Recently, I came across a fascinating article in The Cut about why women dominate the unique endurance sport of ultra-distance swimming. (If you are wondering what an ultra-distance is defined as the answer is 6+ hours of open water swimming! Pretty impressive… and this article is definitely worth a read).

I have always been fascinated in the psychology of long-distance competitions. Not only in the sports psychology of them (that stubborn, singular and motivational mindset you need) but also in the general psychology of them: why and how do people get into marathon events? What is the attraction to the idea? Perhaps it is for the thrill, novelty or prestige. Perhaps it is in the name of a loved one or charity. Perhaps it has been a personal dream or challenge. Whatever the reason, the article got me thinking…

Would I ever attempt an endurance event?

I enjoy swimming, but training for an endurance event is fundamentally different from mere exercise: you must reach a specific goal within a limited time period. You need a serious, regular schedule. And you need dedication, patience and time. I don’t think I have ever had these three things at once (!) but I am sure that I, or indeed any swimmer, could foster these and build up to a lofty goal. This lofty goal for me would be a triathlon or aquathlon… better to start with these before braving an ultra-marathon!


What is a triathlon or aquathon?

Triathlon distances range from sprint distances to Ironman distances, but the standard Olympic distances are: 1500m (swim), 40km (bike), 10km (run). Aquathlon distances also range, depending on whether it is pool-based or in open water. The standard pool-based aquathlon distance is 400m (swim) and 5km (run), and the standard open water aquathlon distance is 750m (swim) and 5km (run). The long-distance open water aquathlon is 1500m (swim) and 10km (run).


Do any of these pique your interest?

If you are committed to doing a triathlon, there are lots of suggested workout plans online to help you build up your power and endurance in stages. You could build-up to the swimming portion in segments of 100m freestyle. A good example of a 5-day weekly workout programme over 8 weeks, based on alternating difficult days with easy days, is as follows:

On Mondays and Wednesdays, cover 1500-2000m in segments of your choice (e.g. 15 sets x 100m, or 3 sets x 500m – with a 30-sec rest between sets). Swim at a pace that is about 70% of your maximum effort. Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, do the same exercise but perform at about 80% of all-out effort, and cut the rest time to 15 sec. On Fridays, ramp up the intensity by going at 90% of your maximum effort in only 4 segments. In week 8 (the week of the event) take 2 days off before the event.

The Monday and Wednesday activities will boost your cardiovascular and aerobic endurance. The Tuesday and Thursday activities will work on your muscular endurance and strength. On Fridays, everything will be put together in a full-on effort. Remember: to do well in the 100m freestyle, you have to nail your form as well as your speed and strength. Technique, technique, technique! For this, you will need to enlist the help of a coach or trainer.

If you are a regular casual swimmer, remember that training for an event like the 100m freestyle is different and you will need to take a different mental approach to train.  Do not just aim to cover the distance: aim to win. Relaxed, meditative strokes will not cut it anymore. You need to hone your strength, speed and form. You need a winning attitude!

Are thinking of undertaking a long-distance swim or triathlon? Do you have what it takes to pull it off? Whether you do it for the competition, to prove yourself to those around you, or simply to achieve a personal best: I salute you, and I would love to hear about your journey!

Amy Benson
Amy Benson

Keen swimmer and writer. 

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