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March 1, 2003

Workouts for swimmers who want to prepare for longer distance events

This is a sampling of workout sets from Marcia Cleveland for those who want to do long workouts in preparation for longer distance events. She's a veteran of many open water swims, including a solo crossing of the English Channel in 1994. Her Dover Solo book and website provide lots of information for open water swimmers.

Cleveland says: "Pick and choose as you wish. Modify wherever you want. Intervals are up to you. Mine are only suggestions. The fewer breaks you take between sets, the better for you. A water bottle (with carbo drink?) is a good poolside idea. Overall idea is to hold or progress pace. Open turns are completely OK. Swim-downs afterwards are important even though the first part of most sets can be used as warm-ups. I threw in a couple of sprint sets because speed is important too. You don't have to do all of this in one day."

Set of 200s 

  • 4 or 6 x [5 x 200s]

Odd sets: #1 on 2:45 / #3 on 2:40 / #4 on 2:35
Even sets: All on 2:30

Use the first set as warm-up. Go right into each set (no breaks). If you only do four sets, start at the even interval + :10. Six sets = 6000 yards, time 78 minutes. Four sets = 4000 yards, time 52 minutes.


  • 100-200-300-400-500-600-700-800-900-1000

Interval = 1:20 per 100. Try to hold the same pace throughout. Distance is 5500 yards. Total completion time 73:20.

Beat the Tide

  • 4 x 2000s

Interval: 25:00 (24:00 is 1:15 per 100 pace). Total completion time 1:40. Hold even pace or descend. #4 can be swum as 4 x 500s, easy/super-duper fast "Beat the Tide pace." This is a good set on its own. Total distance = 8000. Total time = 1:40:00.

To "Beat the Tide," force yourself to swim faster at the end of long, challenging sets, no matter how tired you are. This is a term invented by Cleveland when she was training to swim the English Channel. She knew that she might have to swim much faster at the end when she was cold and tired in order to beat the outgoing tide.

Consecutive Swimming

Straight swims of 5000, 6000, or 7000 yards. Do them often and keep track of pace. Try to be in same or better ballpark over time (i.e., months). Do open turns if you want. It's a lot easier on your lower back if you are doing 280 laps in a row.

Long Pool Swims

Swims of three to four hours or more. Should be done with friends.

Note that it is important to bring food to feed from every half hour or so. This is a good opportunity to experiment with foods: what works/stays down and what doesn't. It's really helpful to have a friend or two (they can work in shifts) sitting poolside (reading a magazine, etc.) to note the elapsed time and feed time. Clocks should be turned off/out of view. Pacers are OK, but this is not a party. The swimmer is to swim constantly for the whole time. It is very boring and forces the swimmer to give up control but it is excellent mental practice. Afterwards, the swimmer gets at least two desserts.

Set of 800s

  • 2 x (4 x 800s)

#1: 8 x 100s 1:20, descend 1-4, 5-8
#2: 4 x 200s 2:45, Ez/Fst/Ez/Fst+
#3: 2 x 400s 5:30, Ez/Fst
#4: straight, neg split
6400 yards, total time almost 90 minutes


  • 2 or 3 x (1 x 400, 2 x 300s, 3 x 200s, 4 x 100s) all at 1:20 per 100. 

Progress the pace for each segment. Two sets: 4000 yards, total time: 60 minutes. Three sets: 6000 yards, total time: 90 minutes. 

Descending Ladder

  • 100 Ez/500 neg split/100 Ez/10 x 50s :45 pace
  • 100 Ez/400 neg split/100 Ez/8 x 50s :45 pace
  • 100 Ez/300 neg split/100 Ez/6 x 50s :45 Fst+
  • 100 Ez/200 neg split/100 Ez/4 x 50s :45 Fst+
  • 100 Ez/100 neg split/100 Ez/2 x 50s :45 Fst+ 
4000 yards, time about 60 minutes


  • Open Water


  • Training
  • Open Water