Running and Swimming

I often think about just how similar running and swimming are in terms of sports. At the outset they’re very different; one is on land and the other is in water. As someone who has spent time dedicated to each sport individually, as I delve deeper into “being a runner,” I notice more and more similarities.


For those of you new to the party, before becoming a runner I swam for 10 years. It started innocently enough; we moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey, and for the first time we had easy access to public pools. I spent my summers up until that point cooling off with fire hydrant water. So naturally out of fear for my own safety my mom and dad signed me up for swimming lessons, and I rocked those bad boys. But by the time I was 11, I had outgrown swim lessons and it was either time to join the team, or find a new sport. So with intense hesitation, I joined the local YMCA team. Fast forward 10 years and I found myself graduating from The University of Scranton, having swum and lettered all four years in high school and college, with a few records and championships under my belt. It was natural I picked up running, right?

2007 University of Scranton Women's Team in Puerto Rico... can you spot me?!
2007 Women’s Team in Puerto Rico… can you spot me?!

Well from the outside, someone may say no, that swimming and running don’t go hand in hand (unless of course it’s swimming as rehab for running). But if you take a quick poll of runners, I think you’ll be shocked to find many of them have spent some quality, non-injury time in the pool. I’m no scientist, psychologist, or researcher, but based on my own experiences and personality, it’s become clear to me over the years why runners and swimmers gravitate towards one another’s sport (or at least that swimmers eventually become runners).

All alone, and liking it
All alone, and liking it

I find myself thinking about this every so often when I’m running, and there are a few things that stand out to me. The most obvious is that swimming and running are both very individual sports, yet they contribute to a common team goal. Sure, when you’re running or swimming a race, you’re the only one in that lane/on the road, and you’re racing against yourself, the clock, and whoever else is in the race with you. There aren’t teammates you’re relying on for the win (there’s little teamwork involved) – it’s just about you. But all of those individual efforts are combined to make up a team. Because of that, I think it’s natural for swimmers to turn into runners (and even vice versa), because they function similarly; even if one is on land and the other is in the water.

And aside from that individual, yet simultaneously team-like environment, we’re all a little crazy. I mean, think about it! Both sports require hours of repetitive monotony. Lap after lap, mile after mile, oftentimes only with your own thoughts. A lot of the time, the only person or thing that determines if you work hard or phone it in, is you. Both sports rely heavily on intrinsic motivation, and I think because of that, people who participate in either sport find that the highs are so high (new PR! race win!) , and the lows can be incredibly low (total bonk. injury). So naturally, I like to do both!

After a week of long course doubles, you go a little mad.
After a week of long course doubles, you go a little mad.

Admittedly, I haven’t been swimming nearly as much as I’d like. I blame this on the fact that there aren’t really any gyms with pools nearby, and those that have them come with a heavy monthly price tag. My parent’s still belong to the municipal pool where I grew up spending most of my summer days, so I try to go whenever I have the chance. I went this past Friday and did laps for the first time in at least 2 years (but I haven’t done a real workout in about 5)! While I was swimming I remembered how much I loved the sport, despite being slow, out of breath, and having my shoulders on fire. Swimming and running really are a great pair, and I really need to add swimming back into my routine. It may mean I’ll have to tone down my online shopping habit, but if it means getting back to a sport I fell in love with at 11 and obsessed over for the next 10 years, I think it’s worth it. Now if only I could get over my fear of biking, and I may have a shot at being a triathlete!

So tell me..
Do you use swimming as cross-training for your running? 
How many of you used to swim on a team (summer, high school, YMCA, club, etc.) and now run? 

4 thoughts on “Running and Swimming

  1. I really like that we share this same background and I fully agree that running and swimming are very similar. I think swimming is a little different because humans don’t naturally swim….like babies begin to walk…run…you don’t throw your baby into the pool because we are seals. Um anyways, I’m also really glad you use vanquisher goggles. Those have always been my favorite.


  2. I love swimming. Did that long before my curiosity over running reared its head. I’m getting back to swimming in order to cross train and prevent reinjury (from running) and even though I’m slow, it feels great being back in the pool. Going to do a few laps today at my gym 🙂

    I agree the two sports being very similar, especially in terms of being in your own head for hours on end.


  3. Interesting Post! Although I’ve never swam uber-seriously, I agree it is actually a lot more like running than people might think! And even though I am pretty horrible at competitive swimming ( I did swim team when I was 15 and got beat by 10 year olds!) I do believe it helps runners even if they aren’t injured. Even if a runner isn’t great at swimming technique, that’s ok because both sports take the same kind of mental toughness and individual motivation. The mentality of “I’m out here all alone doing this for myself” is very familiar to runners already, so I think that helps them transition easily to enjoy swimming (or vice versa) whereas someone who’s used to an interactive team sport may not feel the same. Great Post!


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