Can Swimming Help Running?

First Park Run of the year. Not a bad run, but not a PB either. Also, my watch is always off my a couple hundred meters.

First Park Run of the year. Not a bad run, but not a PB either. Also, my watch is always off by a couple hundred meters.

Recently, my husband has taken a keen interest in triathlons. In addition to running, he bought a road bike and cycles frequently. He’s started swimming regularly and has signed up for two triathlons this year. This past weekend, we went to our first Park Run of the year. The goal was to simply set the benchmark; see where we’re at, and how hard we will have to train to meet our goals. I finished in 26:18, about 30 seconds off my PB, but Graham absolutely crushed it. 24:09, a PB for him by nearly TWO MINUTES. He hasn’t even been running all that much lately, and we haven’t run a fast 5K since November. I almost always beat him in our 2015 Park Runs and not only could I not catch him this time, I literally couldn’t even see him ahead of me. Naturally, I accused him of taking performance enhancing drugs.

Equally as stunned as I was, we both started debating the secret to his newfound success. It clearly wasn’t more running. While he has adjusted his form following a lesson from his uncle a few weeks ago, without regular practice, we questioned whether that alone would cause such a marked improvement. We eventually decided that it had to be swimming. He swims regularly, and actually took lessons recently to improve form and after some quick internet research about swimming and running, we discovered the two sports are very complementary.

Swimming can increase your v02 max, which has a significant impact on running. This is probably the most misunderstood term in athletics and I’m certainly no expert, but I think I can easily explain it by saying it is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. As a runner, it is one way to measure your fitness level. It’s also the reason why two people can have massively different results despite training similarly. One has a higher v02 max than the other.

If your v02 max sucks, swimming is a great way to improve. In addition to being easy on joints and giving weary legs a break from all that pavement, it helps increase endurance and oxygen capacity. It’s also just a super hard work out and a great form of cross-training. Having embarked on my first few swims lately, I was surprised by how incredibly difficult it is. How in the hell can I run 42.2 kilometers without stopping but I can’t swim a few hundred meters without gasping for air and needing a break?!

I have been avoiding the pool because I’m used to being good at things at the gym. I don’t like it because it makes me feel like an amateur. But witnessing the incredible power swimming seems to have on running ability, I’m more motivated to get back in the pool. Wish me luck.

Do you swim? Do you find it helps running?

Subtle tights.

Subtle tights.



  1. Kathy January 21, 2016 / 10:58 am

    Your post was very timely, as I am about to start swimming again this winter. I am a slow swimmer, but was able to make it up to 500m fairly quickly. I was considering signing up for a tri-a-tri last summer, with a 400m open water swim, 10km bike and 2.5km run. However, I was not confident with the swim part, so backed out of the race, and stuck with running races only. I didn’t notice the swimming improved the running, as I was trying to take a break from running at the time due to heel and arch pain, but I did noticing my breathing improved the more I swam (and very quickly). I think I will take your lead and try a biking and running race first!

    • Miranda January 23, 2016 / 8:17 am

      The swimming part is definitely the most intimidating part of a triathlon! A duathlon is a nice in-between place to start. Glad I could inspire you to get back in the pool again… though admittedly, I haven’t swam once since I wrote this post! Eeek. 🙂

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