What Should You Think About During Your Big Race?

Trust in your plan to settle your pre-race nerves
It's the middle of June and if you are living in the northern hemisphere then you're likely to be building up to your key race of the season sometime in the coming weeks.

You've been preparing diligently, working on your stroke technique, you swim fitness and open water skills. But come race day and the gun going off, what should you actually think about whilst you swim to perform at your very best?

We suggest you make a (very) short list of one, two or three things to rotate through in your mind during the race. Pre-plan this list and you can be confident going to the start line about what you are going to do and think. Don't choose more than three!

Remember to only think about one thing at a time - if you have several items on your list then rotate through them in turn, spending about 10 seconds on each for the duration of the event.

Here's some ideas you might want to choose from and why each might be right for you :

- Breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe... Most people are nervous at the start of any race (and particularly an open water swim) so what's the first thing they instinctively do? Hold their breath! Holding your breath builds up excess CO2 in your system which can easily lead to a panic attack. Make sure you exhale smoothly and continuously into the water from the very start of the race and combine it with bilateral breathing timing using Swim Smooth's most famous mantra: Breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe.

- Straight-bubble-bubble-straight. A variation of breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe but instead of thinking "breathe" when breathing, think "straight" to keep focus on what that lead arm is doing as it enters and extends forwards underwater. Choose this if you know you have a crossover in your stroke when your breathe. The mantra will help reduce the crossover and in turn help you swim straighter.

A "crossover" is where the lead arm crosses the centre line in front of the head

- Tap Your Big Toes. This is perfect for anyone with a scissor kick or any issue with their kicking technique. As you swim brush your big toes lightly as they pass each other - make sure this is a continuous and regular tap-tap-tap-tap. Any gap in the taps (especially when you breathe) indicates a scissor kick!

A scissor kick is like opening a parachute behind you!
It most commonly happens when you breathe.

- Am I going too fast? Nearly everyone starts their race too fast and then slows down progressively through the race losing more time overall than they ever gained at the start. Especially in the first half of the swim, continuously ask yourself if you are going too fast and if you can realistically sustain this pace. If you missed it first time around, check out our classic The Gradual Crescendo blog post on this subject.

- Think: Rhythm, Range, Relax... Rhythm, Range, Relax... This is a nice mantra for stronger swimmers who may feel a little frantic at the start of a race, or when encountering choppy conditions which are throwing them off their game. Rhythm is absolutely key to great open water swimming. Keep the Range in your stroke from extension out front to finishing at the thigh. And stay Relaxed even when working hard.


Remember less is more when picking your list. Choose the items that will make the biggest difference to you and remember the golden rule: only ever think about one thing at a time.

Have an awesome race!

Swim Smooth!
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