Continued from Part 3.
Training In Cycles
And, over the course of a few weeks, your fatigue accumulates. This is something you should expect and actually plan for.
Through a process known as periodization, with cycles lasting several weeks, and changing emphasis at different parts of the season, you can gradually build up your neural strength, muscular strength and metabolic strength, as well as insert work on your open water swimming skills and cold water adaptation (if that is necessary for your event).
This process would involve gradually increasing the training stress from week to week, cycle to cycle. This increase in stress is often in the form of increasing the distance of certain workouts each week. This increase in the total weekly volume would help simulate some of the event-like stress your body needs to adapt to, though any single workout that week would not come close to the total event distance.
And, this increase on stress may come in the form of increasing the intensity of certain workouts each week. When mixed in with the fatigue that has built up over the course of that week, and over a few weeks, you can experience another form of event-like stress – when you’ve still got to work hard when the going gets tough.
As the training season progresses, you would start conducting more of your practices in the open water, in conditions similar to what you may face in the event itself. This mixes in other critical forms of event-like stress.
With total weekly volume gradually increasing, you build up fatigue over a few consecutive weeks, then rest for a week or so to let your body repair and recovery – which makes it stronger. A common cycle might be 4 weeks of work with 1 week of rest (4+1). There could be many reasons why it might be more appropriate to do 3+1 or 5+1 at certain times for certain people.
Give Me Some Numbers, Please
So what kind of volume does it take to get ready for something really long, like 10 (marathon), 20 (like crossing Gibraltar Strait) or 40 kilometer (like crossing the English Channel) swim?
It would be impossible for me to tell you what the first week or first cycle of your training plan toward these distances should be like since I don’t have any information about your starting point. As I noted previously, along that spectrum from non-swimmer on one end to experienced channel swimmer on the other, I don’t know what your starting point is. That would determines how far back you need to start and how much volume and intensity you would start with.
Though I can’t tell you what your first cycle might look like, let me give you some ideas of what the last cycle might look like for someone about ready to attempt their big swim, aiming to finish somewhere between comfortable and competitive. Your body needs to be adapted to handle a quantifiable amount of swimming stress and we can measure that by what kind of training your body can handle by the end.
(Note: the more extreme the distances, the less people there are doing them, the less experience and consensus there is about how to do it, yet the stronger and more diverse the opinions may be on what kind of training is necessary. I’ll offer you some numbers derived from my view point, as a starting point for your own considerations.)
This swimmer may be looking at a weekly volume of 16 to 25 kilometers of swimming, in at least 4 or 5 practice times per week. A couple of those practices may be 6 to 8 km, up to about 75% of of the total distance.
If he is experienced at 10K already, he may have conducted a couple full distance test swims over the last two cycles, just to check his metrics and see that he is on track for his pace goals. If this is going to be his first attempt at anything close to this distance, in the last cycle he may have conducted a test swim at 75% total distance to make sure he feels within reach of the full distance.
If he is going to be doing this big swim in open water then we may expect the at least a couple of these weekly practices are done in open water in event-similar conditions.
This swimmer may be looking at a weekly volume of 24 to 30 kilometers per week.
She may have conducted a couple test swims at least 75% total distance, and included some intense twice-a-day practices, 2-day workouts to simulate working up to event distance under fatigue.
And, likely the big swim will be done in open water. If that water temperature is cooler than the pool she will have been practicing regularly in open water for at least 75% of the time she will be in the water during the big event.
This swimmer may be looking at a weekly volume of 45 kilometers per week or more (I’ve heard of some people doing 60 or more!) with 5 or 6 sessions per week. That is A LOT of time in the water each week.
It’s rather impractical to simulate a 40K swim in a single practice. So he may have conducted some intense practices that build up event-like fatigue over two or three days.
And, if this happens to be the English Channel, he needs to have completed a qualifying swim of 6 hours or more in water below 16 C (60 F). The fastest channel swimmers cross in about 9 hours, and those who are slower get caught by the switching tide and add more hours onto their swim – they may be looking at 12 to 16 hours to cross. That is a LONG time to be in cold water, so he will have been wise to spend a lot of his practice time getting comfortable in (=adapted to) water.
Think Big, And Take It Seriously
I want to encourage you to aim for bigger goals and believe you can do it because it is a wonderful thing to go on this journey to explore your greater capabilities, even if the outcome is uncertain. It makes life so much more enriching to work on doing things you are not sure you can do.
And, if you do, start working toward it from right where you are at. Don’t try to be someone else. There is a path that can take you all the way from non-swimmer to swimming across the pool, swimming across the lake, or even swimming across a channel. It may take years instead of months, but with a good progressive training plan and guidance, respecting your body, you can likely do it.
But that encouragement to aim high comes along with a stern command to do it well.
Sometimes the excitement of grabbing onto a goal combined with a flurry of belief-in-yourself can distort your perception of where your starting point really needs to be on that journey toward the big goal. It may distract you from considering what the full cost may be to prepare for this event properly, so that you not merely survive the event, but do it safely and in relative comfort.
The bigger the swim, the bigger the stress upon your body, not only during the event, but over weeks and months of preparation leading up to that event. You will be imposing stress upon your body and mind in order to free yourself of most of it during the big event.
All the time, energy and attention you give to this training needs to be taken from somewhere else. You have a limited budget of those resources.
And, lastly, consider who else attached to you, those people may need to pay a price for you to pursue this goal. Rather than make people pay without asking, recruit these people to your support team and have them help keep you encouraged in the challenging months ahead and let them share in the suspense and satisfaction as you launch on the big swim.