How to Train for a Long Endurance Swim (3-10Km)

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Most people think they need to train more sessions per week to improve their endurance swimming. But if  like many people you’re restricted for time or can only make a set number of sessions per week then ensuring you incorporate the following ‘focus’ session into your plan will help you prepare for your long endurance race. (for example if you swim with your masters team 3 time per week, replace one of these high intensity interval sessions with the session below)

  • The Long Steady Swim.
    • This session’s main focus is to gradually over time increase the distance/duration you can continuously swim for.
    • Ideally start incorporating this session at least 12-16 weeks out from your race and gradually build the distance you swim continuously until you can cover 75-80% of the distance 2-3 weeks out from the race.
    • e.g if your race is 10KM then 2 weeks before the race you should be comfortable swimming 7.5-8km continuously
    • Only increase your sessions distance by 10-15% every 1 to 2 weeks so if your swimming continously for 2km in week one by week 14 you should be at 7.5Km.
    • The pace of this session should be slow and steady, at no point should you elevate your heart rate.
    • This sessions should incorporate the same fuelling strategy as race day. (e.g drinking every 3km or having gels at halfway)
    • Try to plan to complete this session before a rest day, to ensure you have time to recover.
    • During the 12-14 week build make sure you plan for recovery weeks where you drop your weekly volume to ensure you are adapting to the increased load.

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Planning Your Own Training Camp

When it’s cold outside and it’s the middle of winter the chance’s are you’re not massively inspired to be training. It’s likely to also be the off season so there’s also little to no racing to motivate you to train.

During this period It’s easy to fall off the training wagon and let your fitness regress. Resting is ok and recovery is important, but there is always the danger your fitness drops too low and may impact your ability to train and race fast in your future season.

The problem with loosing fitness over winter isn’t that you won’t ever get it back, it’s more that your might not have the time to get it back to cope with the level of training you want to do once the season finally begins.

A great solution for this and one I have been using for many years is to attend a pre season training camp (preferably but not essential) in a warm weather location.

Detaching yourself from your daily obligations and spending 1-2 weeks exclusively focusing on your fitness (without having bad weather as an excuse) creates a great platform to kick start your fitness and  begin to build a foundation for the coming season.

To make a training camp a success

  • Choose an objective
    • Pick an objective for the camp as this will dictate the area or country you go to and the facilities you need to have close by.
    • e.g If you want to increase your swim volume and train consistency then having a pool near by is more essential than being in a warm climate. However if you also want to build ocean swimming skills and confidence then you want to pick a location that is by the sea and has a warmer climate.
  • Book your trip
    • Locations with access to good facilities get booked quickly especially during the pre season month’s. So either book way in advance or join onto a training camp that is already established or organised in the area (normally you will pay a premium for this vs one self coached)
  • Plan your daily regime
    • Ask yourself how many hours are you currently training? and how much can your increase this by over a couple of weeks without burning yourself out. If you’re not training regularly then the focus should be on improving consistency rather than massively increasing the volume. But if you have been training constantly over winter then the focus of the camp could be in increasing your training volume
    • How many sessions are you planning to do in a day? When is the optimal time of day to have each training session? and are the training facilities available at these times? if you are doing multiple sessions in a day you should have access near by to food and your bedroom to aid your recovery between sessions.
  • Plan your individual sessions
    • Every session should have a focus, take advantage of the new environment and do sessions which you may not normally have the time for or normally have access to the facilities.
    • Having a purpose and objective for each session should build and contributes to your larger objective for the camp. It also ensures you get the most out of your time while you’re there.
  • Track your progress
    • Record your fitness levels at the start of the camp and monitor your performance throughout the camp. You will get more tired as the camp goes on so won’t necessarily see uplifts fitness until sometime after the camp has finished. Once the body has fully recovered.
  • Maintain the momentum
    • It’s great to have the time to focus on your fitness. If you don’t continue to build on this fitness once you return home then you will quickly lose the benefits of training your camp.

Below is an example of a recent pre season training camp at club La Santa in Lanzarote.

Club La Santa facilities include:

  • 3x 50m Swimming Pools
  • Sheltered sea water lagoon
  • Free Bike hire and miles of mountainous roads
  • Coastal running path and off-road trails
  • Athletic Track
  • Outdoor and Indoor Gym
  • Shops/ Restaurants/ Accommodation on site

Objective 1: To train swim,bike, run consistently over two weeks and gradually build steady state aerobic fitness. To establish a strong endurance foundation for the start of the 2017 triathlon season.

Objective 2: To swim consistently and build aerobic endurance in the pool focusing on stroke efficiency.

Training sessions: 

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A running injury meant it didn’t go exactly to plan but the lack of running was compensated with some additional swims and more focus on recovery.

Some images from the camp:

Olympic Pool at Club La Santa

Riding the Lava Fields 

Exiting Tianjo 

Defending back into La Santa

Drink Stop at the National Park

Ocean Swimming Training in the Atlantic

End of a swimming training session in the sun

Climbing out of La santa through the town of Soo

Training Camp’s don’t have to be abroad as long as you don’t rely on escaping bad weather like me. But the more detached you can be from your every day life the more focused you can be on the camp.

 

Lessons from 2016’s Training

The benefits of recording your training:

  • You can monitor progress against your planned sessions (Time,Distance and Intensity)
  • You can gain assurance of the work you’ve done leading up to a goal race.
  • You can monitor why your mood or performance (if its suffering it can be a clue for overtraining)
  • Helps you to plan the future sessions to be progressive on volume, time or intensity vs the previous sessions.
  • You can compare distance week on week to make sure your training load is substantial
  • You can compare years volume vs previous years and compare performance
  • If your training for multiple sports it shows an indication of the balance of your week and if you over or under training in a particular discipline.
  • You can review at the end of the year, month or training cycle

My  2016 Training in a nutshell:

  • 1,047 Km running (149 hrs)
  • 1,043 Km bike (52hrs)
  • 166 Km swimming (44hrs)
  • 47 Hours of strength and conditioning
  • 116 days rest
  • 250 days training
  • 7 races Completed

Lessons I Learnt in 2016

  1. Keeping training consistent delivers the best results (Jan-March)
  2. Training for swimming and cycling is the most time consuming
  3. Running training is easiest session to be compliant.
  4. Not having a competition to aim for or a race goal, affects motivation and consistency.
  5. Winter Months tend to focus more on running and strength
  6. Cycling is my most inconsistent discipline (time)
  7. Swimming is my least trained discipline
  8. Training while having a child makes it hard to stick to a plan
  9. I have more rest days than I expected
  10. I don’t need as many rest days as I take
  11. I didn’t have a clear goal throughout the year a specific training cycle to support this.
  12. Very consistent on training camps (July) and its a good way to build on your fitness in a short space of time.

My 2016 Training Record

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Changes to 2017

  • Have a clear race goal every 12-16 weeks
  • Plan the training around this goal
  • Have recovery weeks planned every 4-5 weeks in a training cycle
  • Schedule less ‘rest days’ but more easy weeks
  • Train for single sport outside of triathlon season
  • Utilise the winter months for running
  • Don’t neglect endurance training for strength training (like October/Nov)
  • Keep training under an hour if family demands more of you.
  • Plan a training camp pre season rather than mid season (Feb vs July)
  • Focus on building base endurance in the pre season
  • Swim at least once per week during winter (Wednesday)
  • Increase swimming when the lake opens 2-3 Times week
  • Ride every weekend (more time) consider a ride commute in summer
  • Long Runs on the weekend (more time)
  • Run during the week (easiest to commit to)
  • Continue with Strength Training Monday/Friday

Years of Fitness

As the year closes in it s a perfect time to reflect on what has been accomplished, below are the fitness highlights of years past and a brief summary of what has been achieved this year.

Highlights rather an exhaustive list:

  • 2008- Fist Half Marathon Reading UK
  • 2009- First Triathlon London UK
  • 2010- First Ironman UK 13.37
  • 2011- Half Marathon Pb Christchurch NZ: 1.31
  • 2012- Half Ironman Wanaka NZ 5.35
  • 2013- Half Ironman Auckland NZ 5.12
  • 2014- Ironman Pb Zurich CH 11.08
  • 2015- Etape De Tour FR
  • 2016:
    • (First Child Born)
    • Half Marathon 1.33 Wokingham UK
    • European Masters Swim Champs  50m/100m Freestyle London UK
    • Sprint Triathlon Reading UK

Time to set some 2017 Objectives

Fundamentals of Training

Individuality

Any training program must take into account the specific needs and abilities of the individual for whom it is designed. No two individuals will respond in the same way to a given programme.

Progressive Overload

Training must include overload and progression to be successful. Overload is to force the body to work harder than normal so the body adapts to this given workload. Progression is to increase this work load once those adaptations have occurred. The load should be increased gradually overtime to avoid any risk of injury

Specificity

What ever your goal is the supporting training programme must emphasise on that particular component to ensure the correct adaptations occur. e.g A rugby player trying to improve strength would not benefit from doing long aerobic runs.

Variance

Maximum benefits are obtained when a programme includes a variety of training methods.

Recovery

For a muscle or a muscle group to develop it must have adequate rest to recover and following a session or exercise.

Reversibility

If a Muscle, Muscle group or energy system is not given regular progressive stimuli, then the natural effect is to lose the adaption causing a de-training effect.

 

Creating a Conducive Environment to Success

Sometimes our lifestyle or behavior outside the gym/training is what is really holding us back from achieving fitness or body composition goals. You can train specifically, relentlessly  and intensively everyday for an hour or more, but if its followed by 23 hours of behavior that is not conducive to your goal then how can you be surprised when your not seeing the results you expect. Below are some easy wins that should help speed up your progress to your fitness goals.

  • Make a plan and live by it – Not just a goal but a day by day and week by week training plan of exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to progress. Work backwards from where you want to get to and by what time to where you currently are. Break the end goal into smaller objectives that you aim to achieve each month or week and use these as sense checks to ensure you are moving forward with the end in mind.
  • Build a routine– Having an unfamiliar plan and regime can be strenuous. If this continues to chop and change then it makes it more difficult to stick to. Finding a routine that in theory you can repeat 52 weeks a year is the perfect way to ingrain the healthy habits into your brain. The longer you repeat this routine and the more consistent you are,the more likely you are to stick to it. (and faster you will see results)
  • Make it social- Working out shouldn’t be a chore. If your sacrificing a social opportunity to go to the gym alone then it’s only a matter of time before you cave into the temptation and miss a workout. If your workout is your social event then you never have to sacrifice one for the other. Using a Team or other people can also make you progress faster, especially if they are slightly more advanced than you. Having some one else to chase and aspire to can have a dramatic affect on your performance.
  • Publicize your goal- Sharing openly with friends and family or even sharing on social media means you feel more accountable to reaching the goal, it also means by sharing with others you build a network of support when it gets tough and once the goal has been achieved there is more people who have been involved on the journey that can celebrate with you.
  • Enter an event- Another strategy for accountability. By entering an event with a specific date means you have a concrete deadline to achieve the goal. It also increases your compliance to your regime once a financial investment has been made to enter the event. The other benefit is that it is a way to excite you especially if you are
  • Track your progress- You don’t have to track every detail of your plan but you need to track the progress. It’s important to see how you have developed from the changes you have made and to monitor how often you are progressing in order to adapt the plan accordingly. If your progressing fast then it may be you underestimated your starting point and need to increase the load of the amount of changes you made. If you plateau then it may be your plan is too hard and you can’t be compliant or you’ve adapted and it’s time to make the next progress in overload . Either way without monitoring the progress its just a guessing game.
  • Stop drinking booze- This is hard one to hear but it only has to be temporary. Nothing is worse than working hard on your diet and training and still not seeing results. Alcohol has so many empty calories and negative affects on fat burning, sleep, mood, motivation and energy levels. Even if you don’t drink in excess just these effects alone can really hold you back. Knock it on the head until your goal is reached and then re-evaluate how much you can reasonably enjoy without regressing
  • Prioritize your goal- Don’t build the goal around your life, build your life around the goal. Make sure that everything you do (Food,Activity,Rest,Socializing) is built to support your goal and be open and honest as to why you are doing this. That way it is easy to say yes or no to something when offered, simply based on one question: ‘Does it support my goal?’. If the answer is no, then find an alternative option that does.

 

An Alternative Approach To Rest Days

Conventional wisdom is to not train or exercise everyday. Some suggest to train every other day or never two days in a row. Some suggest scheduling in one rest day per week. I understand the rationale behind this to stop over training or burnout. But when you look at some of the best athletes in the world, they have generally shunned this advice.

I don’t believe in rest days

Alistair Brown Lee 2x Olympic Gold Medalist Triathlete.

If I train on a Sunday day that’s 52 more sessions a year than my competition

Michael Phelps 23 x Olympic Gold medalist Swimmer

I am not saying everybody should train relentlessly day after day, but maybe we are under estimating how far we can push our bodies and by scheduling too frequent rest day’s we may be missing the opportunity to create the correct level of overload to force adaptation.

One approach could be to not plan a rest day in your schedule during a given training block and then use a recovery week or active rest week to ensure you give the body the time to develop and repair. I  have also found that unless you’re a full-time athlete life gets in the way and often a rest day is forced upon us anyway due to conflicts in obligations or schedule. So by planning a rest day there is risk you end up missing an opportunity to train and having more rest than is needed.

Going forward I still acknowledge rest and recovery is important but I also think it is important to test your limits and boundaries of how far you can push your body. Some people thrive with limited rest and avoid injury. Other people need scheduled rest days frequently in their schedule to recover and optimise performance. Whats most important is learning to understand your body and not rely on a preplanned schedule to dictate when you need to recover.

Extreme Balance

We are told all time time about the importance of balance.

  • We should have a balanced diet
  • We should live a balanced life
  • We should manage our work life balance

However when it comes to our ambitions or our goals we are told:

  • Dream big.
  • Aim high.
  • Don’t put limitations on yourself.
  • Reach for the sky.

To me these are conflicting messages and ideals that don’t support each other. For instance if you were to ask someone who you believe has reached the levels of success that you aspire to, the chances are that they did not achieve this success through balance but through extreme hard work, or extreme amount of training, or extreme focus. You would be hard pressed to find some one who said the key to my success is “balance”. No one managed to finish their first marathon with a balanced approach to running, it took hours of training and miles of running to shift the body from its comfort zone to being able to handle 3-4hours of continuous exercise. Progress comes from overload and overload is the opposite to balance.

Balance is the fastest way to mediocracy.

That being said, balance is still important. It’s important if you want variety, familiarity and comfort however to move forward towards a goal, stretch and challenge yourself sometimes it means you need to invest in being out of balance and maybe even be extreme for a  certain period of time .

Competitive Training

Training alone can be great. It can be cathartic, spontaneous, adventurous and inspiring.

Training with others can be hard. It can be noisy, distracting, unfocused, too difficult or too easy. Training with others can also be competitive.

Competition is important, it gives you a clear objective, it stretches you further than you can on your own and it is gratifying and humbling at the same time. Not everything you do needs to be competitive but having access to regular competition in training or on race day is one of the best way’s to measure and stretch your performance.

Find someone to race or someone to challenge you, question how hard your pushing yourself, or even just to show your how you have progressed.

When you don’t feel like training, remember the competition always does.

How to Plan Your First Ironman Triathlon: Part 1

Part 1 of this post will cover planning your first Ironman triathlon from:

  1. What is an Ironman?
  2. Am I fit enough?
  3. Which race should I do?
  4. How long will it take to prepare?

What is an Ironman?

First thing you need to understand is what is an Ironman and what specifically will it take to complete. An Ironman is a Long Distance form of a Triathlon. It begins with an Open water swim of 3.8Km a Bike of 180Km and finally a whole marathon run of 42.2km. To put into perspective the duration of the race I have broken each leg down below:

Source: RunTri

  • Average Swim time: 1hr 16mins
  • Average Bike time: 6hrs 25mins
  • Average Run time: 4hrs 54mins
  • Total: 12hrs 35mins

The current world record for the Ironman distance is 7hrs 41mins set by Jan Frodeno in 2016. One this to note is most Ironman events have a cut off time of 0f 15-17 hours.

Now you know the distance required to complete and the duration spend on each discipline, you can understand what level of fitness you will need to attain in order to complete the challenge.

Am I fit enough?

If this is your first Ironman distance event your only goal should be to complete it, regardless of your ability. It is easy to get carried away with past experience and of  elevated fitness levels during your training and begin to change your ambitions. This is known as goal inflation and should be avoided at all costs. When you set out to ‘complete’ the race it is a massive achievement, but it is easy to see others who are aiming for SubX time or to qualify for a championships, or to beat their training buddy. Swallow your ego and ignore others peoples goals. Concentrate on finishing and this should remain your exclusive goal.

Now its time to understand your current fitness levels and determine the gap between your fitness now and the fitness required to complete the race. some good ways to understand where you currently are, if your new to triathlons it would be wise to spend at least a season or two building up to the olympic distance, not only is this a safer way to do it but by learning the basics in a shorter race it will make an ironman much more enjoyable as you can focus on the performance rather than the basics of a triathlon such as pacing,transitions,competition environment and managing your fuel.

  • Fastest time for a recent triathlon (olympic or half)
  • Longest time spent cycling in training
  • Longest cycle event completed and duration it took
  • Longest continuous open water or pool swim
  • Longest run and what was your average speed.

The general guide for knowing if you are at Ironman fitness, surprisingly is not being able to run a marathon or to ride for 10 hours straight, it is much more race specific than that. If you have gradually built up your training to a level where you can complete 75% of the the total race distance in one day. Then this is a good barometer of success. That doesn’t mean it has to be non stop but that day may look like this:

  • Wake up snack or light breakfast
  • Open water swim 3Km continuous
  • Change, rest and have a snack or breakfast
  • Cycle 135Km or 5hrs
  • Change, rest, lunch
  • Run (run/walk) 30Km or a maximum of 2.5hrs
  • Recover, refuel and sleep

The above test day (brick workout) is a very long day but what it does is prepare your body to be exercising for an extremely long period of time, without the benefit of having some additional rest between disciplines and being able to fuel more appropriately. This is also is a safer way to push your limits than doing for example a half Ironman, which will put your body under increased stress and take longer to recover from.

Now you have two key bench marks to work from

  1. Your current fitness level

  2. Your desired fitness level (pre race day)

The next step is to build a plan backward from point 2 to understand how long this will take to achieve.

Which race should I do?

Planning which Ironman event to do needs to be a key consideration before you start your planning. You may dream of doing it in an exotic location or picking one which is right on your doorstep. but with the enormity of the challenge in mind there are a lot of factors to consider:

  • Budget– Pick and event you can comfortably afford (remember it is likely to be a weekend trip) it takes pressure off if the worst happens and you can’t make the event.
  • Access for Supports– Having supporters in the crowd is the best part of the race, make sure its a venue where they can come to see you race
  • Climate– If you train in a cool climate, don’t pick an event where you run the risk of heat exhaustion, pick one as close to training climate as possible
  • Terrain– Know your strengths. If your a weak cyclist find a course with the fastest bike route (note: not always the flattest)
  • Ocean or Lake Swim– If you’ve never swam in the ocean it may be wise to pick a calmer lake swim
  • Popularity– Some iconic locations are great events to do, but don’t let the hype make you pick a course not suited to you.
  • Branded or Unbranded– Unbranded ‘Ironman’ events are significantly cheaper and often just as well organised. If you want the bragging rights of the brand then prioritise that. If you just want to finish the distance save the cash and go unbranded.
  • Time– Depending on how early/late in the season the race is will dictate how much time you have to train but also how much of your season/summer will be spent preparing for the race.
  • Location– Flying you bike abroad is expensive and stressful as is being in a foreign country, unless your comfortable with the added stress pick a race more local.

How long will it take to prepare?

Once you have picked a race/event you know what date you need to be in peak condition for.  Below is a guide as to where you need to be fitness wise in the build up to the event.

  • Race Day: Fit, Rested, Energised and Injury free
  • 2 -4 weeks out from race day: Your peak volume training should be completed and you are now at your ‘fittest’ state. The challenge between now and race day is to maintain as much of that fitness while gradually reducing training load to ensure you are resting and recovering fully. This means by race day you will be slightly less fit but significantly more recovered.
  • 4 weeks out: Peaked your  total training volume and have completed your largest brick session of 75% of race distance completed in one day.
  • 8 weeks out:  Built your training volume up to a point that you have completed 50% of race distance in one day
  • 12 weeks out: Built your training volume up to a point that you have  completed 30-40% of race distance in one day.
  • 16 weeks out: Built a solid foundation pre season where you can cycle/run at a slow steady rate for multiple hours ( approx 1.5-3hrs) and swim a broken aerobic session for up to an hour.

16 weeks is a long training cycle and getting into ironman condition in this amount of time is dependant on how much time you spent building a base in the preseason/winter season prior.

As a rule; the longer the base (steady aerobic conditioning) the more successful you will be.

Part 2 coming soon…..