Article image

by Scott Bay

December 14, 2018

It might seem backward but racing is what makes your training sessions more meaningful

At a recent swim meet I was talking with an accomplished swimmer (think multiple world records) and she was just coming back to the pool after some time away due to work and life. One of the things that struck me about our conversation was that, although she had returned to training a while ago, she said she needed to race more so she would know how to train.

Wait, what? Isn’t that backward? Don’t you train to race?

Yes, but how do you know if your training is working unless you race to figure out what adjustments to make to your training?

What Racing Tells You That Your Workouts Don't

It’s a fact of swimming life that we think we can come close to simulating race conditions in the training pool, but the race experience is quite different. The main difference is the intensity. Racing influences how you approach both the long-term training and the race itself. Here are some key feedback questions to reflect on that racing gives you that’s not as easy to get in the training pool.  

  • Did you die at the end of the race? Regardless of distance, not having it at the end can be a result of several different things but one of the most crucial is level of fitness. Sure, you might have gone out too fast, but this feedback also helps you decide the levels of volume and intensity to focus on in training to make sure you have something left in the tank at the end.
  • Did you race your plan or somebody else’s? Sometimes when the horn goes off the mind goes blank. The race strategy you had trained is overtaken by the speedster in the lane next to you and you turn on the gas early to keep up. The go-out-fast-and-hang-on race strategy does work for some, but if you didn’t train to do that, it’s not something you want to try for the first time on race day. If you want to go that route you need to adjust your training.
  • How did it feel compared to your training sessions? The adage is that you race the way you train. So, the question is: did you go to that scary-feeling place in training often enough? Part of the feedback is learning how to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Was it fun and, if not, why? Sometimes races go horribly wrong, but athletes who are generally having fun learn from bad races and go back the training pool to do something about it. Racing is fun. If you’re not having fun, that’s important feedback for you to consider.

Mapping the Road Ahead

Once the race is over, it’s smart to spend a few minutes either talking about it or writing it down. It helps solidify in your head the experience while it’s still fresh in your memory. For example, if on the last 25 your legs were just not there, maybe you need more kick sets. The only way to know how to plan for the future is to reflect on that experience. If you had no lungs, maybe that’s a fitness issue. The bottom line is there’s no one-size-fits-all training solution. But, your performance on race day is a result of your training and how your body responds to that training. If you liked what you got then by all means keep your current regimen and maybe tweak it. But, if not, use that experience to change what you’re doing in the practice pool. 


  • Technique and Training


  • Races
  • Racing
  • Speed