In my lead up to the London Marathon, I have averaged 70 miles per week, have double run less than 5 times and have not had a day off exercise between 1st January an 6th April. My weekly mileage may seem a little low for your average runner aiming to get a low 2:20’s marathon time, and not having had a day off could be seen as not giving my body sufficient recovery; however there is an element of my training that provides the rational for this: 40% of my time spent training is swimming.
This seems unconventional for a runner, but as someone who finds running first thing in the morning tricky, believes in active recovery and is susceptible to injury when the mileage is ramped up, I feel that swimming provides an equivalent cardio workout without my legs having to suffer on the road or country.
Having learnt to swim when I less than 5, I took a long break from it before taking it up again when I moved to London 6 years ago. Picking up the technique when I was much younger has been extremely beneficial and is something that you never seem to loose, however it has taken several years for my lungs and upper body to adjust gradually and allow me cover about 4km each morning. I always think of the morning swim as equivalent to a steady 5 mile run, but without the pounding on the pavement.
One question I was asked recently was how I avoid bulking out too much on my upper body, given that swimming is so reliant on arm strength. One reason I believe is my approach to the swim session. I never do sets or allow my body to become fatigued with lactic acid; instead I swim non-stop and at a continuous pace for an hour. This way I can burn a significant amount of energy and hence prevent any significant muscle development. It does provide my upper body with strength and conditioning, but without having to lift weights, something that could indeed build excessive muscle mass.
I appreciate this approach to swimming may not get me any faster in the pool, but swimming is not my main interest, and I feel its important that any swim session must not detract from the quality of any other run I may be doing that day. It is simply to allow me to achieve more cardio workouts, adheres to my approach of active recovery through maintaining a good flow of blood to the legs and can allow me to continue to train and maintain a reasonable level of fitness even when I may be carrying a leg injury.
I imagine that post London I’ll hit the pool pretty frequently until my legs fully recover, after which I’ll revert back to my typical training schedule.
I appreciate that swimming may not be for everyone, but if you find your legs are hurting, or you feel you need a little more strength in your upper body, then why not give it a go.