6 mile (10km) run over a rough trail, taking 1 hour 10 minutes.
Sunday is a short swimrun session, of 1km run, a 1.5 km swim, then a 2.5km run back home.
Monday is our Long Run Day before the Marathon, and we do 18 miles on roads, taking just under 4 hours.
Tuesday is a home gym session for core strength, 30 minutes, plus arm exercises for strength using weights and rubber resistance bands.
Wednesday is a Full Rest Day.
Thursday is hill sprints on a steep trail, involving sprinting flat-out uphill for 30 seconds followed by jogging back to the start, for 8 repetitions. Total distance is 3 miles.
Friday is Swim Day, and we head to the shore in full SwimRun gear for a 2km swim followed by a 2.5km run back home. The 2km swim took us 46 minutes, and the run back home was 20 minutes at an easy pace.
Fourteen Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 6 mile (10km) run on a rough trail, at an easy pace. Total time 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Sunday is a home gym session for core strength, plus a Joe Wicks abdominals video, for a total time of 40 minutes.
Monday is a Long Run for our Marathon, and this week it's 10 miles (16km). Total time taken was 1 hour 45 minutes.
Tuesday is a Full Rest Day after the long run.
Wednesday is an easy 5.5 mile run to loosen our legs after the long run.
Thursday is a Hill Sprint Day, where we run uphill on a steep trail for 30 seconds, then jog back to the start, for 8 repetitions. Total distance covered is 3 miles.
Friday is a SwimRun day, and we run 1km to the shore, then swim for a total of 30 minutes, and run for a total of 50 minutes, making 1 hour 20 minutes in total.
Thirteen Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 6 mile (10km) trail run on rough paths. This takes us 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Sunday is a home gym session for 30 minutes, for core strength, followed by a 10 minute Joe Wicks video for abdominals.
Monday is a Long Run for our Marathon, and we do 18 miles on roads, taking 4 hours.
Tuesday is Full Rest Day.
Wednesday is a 7 mile run, with the middle 4 miles at pace. Then we do a 10 minute Joe Wicks abdominal video.
Thursday is a 6 mile (10km) trail run on rough ground, at an easy pace. Time taken was 1 hour 10 minutes.
Friday is Swim Day, and we head to the pool for a 2,700 meter session. When we get back home we also do a 30 minute home gym session for core strength.
Twelve Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 3.5 mile run, with 4 sprints of 30 seconds each mixed in.
Sunday is a Rest Day due to fatigue and hay fever.
Monday is the final Long Run before the Marathon, and it's 20 miles of road running.
Tuesday is a Full Rest Day.
Wednesday is a Bad Weather day, so we do a home gym session for core strength, and also arm strength exercises for swimming.
Thursday is a 5.5 mile run, with the middle 3 miles run at effort.
Friday is Swim day, and we head to the pool for a 3000 meter interval session.
Eleven Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 6 mile (10km) trail run, on rough paths.
Sunday we do a home gym session, 45 minutes plus a Joe Wicks video.
Monday is a 12 mile Long Run before our Marathon. Starting to taper beforehand!
Tuesday is a Full Rest Day.
Wednesday is a 5 mile run (8km) with the middel 3 miles at pace. Follwed by a 10 minute Joe Wicks abdominal session.
Thursday is a home gym session, 30 minutes, followed by 3 miles (5km) of hill trail sprints.
Friday is a pool swim session of 3500 meters. This is a "ladder" session, where we gradually build up the repetition length, then work our way back down again.
Ten Weeks before event;
Saturday is an 8 mile slow run on roads. Final long run before the Marathon.
Sunday and Monday are Full Rest Days.
Tuesday is a 3 mile run at pace.
Wednesday is a sharp 2 mile run, our final run before the Marathon.
Friday is a full rest day!
Nine weeks before event;
Saturday is a Full Rest Day.
Sunday is a full 26 mile marathon, in Milan, Italy.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are also Rest days after the Marathon, also due to some foot injuries from the long run.
Thursday is a home gym session for 30 minutes.
Friday is a pool session, 1800 meters indoors.
Eight Weeks before event;
Saturday was a Full Rest Day.
Sunday is a 1 hour 15 minute home gym session for core strength;then a 15 minute Joe Wicks video forabdominals, then alternating 5 minute sessions on the turbo rainer and the arm resistance bands.
The rest of this week was a write - off due to bad weather and Mogsy's bad toe after the Milan Marathon.
Seven Weeks before event;
Saturday - This ended up being a 5km run in wetsuits, in the pouring rain. We then did a 10 minute swim.
Sunday is a 6 mile (10km) rough path run in full swimrun wetsuit gear. The sea was too rough to swim safely.
Monday and Tuesday were sacrificed to bed weather.
Wednesday is a 30 minute gym session at home, followed by a 15 Joe Wicks video training session, then alternating 5 minutes on the turbo trainer and arm strength exercise. Total time = 90 minutes.
Thursday is a repeat of Wednesday. Not ideal, but at least we did something!
Friday is a 2km swim, with a 2km run back home.
Six Weeks before event;
Saturday is Hill Sprints on a rough path, quite steep. We do 10 x 45 seconds flat-out up the trail, and a slow 2 mins 30 seconds jog back down to the start. Total time 45 minutes.
Sunday is a 2 hour LONG SwimRun session, where we run 2km to the shore, swim 2km, run 1km, then swim the 2km back, and run another 2km home. Total time is 2 hours.
Monday is home gym core strength exercises followed by stretching and arm strength exercises with 10kg weights and rubber resistance bands.
Tuesday is a 1 hour SwimRun session, starting with a 1km run to the shore, a quick 500 meter swim, and a 4 mile run, trying to go quite quickly.
Wednesday is a 6 mile (10km) fast road run in normal running kit. We alternate the miles between slow for the first mile, then fast for the next mile, etc.
Thursday was quite stormy, and unsuitable for much at all, resulting in a short 2km run along a cliff-top path.
Friday the weather is still bad, so it's a home gym session for 30 minutes for core strength.
Five Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 2.5 hourLONG SwimRun session, made up of 2km swimming and 10km running.
Sunday is a 30 minute gym session at home, concentrating on core strength exercises.
Monday is a 6 mile (10km) run on a rocky trail path, in normal running kit.
Tuesday is a 1 hour 40 minute SwimRun session, 10km in total, made up of 1.5km swimming (3 x 500 meters) and 8.5kmof running, in 4 sections.
Wednesday is another SwimRun with the weight on swimming. This is 1km run to the shore, a straight 2km swim, then a 3km run home. This is a 1 hour 20 minute session.
Thursday is a home gym session for core strength (30 mins) followed by a 7 minute Joe Wicks video for abdominal muscles. Total time is 60 minutes.
Friday is a 3 hour 10 minute LONG SwimRun session. Total distance is 16km, made up of 3km swimming and 13km running. This means the swimming comprised about 25% of the total distance, which is more than the 20% of the event, but we are happy with that.
Four Weeks before event;
Saturday is a Full Rest Day, after the LONG SwimRun session the previous day.
Sunday we took part in a 2km ocean swim race. Richard finished in 40 minutes with Mogsy just 13 minutes behind, in a rough sea. This was our "total swimming day", and we left it at that as we had pushed the pace the whole way.
Monday is a trail run in normal running kit, covering 6 miles over rocky ground.
Tuesday is a 1.5 hour SwimRun session, covering 1.6km of swimming in 3 sections, and 7.4km of running in 4 sections, making 9km in total.
Wednesday is a home gym session for 30 minutes, core strength exercises, followed by a 10 minutes Joe Wicks video concentrating on abdominal muscles. The we do another 20 minutes of arm strength exercises using 10kg weights and rubber resistance bands.
Thursday is a SwimRun session for 1.5 hours again, this time covering 11km in total, made up of 1.2km swimming (2 x 600 meters) and 9.8km running. This is more weighted towards running.
Friday is a trail run for 6 miles (10km) over a rocky course, at pace.
Three Weeks before event;
Saturday was a Full Rest Day.
Sunday is a 4 hour Long SwimRun session, where we cover a total of 23.5 km. This is made up of 3.5km swimming and 20km running, divided into 4 runs and 3 swims.
Monday is a Full Rest Day.
Tuesday is 2 hour SwimRun session, covering 12 km in total, made up of 2km swimming (4 x 500m) and 10km running (5 x 2km). We try to do this at a decent pace.
Wednesday is a trail run in normal running kit, covering 8 miles.
Thursday is a mainly swimming day, where we run 1km to the shore, swim 2km, jog back to the start and then swim the 2km again, then jogging the 2km home again.
Friday is a Full Rest Day, before our final and longest LONG SwimRun session.
Two Weeks before event;
Saturday is a 5 + hour LONG SwimRun session. We want to get as close to 6 hours as we can, because this is the final LONG session, and we want to get to around 80% of Race Day time.
Sunday is a Full Rest Day.
Monday is a 1.5 hour SwimRun session, concentrating on technique, such as sighting a landmark and trying to swim as straight as possible.
Tuesday is a trail run in standard running kit, 6 miles at a steady pace. This is followed by 30 minutes of stretching and core strength exercises.
Wednesday is a 1.5 hour SwimRun session, where we alternate between running 750 meters and swimming 200 meters, practicing transitions.
Thursday is a straight sea swim day, although we wear full swimrun kit. We do a short 1km run to get to the beach, then swim at a fast pace 2km along the shore. At the far end we exit the water, and jog back home at an easy pace. This is to build up some decent swim pace.
Friday we spend 30 minutes on core strength exercises, followed by a Joe Wicks video session for 10 - 15 minutes (also core strength). This is followed by a short circuit session where we alternate between 5 minutes on a turbo trainer (static bike) and 5 minutes arm strength exercises with rubber resistance bands.
Final Week before event;
Saturday is a 3 hour LONG SwimRun session, the last one, and just over half of what we did last week, as we reduce distances before the race.
Sunday is a Full Rest day.
Monday is a 1 hour fast SwimRun session, doing short sections with about 10 transitions. This normally involves alternating between running 500 meters and swimming 100 meters, doing the transitions as quickly as possible, for an hour.
Tuesday is a fast trail run, for 30 minutes, in normal running clothes. About 3 miles.
Wednesday is a rest day, and , Thursday and Friday are taken up with travelling.