What To Think About When You're Racing

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As a swimmer or triathlete you will be doing technique work in the pool focusing on different areas of your stroke. But what should you think about when you're racing to optimise your performance?

The good news here is that the technique improvements that you've made in training will largely stick when you are racing, leaving you to focus on the effort of swimming fast and also navigating if you are in open water. You will however have a little spare concentration available to you even when racing, so choose one simple thing in your stroke and keep some focus on it.

Here's some ideas of what to focus on:

pick one thing to focus on when you race
- If you feel anxious in open water then simply think about exhaling smoothly into the water and block out every other swimmer and distraction. This will help relax you and keep things nice and manageable.

- If you have a tendency to veer off course then become aware of what your lead hand is doing when you breathe. Let the breathing action take care of itself and turn your focus to keeping your lead hand extending straight in front of you and not crossing over your centre line.

- If you know that you have a tendency to pause and 'overglide' in your stroke then aim to keep your lead hand constantly in motion - entering and extending forwards, lightly catching the water and then pressing it backwards. Remember this should have a lighter feeling than overgliding, like dropping down a gear on the bike and spinning a little faster and easier.

- If you are aware that you have a scissor kick then focus on lightly brushing your big toes together as they pass with a regular tap-tap-tap rhythm. If you're not sure what to focus on in your stroke then this is always a good choice.

- If you have a tendency to lift your head to breathe, focus on keeping your head down when breathing and look very slightly behind you.

For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoy your racing and let us how you go in the comments here! The weather here in Perth is decidedly wintry now with lots of cold rain and storms coming through. We're thinking of you having fun up there!

Swim Smooth!


B said...

Hello to the southern hemisphere swimmers.

We're out training again this weekend in Dover for our Relay Channel Swim in July.

The weather is just starting to turn so at last we might be a bit warmer than you!

Wish us luck

Jo said...

Thanks swimsmooth, still training for Hampton court 3.6k River swim in July plus some others after...Thanks for your ever brilliant advice !

EimearH said...

Thanks as always for the great advice. Wintery as it may be there its probably still warmer than here on the west coast of Ireland...brain freeze, blue hands and feet that were totally numb recently. I swear I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, so I went for a few pints of guinness....lovely!

Nicolopolus said...

Hey Paul,

So far this season I've done the Great Salford and North swims, got the London one coming up, as well as another 4. The sighting tips last week came in really useful! Managing just a shade under 30 mins for a mile, which was actually my goal for the end of the year!

Thanks for all the great posts!

Unknown said...

Perth: "decidedly wintry now with lots of cold rain and storms coming through".

England: On my first olympic distance tri last weekend (in our summer) we had horizontal rain and hail.

Lake bala tri the previous weekend had bad weather with only around 60% of the starters finishing.

I'll take an "off season" race in perth anytime.

Terry said...

Thanks Swim Smooth. I think I'll keep your 'veering off' tip in mind this evening while swimming around Liberty Island in New York harbor. I plan to slow down just enough to get a good look at the Lady of the Harbor as I pass by. Water temp very pleasant at about 70 degrees F.

coach Kt said...

Hello Southern Hemi! In Texas its 104 degrees with rain only 1 day in the past 3 months. TX Ironman happened in May. The swim was narrow and everyone was covered by other bodies trying to find water to pull. Mostly you just slid your hands along someones body in front of you and prayed for water to pull. Focus had to switch, as you wrote, to staying calm and breathing. When the area opened a bit, focus had to move to stroke technique. If you thought about all the bodies around you and on top of you and all the hands trying to find water but hitting you instead, you were doomed. It was an extremely difficult swim and if you werent in that first row, focus and remaining calm was everything. Thanks Swim Smooth for all your information. Looking forward to making it over from the US for one of your coaching clinics!

Anonymous said...

On my 5k competition last week I thought...

...Shall I give up? That was during the 1st km as I have started much too fast;

...Fine, here's my smooth! That was after 1.5 km when I have found my rhythm;

...Speed up, pal! That was after exactly 4 km when the loudspeaker announced another swimmer to have finished in 1:16:00 and I realized that I could go under 1:40:00

;-) Rainer from Vienna, Austria (having finished in 1:37:27)

Trigirl Spokane said...

Here in Coeur dalene Idaho USA, we are getting into the water on Sunday for Ironman CDA......today had 15 mph winds, 2 ft swells, 56 degrees water temp, 50 degrees air temp.... summer is almost upon us, but not in time for this race!

Alex Golding said...

Hi, Thanks swim smooth, my old coach in Reading gave me your website 18 months ago, I believe I have improve with coaching and understanding efficiencies described on your website. Bring on my 2nd half ironman this weekend. Alex

Rudolf said...

well, may i suggest you go back into the more or even very deeply detailed art of swimming fast techniques??

Maybe for those of your readers that have won already a few races or olympics a tad on the boring side, but for the rest of us i think that is the best help and advice we can get.

From how to pedicure our toe nails to how to comb our hair before we hit the pool to every single body part or muscle, how can we do what best to slice ahead like banana boats - uhps, i mean't to say like sharks, because that's what we all aim for...

Richard said...

Hi all,
Just a quick update on the weather here is usually sunny Perth. Last night, we received 57mil of rain last night. All of it between 6pm and midnight. While many of you could no doubt better it, we are just thankful for the wetstuff.

Paul thanks for the post. I'll try some of your tips next time.
BTW, how is your Channel Prep coming along? Any thoughts on a mental strategy?
All the best,

Anonymous said...

I want to know how to go faster! I am the fastest kicker and paddles and or pull swimmer but get left behind on the sprints. I have been a long distance swimmer but now want to sprint!

Anonymous said...

I tend to go into a panic in deep water.
How do I overcome this?

john said...

I swam 4K yesterday in Mirror Lake, part of the Ironman Lake Placid course in New York state, and as I began to flag in the last kilometre your advice on focusing on your lead hand and brushing your big toes together came back into my mind. It kept me smooth in the water and I had a great time. Thanks so much for the timely advice.

Kellog said...

Im quite new to this site and am finding it a real inspiration. Did Bude triathlon North Cornish coast this weekend - just a sprint event but its always a fabulous vibe. The sun was shing hard and it was very hot with fair size seas. For the first time ever i felt quite confident in this seaswim- have been doin the event for 6 years now. Got thru the surf but lost time getting round the turnaround buoy. It was beautiful out there. Almost beat my wife's swimtime - now that WOULD be something! Andy

KeepTriin said...

I just completed my first, mass start, middle distance swim. Even though I hung back to give myself space and had about 1 minute run to T1, my split was 38min. Ok, I'm no fish, but my fitness is pretty poor at the moment anyway. Throughout the swim I was focused on a continual movement, tips for sighting, keeping my breathing balanced with a good exhalation, toes brushing etc... and it all worked. Despite some biff in the turns, the swim passed in what felt like no time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Patricia said...

I followed your advice on the half ironman in buffalo Springs this past weekend. I had been so frustrated with my swim for the TX ironmana month prior I knew I had to do something. I practiced visualizing and focusing on your recommendations. no other change in training

It was wonderful! I was second out of the water in my age group and got 5th in AG at the end... beating the lady behind me by 0.01 seconds at the finish line.... clearly the swim gave me a significant advantage. got a spot to world championship for 70.3 because of you all! thanks!

Andy said...

Thanks guys. The 'what to think about when you are racing' article was well timed as I read it the Friday before Ironman Nice. It really helped, both and during the swim as it gave me something to think about and focus on. The swim was carnage from start to finish, as you'd expect with 2500 swimmers on the same course. But I just focused on one part of my stroke and got on with. Turned out to be my best ever swim time. So many thanks, Andy

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