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How to train for a Swimrun race

Perhaps you are new to swimrun, and are thinking, how am I even going to start? It can be as simple as just getting out and doing some swimming, some running and a few Swimrun sessions. The beauty of this sport is that you can do it on any level – it just depends on your goals! 

However, if you want to do a “classic” Swimrun marathon or ÖTILLÖ World Series distance, which is usually around 40 km total with 30-35 running and 5-9 km swimming, you have to prepare. At least you have to prepare if you want to enjoy it, and get the best experience out of your race. 

In this article, I’ll share some tips on how you can structure your training in this post (really, how I train myself, when in season).  

How long ahead do you need to start training for a Marathon Swimrun? 

This highly depends on where you are coming from. If you never ran or swam before, you probably should prepare for a year, including taking some swimming lessons to improve your technique. If you are already doing sports and work out several times per week, I think you can get ready in a few months. In my training plan, I have included 16 weeks (+4 rest weeks in there, so 20 weeks in total). 

What type of training sessions do you need to get good at Swimrun? 

The base of the training you need to do is obviously swimming and running. However, it is essential (at least I think so) to do 1 to 2 general strength sessions per week just to make sure your joints can take all the resistance training you will put them under by developing muscles to take on some of that stress. It also helps you to become an all-rounded athlete. This is important for Swimrun, because if you think about it, you are not only swimming and running. You usually have to climb, jump, lift your legs, run hills, swim in waves and current etc. This means you need an all-around strong body ready to face what nature gives you. Another important aspect is also to try and get in some real swimrun training – where you actually go outside with all your equipment and train Swimrun. Transitions from land to water can be harder than you think  – so I don’t recommend surprising your body with your very first Swimrun transition on race day.

Weekly training amount for Long-Distance Swimrun 

To be able to finish a marathon swimrun and feel that you do well, I recommend doing 3 swims and 3 runs per week, plus those 2 strength sessions. Every other week, combine 1 swim and 1 run into a longer swimrun session. By just following this schedule and increasing your mileage with about 2 km/1.5 miles per week running and 500 m/yards swimming each week, you will be fine to finish. I am assuming, you start then at a 8 to 10K running distance per session and about 2000 swimming for week 1. If you want to get better and faster – make 1 swim and 1 run hard sessions where you practice intervals, hill reps and shorter distances with rest in between. This will adapt your body to higher speeds and resistance, and it will feel easier to keep going at your “normal” speed eventually. If you can, combine more sessions in your week, e.g. do a swim and run after or vice versa, or do strength and run after. The key is to be on your feet for a few hours – because in the marathon race, you will have to keep going for 5 hours +. Your training week could look like this for example: 

Example of a weekly Swimrun training schedule:

Monday: Run 1 (hard and shorter session w intervals) 

Tuesday: Swim 1 + strength session 1

Wednesday: Run 2 (easy) 

Thursday: Swim 2 (hard, intervals in pool) 

Friday: Strength session 2 

Saturday: Swim 3 + Run 3 or Swimrun session (longer) 

Sunday: Rest day with foam rolling/yoga if you want! 

Training tips for Swimrunners

  • Make sure you take 1 rest day per week 
  • Keep on going with your weekly sessions, but plan easy rest weeks every 4th or 5th week. I usually plan these randomly when I have a crazy work week or go on vacation! These weeks, just do what you can, maybe just 2 or 3 easy sessions. Not only does your body need the rest to build itself back up, but you will also save yourself lots of stress by shifting your focus from training to whatever you are doing that week. 
  • Adapt your training to the race you are training for. If it is a flat race with lots of flat running, then train that. If your race has 2000+ elevation to conquer, then you need to do hills. 
  • Believe it or not, but a large part of your training should be comfortable and “slow” – for these long distance sports, you need stamina and you get that by just keeping going. Every session has a focus – if you do intervals, do that, and the training can be short. If you do a long run, focus on making the length (not ALSO doing it as fast as you can). 
  • If you feel like you are getting hurt or injured, stop. Go look it up so you know what it is, and listen to the advice of your therapist. There is usually lots of cross training you can do until you heal, and it won’t affect your training or final result so much in the long run. The key is to catch your injury early so you can recover quickly.
  • Have fun with this, and don’t take it too seriously! Train with your Swimrun partner as much as you can, and join different training groups. It takes sport and training to a whole new level, I think, to do it with other like-minded people. Swimrun is, after all, a team sport 🙂

My Swimrun and training philosophy for a balanced life

I think there can be periods of focus in life, and if you commit to training for a marathon Swimrun, you have to push around other areas of your life a little bit for a while – most of all to take care of your body and recover through sleeping well and eating properly. Good sleeping and eating habits will set you up for a good start to take on a few months of hard training.

It is always a challenge though, to fit in everything we want to accomplish in the 24 hours of each day. To stay sane, I go by a few philosophies around my training. I’ll write them down here in case they’ll help you stay on track and fit in training in your life:

  • I train and compete because I want to, and I want to have fun while doing it. 
  • It is not worth it if my body gets hurt. Learning the hard way through various injuries, I’ve discovered how hard I can push my body before it breaks and I try to listen to it when it tells me to stop. 
  • Training should not take over my life. I need a good balance between work (which I love), my husband and family (who I Iove too), traveling and learning new things. So if I skip training for working late on a project one day or skip a week for a cool trip, so be it! 
  • On the other hand, I know I feel the best when I get to move every day and training is also my meditation and my mind-reloading. It is sort of like brushing my teeth. You can get away with not doing it one day, but you feel kind of weird – so I try to make time for training as much as I can in my daily life. 

Hope this article helped you and that you are a little bit more ready to take the next step towards your Swimrun goals. Best of luck, and let me know how it goes! 

Need a training plan? Check this one out!