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Steady State Focus

It's not difficult to calculate your critical swimming speed or CSS, which is described elsewhere on these pages. But it's very difficult for most people to swim at that pace in an actual race. What happens is that in all of the excitement of the start, almost everybody starts too hard and too fast. Many people totally lose their endurance freestyle technique, and they end up working harder for a slower swim leg than they would have had just cruising at CSS from the start.

Before your first race, the most important thing to learn about swimming is what it feels like to swim at your CSS pace. You need to be fairly precise about it. In an Olympic-distance race, if you swim just one second slower than your 50-yd CSS pace, you will add about a half minute to your swim time. So learn what your pace feels like at the pool.

On race day, plan to swim at your pace for the entire swim leg. You will feel as though you are being left behind at the start. But by maintaining your CSS pace, you will come out of the water in much better shape than all of the people who have spent way too much energy swimming. If you do feel you want to go a little harder, WAIT! You can go harder on the bike, or even better you can go harder on the run. If you must, go a little harder during the last 200 yards of the swim - but focus on smooth speed. It may give you a boost to pass somebody - and it may get your legs going for the trot to T1.

Technique Focus Points

  • Feel the pace. Know what your kick feels like (it had better be a two-beat kick!); know how your hip-snap feels at CSS, how hard your recovering arm drives forward, how frequently you will be breathing, and so forth. Know everything about your CSS, and while swimming, keep going through a check-list to be sure you are maintaining your pace.
  • Strokes per length. At the pool, your SPL count is the best indicator that you are staying on pace.

What to Watch For

  • High turnover. You are working too hard, and probably not going much faster for the effort.
  • Going soft. At longer distances it's easy to slack off in areas where you shouldn't - like your posture.
  • Aches and pains. If something (like a shoulder) hurts, you are probably working too hard, or your technique is coming apart. Calmly go through a checklist.

Steady State Focus Workouts

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