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Swim-Run Connection: Steena Cirves’ Insights on Mental Toughness and Training

Swim-Run Connection Steena Cirves Run Tri Bike Hollie Sick

Today, we are interviewing Steena Cirves, a resident of Madison, Wisconsin. She is not only an ultra-runner but also an avid swimmer who has turned to swimming to enhance her running performance and recovery. Her journey into the world of swimming began somewhat unexpectedly in 2010 after a running injury, leading her to explore new ways to work out. Is there a swim-run connection? Can swimming improve your running? Steena provides us insight into this question.

She went from never swimming to adding it to her routine at least once a week to help with recovery and now shares insights into how swimming has shaped her training, offered her mental relief, and supported her goals in ultra-running, particularly as she prepares for the Kettle Moraine 100, her first 100k race.

How Did You Get Into Swimming?

I started swimming in 2010 when I experienced my first running injury. My Sports Medicine doctor suggested I try lap swimming, so I signed up for a gym membership and went to the pool with no idea what that actually meant. I didn’t have goggles or a swim cap; I just tarzan’ed my way back and forth a few times. An older man in the lane next to me offered me a tip, “You might actually be pretty good at swimming if you get yourself some goggles and a cap.” From there, I found resources on YouTube and taught myself to lap swim.

What Are You Training For?

Currently, I’m training for my first 100k (ultra run) at the Kettle Moraine 100 in June. I’ve been swimming once a week during my ultra training, logging one 45-minute swim along with 45-55 trail run miles per week. On a recovery week, I’m not shy to swap a run for an additional swim.

How Do You Mentally Prepare For Both Your Swimming Sessions And Ultra Runs?

Do You Find Any Crossover In The Mental Strategies Used For Both Sports?

Getting out of bed early in the morning to go swimming is tough for me. I wake up and think, “Do I really have to?” but I know I’ll feel so much better after I get it done. The same goes for long-distance running while training for an ultra. In both sports, I experience moments of anxiety wondering if I’ll ever get through the workout. Mile 12 of a 20+ mile long run always gets me, “Will I ever be done with this run?!” I always do one stroke at a time, or one step at a time. If I keep moving forward, I’m closer to completing the workout. This shows that the swim-run connection is more than just physical. The mental aspect of training for one sport can help the other.

What Has Your Swimming Journey Been Like? Have You Always Loved It? Hated It?

My swimming journey has been a love/hate relationship. I dislike the idea of getting ready to go to the pool and possibly waiting for a lane to open up. Madison has a big triathlete community; the demand for a lane at the pool can make this sport tough. I love it when I get a lane, feel like I’m fast in the water, and complete a workout.

Has Swimming Helped You In Other Areas Of Your Life?

Swimming is a great stress relief. With my face in the water and my mind occupied with kick, pull, and breathing, there isn’t room for outside stressors.

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Do You Swim With Others? Where Do You Swim?

During the summer, I open water swim with my local triathlon team, Ironworx Multisport. We get to enjoy vibrant sunrises over Lake Monona, the starting line of Ironman Wisconsin.

How Did You Get Started Swimming In Open Water? It Can Be Intimidating For People!

I’m fortunate that I grew up swimming in a lake in my grandma’s backyard. It wasn’t freestyle lap swimming; it was carefree kid-at-play swimming, venturing out to the dock or until my feet could no longer touch. I know open water swimming can be extremely intimidating for some; my spouse was one of them when he got into triathlon nine years ago. He got over the anxiety by spending more time in the water and chasing me. Now I flail behind him trying to keep up when we swim in the open water. Like any fear, you need to face it and practice facing it over and over until you gain confidence.

How Does Swimming Help Your Running?

Swimming is the greatest recovery workout after a long run, for me. I know it supplements my endurance because last fall, I took a four-month break from swimming after some Ironman training burnout and noticed my heart rate spiked more easily during my runs. When I finally returned to the pool after a break, my heart rate spikes stopped happening.

What Would Be Something You’d Tell Someone Who Is Just Getting Into Swimming?

For anyone who is just getting into swimming: Step 1. Get some goggles and a swim cap. You don’t need to overcomplicate it or worry about what the person in the lane next to you is thinking; they are preoccupied with their own workout. There are plenty of online resources to get you started if you are unable to take lessons or get a coach. I recommend Total Immersion videos on YouTube.

Steena’s experience shows that there is a swim-run connection. Swimming can be a huge plus for any athlete, especially those into endurance sports like ultra-running. From the start to now, she is using swimming to boost her performance and recovery in ultra races, Steena’s story is an example of how mixing up your training with something like swimming can keep you physically sharp and mentally fresh.

Her approach is straightforward and relatable—grab some goggles, jump in, and see how it goes. It’s a reminder that sometimes, trying something new in your routine can lead to big gains. Thank you, Steena, for your time. You can find her on Instagram, where she shares her training as well as high quality photos, videos, and even drone videos.



Hollie is a runner, hiker, swimmer, residing in California. She has worked in run specialty for nearly 8 years and has fit hundreds of people for shoes. Outside of the running world, she enjoys the general aviation world, her two cats, and spending time with her spouse.