The 10K world champion shares his tried-and-true methods for open water training
You might think California resident Jordan Wilimovsky would swim almost every day in the Pacific Ocean or a similar body of water in his quest to stand on the podium at this year’s Olympics in the 10-kilometer swim. But the Malibu native and four-time World Championship medalist says the best training for marathon swimmers takes place in chlorinated waters, a philosophy that most all elite open water swimmers practice.
“It’s easier to train in the pool to quantify distance and time, and push yourself when you see a clock,” Wilimovsky says. “Then, when we get to the actual venue, we will swim on the course a couple of days so we know how the course is and where we can sight.”
Wilimovsky has been a staple in open water racing since he tried longer races while competing at Northwestern University. That led to a gold medal in the 10K at the 2015 World Championships and a place on the American team headed to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. There, he placed fifth in the 10K swim and fourth in the 1500-meter pool race, becoming the first American to compete in the pool and open water at the same Olympics since the 10K joined the Olympic program in 2008.
Wilimovsky’s training doesn’t change when he shifts his focus from the 10K to the 1500. He averages 7,000 meters per workout for a total of 70,000 meters each week. The various shifts in training during the pandemic caused Wilimovsky to swim alone often, something that he agrees is not easy for a long-distance swimmer. But he always has a plan to escape the boredom of the seemingly endless miles of swimming.
“I pick something to work on and focus on that,” he says. “For example, if you’re working on negative splitting, you’re trying to focus on the smaller swim within the bigger swim. You can also work on some aspect of your stroke. I’ve been working on keeping my left arm wider, which is an example of a small thing to work on while doing a longer swim.”
Most open water athletes delight in the uncertainty that each race course will bring, something that isn’t necessarily true for those racing in the pool. Wilimovsky says he doesn’t change anything about his race strategy unless his scoping out the course beforehand persuades him to do something different.
“You have to have your own race plan and incorporate it into that specific course,” he says. “If you’re swimming a 5K or a 10K and you swim better on the back half, you pick which lap [around the course] you’re going to make your move on. I don’t really like to spend so much time on my competitors, but it’s nice to know what they’re doing and who’s swimming the race. You can get an idea from racing people a lot what their strategies are.”
- Open Water