Basking Shark tours 2017

Pace it Out

Speedo Pace Clock 2

Using a pace clock is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your pacing as an endurance swimmer. Being able to read and use a traditional pace clock is a fail-safe way of training smart using your numbers (i.e. your target pace as determined by your critical swim speed), as many pools will have one on display. Using such a time-proven method to train means you can develop your intuition and judgement, which are vital components of effective pacing skills. 

Good pace judgement and control is critical for optimum performance for all swim distances except perhaps the 50m dash. The longer the swim, the more important it becomes. If you are training for typical open water distances of 1500m to 10km then understanding your pacing tendencies in training is a good place to begin, if you haven’t already noticed trends in your times. What happens to your speed on a standard main set of 10, 15 or 20 x 100m? Do you tend to set off relatively fast in your sessions, due to the effort feeling easy initially, and then see a drop-off in pace? Or do you follow the opposite trend and sustain your initial pace throughout and perhaps increase your speed on the final reps? An elite swimmer will produce race split times with the second pattern. Often amateur swimmers will be training the opposite conditioning system: starting fast and fading. 

These pace-clock based training sessions will help you develop the pace judgement and control you need to race with consistent, sustainable splits and still finish strong

What exactly is a pace clock?

A pace clock is a clock that only shows seconds. The most common are those with two pointers, usually one red and one black, set at 180 degrees to each other. Used by swimmers since the 1960s (or possibly earlier), it’s a simple but highly effective tool to keep track of how fast you’re swimming.

To use a pace clock it’s helpful to understand a bit of swimming jargon. If your coach says, “start on the next top,” it means start swimming when the next pointer hits 0 (or 60s). If he (or she) says, “start on the red top,” you know you have to wait until the red pointer reaches 0. “On the bottom,” means when the pointer reaches 30s.

When training together, swimmers are usually asked to leave a 5 or 10 second gap to the swimmer in front. This is easily measured on the pace clock but makes it slightly more difficult for the second and later swimmers in the lane to record their times as they will need to do a quick bit of mental maths at the end – but it all comes clear with a bit of practice.

In the example from the main text, swimming 50m repeats off 50s, you would use the pace clock as follows. For the first one, start swimming when the pointer is at 0. For the second, start when the pointer is at 50s, the third starts at the 40s point and the fourth at “half past”, the “bottom” or the 30s mark. If you’re the second swimmer you would start on 05, 55, 45 etc. To measure how fast you’re swimming, glance at the clock as soon as you finish each 50m. On the first one, if you’ve swum 50m in 40s the pointer will show 40: obvious. On the second one, because you started at 50s (or 10s before the top “on the 10 to”), you will have to add 10s to the time shown at the end. If you’ve maintained your pace the pointer will be at 30s.

For more on using a pace clock see: How to Use a Pace Clock

Session 1: Pace assessment

Objective: Use the pace clock to note your times on the main set in order to assess your current pacing skills.

Warm up: 5 x 100m FS at an easy pace. 10s rest after each

Main set: 10 to 20 x 100m FS at your sustainable threshold pace or CSS. Keep it simple by starting each 100m at the next 0 or 30s marker on the pace clock. Observe whether or not you can hold a consistent pace or do you speed up or slow down?

Cool down: 5 x 100m easy FS (or choice). 10s rest after each

Total distance: 2,000 to 3,000m

Session 2: Pace development

Objective: Use the pace clock to improve pace judgement

Warm up: 10x50m easy FS. 10s rest after each.

Note the average time you take to swim each 50m. Add 5 seconds and use this time as your swim and rest interval for your next set. For example, if your average 50m easy pace swim is 45s then set your interval time as 50s on the main set below.

Main set:

• 8x50m FS at your sustainable threshold pace or CSS. 

• 5x200m FS at sustainable threshold pace or CSS. Keep it simple by starting each 200m at the next 0 or 30s marker on the pace clock. Note if your times are consistent.

• 6x100m PULL at sustainable threshold pace or CSS. Start each 200m at the next 0 or 30s marker on the pace clock. Note if times are consistent and whether you are faster or slower with the pull buoy.

Cool down: 10x50m easy FS. 10s rest after each.

Total: 3000m

Session 3: Short & Sweet lunchtime version

Objective: Use the pace clock to improve pace judgement

Warm up: 4x50m easy FS. 10s rest after each.

Note the average time you take to swim each 50m. Add 5 seconds and use this time as your swim and rest interval for your next set. For example, if your average 50m easy pace swim is 45s then set your interval time as 50s on the main set below.

Main set:

• 8x50m FS at sustainable threshold pace or CSS. 

• 2x200m FS at sustainable threshold pace or CSS. Keep it simple by starting each 200m at the next 0 or 30s marker on the pace clock. Note if your times are consistent.

• 4x100m PULL at sustainable threshold pace or CSS. Start each 200m at the next 0 or 30s marker on the pace clock. Note if times are consistent and whether you are faster or slower with the pull buoy.

Cool down: 4x50m easy FS. 10s rest after each.

Total: 1600m

Guidance notes

CSS pace = Critical Swim Speed. A swimmer’s sustainable threshold pace, not all out sprint.

FS = Freestyle or front crawl

PULL = Swimming with a pullbuoy or float between your legs. No kicking. 

Swim Smooth Squad training and Video Analysis sessions

Triathlon Europe provides weekly Swim Smooth squad training in South West London. The squad enjoy training all year round in fabulous indoor and outdoor 33m pools. Fiona offers 1-2-1 video analysis sessions and stroke correction sessions on weekday mornings and weekend Swim Smooth workshops. Fiona also holds open water sessions at Heron Lake (swimheron.co.uk).

Find out more

Cover August 17

Issue 5 August 2017

  • Improve your pacing: Take your training outside
  • Ice Maiden: Ultra swimming legend Jaimie Monahan
  • On Test: Wild swimming and swimrun wetsuits
  • Terry Laughlin: Swimming through cancer treatment
  • Coach's Advice: How to sight in open water

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