Exact Pace Awareness – without using a pace clock
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 16th, 2010

Here is another installment of my marathon training. My focus in training is not to just complete these long swims, but to develop the ability to swim them at the best possible pace. This practice illustrates how to develop keen and constant awareness of pace without using a pace clock.

Monday Feb 15 0630 – 3500LCM at Coronado Pool

Set #1: 300 [50BK @ 39SPL 50FR @ 38 SPL ]– Focus on soft catch and streamlined/ legs on both.

Set #2: Swim 3 rounds of 1000m as  [4×50+3×100+2×150+1×200] with Tempo Trainer and SPL. Rest 10 beeps between swims within each round. Rest :30 extra after first round, :60 extra after second round.

Notes: Goal was to keep SPL constant for entire set, at an average of 40 strokes per 50 meters. On each repeat I swam1st length at 39SPL, middle lengths at 40SPL, last length at 41SPL (I.E. 100 = 39+41; 150 = 39+40+41]

I set Tempo Trainer @ 1.10 sec/stroke on 1st round, @ 1.09 on 2nd round; @ 1.08 on 3rd round.

This set improves two neural circuits: (1) consistent pacing – sometimes called “clock in the head.” And (2) increase pace with mental, rather than physical, effort.

1) Consistent Pacing. This is one of two core competencies of successful distance swimming.  The best distance swimmers have a greater ability than other swimmers to maintain an unvarying pace. I prefer to improve my “pacing circuits” with this kind of set because it’s precise and process-oriented. I.E. 40 strokes at 1.1 seconds will always take 44 seconds. (Allowing 3 beeps [3.3 seconds] on pushoff results in a 50m pace of 47.3 sec.) So long as I synchronize with the beep and keep SPL at an average of 40, my pace for the 100s, 150s and 200 in each round will exactly match  my pace for the 50s.

2) Improved Pacing. At an average of 40 SPL, it took 800 strokes to complete 1000 meters in each round. (I actually saved 4 or 5 strokes in the 2nd round and 2 or 3 in the 3rd round). Increasing stroke frequency by .01 each round, converts into a time savings of 8 seconds in each round. So my final 1000 meters was 16 seconds faster than my first. (Note: If I added only 8 strokes (taking 808, instead of 800 for 1000m) then I would have swum slower at the faster tempo.)

The best part is I swam faster without “trying” harder. In fact, my focus when I increase tempo is to make each stroke feel as relaxed and unhurried as possible, as that’s the secret to not adding strokes (i.e. taking shorter strokes). So, with an intention of feeling as easy and leisurely as possible I swam at least 16 seconds faster (more when you factor in the strokes I saved) for 1000 meters at the end of the set, compared to the beginning. Over a full 38km English Channel swim that improvement would result in a time savings of over 10 minutes.

No Pace Clock Necessary – I especially like this approach to training because it renders the pace clock unnecessary. I never looked at the pace clock once during this practice, yet knew my pace exactly, on virtually every stroke.  If I do rely on the pace clock I don’t know my pace for sure until I stop swimming. But after years of stroke counting, I’ve developed an acute sense of how my stroke feels at different counts. This gives me the ability to adjust pace in the middle of a repeat – or even mid-pool. A couple of times during this set I slightly missed my turn, or felt a momentary loss of form in mid-pool and knew immediately that moment’s inefficiency would add a stroke (and 1.1 sec.) by the far end if I failed to lengthen my stroke in some way.  This gives me the awareness to maintain complete control over my pace the whole way.

The most important dividend of this approach to pace development is that it prepares me for the challenges I’ll encounter in the English Channel — or any swimming race for that matter. Runners can glance at their watch at any time in a race, but swimmers lack that option.  Therefore honing my internal sense of Stroke Length and Stroke Rate (the unfailing “math of pace”) provides me with an invaluable tool for smart, effective swimming.

Learn more about how to use a Tempo Trainer to improve distance swimming in my ebook, Outside the Box.

Download a free excerpt from Outside the Box.

One Response to “Exact Pace Awareness – without using a pace clock”

  1. Mark says:

    One of the things I do during practice is 12 x 50’s @ 1:00. 3 at an intensity level that would be :50, 3 at :45, 3 at :40, and 3 at :35. I find it helps to connect intensity level to relative speed.

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