Finding Your Own Race Strategy: How I Became a More Successful Distance Swimmer

lane-line-block Race strategy

Finding Your Own Race Strategy: How I Became a More Successful Distance Swimmer

For me, distance swimming was all about the training. In my sophomore year of high school, I routinely did 500s, 1000s, even 3000s in practice, all in an attempt to get stronger and improve my endurance for those longer races. But, unlike in years past, that would not be enough for me to drop time. At my December championship meet, I started off with a bang, adding 13 seconds in the 1000. The next two races were a 13 second add in the 500 and a two-second add leading off the 800 free relay.

I didn’t quite understand why this was happening. I had put in the work in the fall, but I felt like I was falling apart on the second half of everything. But my coach gave me a new race plan before the 200 free. He told me, “Build through the first 100, and then sprint the second 100.”

Now, this seemed like it would be natural to me. I was a distance swimmer, and the 200 was my shortest event. I was not going to have comparable speed to guys who mainly swam sprint or middle distance, so why would I try to go out with them? Yet this was exactly what I had done my entire career. And this problem reached past just the 200. In the 500, 1000, and 1650, I often went out in the lead or close to it. This was what harmed me earlier in the meet, as I took it out too fast and faded.

This was compounded by the fact that I trained with such high volume. With that kind of training plan, I rarely trained my speed. This made my strategy (just going out fast and holding on) entirely wrong for the kind of swimmer that I was. But since I was young, and dropping because I was getting stronger, this had never occurred to me.

So I swam the new race plan, and two days after I had gone a 1:49 leading off my team’s 800 free relay (and added two seconds), I went a 1:46 and cut a second. What? How did I magically swim three seconds faster in two days? I have listed the splits below to compare.


24.72 – 51.98 (27.26) – 1:20.88 (28.90) – 1:49.80 (28.92)


25.44 – 52.96 (27.52) – 1:20.04 (27.08) – 1:46.93 (26.89)

Building into my race forced me to start slower than I was used to. But by not going all out right from the start, I had improved my second 100 by FOUR SECONDS. That was an eye-popping improvement that told me that I had to continue swimming this way.

That spring, I brought this strategy into high school season. At a midseason high school meet, I lowered my time another 2.5 seconds, down to 1:44.54. However, in this race, I swam a huge negative split: 52.9 on the first 100, 51.6 on the second. It was a reminder that, although I had found a strategy, it still needed fine tuning to maximize my potential. However, the time drops told me that I was doing the right things with my race strategy, and encouraged me to continue focusing on the second half.

But what did all these drops tell me? I learned that there comes a certain point in swimming where doing the same things you have always done will not work anymore. I found ways to improve, even when I was not necessarily getting faster. For example, my 100 free time is just tenths faster than it was at the beginning of my sophomore year, but my 200 free has improved five seconds. It was not just about getting stronger for me, but also about swimming smarter.

Finally, I learned that what worked for others would not always work for me. With swimmers such as Dean Farris breaking records in the 200 yard free, and mostly doing it on the front half, there is an idea that this is the only way to swim or the correct way to swim. But the fact is that not everybody will be successful swimming like this. It is important to swim the way that makes you the fastest, not the way that everyone else is doing it. Find your own race strategy.

An example of this is the 1500 free at the 2017 National Championships. In the race video, you can see that True Sweetser in lane 4 is not even in the screen at the 500 mark. However, Sweetser storms by everyone on the last 200 to win the race. This is just another reminder that, even at the highest level, not everyone is swimming the same strategy. Sweetser stuck to his plan of bringing it home strongly, even with people taking off around him, and that allowed him to secure his spot on the World Championship team.

In closing, finding your own race strategy allows you to swim at the highest level. It may take some time to figure this out, but there are things you can do to expedite the process. First off, make sure to consider your strengths and what you practice the most. For example, if you were a 50 freestyler, it might make more sense to capitalize on your speed early in a longer race. Also, be sure to try out different strategies in practice or at smaller meets. This will help you get a feel for each race plan. These tips will allow you to maximize your ability by finding the best race plan for yourself.

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