2 simple tips to pacing yourself better in a race


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!!! 🙂


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Tips to Swimming 200m Freestyle


Hi Sheng Jun, I’d like to know for middle distance events like the 200m, how do you usually pace yourself? I’m curious to know as I used to think the 200 is a build up kind of race, whereby you take things easy until the last 100 or 50. But I decided to go all out for all 4 laps at a recent meet and I went under my pb by almost 12 seconds. It was extremely painful but amusing as well. Do you also push yourself throughout the four laps and endure pain?


Hey there!

Congrats on lowering your personal best time by 12 seconds!

Must have felt really good for you, it is a really great achievement!

I personally find that the 200m Freestyle is the hardest event to swim, not because it is the toughest (400IM feels like the toughest one to me) but because you cannot afford to make any mistakes in a 200m Freestyle race.

If you go too hard from the start, your lactate build up would be too drastic and your competitors may edge you out the last 50m.

On the other hand, if you go out too slow, you will be lacking too far behind to even stand a chance to out sprint your competitors in the final 50m.

If you watch a 200m Freestyle race, you can see that different swimmers take the lead per 50m, that is because every swimmer has their own race plan which may differ from the competitor beside him.


My Race Plan

For me personally I like to take the race out hard because I find that taking things easy the first 100m will be too risky as your competitors may have already taken too much of a lead for you to catch the next 100m.

It does hurt a lot during the last 50m but as long as you are fit and you keep yourself mentally tough, you’ll be able to hold on to the race and win it.

Of course, do take note that everyone has their own way of swimming their 200m Freestyle race, so there isn’t a pace that is perfect, it is about seeing what suits you best and stick to it.

I have swum countless amounts of poor 200m Free races to get me to the race plan I have today, so practice makes perfect!


Pace Work

To get the perfect race plan, you can actually do some pace work during training (E.g. 4x50m Freestyle on 0:50-1min rest intervals with your desired 200m Freestyle race plan) and see if that particular race plan works for you.

Try different race strategies like going fast/slow for the first 2 50m and see which 4x50m added time is the fastest and use that race plan when it comes to a competition!


Hope this helps you in your future 200m Freestyle swims 🙂 Different swimmers have different ways to swim their 200m Freestyle, so always remember to stick to the race plan that suits you best and you will be guaranteed to do well!


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