Master the 3.8km Swim

So you’ve signed up for your first long-distance triathlon and its 3.8km swim. 220 is here to make sure you hit T1 fresh and within the cut-off time

Bottom line: Ironman has a 2:20hr swim cut-off. If you don’t make that, it’s game over before you even get on your bike. It may be hard to believe, but many do exit the water shattered – so swimming long sessions to build both muscular endurance and pace awareness is vital if you’re going to crack this challenge. It’s the two per cent of race distance that causes 90 per cent of race-day fears.

When moving up to 3.8km, you have to invest time in endurance sessions while remembering it’s only approximately 10 per cent of race time – a mere 2.5 times longer than an Olympic tri swim, compared to the bike, which is 4.5 times longer. So you must/should/might (delete as applicable) stretch to three hours of swim time at most. Unless completion looks impossible, make sessions count but don’t overkill swim frequency.

Most importantly, prioritise a once-a-week 80- to 90-minute swim session, even if it replaces a bike or run. Fear can be a motivator – tell yourself you have to swim more than 3.2km on race day, or set yourself the challenge of a one-off 3.8km swim and it will shock you into making a long swim session a priority.

quality, not quantity

Most sessions will be in the pool, but access to open water is a luxury worth investing in several times before race day. Now that stand-alone, 3.8km open-water races are more common, use them as quality sessions in the right swimming environment to help build your confidence.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking long-distance training is all about swimming for continuous periods, though. That’s not only boring but also less productive than broken swims. Break down the workload into sets or variances in pace or technique, such as sighting or drafting (see right).
Find others doing the same race/distance to help share out the work and make those bigger sessions or open-water ventures actually happen.

Above all, be sure to train in your wetsuit outdoors and in pools (where allowed). It’s likely to be on you for more than an hour come race day and should be a help, not a hindrance. Make sure it fits correctly, doesn’t leak and helps you swim efficiently.