If you’ve completed a few full IM distance triathlons before, you may be familiar with the one-hour Ironman swim benchmark. This benchmark is a milestone that’s hard to obtain for most but is doable if you follow the right program and commit to your swim training in a focused manner.
QT2 Systems pro triathlete and coach, Nick Granet (@ngranet on Instagram) outlines some basic points to help you get ready for your best Ironman swim, and be well on your way to sub-one hour.
Swim enough miles:
At a minimum, you should be swimming three times per week - a total of around 12,000 meters. This puts you in a position to swim according to your speed potential based on shorter tests like a 400 or 800 best effort.
Critical volume of the swim should be equal to 9/3 of 2.4 mile or 12,660 yards (swim = 2.4 miles = 4220 yds x 9/3 = 12,660yds). The goal with critical volume is to build into it and meet or exceed it for multiple weeks prior to or during your last build before you taper. With that said, start your build at low intensity (85% of threshold heart rate) and only add intensity once you reach the critical volume itself.
Transfer your pool swimming ability to open water:
As most of you know, open water swimming is completely different from swimming in a lap pool. The difference is augmented once you crowd the water with multiple athletes all fighting for positions. Why are you a decent swimmer in the pool, but can’t match your potential when it comes to open water? There could be a couple reasons, but below are some of the ones seen most often in athletes.
Slow turnover: Pool swimming is all about gliding and being as efficient as possible. In the open water, gliding tends to promote a slow turnover, resulting in a weak stroke follow through. Once you put a wetsuit on, the shoulder restriction affects your turnover even more. There are a couple things that can cure this. One of my favorite drills is band swimming. It promotes a fast and strong turnover as well as proper hip alignment. Practice this drill a few times, starting at a comfortable distance and increasing that as you get better.
Weak follow-through and poor catch: If you are constantly feeling like you aren’t grabbing any water this one is for you. In open water, the follow-through is the most important aspect of forward momentum. Why? Because when it gets crowded and you can’t catch clean water in front, you must rely on your follow through strength to keep up. My favorite tools to use when working on that are, swim paddles and a buoy. Paddles help you build strength in the water as well a promote a good clean catch and strong follow-through. You can feel every aspect of your stroke with paddles and thus can see where you lack in strength.
Stress/anxiety: This is a big one — time and time again athletes will say that it took them a long time to get into a comfortable pace during their swim. A few things that can fix this are a wetsuit/open water experiment and a good swim warm up.
Pre-race day, make sure to get a couple swims out in the open water. Test your equipment, get familiar with it, and practice going your race pace. Get a feeling for what to expect on race day. PLEASE don’t buy a new wetsuit the day before a race!
On race morning, always get at least 15 minutes of warm up time in the water. You will see yourself settled and relaxed before the start, which leads to a better swim time.
Sample workout to gauge Ironman swim fitness:
400 or 800 yard time trials — This will indicate your speed in the water at threshold. This is a good one to repeat multiple times in the year to easily gauge your progression. Entering this value into the QT2 Systems Triathlon Calculator along with your weekly swim volume will give you a good ballpark of what you might be able to swim for your race. The calculator is available at www.qt2systems.com/triathlon-calculator/
Monster set- 45 X 100 on a send-off of your 400-time trial pace + 10 seconds. The average time you hit per 100 will equal your Ironman time in a wetsuit.
The purpose of this writing is to help you understand what goes into the preparation for a sub one-hour Ironman swim. I hope that through some of my points, you can gain some knowledge about what it takes to complete this feat. It’s all about consistency and long term progression when in the water. If you work at something consistently enough, you will see the reward. There is no glory without sacrifice.