7 Seconds: My 2014 Swim Strategy Takeaways

Way back on June 22nd I did the Defi de Monte Cristo 1km swim – kind of a consolation prize for me as I did not get into the 5k challenge. I decided to use the swim to work on my race strategy which I would take to the ITU Chicago paratriathlon event.  In hindsight (which is always 20-20 right?) there were some clear takeaways for me from this event.

1. Practice A New Strategy. Race The Strategy. Fine Tune. Repeat.

In May I put into practice a new swim strategy for my triathlon season. I have been working on red-lining my swim and using a sprint start easing back to race pace. I have done this in pool sets, and used CapTex as the first race I swam with this deliberate approach.

In CapTex I went out hard (I tried to hang with Aaron Schiedies for about 50m and couldn’t – but just trying meant I definitely hit the hard effort). My legs developed a very compressed-by-neoprene feeling due to the hard kick effort, at which point I eased off and recovered, then got back into the rhythm coming into the last 200m. I found myself draggin Thomas Lee around the course until he sprinted the last 200m and my legs didn’t have any late sprint left in them. But the result was good – a low 14 minute swim, off what I know I am capable of by about 30 seconds, but good – better than previous years. And a working strategy – so I thought.

I decided to bring my new strategy with me for race testing at the Defi Monte Cristo 1km challenge.

2. Race Pace One Week Out From A Race

For me, this was a bad idea. I raced on Sunday, flew home Monday, then unpacked, repacked, and headed to Chicago on Wednesday to race on Saturday. In theory swimming hard on Sunday should not have impacted my race on Saturday, because, well, swimming.

I once again tested my new race strategy in Marseille. I sprinted hard in the beginning, until my legs felt like sausages being squeezed by neoprene, backed off, recovered, and then eased into shore. I decided in Marseille that my issue was no longer my start, it was my finish (see point 3 below).

But I also think – in retrospect – that maybe red lining in Marseille made my swim legs a bit less fresh that Saturday in Chicago – when it counted most for me…

I think this goes back to how my body responds to training and racing. Typically I find myself performing much better with almost no activity (super easy sessions only) during race week.

When I swam in Chicago I totally blew up – my legs felt like sausages being completely squashed by my wetsuit. Clearly two hard sprints with less than a week recovery didn’t work too well for my legs.  I almost had to float on my back my legs hurt so bad. It was not what I expected, and way off my target time of sub-14 minutes as I squeaked in just below 15 minutes… 

In retrospect – the strategy of practicing my A-race with less than a week before the A-race – that strategy might work for others, but not for me.

Chalk this up to learning by doing!

3. Finish Strong

I learned from Marseille and CapTex that my finish needs some work. CapTex Thomas Lee overtook me just at the end. In Marseille I was 7 seconds off the podium.

7 seconds.

That was completely down to my finish. The mindset to pull hard once again at the end, and to sprint it into the finish – as well as off the start line.

I was smiling in this photo. But only because I stopped cursing when I looked at the camera. I was not happy with my finish, which I know could have been better. At least 8 seconds better!

I have one more chance (definitely) for this season to put a good swim together for a sprint triathlon. 

The London Triathlon is in less than three weeks. I said I was racing this season just to focus on my love for the sport, and everything else would be icing on the cake. But I have to admit, it would be nice to have one good “to plan” swim result too!

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