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Race Strategy – The Missing Component

If you’re like most competitive swimmers, you spend hour after hour in the pool teaching your body to move in the most efficient ways, and training your muscles and cardio-vascular system to withstand increasing levels of work and fatigue. You invest all this time and effort because your goal is to swim faster when you race. But, if you’re like most competitive swimmers, there might be a missing component in your training: race strategy. Have you thought… and practiced… how to pace yourself for the perfect race? It’s different from how you pace yourself through a set of 10 X 100 or through a 4000-yard practice. And it’s different for every swimmer, because we all have different abilities and strengths. We all have to find our own best way to swim any race, and this takes focus and thought and experimentation.

Just as an example of some of the things you should think about as you plan a race, I’ll reveal my super-secret, ultra-exclusive, almost-never-fail strategy for the 200 breaststroke. Just don’t tell anyone else, OK?

My strategy for a good 200 breaststroke was always pretty simple. Because I didn’t have nearly so much speed as some of my competitors, I would have to get some momentum going on the first 50 of the race. This meant that I’d take out the first 50 pretty fast. In fact, my 50 split on the 200 breast was only about half a second slower than my 50 split for the 100 breast. This set up a good pace and, based on the condition I was in, didn’t overuse any muscles to the point I couldn’t handle the pace.

I would then back off on the second 50, allowing my momentum and the feeling of SPEED I carried from the first 50 to help me get a reasonable split. The split for the second 50 may have dropped off as much as 4 to 4 1/2 seconds from the split on the first 50. There’s always one danger zone if you ease up like this: TURNS. When you ease up the pace a bit, there’s a tendency to slow down and lose intensity and speed on the turns. ALL TURNS should be quick, and sharp, no matter what pace you’re swimming. And I don’t mean that just the pushoff and pulldown/breakout should be intense. The turn ITSELF needs to be intense. Don’t wait until the push to make a real effort. No matter what your pace, do a quick, fast turn and pushoff. You can then ease back to your planned pace once you start swimming again after the turn.

OK. Where was I? On the third 50, I would start to pick up the pace. My hope/plan was to make up some serious ground on the sprinters in the field. I tried not to OVER swim this 50, but also wanted to make sure that I didn’t do what most people do, which is to allow the third 50 to be the slowest 50.

The fourth and final 50 was basically everything I had left. I never waited until the final 12 1/2 yards to SPRINT. I started to sprint when I left the sixth wall. If I was behind at this point, I was running out of time and never wanted to wait until the last length to try to catch up.

The final length always comes, and with it always comes GREAT PAIN — the type of pain that brings tears to your eyes. It’s hard to feel your hands anymore, and your shins and thighs are screaming. You now have to focus on making sure you don’t shorten your stroke too much. Keep extending. It’s difficult to keep full range of motion on each stroke, but it’s SO important not to start spinning or slipping. It’s better to take seven full, slower-paced strokes than nine choppy, short strokes.

Well, that’s about it. If this is your way to swim it, your splits might look something like this:

26.0 – 30.5 – 30.5 – 30.5

I developed my particular race strategy after MUCH experimenting. I studied my failures as well as my successes. You’ll need to do the same thing because, as I said earlier, each of us is different in our skills and abilities. You have to find the right way for YOU… and for each distance that you swim. There’s so much to think about when you Go Swim!