Swimming has become such a complex sport that every detail matters in a race. A bad pace into the first 50m, and the whole race will be over. Imagine all the months of hard work just got screwed over by 1 bad pace at the first 50m… that ain’t worth it at all. This is why pacing yourself well is crucial in defining whether your race will be a good one or bad one.
But hey, you’re not to blame fully as the competitor beside you may decided to go out hard during the race and you simply got distracted. How is that fair? Sadly, that’s just now swimming works. Although we control our own swims, we can sometimes get distracted by the person beside us if they have a different race plan from us.
With that said, as long as we have a solid race plan, nothing will be able to distract us from sticking to it. Below are some tips which I’ve learnt over the years to ensure that you will NEVER AGAIN screw up your race plan, even if you have another person beside you who has a totally different one.
It’s actually pretty simple, all you have to do is to pay more attention to little details during your training, and everything will fall into place when competition comes. As the saying goes…
The tricky thing about swimming is that we’ll never know how fast or slow we’re going when we’re swimming. We’re unable to check the pace clock (unlike other sports) as we’re constantly putting our head in the pool. Therefore, pacing has to be based on feeling, and the better feel you have, the better you can pace. We can pace off someone else’s race plan sometimes, but ultimately, knowing your own race plan ensures that your swimming performances stay consistent.
Coach: “Eh why didn’t you swim well today?”
Swimmer: “Because I have no water feel today coach…”
Here are 2 simple tips to let you have a better feel for pace in the water:
1) Count your strokes during pace sets
What we constantly do at the National Training Squad is that we’re always counting strokes when doing 50m pace works. Our coaches will give us a set like 8×50 on 1:00, and the break down will be:
2 holding 31 seconds pace
2 holding 30 seconds pace
2 holding 29 seconds pace
2 holding 28 seconds pace
The key will be to count your strokes for each block of 2, and try to hold the same stroke counts for each 2. For example, I hold:
30 strokes for the 1st 2 on 31 seconds pace
31 strokes for the 2nd 2 30 seconds pace
32 strokes for the 3rd 2 29 seconds pace
33 strokes for the last 2 28 seconds pace
So if I were to do a 1500m Freestyle race in competitions and the timing I am aiming for is a 15 min 30 seconds, I will have to hold a 31 second pace per 50m (31 seconds + 31 seconds = 1 min 02 seconds. 1 min 02 seconds x 15 = 15 min 30 seconds), which is about 30 strokes per 50 meters. So in a race, all I have to do is to ensure that I maintain my 30 strokes stroke length and I should roughly know that I’m on par for a 15 min 30 seconds pace.
Of course, we also have to factor in an increase in stroke rate in the last few hundred meters of a race due to fatigue, but that will be a separate blog post for another time.
2) Know the different kick patterns and when to apply them
Next step after establishing your stroke counts, you have to establish your kick counts. We all know that there are 3 different types of kick patterns:
i) 2 beat kick
ii) 4 beat kick
iii) 6 beat kick
And it goes in an order of difficulty too. The more you kick, the more sore you’re going to be. In a race, it’s about finding balance in your kicks to ensure that you do not fatigue too early in the race, and still have enough energy to max out your kicks in the final stages of the race, because that will determine whether you win or lose a race.
I shall use myself as an example again to give you a clearer explanation of the different types of kicks:
For a 30 strokes, 31 seconds pace – I use a 2 beat kick
For a 31 strokes, 30 second pace – I use a 4 beat kick
For a 32 strokes, 29 second pace – I use a light 6 beat kick
For a 33 strokes, 28 second pace – I use a heavier 6 beat kick
So it’s about connecting your kicks to your pulls, and finding a suitable pace to go for in the various races, whether it’s a 200m Freestyle, or 1500m Freestyle. Choose the kick patterns and in cooperate it into your swims, and you should have a better pacing during your race.
Things to note
The key message from this post would be to understand your own body well. You may not have the same kick patterns as I have, so you’ll have to find out what’s best suited for you and stick to it during your training sessions!
Just imagine your body as a race car – Your arms are the steering wheel, and your legs are the wheels. The better you tune it, the better it’s going to be during a race. And tuning it comes from finding the connection in your arms and legs together when doing your pace work, and knowing the various kick patterns and arms strokes required to achieve certain timings in your pace work.
Start paying attention to the little details in training like stroke count and kick patterns, and you’ll be able to establish your race paces better! Say goodbye to distractions and I hope you start swimming great races!!! 🙂