Pacing for Racing
by Doug Huestis Head Coach Bay Masters



Years ago I came across an article that had compiled a statistical analysis of the finalists at that years NCAA Division 1 Championships. The intent of the article was to see if there was a way to utilize this information to the benefit of all swimmers.

The rational was that not only are the best swimmers in the nation swimming fast enough to compete at that level; they are also swimming their races in the most efficient and effective way. For as we know -- at that level if you make a 'pacing error' of just a few tenths of a second it could well be the difference between winning your big race, or having to settle for second best. Granted we all can't swim at those speeds, but we can all swim our races in a manner that gives us the best chances to maximize our performances and increase our chances for success.

Over the years I have updated that report with statistical analysis of subsequent performances at the NCAA Division 1 Men's and Women's Championships. It has been interesting that while the changes have been slight, there has been a 'trend' toward more even-paced swimming. This would make sense, physiologically speaking, as it allows for the most efficient utilization of a finite amount of 'high energy fuel sources' and a more deliberate influx of lactates so as to minimize the adverse affects that rapid spikes of lactic acid can cause.

I feel the results will be of some help in determining how best to pace one's race. It is interesting from this "Statistical Model" that regardless of actual times achieved by all the finalists -- they all very closely swam within the same "percentages".

So instead of using the old "well, take it out hard and try to hang on"; or an only slightly more precise "well, lets go out in a 26.5 and see what happens"; we now have a working model of how the very best swimmers swim the very best swims.

And while we may not be as fast -- WE CAN ALL SWIM AS SMART!

It does not matter what your present level is because the findings indicate that the best way to swim your race is also the most efficient and energy conserving, regardless of your speed.

So to find ones' "Ideal Splits" one only has to have a realistic goal time (Note: be sure all times are in 'seconds') and then multiply by the 'Ideal (Split) Percentages'
GOAL TIME (in seconds) X IDEAL PERCENTAGE = IDEAL SPLIT

Example of "Ideal Splits" for a Men's 100 Free with a Goal Time of 46.50
46.50 x .4785 = 22.25 for the 1st 50 split
46.50 x .5215 = 24.25 for the 2nd 50 split


EVENT

MEN
WOMEN
50 FREE
0.4791
0.4807

0.5209
0.5193
100 FREE
0.4785
0.4822

0.5215
0.5178
200 FREE
0.2339
0.2417

0.2543
0.2532

0.2562
0.255

0.2556
0.2501
500 FREE
0.1949
0.194

0.2025
0.2016

0.203
0.2018

0.2017
0.203

0.1979
0.1996
1000 FREE
0.0964
0.0978

0.0993
0.0997

0.1
0.0998

0.1006
0.1005

0.1009
0.1005

0.1003
0.1007

0.1013
0.1012

0.1017
0.1008

0.1006
0.1007

0.098
0.0983


1650 FREE: Will follow similar pattern as 1000 Free; even paced first half and 'negative split' second half.

EVENT
MEN
WOMEN
100 BACK
0.4848
0.4874

0.5152
0.5126
200 BACK
0.2326
0.2307

0.2529
0.2512

0.2539
0.2557

0.2606
0.262
100 FLY
0.4732
0.4788

0.5268
0.5212
200 FLY
0.2281
0.2288

0.2559
0.2512

0.2561
0.2583

0.2599
0.2617
100 BREAST
0.4699
0.4738

0.5301
0.5262
200 BREAST
0.2308
0.2271

0.2547
0.2507

0.2567
0.2582

0.2578
0.264


100, 200, and 400 IM's --

While it is difficult to predict or set precise pacing goals for the IM's, due to the variability in stroke proficiency within the for strokes by individual swimmers, some general 'trends' are usually observed by all IM'ers.

Using the 200 IM as an example (the same 'trends' exist for the 100 and 400 IM's) --- the Fly split will usually be 1.0 to 1.5 seconds slower than your 'all-out' sprint for a 50 Fly.

Within the 200 IM your backstroke split would be about 2.8 to 3.3 seconds slower than the fly split. The breaststroke split ideally would be within 3.5 to 4.5 seconds of your backstroke split. And finally the free split should be similar to your fly split (usually within 0.7 to 1.2 seconds).

TRAINING FOR IDEAL PACING:

So now you are thinking it's all fine and well to have an idea beforehand on how to 'ideally' swim one's races -- but how does one prepare oneself to swim (pace) correctly?

Well, there are some training 'sets' that do give one a better sense of pace, but for the most part the only real way to do precision tuning is to "race". So try to swim in as many swim meets as possible, and most importantly -- be sure to get accurate splits taken of your swims.

At the end of this article will be an "attachment" of a Split Sheet I made which is set up to allow one to compare ones actual splits with "Ideal Splits" (using the 'ideal percentages' from above).
SAMPLE TRAINING SETS:

For shorter swims I have found that 'broken swims' are excellent for fine-tuning the exact pacing needed to properly swim 100's and 200's. It is important to be sure that these are done at 'race pace' with either passive or active rest between broken swims. This is needed to facilitate the removal or lowering of lactates that will occur due to the speeds each broken swim must be swum at to correctly 'simulate' the event.

An example might be:
4 to 6 x 25's EZ Free with 10 seconds rest
Take a minute extra rest-
1 x 'broken' 200 major stroke @ 'Race Pace'
(as 4 x 50's with 10 seconds rest)
Take a minute extra rest-
Note: 'cycle' through the above set no more than 3 or 4 times

It is important that you focus on two things: 1) that each 50 within the broken 200 is swum as fast as possible (that is at 'Race Pace') – and for even more ‘realism’ do the first 50 from a dive, but what is more important 2) that each 50 is swum in exactly the same time (subtract 1.5 seconds from first 50 if done from a dive). This is admittedly very difficult to do -- but that should be your goal. As this type of set is very demanding -- one should do this type of set no more than two times per week, and then only during the last four to six weeks immediately preceding your 'Taper Phase'.

For longer swims such as a 500 Free the following set is a good one for honing ones' pacing skills:

5 x 100's Free on a 'tight interval'
(one that allows about 10-15 seconds rest)
Take 30 to 60 seconds extra rest-

1 x 500 Free nonstop (as even-paced as possible)
Take a minute extra rest-
Note: Cycle through above 2 to 3 times. Can do 3 x 100's followed by a straight 300, or 4 x 100's followed by a straight 400 if you wish.

It is important to try to do the following: All 100's are even-paced (you set the pace according to your fitness level) on a set sendoff time (i.e., 5 x 100's on 1:30);
And, most importantly: Your 'Goal Time' for the straight swim is the SUM OF THE PRECEDING 100'S.

The last pacing set utilizes the "Count-Down" function found on almost any of those "Triathlon Watches" that every triathlete insists on wearing (and timing all their swims with) during swim practices (and pool and open water swims).

Say the best 'all out effort' you can do for a straight 300 free in practice is four minutes flat. That figures out to be 1:20 per 100; or :20 per 25. Swim a straight 300 at that speed (i.e., 4:00). Subjectively monitor how it felt -- where in the swim it started to really 'hurt'. Rest a minute or two.

Now set the "Count-Down" function to :20 -- then swim another 300 straight. However, on this swim be sure that right from the very first 25 that you are on that :20 per 25 pace. That is, you should be just pushing off the wall after each turn and hear the "beep-beep-beep" of your watch (it's nice that sound carries so well under water!).

If you 'stay right on pace' right from the first 25 I can almost guarantee that: 1) the second 300 will not start to 'hurt' till much deeper into the swim, and 2) you might even have enough left the last 50-75 yards to break your best time.

Of course, I do not recommend that all swimmers attempt this at the same time -- the auditory overload would be a bit much!

By paying attention to the needs of correctly pacing your races you will be able to swim to the fullest potential of all the hard work and dedication you put into your training.

It is important to have trust in yourself and this 'style' of racing -- it can be disconcerting if you find yourself behind the pack at the beginning of a race. However, races are usually won in the last 25 -- not the first 25.

Just remember: "Pace 'em -- then Race 'em".



Doug Huestis coaches Bay Masters (BAY) in San Francisco. He has served as a member on the USMS Sports Medicine Committee, where he authored numerous articles on ‘Swimming Physiology and Training.’ He holds a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology, and was Head Masters Coach for The Olympic Club (1990-1997) where his swimmers broke over 225 Masters National and World Records and won 4 USMS National Championships and 2 FINA Masters World Championships.

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