> But I have never competed in swimming, and don't really have any
>idea how to set up workouts and/or keep them interesting and beneficial.
>I've been told that it would be good to join a master's program, but with
>no experience whatsoever, I didn't know if that was such a good idea.
>I know it's kind of a broad question, but could someone give me advice on
>how to approach the swim training? Thanks!
I second the motion to get in a Masters swim program. Unless it's run by
some kind of body Nazi, you'll be made to feel welcome. You will almost
certainly swim in a lane with other people who are at your swimming
ability level, and get workouts proportional to your skill and fitness.
If this isn't a possibility, then maybe the following rules of thumb (or
ROTs, as in "I'm dishing out more ROT here") could be used.
1. You've got probably less than 2 months to get ready, so practice the
skills you'll need. Try to get in a couple of open water swims so that
you get used to swimming a roughly straight line without a line on the
bottom ;-). Practice raising your head every fourth or fifth arm cycle
(or whatever frequency you need) and take your bearing from landmarks on
the shore, or on anchored buoys, or whatever). Also find out what
goggles work out for you in open water. If you're really intense,
you can even practice a swim to bike transition on these training
2. Practice first to achieve the distance necessary for the race, if you
aren't already confident of doing a non-stop 1/2 mile. Do this by
simply always getting in at least a half-mile in your workout, but don't
take that to mean grinding out a straight half-mile every time you get
in the pool. Do a non-stop half-mile no more than once per week.
3. More than most other sports, swim training makes use of intervals.
The workout is broken into many sets of varying distances, with varying
amounts of rest. A very simple set for someone working on a 1/2 mile
distance might be 20 x 50yd on 1:00 (translation: do twenty swims of
fifty yards each, taking 1 minute for each fifty yard swim (including
rest).) Personally, I *like* to break long distances into very short
chunks, like 50yd, and take short rests (this is usually called a
"broken swim" or "broken set"). So I would set my time interval such
that I'd have to work a bit to get a mere 5 to 10 seconds rest. The
early swims in this type of set feel easy, but you should be fatigued
by the end. This also lets you swim at what you hope is your "race pace",
or the speed you hope to maintain on race day.
4. Do a few non-stop swims of greater than 1/2 mile--up to a mile. Things
happen in a race: the course is incorrectly measured, you swim off-
course, you swim towards a buoy only to find out that it's an orange-
sailed windsurfer but your goggles were too foggy to distinguish it at
a distance. Again, you just want to be confident that you can handle
There are many, many more things to be said, but I'd still go with your
first choice of finding a Masters group. Failing that, you can try to
talk to an age-group coach to see if you could suck along in some of their
workouts (sometimes a small "coaching fee" can be a worthwhile investment).
"Usual disclaimers: blame me, not the company that keeps me."