Fearing the swim? Fear not.

It’s been less than a year since I started swimming.  My first pool swim was on April 9th, 2007.  That day it took me 40 minutes to go 750 yards, or an average of 5:00/100 yards.  Seriously.  I think doggie paddling or floating on a pool toy would have been faster.

I started off swimming with about the same swim skills as everyone else.  Like most people, I could lounge around a pool, or splash around the waves at the ocean without issue for hours.  But swimming back and forth across a pool and doing some form of aquatic breathing was not in my athletic playbook.  The equivalent of man-ballet.

Had I not already decided to sign up for a Half-Ironman BEFORE I got in the pool for the first time, I might have just quit right then and there.  I could barely make it across the pool.  But I kept at it.  I swam three days a week, every week.  More important than that though – I followed a relatively simple guide from a relatively simple site.  No flashy graphics, videos or complicated words.

I followed this guide on ‘How to swim from 0 to 1650m’ (a mile) in six weeks.  Here’s a snippet from their intro paragraph:

“Young or old, fit or not, six weeks seems to be the most common length of time it takes to be able to swim a mile without stopping for breath.”

The workouts didn’t have any special drills or fancy swimming terms in them.  You simply just swam.  There was a pattern though.  The pattern helped to push you along – to get you in a groove and focus on a goal.  Here’s an example of the first week’s workout:

WEEK one (Three Days):
100 yards…rest for 12 breaths…repeat 3 times.
50 yards…rest for 8 breaths…repeat 3 times.
25 yards…rest for 4 breaths…repeat 3 times.
total: 700 yards

I can say that I probably did a lot more stopping than the above guidelines the first week.  Like at each side of the pool….for a while.  But the workouts gave me a goal and I stayed with the program for probably about four weeks before I strayed and starting doing my own workouts.  By that time I was more than comfortable in the water and could pretty much go back and forth for extended periods of time without issue.

One thing I did do though is start bilaterally breathing from the start.  I was determined to make that a natural part of my swimming toolkit.  It was a bit funky at first, but then again – everything in the pool was funky.  Given I couldn’t breath on one side – breathing on two sides wasn’t really any worse (kinda like how zero times any number is always zero).

So – now all your non-tri folks out there (I’m looking at you runners!), have no excuse to not jump headfirst into the sport of tri (even if you do a belly flop along the way).  Now’s the perfect time of year!


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  1. i should totally pass this along to EVERY SINGLE person who tells me they can’t do a try b/c they can’t swim. i try and explain no adults can swim!! good post!

  2. No! water! no! no! no! ahhhh I’m melting!!!!

  3. Great information, glad you added the link. I am just getting into the pool and it is a pitiful sight!

  4. I didn’t know you learned to swim only a year ago. Well done. This is tough thing to do after you’re an adult…

    BTW, wanted to touch base with you – I’m going be flying to Washington DC on March 17, returning on March 19, and it would be cool to get together. Also want some tips from you on where to go.

    Don’t have your e-mail, can you e-mail me?

  5. It’s cool you want to teach the “runners” how to swim, but don’t teach them too well.

    I’ve got to get my lead on before the run.

  6. i get a lot of people who come up and say they could do a triathlon, but they don’t want to do the swim.

    ahhh duhhhh..

    thats like saying, I could climb Mt. McKinley, but I’m afraid of heights.

    so props to you for getting your gumption up and them attacking the swim…

  7. Great post,

    I am going to recommend that book to a few people I know and add it to my library.

  8. Fabulous advice for newbies. I can swim forever without stopping. I won’t say how slowly though….
    I like this plan!

  9. I so need to get back in the pool…

  10. I’d love to know how you learned the freestyle breathing. I run and cycle but have always been a pretty poor swimmer.

    After a lot of practice I recently learned the breaststroke breathing technique, but I really am having trouble getting anywhere with freestyle.

    Did you teach yourself how to do this or did you have professional help?

  11. Joshua

    Well, this makes me feel much better! I am a marathon runner going tri. Monday will be my first day of swimming. Here goes nothing….