Training for lengthy races presents some challenges
Watching swimmers complete a long open water event really well causes many Masters swimmers to wonder how they did it. There’s a lot more to it than going to the pool or body of open water every day and grinding out a huge amount of yardage.
If you think a long open water race is something you’d like to try, here are a few things to keep in mind to help you finish with a big smile on your face.
Swimming long isn’t something you can fake. You have to be both physically ready and mentally prepared. You should start by picking out the race you want to do and work backward from there. Here are some key elements of planning.
- Time until your race: Ask yourself how much time you’ll need to go from where you are to where you need to be to really enjoy the experience. Keep in mind this doesn’t happen overnight or over just a couple of weeks.
- Training plan: U.S. Masters Swimming’s website has a great section of online workouts written by some of our top coaches, and one of those sections is dedicated to just long distance swimmers. Take time to look at these workouts and get a feel for what kind of training you’ll need to do in order to be successful and compare it to your current training. If you’re not ready to jump into the long distance workouts right away, they can always be modified to get you there over time.
- Nutrition: Swimming a long way really impresses upon you the idea that food is fuel. You’ll want to experiment with what you eat and how you feel before, during, and after workouts to really fine-tune what makes you feel good and perform well. If you’re swimming a longer open water race, make sure you plan and practice feeding and hydrating.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could spend as much time as you wanted at the pool? For most of us, the reality is that we have a limited amount of training time and if going long is your goal, you’ll have to match up your training with the rest of your life schedule.
Here are some things to consider when developing your training.
- Your training can be the workouts from USMS’s website or from a knowledgeable coach. Whatever you do, make sure it works for you. Pay careful attention to your body and how you feel as you build to your race distance.
- Technique is a huge part of the equation. While increasing the volume of yards you’re swimming, try not to slip into any bad habits and try to adjust your stroke to maximize efficiency. Make sure you’re getting the most out of each stroke without burning all of your energy.
- You’ll still need to swim fast. Just because you’re swimming long doesn’t mean that you should pound out long, slow sets all of the time. You may need to accelerate to finish strong or hold off a competitor and, if you don’t practice that in training, it won’t be there in a race.
- Train in the environment you’re going to race in. If you’re doing an open water race, make sure you try in open water as frequently as you can. If the water is going to be cold, get use to swimming in cold water. If you’re going to wear a wetsuit during the race, use your wetsuit during your training.
You’re the person who controls whether you’ll have a good day or a bad day racing, and a lot of that has to do with mental preparation. Here are a few tips that will get you in the right mental space to perform your best.
- Confidence: Confidence comes from knowing you did everything you could to prepare for a great swim. How do you gain confidence? Swim the distance more than once. The numerical value of the swim in meters or miles is less intimidating if you know you’ve done it before.
- Be comfortable in the environment: This goes back to the training as well. If you’ve swum in a cold pool or lake or ocean, that environment won’t intimidate you. Also, be sure to practice how long you’re going to be in the water. Are you doing an 8-mile swim? That’s a long time in the water, which means you’ll face chafing, needs for refueling, cold or warmth, and more.
- Rehearse: This is both mental and physical. You’ve been through the training and done the distance. Go over it in your mind several times, from packing to the post-race party, to make sure you’ve addressed all the details that go into a great race experience.
Final Words of Wisdom for a Great Race
Regardless of distance or venue, there’s one simple rule to live by: Don’t do anything new during race week or, especially, on race day.
If you spent all that time prepping for a race, why mess it up by trying a new sports drink or restaurant and having your digestive system not tolerate it or, worse, go berserk? You may be at an amazing place with great sponsor swag and even great food destinations, but you’ll want to save that for after the race.
Similarly, don’t save a new race suit or wetsuit or goggles for that extra race mojo. More often than not, the unfamiliar leads to more anxiety and performance issues (chafing, leaks, poor fit, etc.) than that extra mojo gets you.
- Open Water