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Swimming and 10k: two words most people don’t expect to find in the same sentence. For new runners, the 10k distance is often the first milestone on the road to long-distance runs such as the half or full marathon. For swimmers, the 10k usually doesn’t enter conversation. There is a famous 10k swim in San Francisco that starts at the Golden Gate Bridge and ends at the Bay Bridge, but famous is relative: even that swim attracts fewer than 50 participants every year.

Roughly 4000m into my 10k swim.

Roughly 4000m into my 10k swim.

Spending time on the sidelines has left me searching for new challenges that I could pursue while my running goals are temporarily on hold. I’ve been toying with the idea of a double century bike ride this summer – 200 miles, and I’ve spoken to a couple friends about doing a relay swim across Lake Tahoe sans-wetsuits. I was reading Triathlete magazine last week and came across something known as the “birthday” swim set – a 100x100m workout in the pool. When I read about it, I decided that I would go for it first chance I had, and went to the pool on Saturday with only one goal in mind.

This was uncharted territory for me – although I regularly swim between 3-5 miles per week, my longest swim before Saturday was 5k (3.1 miles). Instead of treating it as a 10k swim, I decided to break it into 10×100 chunks, and brought more than enough fuel and water to top off my reserves after every set of 10.

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Knowing that I would likely find myself in a very unfamiliar place after 6000m, I went easy for the first 5000m and made it a point to drink and eat as much as possible; I preferred a full stomach over a bonk. The laps ticked away, and the fuel actually propelled me much more than I expected for the first 6500m. By the time I hit 6500m, I felt fatigue that I’ve never felt before – my forearms, deltoids, and triceps were burning between the swim, my use of crutches, and the resistance work I’ve been doing recently.

By the time I hit 7000m, it felt very similar to turning the corner for the last few miles of the marathon – I only had my “normal” swim workout to go. The hardest stretch was undoubtedly 6400m-8000m – miles 4-5, where I simply had no reference point. I toughed out the last 2000m and watched my Garmin tick from 9975m to 10.00km – a sight I probably won’t witness again anytime soon. I hit the 10k mark at just over 2:30 elapsed.

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Although the idea of swimming 10k in a pool may sound crazy, I would take it over sitting for 6 weeks any day. It was a good way to gauge my endurance after spending 6 weeks on the sidelines, and logging a tough workout without using my legs felt very gratifying. I can’t say that I’ll be swimming another 10k anytime soon, but if I need to get creative while I’m on the sidelines, at least I have options.