Training for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

In less than 4 weeks I will be swimming across the Chesapeake Bay, in the great state of Maryland (Fear the Turtle!) in the US.  The Great Bay Swim is a 4.4 mile challenge, crossing from one side of the Chesapeake Bay to the other.  Traffic is closed, the event is run with the assistance of the US Coast Guard, and about 800 swimmers set off to cross the bay between the two spans of the bridge.

4.4 miles.  That is 7km. 

When I did the Swimathon in early April, that marked the beginning of my Great Bay Swim training.  I said at the time that the distance does not scare me.  But oddly, as time has flown by and I’ve been squeezing in my training, I am starting to freak out.  I mean, this is the CHESAPEAKE BAY.  And I will be crossing it.  Not in a boat, but with my two arms.  Pulling myself across 7km.  Holy cow.

To get myself ready for the swim I have stepped up my training.  I normally swim two times a week for a total distance of about 5k.  I have doubled that.  I am now swimming three times a week: one fitness swim geared towards triathlon (on Saturdays with my Coach); one long distance swim set (about 5k distance); and one endurance speed set (about 3k distance).

I have also joined in a Twitter challenge to swim 50k in May.  When I first joined this challenge, started by Jevon O’Neill, I had every confidence that I would meet the mark.  I am aiming high, swimming for the big 50, but one little thing is making my ramped up training and higher swim volumes a challenge: work.

How to Swim Train with Work Travel

The month of May has brought not only the start of the open water swim season in the UK (hooray!) but it has also brought with it my return to intensive international travel.  I work as a negotiator (not a lawyer but a commercial person, a market developer so to speak) for a major company, and my remit is global.  We are in a period of intense development in my industry, with lots of projects being launched or getting ready for final investment decisions.  This means that I am on the road a lot at the moment.  In May I will be travelling to Hong Kong, Moscow, and Tokyo. 

And on the personal side, we are spending two weekends in May out of town in Suffolk to focus on cycling as DH is preparing for his first 70.3 triathlon (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) – you can read more about our Suffolk Sunrise 100k ride here.

So fitting in my swimming is a challenge.  But it is also fun to figure out how to make the puzzle come together.  And it involves getting to know new pools!

Here are 7 tips I am using as I travel during the most intensive period of time for my Bay Swim training.  The tips are swim specific but I guess applicable to many sports, especially endurance challenges.

Tip #1: When you are on a business trip, make sure to stay in a hotel with a pool

Last week I stayed at the Peninsula Hong Kong.  It is a gorgeous hotel.  With a gorgeous pool.

Image from

Always look up in advance what type of facilities your hotel has when it comes to fitness.  I knew the Peninsula had an 18m pool.  This would be adequate for doing a swim while travelling, although not optimal.  So I made sure I had goggles and a swimsuit in my bag.

Tip #2:  Decide what training to do based on the time you have available

I knew my travel schedule was hectic, with lots of meetings, internal and external.  I also knew that my work culture means that our down time is spent with work colleagues – meaning that I would have very few windows of time to fit in a workout.  So I knew that I would be able to take about 1 hour max, when I first arrived, to squeeze in a swim.

Seeing as I would be straight off an overnight long haul flight, I knew that my heart rate would be higher than normal and I would be physically tired from the travel.  So I decided to do one longish swim set, just to get my blood flowing and to be active and to clock some time swimming.

I decided to do 1 x 1800m.  At a relaxed pace.  If I had more time, I would have added another set of 1800m.  This was a do-able set, it was ok to count to 100 in the pool, and I felt little pressure from the set as I had decided to swim at an easy pace, just to swim.

Tip #3:  Visualise your race / what you are training for when swimming

Seeing as I was swimming a lot of lengths in a small pool, I got in and decided that I would spend my time focusing not only on my stroke (easy pace so it’s easy to focus on various stroke elements) but also to start the process of visualising my goal swim.

I used the various elements of the pool to help me with this process.

Ladders make a great obstacle to smash your hands into, simulating a swim start or battle for position with people…

Water features also mimic the churn that can happen at a swim start, or any rain that might happen on the day.  I swam under this 100 times to get used to having my goggles knocked around.

And a lack of lines at the bottom of the pool is perfect for practicing siting and the form for swimming in a straight line.  Isn’t this blue tile stunning?  It also made me contemplate whether or not my shower would look good tiled like this!

Tip #4: Know the locations of the swimming pools in case you do have free time

One suggestion my coach made to me was to research the location of pools before leaving for my trips, and to map out the routes from my hotel to the closest long course (50m) pool.  That way if I would happen to have an unexpected window of time open up, and if I could get away from my work colleagues, I could fit in one of my longer training sessions.  I think this is a great idea.

Victoria pointed me in the direction of The Swimmer’s Guide global pool guide which is fantastic for finding pools in any country and city.

Tip #5: If you can’t fit a swim in, work on core or strength

A swim, especially the distances I am doing in training, requires time.  And time is not always a friend when it comes to work travel – schedules dictated by others, lots of social commitments in the mix, you get the picture.

When time is not my friend, I try to relax and remember that although I may not be able to hit my swim sessions as I had planned, I can always fit in a core strength session.  I use The Regimen which is a streaming fitness programme, and perfect for my travels.  The workouts are between 30 and 40 minutes in length, and help with total body fitness.

In the absence of functioning internet, I also have a battery of rehabilitative work for my shoulders (now THAT is the subject for another post –  let’s just say I have learned a lot about my body by ramping up my swimming for the Bay Swim!) that I can do, which does not require much time or any equipment.  I can also always do stretching on my arms, as keeping my pectoral muscles loose is proving to be quite important for my swimming and shoulder health.

Tip #6: Make sure you have a support structure

I have always said that the key to my success is feeling like I have surrounded myself with a team.  This is true in the physical sense – I have a coach, see a sports therapist, work with my doctors and physiotherapists at the National Hospital for Neurology, and I have friends who are integral to me and my sanity when it comes to training for these crazy things.  And it is also true in the virtual sense.

For the Bay Swim, I have also tapped into a virtual support structure.  Through Twitter I have been lucky enough to meet Amy Reinink, a DC based sports writer, runner and swimmer.  Amy and I have been swapping training tips for the Bay Swim for ages (as well as other stretching and physiotherapy ideas and exercises).  I know I can always tweet Amy a message when I am feeling down or overwhelmed, and she is always there to pick me up with a little comment or message of encouragement.  Whether she knew it before or not, Amy is a part of my virtual team for the Bay Swim, and I can’t wait to meet her in June to thank her for all of her friendship and support!

Tip #7: Stay Positive

Perhaps the most important tip is Tip #7…  I try to remember that even if I can’t fit in all of my training, I will still be able to do the swim.  I know that I am capable, and it may not be pretty, but I know that I can do this. 

I know that that cultivating a positive mindset is critical to my success in tough endurance challenges.  And I can work on my positive mindset anytime, anyplace – on long flights, before bed, in showers, over breakfast, you name it…


One response to “Training for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim”

  1. These are such terrific tips for fitting swim training into a full life packed with lots of wonderful non-swim activities…and I’m not just saying that because of the nice shout-out! I can’t tell you how much following YOUR training has boosted my own … can’t wait to meet in person at the swim, which we are gonna blow out of the water!

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