Keep the Pace: Junk Yardage vs. Quality Yardage


A little bit ago, I wrote up a piece talking about junk yardage as a plus. Now I want to offer some caveats and provisos and such. The biggest problem with just going and swimming 10 k + yards a day without any reflection or thought to how those yards composed is that you will find a limit to improvement.

Good swimmers know how to control their pace.

As such, any yardage done should have that in mind.

I’m not saying the occasional 1000 yards or 2000 yards unmonitored isn’t beneficial. However, doing repeat 500s with no concern for pace for hours? That’s not going to help you beat your best time unless you are very slow. Even more so for repeat 300s with nice long rest sets in between.

Open water swimmers and pool swimmers can vary their speeds, and they find different paces for different parts of their races. When I swam the 500 free, I swam my 1st 100 fastest, then a slower 2nd 100. From there I dropped time of the pace of each one hundred.

That was my race strategy.

It is not necessarily the best race strategy. If I had eased up on that first one hundred and kept to a faster pace overall, I might have done better. However, at that time I never even considered playing with my race pace.

Open water swimmers have to change paces to stay with the pack – if you drop behind you end up loosing the draft. If you go to fast, you end up dragging the pack through the water. If you can’t ramp up the pace at the end, you get left behind by those that can.

In practice, you have to learn when and how and what of pace change. When to do it? What toll it takes on your body? And how in the world do you change the pace anyways?

For the later: Drills holding tennis balls, swim paddles, elastic bands, build over short distances, and learning other strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke). The other two are part of the chess game of swimming that few ever hear about.

The big idea here is to utilize the variety of distances to maintain different paces over the course of a work out. I hope to write up an article on the swimming version of lactate thresholds soon. That will give you a base pace to work from and a framework for continued evaluation.

So, go use 500s or 1200s and repeat them, but do them on a pace and change that pace as you go. One of my favorites is to do 500s on 6:40, 6:20, and 6:00 – then repeat while trying to hold 5:50 or below.

Yes, I know that’s slow. But I’m old and out of shape.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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