4 Ways Swimming Has Helped My Running

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This form of cross-training brings some surprising benefits.

FRIDAY, JULY 14, 2017, 11:05 AM

The other day, I walked into the locker room and a friend asked, “Did you just go swimming?”I hadn’t. It just looked that way, because my shorts and shirt were sopped, soaked, and slogged from a run in the Florida humidity. But he wouldn’t have been too far off, because for the past five or six weeks, I’ve swapped in a couple lunch hours for lap hours to complement my running.
My training (current goal: 5K PR in the fall) has been going better than I expected—my times have been dropping in my track and tempo workouts, I’ve been lifting two or three days a week, swimming two or three days a week, and trying to squeeze in a spin class or a hoops game if I can. This sweaty smorgasbord may not be the perfect equation for faster times, but I like it—and it seems to be helping.

I love the mix of exercise, but I’m especially digging my Monday through Wednesday sandwich workout: run in the morning, swim at lunch (actual work is the meat in the middle).

I know swimming isn’t for everyone, and many runners would rather sport seven bloody toe blisters than swim back-and-forth umpteen times. But through my always-foggy goggles, I’m seeing some upside beyond the conditioning benefits. Specifically:

Reminders about the importance of form: In the water, form can be just as much of a difference maker between speeding up or slowing down. Eyes down, elbows up, rotate torso, breathing rhythm. Sure, the body position is different between horizontal and vertical training, but swimming has nudged me to think more about little body changes that can help on the road.

Mental stamina: A couple weeks ago, I did a two-mile swim. When you poke through the water like I do, that distance takes a loooong time. That’s many, many minutes of looking down at a black line—no music, no scenery, nothing but your mind numbly counting wall touches. I feel like that has helped me hang on for longer during tough runs.

Hunger management: On the scale of knowing when I’m the hungriest, “after a swim” ranks pretty high. (Probably right after “all the freaking time.”) But during this stretch of training, I’ve consciously told myself I don’t need to eat right after swimming—and that’s helped me stay disciplined when my Pavlovian response is to justify a lot of calories just because I ran.

A Much-Needed Push: One day, I was sharing a lane with a guy who was swimming at a good clip. On my last 50-meter lap, I decided that I was going to try to stay with him when he passed me. When he came up on me with about 35 meters to go, I cranked as hard as I could. I stayed on his hip, and he eventually pulled away.

When you run alone as often as I do, you sometimes miss that extra push that comes from even artificial competition. The lap lane—if only for a few dozen meters—gave me that. And I will take that straight back to the track.

Ted Spiker usually does not have a sandwich after his sandwich workout, but if he did, he would like it to be corned beef with onions. You can follow him at @ProfSpiker on TwitterInstagram, and Snapchat.