One of the key skills differentiating an elite athlete from an amateur, is the ability to judge pace when training and racing. This takes many hours of well invested time in the pool, on the bike or on your legs running if you are a triathlete. Quite often as an athlete develops skills in pace awareness in one discipline such as swimming they see and feel the benefits in their other sports such as cycling and running too. Training needs to be specific and targeted to the athlete’s own individual data, rather than numbers or pace identified as part of a goal oriented process. Too often the ‘numbers’ become unrealistic without any data or performances to back up or scaffold these expectations.
A threshold test is a good way to highlight the ability to judge pace, as is a race scenario, if you can gain accurate split times for comparison. This is often difficult data to acquire in the open water and consequently many triathletes find it difficult to understand how their judgement can be so ‘off the pace’ when their perception of their work rate is the opposite. The most common feedback we see as coaches in the squads with our newer swimmers is that they set off way too fast on timed or test sets, due to it ‘feeling easy’ and then struggle to maintain 10-20% slower pace towards the end of an effort. In fact they will often tell us they were swimming faster at the end of a 400m effort. However the split times and data reveal a completely different story…. The proof is always in the numbers and performance delivery and perception often won’t provide an accurate correlation to the data.
A regular focus frequently featuring throughout our squad annual program is pace awareness and judgement exercises. Using a range of sets helps reveal an athlete’s ability to maintain and then improve their pace (negative splits), as do our contrast sets. The majority of work however needs to be invested consistently in specific CSS work week in and week out, to develop and improve ability to pace at or just below threshold. A threshold effort is sustainable, and the most relevant to endurance athlete racing for an hour or more. Threshold and tempo pace are not in the slightest bit comparable to an all-out sprint.
As we are training in 33m pools at Richmond Pools on the Park, it is handy to have the beepers set to provide feedback every half length in order to allow for more frequent pace adjustment particularly in the earlier stages of developing pace awareness. Here is a handy reference for setting up your timing device if you are working on pacing in your sessions with an idea of each lane group CSS on the various distances (33m to 800m).
The Finis Tempo Trainer Pro or Wetronome are both excellent devices to help swimmers and triathletes work on this key area to improve their swim performance, both in the squad environment where we use them frequently on lane leaders and if training independently.
Enjoy making the leap from good to great in your pacing and performance, it is a very sound investment in progression!