Conquering Alcatraz, from novice to ocean swimmer

Athlete Performance Profile: Stuart Nelson


From novice swimmer to top quartile finisher at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, how did he do it?


• Focus on the end goal: complete a challenging, cold ocean swim.

• Develop sound technique that will hold up in rough conditions.

• Practice in open water, a lot.

• Maintain consistent training habits.


An analysis of swim workouts from Stuart's Training Peaks log showed the following:

Total of 47 swim workouts over an 11 month period. Typically this consisted of 2 swims per week when training, but an average of only 1 swim per week over the course of a year when allowing for holidays, work commitments etc. This is not a huge volume, but it was focused, and the sessions were targeted and appropriate. Stuart also attended an open water swim clinic with Ten West Triathlon to establish an initial level of competence.


Technique drills accounted for 40% of all training time, with 26% spent in open water, either racing or training. Swimming is a technique sport and the drills reinforced the need for streamlining and stroke efficiency. Many of the drills will be familiar to regular swimmers – nothing exotic here. Just lots of them. Open water practice ensured a familiarity with wind, waves, currents, weather and all the attendant differences compared to pool swimming. Stuart managed to make a trip to California for some open water practice in the ocean, several weeks before the Alcatraz swim. That greatly reduced stress and fear on race day.


Average swim distance for a training session was 1500m, with only two swims longer than 2000m. There were no epic distance workouts. The message is that athletes should train for the race distance, it’s not necessary to go super long when there are competing claims on athlete’s time and energy.


Workout Type % of Training sessions

Technique Drills 40%

Intervals 23%

Open Water 26%

EZ Swim 11%





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