New Year, New Goals – What Now?

So you’ve made your new open water swimming goal for 2012 and now it’s time to think about training. Where do you start? The article below, written by Ned Denison in answer to a question that he regularly gets asked, may help to get you going in the right direction.

“I am thinking about swimming (pick anyone of these:  the local 1 mile race across the bay swim, Dublin Harbour, the Santa Barbara Channel, English Channel, etc.). Can you tell me how many meters I need to swim for the previous months to be guaranteed of success?”

The answer to this question is very easy.  They are no formulas.  There is no such thing as a standard metre – all metres are different.  I am not trying to be cute with either answer, they are just reality.

So let’s take the big channel swims – call them 32,000 metres. Those would be ‘as the crow flies’ metres. You may have already figured this one out – crows are much to smart to do open water swims! Let’s imagine that you swam 6 days a week in an indoor 50 metre pool and did 12,000 metres every time – stopping every hour for your carbohydrate drink. This would be a serious amount of training – double the training metres of the average English Channel swimmer. One small problem – your channel swim starts at 3 am in the dark. You were never before in the sea at night, you panic and end your attempt after 13 minutes. So maybe the first 1,000 metres of night swim training is worth 100,000 metres of pool training? And so you get the basic idea!

So, step back and ask what kind of swim you are ‘likely’ to get in say the English Channel (or whatever your chosen swim may be). If you average less than 2,500 metres/hour at your pool cruising speed then you will ‘most likely’ be in the English Channel for well over 15 hours. Why so vague? Remember the variable conditions in all open water? Toss in the confused weather patterns where the Artic meets the Atlantic, the continental land mass meets GB and the narrow channel squeezing a fast tide to give even faster water speeds!

So, it is more a balance of the type of metres and some measure of distance all done in a way to ensure you don’t injure yourself yet do enough to give you confidence for the upcoming swim…

So what type of training metres should you do? How about all of the following: ocean night, waves coming from all directions, into the wind with the current behind you, next to a big safety boat, a few long (6+ hour) ocean swims, alone, getting several different kinds of frights (all while practicing safe swimming), with 30 to 60 minute feeds, 2+ hours without a feed, in water colder than 16C, sprints, with leg cramps, with a bout of vomiting, peeing, with arms so heavy you can barely lift them, going backwards with the tide and finally in for another few hours beyond what you wanted or planned.

You would want to read the last section again…maybe twice. Get the last shudder out of your system, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your own personal swim distance goal (be it 1 mile or 30 miles) can well be one of the more important things in your life for the next year. The pain and inconvenience of some training will make it all the more enjoyable when you achieve your goal.

Steve and Mike swim around Sandycove Island in about 30 minutes in reasonable conditions. One day it took them 75 minutes to complete the lap in ‘lumpy’ seas. What do you think those specific 1,700 metres ‘were worth’? I would say at least 5,000 pool metres.

Why are pool sprints highly recommended as English Channel training? Try this situation – the boat captain says to you after 15 hours in the water: “The tide is turning. If you pick up your pace by 20% you will get to France in 15 minutes – if not you will miss the Cap and be in the water another 4 hours.” You will want to actually have that higher speed gear – honed through pool training. That would involve training of say 20 sets of 100 metres coming in on 1 minute XX seconds and resting for YY seconds between sets. Why the variables? Everyone swims at a different speed and with a different style.

To try and make a long open water swim after only pool training would be like climbing 30 strange and unknown steps in one go. The correct training will get you better acquainted with 25 of these steps BEFORE your big day. The more you have experienced the more prepared you will be.

Swim though a leg cramp on a planned training swim and if you have a similar experience in your big swim – you will remember how to deal with it – and have the confidence to do so.

The individuals in our group have a lot of experience in setting and achieving these long swim goals. In 2006 these included distances of 1,700m; 3,000m; 2.4 mile Iron Man triathlon swim segments, 4,500m; 5,000m; 6,000m; 11,000m; 13,000m; 18,000m; 19,000m; 23,000m and 55,000m. Some were in togs and some in wetsuits and each one celebrated with smiles all around.

If you have a goal now or want to set one then just yell. We can arrange for advice on your training, emotional support (read as ‘a kick in the backside when you suggest missing an ocean swim because it is raining’) and help on the actual day.

Get those first two ’emotionally and physically’ open water swims of 2012 done and dusted…the third swim of the year is when you start to think it is all possible and all worth it!

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