Boredom can kill your focus during long sessions. Rethinking your swim training can help you stay in the water for longer.
Long runs and bike rides are some of the most enjoyable parts of a triathlete’s training; these steady sessions give you a chance to switch off from your daily life, get into a rhythm and enjoy surroundings that you wouldn’t reach on your usual short sessions. Long swims can be very different, though – you’re swimming up and down the same boring pool, but for even longer. However if you’re racing Olympic distance or longer this summer, you need to knuckle down and put in some hard yards in the pool. Here’s how to get through it.
1. Build it up
Jumping up from a few 1km sessions to a longer 2km swim is enough to put anyone off their stroke. So to start with, do 4x500m with 15secs rest, or 2x1km with 20secs rest. Just as you would handle a long run by just getting to the next lamppost, then to the end of the road, mentally break your long swim down into chunks to make it less daunting.
2. Find your rhythm
There’s nothing worse than feeling you are flailing through a swim, or having to concentrate hard on every stroke. Learn how to switch your mind off and, for just one session, stop thinking about every aspect of your technique – just swim for as long as you can. To make this easier, train yourself to swim with a more rhythmic stroke. You can do this by counting (“one-two-breathe”) or by repeating music or rhymes in your head (coach Doug Hall recommends Nellie the Elephant – it works!). You can also use a Wetronome (wetronome.com) to help you achieve an even stroke.
3. Use music
Boredom is the biggest killer in long pool swims, so distract yourself from the never-ending laps. Get a waterproof MP3 player to make the time pass more quickly and stop you obsessing over your technique – try b2psports.com, triathlon-zone.com or swimmer.co.uk for a few options.
4. Rethink your nutrition
If you’re struggling to get through more than an hour of swimming (something you’ll need to do if you’re training for an Ironman), it could be that you’re running low on fuel. Because you’re not conscious of losing fluid through sweat in the pool, it’s easy to think that you don’t need to eat or drink anything, but leaving a bottle of energy drink on the poolside for a long swim could make the difference between finishing the session and not. You don’t need much – just a mouthful every half an hour or so will be enough to give your brain a sugar boost, and lift your mood and motivation.
5. Make the swim your focus
Enter a swim-only race to force yourself to take the discipline seriously. In a triathlon it’s just the first stage of the race that you have to ‘get through’; make it an event in its own right and you’ll be racing for a time and for your pride, with a greater incentive to push through. This could be an open water event, like the Speedo Swim Series (swimseries.humanrace.co.uk), or Endurancelife’s Wild Swim Series (endurancelife.com); or you could enter a masters swim gala at your local pool. Visit the British Swimming website, swimming.org, for more information on swim galas.
6. Don’t neglect strength and stretching
Sore, fatigued muscles will stop you using good technique, putting you at risk of injuring yourself on longer swims; and once that burn kicks in you’re more likely to give up. So give yourself the best chance by building in some strength and stretching work on dry land. Any strength work that uses your back, chest and arms will be effective: some well-performed press-ups and chin-ups on easy swim days will help build your swimming muscles.
7. Use a bigger pool!
When you want to swim more than a couple of kilometres, the best way to do it is to head outdoors – most open-water swim venues are now open for business, if a little chilly. If it’s not practical to get to one of those, look for a larger swimming pool in your area: there may only be 22 50m pools in the UK but there are plenty of lidos, many of which are even bigger and are open all year round for the brave. Visit the lovingly compiled list on lidos.org.uk for details.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in triradar.com’s Training Zone section.