Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim: training for 4.4 miles

Marathon runners love their training plans. Each time I’ve trained to run 26.2 miles (or 13.1, for that matter), I printed out training plans (Hal Higdon the first time, FIRST for the next one), and followed them as close to the letter as possible, with slight tweaks based on aches and pains and major life events.

I’m learning that training for the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim is more like training for an ultra marathon—if you need a training plan to tell you what to do, you maybe shouldn’t be attempting the distance. And I really don’t think this is solely a function of me being a lazy swimmer who’s averse to formal swim workouts (which I am). Every time I ask an open-water swimming veteran for advice about how to train for such a race, the veteran’s advice usually starts with an equivocal shrug, then some general advice—never with a specific plan.

One thing I know for sure: I will not feel confident heading into the swim without a few good, long swims under my belt, and I’m slowly working my way up to those. Physically, I know I could probably knock out a cool 6,000 meters this weekend. Mentally and emotionally … well, I’ve managed 4,000 meters, and I’m working my way up from there.

Another thing I know for sure: It’s April 1, which for months has been my “go time” date. As in, “get off your cranky, lazy butt and go to the pool already, because it’s go time.” I’m forcing myself to get to the pool three times per week, and am making one of those swims longer. As in, longer than 3,000 meters, which is my bare minimum distance to make the trip to the pool and post-swim shower worth the trouble.

I’m also going to try to get in a few open-water swims when I’m visiting Florida next week, though I feel pretty comfortable with my ability to handle rough water (literally and figuratively).

Not that this water is rough ...

Of course, my off-days aren’t “off” at all, but merely days when I’m working toward my other goals.

So here’s what a week of training looks like for me at this stage in the game:

Saturday: Run/walk: 37 minutes

Sunday: Off

Monday: PT in a.m. (check out my lineup here, and assume I’ve added weight to all strength exercises), swim 3,000 yards in p.m.

Tuesday: Run-walk between 30 and 40 minutes

Wednesday: PT in a.m., swim 3,500 yards in p.m.

Thursday: Lift (arms, core) 45 minutes, with three 15-minute StairMaster spurts

Friday: PT, swim 3,000 yards

Are you training for the Bay Bridge Swim, or have you trained for an open-water swim? How did you structure your training?


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5 responses to “Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim: training for 4.4 miles

  1. I’ve done a few mile and two mile open-water races and I don’t feel like I did any special training, other than doing fewer sets/intervals and more long distances. Of course that can get pretty boring, as I’m sure you know!

    I would love to do the Bay Bridge swim someday, so I’m interested to hear about your training and the race.

  2. wow. well, I have nothing helpful to add about training for this distance in the swim, but it seems to me like it would be similar to training for any other ultradistance – lots of long swims, and throw in some speed every once in a while so you don’t get bored and have the ability to swim faster than the current. 🙂

  3. p.s. no matter what you decide, i’m still in the pool 4-6 days a week right now. let’s have a date! sat or sunday late afternoon?

  4. My swims for the next few months in the run up to the Bay Swim will be kind of odd – as I first have to get through a 5km swim, then need to do the MS150 bike ride. But the structure I intend to have once April 17th is out of the way is: 1 fitness swim session (think high intensity sprint work, probably around 3k, but only 2k in fitness mode); 1 strength swim session (think paddles and pull buoy, working on tricep and lat pull, probably in higher distances like 400 alternating pull / free, or 500s, or 800s) around 3k again, but 2k in strength mode; and 1 last “endurance swim” set so aiming to start at 1.5 hours swimming and increasing time in run up to Bay Swim. I also have to fit in cycling, running and strength/rehab work for tri season! Phew!

  5. scott acheson

    I have put in one 7 km workout. Lots of open water experience on my part …I know I can do the distance so the rest is up to God! No control over the weather. If you have done long runs and long bikes…then you have the endurance….not to worry!

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