How to plan your Swim Marathon Challenge

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This Autumn, WaterAid are inviting you to dive into their brand new event, Swim Marathon.

From September, complete a full or half marathon challenge over 12 weeks in your local pool or open water swim spot, raising funds for the 1 in 10 people in the world who don’t have clean water close to home.


A marathon – 26 miles or 42.2km – is a long way to swim, but swimmers are adept at taking big goals (see the September issue of Outdoor Swimmer magazine for more on tackling big challenges) and breaking them down into small, bite-sized chunks. For example, in an English Chanel solo, you swim to your next feed. In ice swimming, you swim 10 more strokes. To complete the Swim Marathon in 12 weeks, just take it one swim at a time.

There are two main ways you can break a 42.2km swim into manageable swims over several weeks. The first option, which we recommend for people who already swim regularly, is to set a weekly target of the same distance each week and each session and space the distance out evenly (see Table 1). The second option is better if you haven’t been swimming regularly, starting from a small amount at the beginning and build up over time as your fitness improves (see Table 2).

It’s (we think) important to have a rest day regularly if you’re swimming and accumulating distance. We therefore suggest a maximum of six swims per week.

Table 1 – Even distance each week and each session (suitable for regular swimmers)

Swim Marathon Plan 1

Table 2: Building distance each week (better for new swimmers)

Swim Marathon Plan 2

Where to swim

As an outdoor swimming magazine, we love swimming outdoors – in lakes, lidos, rivers, and the sea, but with temperatures starting to drop, a warm swimming pool beckons for swims over a certain time or distance.

Autumn brings with it brilliant light and beautiful colours, but also a change of conditions at outdoor swimming spots which might make swimming long distances difficult as a result of temperature or increased water flow. Our safety advice has some tips for how to assess a swim’s feasibility, and always swim within your capability, swimming with experienced locals if you visit new swim spots.

Outdoor swimming at organised venues can offer more stability of conditions than rivers or the sea. However, with the water temperature starting to decrease and the days shortening, venues are reducing their opening hours and many will soon close.

Ultimately, swim where you are comfortable and can work towards the challenge you set yourself.


Outdoor Swimmer’s top tips for making WaterAid’s Swim Marathon fun and achievable

1. Make the swim challenge an adventure

We outdoor swimmers like doing different things – seeing new places, meeting new people. When your swim is an adventure, the distance just seems to disappear.

Here are some options to make the swim challenge an adventure:

· Swim 1km in 42 different places – (maybe do any outdoors swims first before the water temperature drops too much). Or, swim a mile in 26 different places

· Swim 1km every day for 42 days (or 1 mile for 26 days) – in the same spot and diary how it changes.

· Swim with a different person for every swim.

2. Be realistic

The general rule of thumb is that you can increase distance by 10% per week from what you’ve previously been comfortable swimming. Be kind to yourself and don’t try to do too much too soon. Start where you can, and finish where you do.

3. Make a plan, write it down, put it in your calendar

Despite best intentions, it can be easy to miss a session when work, family, friends, and need for sleep stack up. If you are aiming to swim three times a week (for example) decide which days and times you will swim and try to stick to them. Our bodies get into the rhythm of exercise. Also, family and friends can plan around your training schedules.

4. Book the swim sessions as far in advance as you can.

One of the benefits of post-covid swimming is that you can pre-book swim slots at pools, lidos and venues. While it can be frustrating to only be able to swim at that allotted time – it can be motivational, having committed to it and usually paid for it, which can help you to turn up.

5. Tell other people you’re doing it and get sponsored

Obviously, if you want to raise funds, you need to tell people what you’re doing and why. But telling people also helps with your commitment because once you’ve told people about it, they can help keep you accountable. Why not also invite them to swim a session or two with you too and make it a social occasion?

01 Cover November

Issue 43 November 2020

  • The Ice Man - meeting Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof
  • Cold water swimming - why do it, how, and what are the benefits?
  • Our new monthly columnist, Sarah Thomas
  • Olympian Keri-anne Payne on how to make the most of limited pool sessions
  • Elaine Howley on the first Asian woman to swim the Channel, Arati Sah

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