Staying on Pace in open water

I have looked through the threads and don't find this, although it has to have occurred to someone else in the past. I am a swimmer of slow to moderate speed, 1:50 is "cruise" pace in the pool but in open water I turn into a slug (who swims) and my times can drop by as much as :20 seconds. Last weekend in open water I thought to try my tempo timer and, voila, it worked. Pace was about what it is in the pool. However, tempo trainers are not de rigeur unde OWS rules, so this is not a complete solution (not to mention if I swam for hours with that thing beeping in my ear I would feel like a character in a Jason Bourne movie! )

How to stay on pace without modern technology? Thanks in advance!


  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MAMember

    Niek said: sing

    I intentionally listen to the same songs before key workouts to get them stuck in my head - then I sing them to myself while I swim. Then I listen to them before open water.

    It started as self preservation after getting a horrible earworm in my head before a long training swim - but I realized it helps me swim faster. Earworm prevention is a bonus.

  • Well, I train for pace but also for exertion level, that subjective feel of how hard you are working. And I have an overall game plan of how much energy I am expending at various points in event, mostly beginning ( don't get all crazy) middle(edgy cruise) and finish( build to end). Ultimately I have pace numbers that I expect to see if conditions are "normal" but when conditions aren't normal, I'm happy to have trained to notice my internal metric. And yes, songs. I train with music periodically for pace and mood. Can't and wouldn't use music in a race, but I do plan out pre-race playlists for music I can call to mind when needed for various situations.

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    I use breathing to pace myself. I'm a bi-lateral breather by default. When I go too fast, I find my self taking double breaths on each side. I know through experience that, for me, any pace requiring two breaths per side isn't sustainable for more than about 2 hours. So I push as hard as I can without needing a second breath.


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved Tides that I tried to swim against Have brought be down upon my knees Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    I tend to concentrate on how I feel, comfortable or uncomfortable, depending on the distance. If I'm swimming a 5K and I feel comfortable, I need to get my butt in gear and swim faster. Over longer distances, I have to constantly remind myself to stop slacking, I think the body prefers to be comfortable and will take measures to ensure that, unless the mind overrides it. It's similar to building cold tolerance, when your body says "scream and get out!" but your mind says "nope, we're going to do this"...sometimes it's a battle!

    What Spacemanspiff says about breathing as a measure of pace is great advice. If I'm going 5,6 or 8 strokes without a breath, I'm slacking.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    wendyv34 said:

    What Spacemanspiff says about breathing as a measure of pace is great advice. If I'm going 5,6 or 8 strokes without a breath, I'm slacking.

    If I go 5, 6 or 8 strokes without a breath, I have been kidnapped by aliens and my body has been replaced by a swimming cyborg


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved Tides that I tried to swim against Have brought be down upon my knees Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • Thanks all of you--good food for thought and thanks for sending the relevant links! I think my challenges are best described by Wendyv34's experience, except for the 5,6, 8 strokes without a breath, which I have only experienced when I am torturing myself in the pool.

  • ViveBeneViveBene Member
    edited June 2017

    I find it useful to remember to sprint - say, 25% to 30% of the time -- in open water. (I got this tip from an OW clinic with Marcia Cleveland.)

    It takes practice, and physiological training, but it seems to work.

    It also feels easier to be brisker in the nonsprint portions if I try to sprint at regular intervals.

    Switching between two equally efficient strokes also seems to juice the pace.

  • IronMikeIronMike Arlington, VACharter Member

    I've been sitting on this thread for a few days, unsure if my comments really are relevant. Perhaps they'll be helpful to you Sarah or to someone else reading.

    When I was training for Issyk Kul, I only had access to small pools, meaning the kinds you can't do laps in. Think hotel pool, only smaller. I strapped elastic tubes to my ankles, wrapped the tubes around a ladder, and swam in place.

    While I entertained myself with "sprints" (really just fast periods, used to be called Fartleks in running), I couldn't really do much else stuck in one place. I did, however, get good at determining my pace. I used a tempo trainer every once in a while, but found that even without it, I kept to about 60 strokes per minute anyway.

    How do I know this? Well, on my "long" swims in that tiny pool, I'd set my watch to beep every 20 minutes, which was my feed sked for Issyk Kul. Being bored, I'd count my strokes. I knew I was slacking if I heard my watch beep and I was only at 1100 strokes!

    This helped me keep pace, and sanity, in Issyk Kul. I would count between feeds ("Just swim from feed to feed!") and would get excited when I saw my crew start to walk to the front of the boat with the bottle and rope! Again, if that started happening around stroke 1000, I knew I was slacking (or were they just feeding me early?!). When I got near the end and it was time to speed up, I knew I was kicking it into gear when I hit 1200 strokes and they were just then starting to fill the feed bottle.

    Anyway, that's my way of keeping pace in OW.


    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Wow! I can't count that high, not even close. If I try to swim anything longer than a 200 without a pace clock, I lose count. My mind likes to wander while swimming. ;)


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    edited June 2017

    All I can say about pacing is that you shouldn't force it. You'll be a little slower in the open because you don't have turns to give you a short burst of speed off the wall and things like lane ropes help keep the water still (by comparison).

    To tag along what Niek said, a tune usually pops into my mind once I've settled in to a swim. I can pretty much tell you every song I had in my head for most of the bigger races I've done. I actually have an iPod playlist of marathon songs by bands such as Metallica, Van Halen, Motley Crue ("Kickstart My Heart" English Channel 2001), the Stones ("Monkey Man" at Lac St Jean in 1999), and even Slayer ("Rain in Blood" 2008 Lake Travis) (I swam that race pretty angry). Some of the less successful swims I've done had some slower tempos like Semisonic's "Closing Time" in Key West one year.

    To go back to my original point, forcing a pace, maintaining a particular heart rate, or strokes per minute may not work out in the end. Your body will let you know how it's doing. Your body will always give you its best if your mind keeps it in the game.

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