There's something about swimming that throws your pace judgement out of the window. Compared to other sports such as cycling and running, the vast majority of swimmers and triathletes have very poor pace judgement in the water. In our experience this harms more race performances than any other single factor, whether you're a beginner, intermediate or advanced level swimmer. In fact in our recent clinic series, only 6 out of the 120 attendees had pacing skills good enough to pass our Pace Awareness Challenge (see below)!
Even if you are swimming well at the moment it's very likely that your pace awareness is harming your race performances. It feels normal to start out too fast when you feel fresh and then fade badly in the second half, losing all the time you gained and a lot more. Since most swimmers and triathletes swim this way, it seems normal as everyone around you is doing the same thing. Even in a drafting race where it is an advantage to get on a fast pair of feet, you need to be careful. When you start at the right pace you may lose some meters but then you can work your way up the field, jumping from feet to feet as those ahead fade and slow down.
You could easily gain a minute over 1500m through better pacing skills. If you're an Arnie or Arnette, you could cut your splits by two minutes plus - Arnies have notoriously poor pacing skills and the athletic ability to work hard and do themselves a lot of damage at the start of a race!
Give your pacing skills a test and try our simple Pace Awareness Challenge: Swim 150m (or yards) as fast as you can with your best pacing through the whole 150. As you swim, get a friend or coach to record your splits every 25. The challenge: see if you can swim each 25 within a second of the others. Most swimmers will start 15-20 seconds / 100m too fast!
On this video (previously released on the blog in September) you can watch some members of the Swim Smooth squads in Perth attempting this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRlKxiNUFqM
Insert this little pacing challenge regularly into your swimming - it shows you just how easily you have to go over the first part of a race to pace things out well. Remember, if you start too fast you can't recover, the damage has all been done and you will fade badly - losing lots of time and suffering much more than you need to in the second half of the race.
Swimmers tend to think of technique in terms of arm angles and body rotation but pacing skills should also be at the heart of your stroke technique. Only 3% of World Records in the pool or on the athletics track are set with a positive split (where the first half of the race is quicker than the second). The other 97% are set with even pacing or with the second half a little quicker than the first.
You might never set a World Record but improve your pacing skills and some big personal-bests will be yours.