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200 IM Race Strategy

Here’s something to try the next time you swim a 200 IM.

Although there are many different race strategies, and as I’ve said before, you’ll have to experiment with many before discovering the one that best suits you. The most important thing is to have a plan. I’ve seen so many swimmers go into a race HOPING that they were going to have a good time, only to find out afterwards, they had no race plan.

Imagine a triathlete with no plan. Imagine a marathon runner with no plan. Imagine playing football, soccer, lacrosse, or any sport without a plan. In other sports, there are plays, strategy, coaches drawing up X’s and O’s on white boards in-between plays. Watch a college basketball game, and during the :30 second time outs, watch the coach yelling and scribbling a quick plan on his mini-court. When you plan in team play, you create a cohesive unit better able to work as one. When you plan as one, you have something other to think about than the pain, or panic if someone is getting ahead of you.

 One of the races that takes the MOST planning is the 200 IM. What is your best stroke? What is your worst stroke? Take me for instance, backstroke… not my bag. I knew it prior to each race, and it was usually evident DURING the race. Knowing this going in, my strategy was basically to go as hard as I could on backstroke to limit how far I got behind. Sure, I was pretty spent when I got to breaststroke, but being so good at breaststroke, even holding back just a bit, I was usually faster than everybody else. You just have to know yourself.

This is a little trick an old coach of mine taught me, that worked well for me: legs – arms – legs – arms. That’s it. That simple. That was my race strategy for the last few years of my career for the 200 IM. Hey, I never said a plan had to be complex.

 What it meant is simply that, I’d focus my attention on my kick for butterfly, then switch my focus to my pull on backstroke, then back to my kick on breaststroke, then finally the pull again on freestyle.

See, the 200 IM was basically four sprint 50s lined up back to back. It’s TOUGH sprinting four 50s in a row, so you’re going to have to switch up which muscle groups are the ones actually doing the sprinting. I had a good body motion, and was always a decent flyer, as long as I was swimming an IM, so I really overdid the kick, made it big and strong, and focused all my mental energy on what my legs were doing, but also swimming as HARD as I could.

When I got to backstroke, I’d leave the wall, and switch all my attention to my arms. I actually focused on turning over my arms as FAST as I could. Hopefully, I’m teaching a bit more fine tuning than that these days, but I spent all my time training for the 200 breaststroke, so I had to make due when I got to backstroke. But this "spin" tactic on backstroke was somewhat acceptable for my 200 IM because it only lasted about :30 seconds anyway.

Breaststroke focused back to the kick. The focus went to pushing myself forward as hard as possible, which WAS possible because I barely used my legs at all on backstroke. When you focus your mind specifically on one muscle, the others just kinda go along for the ride, and you barely even realize what’s happening.

Freestyle was really EVERYTHING you got left! Of course, with a pretty non-productive kick, I had to really focus on the arms again. Since I had just gotten done with :30 seconds of tough breaststroke kick, my legs were usually pretty spent at this point anyway, so even though I would try to add the kick on the last lap, it didn’t do me much good.

Try it the next time you swim a 200 IM. Your focuses may be different, but try it a couple times, and see how you feel. Race plans are not something you try once and throw away. If you try a plan once and it doesn’t work, don’t just chalk it up to being a bad plan, maybe you were just having a bad day. There is also a chance, that when you try something new, there is a learning curve.

The most important thing is that you enter every race WITH a plan. Don’t "wish" for success, PLAN for it. You’ll have a much better success race than if you play the racing lottery.