Training Tip: Pacing the Swim

by Peter Holmes on 10 Nov, 2009 10:08 • EspaƱol

With a 1500m swim to start a standard distance triathlon, the idea of starting hard and leaving the pack behind can be a large temptation, however it may not be the most efficient. Learning to accurately pace the swim can help in setting you up for a great race before transferring onto the bike and run.

Every swim is different and there are always going to be things that cannot be controlled, such as waves in the sea, wind conditions and the positions of the buoys, not to mention the other competitors you are sharing the water with. All you can do is focus on the factors you can control to try and improve your swim finishing position.

To start with you need to assess your swim training and the periods when you feel good and full of energy and when you feel tired and drained. You can specifically practice for this by attempting full race simulations, this can either be done in the pool, or for a more accurate reading do this at the open water race venue or in a similar environment.

Try breaking the swim down into manageable sections as opposed to thinking of it as one whole chunk of effort.


It is always important to start at a decent pace to assume a good position whilst avoiding the renowned ‘washing machine’ effect. The tip is to be strong but not aggressive, maybe heading wider than normal to avoid the bulk of athletes who will try and take the shortest route to the first buoy. Finding clear water will allow you to relax and find your rhythm.

First Buoy:

Usually after a few hundred metres the swimmers break up at the turn around the first buoy. At this point you should be thinking about taking stock of your strong start and maybe holding back to save some energy for the later stages of the swim. Find a steady pace that allows you to keep position whilst not exerting yourself too much.

Half Way:

Although many athletes will wait until the final 500m to make their move coming into transition, if you can train to go from 750m out you can pick off a few competitors before they have time to react. Build up the pace steadily, not surging into too high a gear too early, remember that you still have the bike and run to go.

Finishing Off:

Look to maintain the speed you carry forward from the halfway mark whilst not punishing the legs, you’ll need them for the run out into transition. Focus on technique rather than effort and imagine your body gliding through the water. In the final stages take in extra oxygen and kick the legs to move blood back to the lower limbs so they are ready for the swim-bike change over.

Article tags training tip swim
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