Notes: though this post is geared toward Central Ohio triathletes, the message is one to consider regardless of where you live. For more context, I have also previously posted about not swimming in pools even if they open in your area.
I recently saw there is an e.coli warning for Alum Creek in Columbus, Ohio. For central Ohio athletes, Alum Creek is one of the only open water swim spots available. Alum Creek and the Delaware Reservoir (the other option) have notoriously contaminated water. It comes as no shock to hear this, especially after such heavy rains in the region. I have also seen panic and despair from athletes on social media worrying that they will not be able to get their planned swims in because of the e.coli.
I have previously advised my athletes not to swim, even if pools are open or do reopen. I am also telling them not to open water swim. Without the consistent progressive load of swimming 4-5 times per week, there is zero* reason to incorporate a swim session into your training program. Swimming twice a week might be nice and fun, but there is little to be gained from spending that time in the water versus spending it on your bike or run.
“But what about just keeping a feel for the water?”
“What about it being a good for recovery?”
“I miss swimming! I just want to swim”
I get it, and if anyone wants to jump into the water, it is this author. To have any serious fitness, speed, or strength improvement in the water you need the consistency, load, and volume. The only way to get that in Central Ohio (given that pools have already been nixed) is Alum Creek or the Delaware Reservoir. That means swimming 4-5 times per week in likely contaminated water. As a coach, I simply cannot advise this. As an athlete, I certainly would not choose to put my health at risk either.
I am not going to be popular for my next statement: There will be no races in 2020. Without a vaccine available that is widely distributed or a proven effective treatment for Covid-19, I simply cannot see it happening.
So, athletes, instead of worrying about getting into open water and keeping your “fitness” up, get on a trainer and become a monster on the bike. Train your running with intention and focus – work on what you need to in order to develop yourself into a more competent athlete in these two disciplines. Use stretch cords —correctly!** Trail run. Hike. Do strength exercises at your home with bands, an at home pull up bar, or rings. Hell, walk around your neighborhood.
Those athletes who adapt to the current situation will improve upon the disciplines where training is safe and will exit the crisis at a higher level. And guess what – if you take the time and energy to build your strength and speed on the bike and run, when you do jump back into the pool, your bike and run will not suffer.
My athletes are coming for the age groupers who are currently distracted with nonsense volume, unfocused plans, and who are treating our current situation like any other summer. When racing returns, those distracted will be left in my squad’s slipstream. Be bold enough to accept today’s reality. Let others wait for tomorrow. Those that commit to smart, intentional training will be rewarded when start lines come back around.
*A one off session in clean open water for fun and pleasure could make sense, but the intention is not to improve fitness or develop any sort of meaningful adaptations.
**Using stretch cords does not replace a swim workout. Stretch cords are a way to improve neuromuscular activation and patterning, while improving strength through a range of motion that is very similar to swimming. Make sure you have a coach who can show you how to use the cords properly! You should have a FaceTime or video chat with your coach or have your coach review a video of you using the cords to ensure you’re doing them correctly.