Swim to Ironman – Advice for a Swimmer wanting to complete an Ironman Triathlon

Swim To Ironman

The swim proportion of Ironman is the shortest section of the day. Even the slowest swimmers only spend around two hours in the water. Because of this swimmers are not natural converts to Ironman. The feel there skills are wasted. Swim to Ironman is one of the lesser trod paths.

However despite the fact its the shortest discipline, Its one of the most feared and most problematic. So people with a good ability to swim especially those versed in open water are actually at a big advantage to most New triathletes. While the majority stand at the shore paralysed by the fear of what it to come, You can be chomping at the bit to get stuck in.

So don’t let that pesky bike and run stop you from having a go at an Ironman. Follow my advice for a Swimmer looking to complete an ironman.

What is a Swimmer ? openwater swimmer

Sorry for the obvious question but  for this article its probably prudent to identify what I mean as a swimmer. You don’t need to be a 10k Open water marathon swimmer to have an advantage in your Ironman training, however that would certainly help. As long as you are a very comfortable swimmer who can perform a strong Front crawl/freestyle stroke you are miles ahead of a lot of people starting out in ironman. If you have a good bit of open water experience you pretty much good to go.

A lot of people who think of themselves as swimmers were childhood competitive swimmers. This ingrains something in the muscle memory that means even years of not touching a pool means you can simply get in at anytime and still out swim most “trained” athletes, who don’t have that back ground. I should know as its you that regularly swims past me as if I’m not moving!

The reason for this is not really for you, its more pertinent to people who are struggling with the swimming. As it simply shows the utter importance of stoke mechanics in swimming. but you probably know this already.


Being a swimmer gives you a huge advantage of the rest of the field simply due to the fact that you are comfortable in the water. You may not quite understand it but water hols a dark innate fear to most people. The swim leg to most is something to endure and overcome, rather than to relish and enjoy. At most points during the swim they are tense, stressed and unhappy. Wasting energy as the struggle their way to the start of the bike leg.

Swimming also is a great cardiovascular activity and this core fitness will help massively while building out your bike and run fitness. Of course if you are out of fitness at the minute, this will be of little benefit. Fortunately fitness does come back quickly and you still have your ingrained technique that seems to never leave swimmers!

Its obviously not all good news.

Weaknesses – weak legs – weak supporting muscles – lack of kit – moving to open water

Most people think swimming is all about the arms, but also believe a lot of the speed comes from the kick. As a swimmer you will probably know this is not really the case. Swimming strength comes from the catch. the body working in unison core back shoulders and arms to drive the swimmer forward. the kick primary used to keep the legs up and only a small proportion used for propulsion. This of course means your legs could be less than developed. After the swim, you are really going to need those legs!

Like all people who don’t run often there is a whole host of supporting muscles and tendons that are scarcely used but are essential to successful and injury free running. These must be strengthened slowly or you risk injury.

Its also probable you lack a lot of the kit needed and this must be acquired. Obviously a bike being the biggest issue.

Open water swimmingAlso just because you are an excellent swimmer doesn’t mean you have ventured into the world of open water. This can be equally daunting for a swimmer as a non swimmer. The warm laned safe environment feels along way from the cold dark muddy water of open water swimming. It really can feel like a big step! The good news is you should adapt quickly. With the fitness and technique you have there is nothing to concern you and simply repeated exposure will have you mastering the outdoors in no time at all. Its also good news that swimming out doors is far more rewarding than “hamster wheeling” up and down a lane. If you are looking for a way to revive your swimming enthusiasm. Open water could easily be it!

Getting Started  – Biking

Well obviously the first place to start is with getting a bike. And then just getting out and cycling. If you are a complete novice to cycling check out my Bike section of my Couch to Ironman Guide.

Once you are kitted out and out cycling its just a case of pushing the distance out and getting used to more and more time on the bike and the pain and discomfort that comes with prolonged time on a bike. The more you ride the less this will be an issue and the longer you will be able to ride.

Its also important to work on your nutrition strategies for the bike leg as fuelling is a critical part of Ironman racing.

Getting Started  – Running

Like Cycling its just a case of to start with just getting out running. Because of your cardio and core fitness you will probably need to pace yourself quite a lot as your supporting muscles and tendons will probably not be able to keep up with how fast you may be able to run.

You will likely suffer quite a few aces and pains as your body gets used to the rigours of running. Some pain is normal but take care not to over do things. Running injury tends to be the number one reason for people not completing an Ironman. And that’s normally due to “Did Not Start” failures. Basically not making it to the start line.

Again the running section of my Couch to Ironman Guide may be of use to you.

Still Up For It?

Hopefully I have helped convince you just how achievable an Ironman is to a swimmer. The swim really is the discipline that strikes fear into most peoples hearts. You simply don’t have that disadvantage. Bike and run performances are primarily fitness and easily trained where as swimming is so technique based it can easily be the most challenging to get to grasps with. Even if you have not mastered Open water swimming its nothing 4 or 5 swims in a open water environment won’t fix. Really there is nothing stopping you!


Please let me know if you are a swimmer thinking of doing an ironman. What are your concerns and worries? Maybe you have already signed up for an event? Feel free to ask for any advice below in the comments section.



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