Winter Special Ops Tri Challenge: Triple 5K

Triathlete practices the front stroke in a swimming pool at Parris Island.
Triathlete James McNamara practices the front stroke before beginning the 2012 Parris Island Triathlon, Go Tri Sports South Carolina Triathlon Series, aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., March 17, 2012. (Lance Cpl. Aneshea Yee/Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island)

During the winter phase of training, we tend to focus more on indoor activity, such as lifting, non-impact cardio machines, indoor swimming and shorter, faster runs and rucks.

Here is a workout that is a big challenge; we call it the Special Ops Triathlon (swimming edition). It requires so much swimming that I recommend building up to this level of distance for a few months with progressions, as mentioned in this workout (Swim intervals challenge).  But you can get creative and have some fun on the pool deck as well; see popular swim PT workouts.

However, this Special Ops Triathlon is a triple 5K event.  You have to do a 5K swim, 5K run and a 5K ruck. 

Rule on the swim: It is done in 1:30 intervals. If you do 75 sets of 1:30 intervals, this will get you 5,625 meters of swimming so you can do 20 of those sets in 50-meter intervals if you prefer to get an even 5,000 meters.  You can wear fins if you prefer.  This is an 1:52 swim if you do all 75 intervals. See the swimming intervals article for more details on the program. 

During this event, you should be hydrating during your rest periods as often as possible. Cramping will occur in the run/ruck if you are not fully hydrated or take enough electrolytes. You will sweat in this pool workout.

For the run or ruck: It is just 3.1 miles running and 3.1 miles rucking. We typically use 40 pounds, either as a weight vest or a backpack, for the ruck. It is your choice how you want to ruck. Some have carried a sandbag over their shoulders if they did not have a backpack or vest.  If you do this with a group you can have half the group run and half the group ruck and make gear changes after each group is done with each event.

*Note: If you are a great swimmer, you can build up extra distance and take it off one of the run/ruck events. So if you swim 6,000 meters, you can take off 1,000 meters off the ruck if you prefer. The goal of this is 15K, but the standard is that you have to swim at least 5K.

The Special Ops Triathlon is an event that we do locally as a fundraiser for local community centers who let us use their pool. Most participants are candidates seeking military and police special-ops program where running, rucking, and swimming are all part of the curriculum and training cycles.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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