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The 3 Points Challenge experience (Incl. 4-week training plan)

David McIlwaine from Fit4Dreams breaks down the event, leg by leg, and provides a 4-week training plan to prepare you for the day.

By David McIlwaine of Fit4Dreams.

The North Curl Curl True 3 Points Challenge is surprise-packed so preparation counts. If your focus is on longer ocean swims, the 3 Points Challenge is a great reason to embrace new ways to build your fitness so you can be ready.

So let’s break it down. What’s involved in this event?

Ocean swimmers will have the start covered at North Curl Curl. But the swim’s only 400m so speed through the water is important. No sooner have you cleared the break than you’re swimming back through it and looking for a wave home.

Maybe you miss that little wave runner. Do you stand up and try to push through the water or swim in until your fingers hit the sand and launch into two or three well-timed porpoises until you can step over the water to run quickly to shore? Don’t worry if you muck that up the first time, you get five more goes at it, especially at Freshwater.

After your swim, it’s not a short run to the finish like an ocean race but a longer, steeper effort across soft sand and up the tarmac punisher past the clubhouse to find your shoes. It seems so much steeper than you thought.  You wash your feet and grab your shoes. Some wear socks. Tough to pull on with wet feet. Vaso on the inside of the shoes works better with bare feet and quick release laces a time-saving must.

A road run turns cross-country and up a sand dune before you race to South Curl Curl. Running is the biggest part of the 3 Points Challenge but swimming through the breaks can make or break your race. 

South Curly has a steeper shoreline so you’re swimming sooner than the other beaches. Sweeping currents make the short swim tougher than it looks. The waves can have a bigger kick too so it’s worth diving right under strong waves and, maybe even pushing off the bottom to come up swimming powerfully ready to negotiate the next one. 

Once you get around the two buoys, the swim back can be tricky as well. Look for waves to help. They are a great chance to get to the shore quickly. Make sure you’ve got a bit of a sprint left in you so you can speed up as you feel the water lift as the next wave approaches and ride it in.

Shoes on and you’re off again. Running as fast as you can but feeling the pinch thanks to your work through the South Curl Curl break. The run has ups and downs but not too many so it’s a good section to run fast.

Shoes off again you’re often in for a long wade at Freshwater. Lift your knees to get your feet over the top of the water. Then you’re porpoising for what can seem like an age. It’s quicker than running in too-deep water or swimming but taking a quick breath as you fly over the water like a dolphin will burn your energy bar. 

Freshwater is usually the easiest swim but the long wade wears your legs out so there is still a toll to pay as you head for the 3km run home.

On the road around behind the Diggers you run along the pavement until you go bush again just after South Curl Curl. Over Hill and down dale, the terrain keeps you thinking and takes your mind off how tired you are.

Then dilemma: Shoes on or off for the last 400m back to home along some of the softest sand in Sydney? Whatever your choice, the going is tough. It’s probably quicker without shoes but how long does it take to get them off? The choice is yours but whatever you do, your legs will burn for the 120 or so seconds it takes you to get to the finish line and a final wave of satisfaction crashes over you.

Ok. Let’s take a breather.

After reading all that, what skills have you got to build into your training? 

Running Training

Runners who swim dominate with 6km across variable terrain in the 3 Points Challenge. In your training, you want to prepare for what you might meet in the race. Sure, it’s 6km in all but it’s in bite-sized chunks. This will get you ready:

  • Middle distance running with 3-5km efforts twice a week. Record your times. Strive to improve them. Make sure you do at least two trail runs in your preparation.

Then you have to do a mix of these 2-4 times per week.

  • Shorter Efforts. Time trials work a treat here. Anything from 600m-1.5km at top pace with 1-3 minutes rest in between. Great to keep a record and log your improvement.
  • Hill work. To build strength in your legs and mind. Try carrying  a marker with you and run up a steep hill for a minute each time. Throw your marker down and try to beat yourself on the next one.
  • Sand running. Start slowly. Build it up. There’s only about 400m of soft sand running in the race but its super soft so it helps to practice. It’s another thing you can do to keep your training fresh. Calf injuries can be the danger her so stretch and strengthen (Calf Raises) in the days leading into your sand sessions. 

Cautionary Note

If running is new to you, remember this: Fitness for everything builds over time. If you’re a runner, swimming 400m can wear you right out and that works both ways.

How hard you train preparation depends on the fitness base you’re launching from and the style of fitness work you normally do eg long swims or regular runs or walks.

When you’re adding something new to your fitness regime, it’s better to start off easy and arrive at your next session ready to go than to set a lifetime PB and have to have 3 days off (or worse) to get over it. 

For instance, if you haven’t run for a while or it’s not been your thing, start off at 3km, walk for one telegraph pole and run for the next one. On your next run maybe walk for one and run for two. Record your times and enjoy your progress.  It will build a good foundation for you and make sure you’re standing on the start line injury-free and ready to go! 

Water Work

Read these descriptions before you try our program.

While good runners may dominate, there is lots to work on in the water, either in the pool or at the beach. It makes such a difference to your confidence for the race to be swim-fit and comfortable in the surf.

Over the next 4 weeks you want to make sure you have done the following:

1. Practise swimming fast sets in the pool under the clock

For this, we’re aiming for between 1600m and 3000m per session.

Let’s say you can swim 100m in 100 seconds or 1 min 40 secs. 

Set up a timer on your watch or use the big clock on the wall if there is one and do a set of 8 x100m efforts on 2 minutes, i.e. if you get in on 1:43 you have 17 seconds before you go again. 

Over time you work on bringing the total time in so that maybe your second weeks time is 1:55. You need to do this over 50m, 100m, 200m and 400m. Don’t just get in the pool and swim for 20-40 laps. (2-3 times per week). Sprints are so important for these shorter swims and your ability to catch waves.

If you can swim a 50m effort in 42 seconds try doing 16 x 50m starting every 50 seconds. Your 4x200m efforts might be on 3:45. It takes a bit of tinkering but if you can get your set times down, you’ll improve your speed in the water quickly.

2. Go to the beach when the flags are up and do ins and outs

For this, we’re aiming for 2-3 times per week.

You enter or leave the water six times in the 3 Points Challenge. It’s what makes this race so special. 

You have to practice it or it’ll be the worst thing about the race.

A great way to prepare is to go to the beach. Swim out at one red and yellow flag then swim 20 strokes past the last break, turn and swim across until you’re level with the other flag and then swim back into shore. You can add in a run to the top of the beach before you turn around and walk back for a rest before completing your set of six.

I really like North Curl Curl and Freshwater for this. Run into the water, as soon as the water gets over your knees look to start porpoising. Once you get up to your waist it’s time to swim. Take a look and note how long you’ve got to swim before you’ll have to negotiate your first wave. Swim properly with your head in the water towards the wave at top pace. Feel the changes in the water as the wave approaches and make sure you’ve got a good breath of air before you dive down right under the wave. 

The best result is to get to the bottom with your feet under you so you can push off the sand really hard with your hands out in front as you butterfly kick towards the surface behind the wave and come up swimming in a position of strength for the next wave.

If you need to, take a look and see what’s coming next, or spot a buoy, kick hard and lift your head out of the water.  Look straight ahead and lock your glutes and core to stop you from turning your head from side to side with every stroke. That way you’ll see what you’re looking for quickly and get back to swimming quickly and efficiently. 

You can get good at swimming with your head out of the water to spot by practising swimming six strokes with your head up looking straight ahead and then six strokes without a breath as you swim out behind the break and head back to shore.

On your way back check behind you to see if there’s a wave coming your way.

Ideally, you want to be swimming as fast as you can and be level with the wave just before it is about to break to get a great ride. It’s perfect if you can get the top part of your body out of the water and surf in with your arm out in front. Practice makes perfect but don’t underestimate the push you get from a wave even if you don’t catch it.

Swim into the beach as hard as you can and as soon as your fingers hit the sand start porpoising over the water, making sure your hands go in before your head so you are streamlined. Don’t hold your up head looking for a bit more breath. Your chest will hit the water first and stop your flow.

Run out of the water when it’s just above your knees, run straight up to the top of the beach in the soft sand, then turn, the walk back to the water’s edge is your break. Start your next one 10m from the water’s edge. 

Can’t get to the beach? Porpoising and tumble turns in the pool


No matter how good you are at touch turns, tumble turns are better. And the more you do them the better they get!

Sure they improve your times, but better still, they improve your fitness. When you are training for the 3 Points Challenge they are tremendous training for staying calm and focused when you have to wait for the right time to take a breath. 

Now doing tumble turns on every lap will give you a huge breakthrough in your swimming if you’re not doing them right now, but to get the gold standard gains you need to come out of your tumble turn streamlined underwater, kicking to milk everything out of your push-off speed and keeping your head down for two or three strokes at least.

Training & Skills Checklists


  • Road & trail running, 3-5km
  • Time trials, 600m-1.5km
  • Sand running
  • Hill running 

Water Work

  • Fast pool sets with tumbleturns, 1.6-3.0km
  • Porpoising
  • In’s and out’s at the beach (use the flags)
  • Swimming out through the surf
  • Swimming back through the surf
  • Running into shore
  • Catching waves

Download 4-week training plan

Fit4Dreams and Ready For Anything

Fit4Dreams has been training people for the 3 Points Challenge since 2008. We have a great partnership with North Curl Curl Surf Life Saving Club. It provides water safety and expertise in the surf to help people we’re training prepare for this great race. At the same time, we offer 23 sessions each week to help them prepare their fitness and hone the skills they develop with the club. Eight of those sessions are swimming-based and childcare is available through our Mums Squad brand. It’s an amazing program and I know that we have changed peoples relationship with the ocean, improved their ability in the surf and got them fitter than ever for the 3 Points. I’m really proud to be a part of it.

I’ve included a program that will help you get so fit for the race but if you’d like to join our squads we have spots available for the last month of the program. Please call me on 0414138778 if you’d like to know more. We’ll still be running over 80 coached sessions before the race! / David McIlwaine

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 7 November 2022
  • (Updated on 10 August 2023)



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