Staff Blog: Training for a 5k swim

The aim of this blog is to record the process of training for the 5K Swimathon challenge and hopefully inspire as many people as possible to take the plunge and make swimming a regular part of their life. 


Working for Freedom Leisure it is hard to not be inspired to get into regular exercise. Running is very popular in the team I work in, so much so that “Run Club” is an actual thing! Therefore there is always talk of running routes, track sessions, times of segments, average pace and meticulous planning of lunchtime runs.

I have run in the past but I have never fully embraced it (as I have always picked up and injury at some point) and when running with others you feel pressured to run at their pace, so I was unsure, but wanted to get into some sort of regular exercise – which Freedom Leisure actively encourage and support all staff to do.

I used to swim a lot when I was younger; 2-3 times a week for a swimming club but as I got older I lost interest and it no longer became a regular activity. Also, with swimming the risk of injury is minimal, and for me it still feels fairly natural and you are in your own world once you are in the water so can go at the pace you feel comfortable with.

So when details of the Swimathon 5K challenge emerged it felt the perfect goal to work towards and something to motivate me to get back into the pool. This year’s Swimathon has a corporate element to so I am also swimming for the Freedom leisure league table – plus to add an element of fun, the MD of Freedom Leisure has challenged all staff to try and beat his time, those who succeed get to set him a day of work!

So with all this in mind I took the plunge and started swimming!

weeks 1 - 4

My first training swim at King Alfred Leisure Centre was a relaxed Saturday afternoon 30 minutes session with a few short rests. It felt like I had an okay workout but I was plagued with foggy goggles meaning I couldn’t see more than metre in front of me! My session was cut short when my goggles eventually gave up the ghost with a broken strap! I managed to swim 1200m (48 x 25m lengths) in about half an hour; a steady start – for those reading this who may just be starting out, remember I swam at a competitive level when I was younger!

The rest of the week then passed by without any other swims but listening to “Run Club” discussions in the office about times, splits and scheduling of runs for particular days, I realised I needed a plan a schedule too, and to also try and record some stats to motivate me and enable me to track my progress!

So firstly, I decided that I needed to schedule swims into my weekly routine. I wanted to aim for 3-4 swims a week – I understand from reading training plan that a minimum of three times a week is ideal, however for those who don’t have an event deadline in mind and are just looking to improve their swimming, constancy will pay.

Secondly, I needed some gear! Top of the list was obviously a new pair of goggles! I picked up a pair of Vorgee Vortech Max Clear lens. Wow! What a difference they made to my sessions – because they fitted well they didn’t leak while the curved lens with “anti-fog injection” gave a wide angle view – and best of all they didn’t fog up! They certainly made swimming much more enjoyable. I also wanted to be able to monitor my training so I got a fitness tracker that works in tandem with a smartphone – I opted for a Moov Now as it was affordable and is recommended for swimmers. I found the act of logging my swim, monitoring my time in the pool and progress were a great motivator.

Over the coming weeks I built up my swims until they regularly consisted of three swims up to 1500m (60 x 25m lengths) in 32 minutes. A small amount of progress and I definitely found swimming much more enjoyable and felt it was now a regular part of my life.

Vorgee Vorgtech Max Clear lens
Withdean gym

Weeks 5 - 8

Swimming 5k is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge. Having to swim 200 lengths in a 25m pool is undoubtedly tough physically but arguably the mental challenge of being in the pool for a significant amount of time with no real interaction with people or your surrounding is the tougher challenge. Inevitably you are going to find it hard going at times and risk giving up through sheer boredom.

To supplement my swimming and mix up the training I arranged for a Personal Training session at Withdean Sports Complex. Dom created a great programme that worked on the muscle groups that are used in swimming. The workout included:

  • 500m SkiErg
  • Kettle bell swings
  • Walking lunges
  • Planks
  • GRX pull ups
  • Woodchoppers
  • Kneeling shoulder presses

I really felt this the day after with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)! The aim was to fit the gym in twice a week and it only took up 30 minutes. Doing this for a couple of weeks I really felt the difference swimming. I was now feeling stronger in the pool and the times were reflecting this.

I was now consistently swimming 1500 metres in under half an hour.  My final aim for to regularly do a longer distance swim each week. I gave myself one hour to see how far I could swim – I managed 3200 metres. Overall I was very happy with my progress but was spurred on to get even better as I was feeling great, enjoying the swims, and had lost 2kg (an added bonus!). Swimming is addictive!

Weeks 9-12

I am now nearing the end of my training and everything is fitting into place nicely. My swim times are gradually coming down and I am feeling fitter and more confident about completing the event in a competitive time. Based on my progress and longer swims I have done as part of the training regime I am feeling confident I can manage to complete the event in 1 hour 30 minutes.

However, when training for sport it is rare that everything goes to plan. It happens to me in week 10 after a particularly intense gym session where I feel something twinge in my lower back whilst doing kettlebell swings. After a poor night’s sleep where I have to take some painkillers, I wake up the next morning and cannot move! A swim is out of the question as I cannot even move my arms above my shoulders. In the end I am forced to have a week off with no swimming.

This is a frustrating time as I probably was nearing my peak and not being able to do anything for a week is mentally tough. Doubts start to form as I worry that all these weeks of hard work will be for nothing and there are questions in my mind as to whether my back will hold me back on the day of the Swimathon.

Eventually my back recovers and I start cautiously swimming again. I do hold back in the next few pool sessions and stay away from the gym. It also gives me a chance to work on my arms using a pullbuoy. This is a great way to build up power and improve stability in the water. I also want to try a new pair of goggles from Vorgee. They are more streamlined and low profile for longer swims, I opt for the Vorgee Stealth Mk II and am not disappointed.

I complete the last few training swims with no setbacks and I feel as ready as I am ever going to be. I just want to complete the event now! I start to feel the nerves and excitement building a couple of days before the big day!

pull buoy