Friday, December 06, 2013

"But I Was Just Chasing Ray!"

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Last week with the Swim Smooth Squad in Perth, we conducted a 200m and a 400m timetrial to calculate each swimmer's threshold (or CSS) pace. This threshold pace is the speed they should be able to sustain over 1500m in a race.

We were lucky enough to have eight coaches on the pool deck so that all 112 swimmers who swam the test (over three sessions) got their times individually recorded. Not only that but during both the 200m and 400m swims, we recorded their first 100m split to compare the speed they started versus their overall time to assess how well they paced things out. All the timetrials were from a push (not a dive).

Even if you're not a numbers person bear with us here, there's some really useful things we can learn from the results.

400m Timetrial Pacing

To keep things simple, let's look at their 400m timetrials and compare the speed they swam the first 100m with the speed they swam the last 300m (in the left hand columns below). Remember the idea of a timetrial is to swim the overall distance as fast as possible to get the best overall time.

Every swimmer (except for Brad R) slowed down after the first 100m and some of the drop-offs in speed we saw where huge. The majority of the squad were at least 5 seconds per 100m slower but many were 10, 20 or ever 25 seconds slower per 100m! :

(click to enlarge image)
To help visualise what this means, we calculated how each swimmer would have swum if they had kept up the same speed after the first 100m and how many meters they ended up behind that 'virtual swimmer' in their real swim. That's the right hand columns above, showing most swimmers ended up around 20m behind their virtual selves and many 30 to 70m behind!

If these swimmers had started off a few seconds slower over the first 100m, they would have sustained a much faster pace and swam much quicker overall as a result. For the guys in the red-zone above, they might have swum a whole minute quicker over the 400m by pacing things out better!

It's important to appreciate that despite most of the squad swimming with poor pacing (to a greater or lesser extent) most improved their speed between 3 and 5% since July - imagine what they could achieve by pacing things out correctly.

"But I Was Just Chasing Ray!"

Stopwatches at the ready: The coaches get ready
to start the timetrials with the 9:30am squad.
Megan joined the squad less than 18 months ago and in her first video analysis session with us was swimming around 2:15/100m. 10 weeks ago Megan's CSS pace was down to 1:45/100m (a quantum leap!) and last week she tested at 1:41/100m - an improvement which would save her over 1 minute per mile.

But is Megan in the 20% who paced things brilliantly last week? Actually no! She went through the first 100m in 1:32 but fell away to 1:37/100m for the last 300m. When we pointed this out to Megan she said "But I was just chasing Ray!". Could this same competitive drive also be costing you during your races and training sets?

Consistent Cobie

Cobie is one of the most consistent swimmers in the squad and as a result she's improving at a huge rate of knots. Out of choice (!) Cobie swam in all three of the squad sessions where we performed the 200 and 400m timetrials and so she had three goes at it.

Cobie's CSS worked out at 1:59.5 on Wednesday, 1:51.5 on Thursday and 1:53.5 on Friday - all a huge improvement on her CSS in July of 2:11.5. What can we take from this though? Well Cobie's best performance came on Thursday night when coach Sally suggested that she should "treat it like a training session" given that she'd already done the test 36hrs previously. The result? Much less stress, better pacing, and a significantly faster result!

Sometimes we build these things up into something they're not - a timetrial is only ever a gauge of where you're at, right here, right now - nothing more, nothing less. Don't fear them, embrace them for the value and insight they offer.

World Record Holder Sun Yang

So how do these performances compare to a great swimmers? Let's look at Sun Yang's 50m splits during his mighty 1500m world record at the London Olympics:

27.09, 28.81, 29.46, 29.05, 29.35, 28.97, 29.53, 29.34, 29.23, 28.89, 29.26, 29.27, 29.25, 29.34, 29.41, 29.3, 29.49, 29.38, 29.46, 29.32, 29.42, 29.21, 29.54, 29.37, 29.17, 29.19, 29.39, 29.14, 27.81, 25.68

Obviously he gains a couple of seconds from the dive at the start and is able to lift his effort to sprint the last 100m but his pacing of the rest of the swim is incredible, with every 50m within a range of 0.7 seconds. Amazing pacing skills! Do you think you could do that? How about with the adrenaline of an Olympic final in your system?

This gives us an insight into how Sun got himself into such supreme shape for that swim - you can imagine how precise he was through all of his hard sets in training.

Poor Pacing Lowers The Quality Of Your Training

Not only does poor pacing harm your race performances but it also harms your training as you fade during training sessions. By learning to pace things out correctly you will improve the quality of your training and get bigger fitness improvements as a result. You still want to train hard but aim to sustain a strong effort through your sessions instead of starting too fast and fading away (or blowing up!) every session.

For more information on how this should feel, see our Gradual Crescendo blog post.

80% Of You Do The Same?

Looking at the figures from the squad, over 80% paced things quite poorly. We're confident we could easily extend that to the readership of this blog and say with 80% confidence your own pacing is pretty poor too and needs some work. Fix this by pacing out your swim well (like Sun Yang) and you'll almost certainly set some personal best times straight away. Even better, those PBs will keep on coming over the following weeks and months as you get the fitness improvements from training more effectively.

One of the best ways you can do that is with a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro - a brilliant gadget that will beep a pace to you as you swim. Simply pace yourself so you turn and push-off the end of the pool when the beeper goes and you too will have perfect pacing.

We'll leave the last word to Nathan:

"I managed a PB for the 400 so I'm stoked. I thought I would do around 7:00 and managed 6:51 so I'm thrilled. I always worry about blowing up after the first 100 and knew I'd done the first 100 fast so I backed off consciously in the 2nd, much as I wanted to keep up with Shane (who smashed it!). Then I felt like I built up my pace into the 3rd and 4th 100s."

Swim Smooth!

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