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I wish I would’ve ran more as an elite swimmer

If you know me, you know I’d rather swim 10 km than run that distance. It is definitely not that I hate running or anything. I just really love to swim. Also, my body was made to swim and it comes easier to me than running. I was made for swimming, and I have to work to run.

When I started training for Swimrun seriously in 2015, I learned about running and made it a priority to become a better runner. Over the years, I have actually noticed that running, especially the tough workouts, helps my swimming as well. 

Read on to hear my theory. 

Swimrun – compromise or complement? 

If you put the world’s best marathon runner next to the world’s best swimmer, you will clearly see a couple of differences in their bodies. Michael Phelps is undoubtedly one of the world’s best swimmers. He has broad shoulders, is tall, muscular, and has an enormous wingspan. He weighs 88 kg (194 lbs) and is 1.93 m tall (6 ft 4 in). With this body, he can take powerful strokes and propel himself optimally in the water. Then look at Eliud Kipchoge, considered one of the world’s best marathon runners. He is 1.67 m (5 feet 6 in) tall and weighs around 115 pounds (52 kg). He is skinny, and is full of small, strong muscles ready to work for hours. 

These two are very different sportsmen – and each optimized for his sport. As Swimrunners, we face a challenge to be fast at both swimming and running. It is not the easiest. The good thing is, it is not needed to be world-class at either running or swimming to be a great Swimrunner. In our sport, we see a mix of body types that are all fast. Some excel in swimming, some in running, and some are fairly good at both and nail transitions like jesus lizards. The key to Swimrun, is to see these sports as a complement to each other rather than a compromise. 

How running Helps Your Swimming

For me at least, running is much harder than swimming. When I run at a 5-minute per km pace, my heart rate is almost always between 150-160 beats. I swim at 1.20 pace per 100 with a 120 heart rate.  

I have noticed though, that when I do one of those really tough interval runs, rest a day, and then do a tough swim, that swim feels easier (heart-rate wise). Sure, my legs are busted and sore, but somehow the swimming gets easier when doing those hard runs.

A heart study on elite runners and swimmers has confirmed that runners actually have a slightly better left ventricle function than swimmers. The left ventricle is the part of the heart responsible for pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body. The researchers note that it is perhaps the water buoyancy that gives swimmers’ hearts a break and hence make them slightly less trained – a 60 kg person would equivalently be around 4 lbs in “water weight”. Note that this study’s sample size was limited and that the difference was small, both elite swimmers and runners have excellent heart function. 

I think it is therefore I find it harder to get my heart rate up really high in the water and give my body the same type of workout the same way a run does. It certainly is a complement to swimming, and if running can make your heart perform better – what’s to lose? 

You might temporarily lose some strength in your kick in the pool the day after a run, simply because your legs get tired. In the long run however, your legs (especially quads and hamstrings) will get stronger and give that kick a boost. Just like weight training, running is a type of cross-training that strengthens your legs and bones. It is also important for a simmer’s long-term health to do some weight-bearing training to promote a healthy bone mass and prevent bone-decay later on in life. 

How Swimming also helps your running 

When I feel sore and miserable from running or gym training, I swim. I think it feels amazing to stretch out those sore muscles in the water, float a little and get the soreness all shaken out by the water. 

It seems our colleagues over in teh triathlon world agree that swimming does wonders, even for runners. In this video The Global Triathlon Network promotes swimming for runners, pointing out that it helps wth recovery from increased blood circulation and is a great choice if you want to increase your training volume to reach a better cardiovascular fitness. With swimming, you avoid putting too much strain on the joints and bones from even more running. Another benefit mentioned is core strength, which is beneficial for your running posture. 

What I do now, Swimrun, indeed seems like the ultimate sport. If you do it right, training for swimming and running together will make you a super athlete. 

Hope you liked reading this ramble of thoughts. Knowing what I know now, at 33, I just wish that I would have ran once a week when I was an elite swimmer in my 20s. I think it could have helped me shave off a few seconds on that 400 IM.