Ironman Swim Training-not as hard as you think

Ironman swim training-not as hard as you think. Without a doubt, the biggest stumbling block for those who have been bitten by the Ironman Triathlon bug is coming to grips with the 2.4 mile open water swim and dealing with the ironman swim training that’s involved in order to get there.

It’s unfortunate that so many people give up on ever being able to get to the Ironman finish line because they are certain they could never manage the swim. What is especially sad is that many of these same people are marathoners and have a great endurance base and that is a huge benefit when it comes to the Ironman.

Perhaps they can swim a little, or can’t swim a single stroke, but regardless it simply seems a bridge too far.

On the bright side however, it’s incredible just how many people over the years have ignored the fact that they couldn’t swim and managed to overcome their doubts. For some people the pull of the Ironman is just so powerful that all they can visualize is crossing the finish line no matter what it takes to get there.

I know because I was one of them. From the moment I saw my very first Ironmnan on T.V. 30 years ago I knew I had to go to Kona. I could not swim a single stroke and had a healthy fear of the water, but I wanted to reach that finish line so badly that I refused to let it stand in my way.


When I first started out learning how to swim I took a few front crawl lessons at the local YMCA just to make sure I could make it to the other side of the pool at least once without going under.

Once I could do that I knew all I had to was persist and never let go of my dream of crossing the Ironman finish line. It’s really all about not giving up on yourself. You’d be amazed just how much you are capable of once you put your mind to it.

As far as the swimming, all I was concerned with was being able to swim 2.4 miles in under 2 hours and 20 minutes which is normally the cut-off time for the Ironman swim. Any slower than that and they will yank you off the course and your day is over.

learning to swim is not insurmountable

Even though I had an endurance background from running, I was surprised at just how out of breath I was after just one length of the pool. This is very common and often baffles people who think they are in pretty good shape. In reality, run fitness and swim fitness are two different things.

Running is more fluid and there is less resistance than swimming. Most people new to swimming struggle just to stay afloat and keep their head up so they can breath air instead of swallowing mouthfuls of water. They have poor body position and are basically bashing their way through the water.

It should be no mystery why new swimmers are out of breath after just one length in the pool because basically everything is a struggle. People are completely out of their element in the water and we bear little resemblance to a fish. As a matter of fact when we are struggling to survive in the water we look a lot like a fish who is out of the water who is also thrashing around fighting for breath.


Lots has happened in the world of triathlon in the past three decades or so and in many ways it has become more confusing to the novice Ironman than it really has to be.

If you simply just want to cross that Ironman finish line anyway you can then just keep things simple. All you really want to be able to do is survive the Ironman swim within the required time limit and have enough left to make it through the bike and run.

Don’t worry about having to get out in the open water in your training in order to become an Ironman. Don’t think you simply have to wear a wetsuit over and over again just to get used to it.

Hell, I was in 12 Ironman races where I had to wear a wetsuit and never did get used to them. They are constricting and a pain to get on and off. However they do keep you warmer and do give you better body-positioning in the water.

Sure you can get fitted for a wetsuit and try it out once in the open water, but in the big scheme of things you will do just fine if you decide to do all your swim training in a pool.

Wetsuits can be a pain

You can always go to the Ironman race venue and swim in the water there a few times on race week just to get used to both the open water and your wetsuit.

Just make sure you can manage the distance and the rest will take care of itself. That should really be your main concern.


Once I had a little coaching to get me started and knew I could swim at least a length without stopping I went to the pool about 5 times a week and swam on my own. I tried to swim further and further every swim session. At the time I really gave little thought to how crappy my stroke was. To be honest about it, I really didn’t care as long as it got me where I was trying to go.

I basically adopted the very same philosophy I used when I decided I wanted to run a marathon over 30 years ago. Back then I just kept running and running and running every day until one day I ran for 4 hours without stopping. About six months from the day I decided I wanted to run a marathon, I finished my first marathon in 3:28. When I think back to that time, the most remarkable thing was that the day I first began to run was also the day I gave up a 15-year smoking habit.

It would have been easy to give up, but I’m so glad I didn’t because it ended up changing my life for the better forever.

So my goal of learning how to swim 2.4 miles in the open water happened just the way I thought it would. It took 3 or 4 months, but one day I swam 2 miles in the pool and that was close enough for me and I sent my entry in for Ironman Hawaii 1984 as a foreign contestant which was a category they had back in the early days of the Ironman.

Just over a year after I swam that very first length in the YMCA pool I waded out of Kona Harbor after completing my very first open water swim. I never really had the confidence to swim in the open water when I was still learning how to swim and thought I would just leave it in the hands of the Iron Gods on race-day.

It was around 1 hour and forty minutes from the time the gun sounded to begin Ironman Hawaii 1984 when I was finally able to stand up and walk into the swim/bike transition area. I became an Ironman that day and never looked back.

So don’t let fear and doubt about the Ironman swim stop you from realizing your Ironman dream. It is
not an insurmountable challenge and if you give yourself a chance and are willing to do whatever it takes to conquer the swim, you will live your Ironman dream and in the process achieve something remarkable that will stay with you for the rest of your life.


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