Race specific training: Tactical surges
Delivering an effective race swim requires the ability to sustain your race pace for the distance, incorporate changes of pace and then settling back into your CSS or race pace without too much impact on your overall speed or resulting in a drop off in pace. The ability to sustain CSS pace has been a key focus for the squad throughout the Winter and Spring months, leading into the race season. Approaching the season and early races, implementing tactical and technical focus will bring about performance gains to allow a solid pool swimming training block to be applied successfully to Open Water and race scenarios.
Technical skills include:
Different forms of drafting and being able to adapt and implement as the conditions require, despite having a personal preference for making good use of other swimmers to conserve energy and swim slightly faster if well selected as the race pans out (ie: feet or hip drafting)
Regular, minimalistic sighting technique integrated into the breathing cycle of the stroke. If well practiced it is difficult to observe the swimmer lifting only the goggles from the water immediately before they turn their head to breathe in, making good use of the ‘bow wave’ channel beside the face. It becomes a natural progression for open water navigation, essential to use in OW and has little or no impact on the swimmer’s body and leg position in the water, ie: no additional drag issues as the legs sink if they lift their head too high (water polo style). A very different breathing technique to requirements of a competitive pool swimmer, and needs to be trained as such!
Tactical skills include:
The ability to change pace, to bridge a gap between packs of swimmers, or to switch from drafting the feet of a swimmer heading off course to a swimmer or group that are navigating correctly on the shortest route to the next turn or swim buoy. Once the gap has been closed down, the swimmer is able to recover and settle efficiently into their race pace
Tactical surges where putting a short fast effort will increase chances of performing well, exiting ahead of competitors, getting onto a faster swimmer’s feet as they pass you or getting a clear run at the ramp to or beach to complete a second lap unhindered. Equally a surge away from a turn or swim buoy may drop drafting competitors if you are keen to break away rather than providing drafting benefits to a group who will inevitably attempt to overtake you later in your event or finish of the race.
The ability to use a tactical surge, however short, with the confidence you can settle back into race pace, is a highly useful skill to develop in training. By working through these sessions, you will gain understanding of the impact on your energy levels and pace in order to implement it sparingly or with consideration over a given race distance. With practice to ensure you are aware of the energy deficit ‘cost’, this race-specific conditioning will enable you to sustain race pace rather than suffer the disproportionate drop-off that inevitably occurs. To sustain pace over a goal race distance you need sufficient aerobic conditioning to maintain your threshold (CSS) pace, by training at or slightly below CSS. If this forms a key component of the swimmer’s swim training, then tactical skills add another performance dimension for open water events and will often allow a slightly slower pool swimmer to out-swim faster swimmers in training, simply by having well-practiced tactical skills.