How to Train for Long Course Races in a Short Course Pool
If you’ve done all your training in a short course pool, the first time you stand behind the blocks at a long course pool you may feel a bit intimidated. It looks so far to the other wall.
In fact, not only are there twice as many meters in long course as there are yards in short course, but meters are also actually longer than yards. So what can you do to prepare for racing in a 50-meter pool when you do all your training in a 25-yard pool?
Unfortunately, there is no true replacement for actually training in a long course pool to get ready for a long course meet. However, there are some things you can do to make the transition to long course easier on the day of competition. Here are a few suggestions.
Let’s pretend you're training for the 100 Freestyle, LCM of course. To prepare for the extra distance (you don’t want to run out of gas with 3 meters left), add a 25 to your repeats. So, instead of doing 10 x 100 freestyle in your main set, swim 10 x 125. Training for a 50 breastroke or 50 backstroke? Incorporate 75s of your stroke specialty into your training. These longer swims will improve your overall fitness and your ability to survive (or more than survive) the last five meters of your long course races.
Maintain Your Rhythm & Speed
Every time you push off a wall, you get to enjoy those fractions of a second where you are traveling faster than you can swim. Your body also gets to “rest,” however momentarily, during the turn.
A short course race, then, is really a series of blast-offs. Even if you do a poor streamline and weak underwater dolphin kicks, you only have to hold onto your speed and form for 17-20 meters at a time.
In long course racing there are, obviously, fewer walls. In a long course pool, even if you do world-class streamlined underwater dolphin kicks out to 15 meters, you still have to hold onto your speed and rhythm for 35 more meters! (“Um, that’s longer than my pool!”) Thus, long course races are going to test your speed- and rhythm-maintenance.
In your training, particularly on the longer sets where you’ve added a 25, focus on your rhythm and try to keep it from slowing down at the end of your swims. (If you need help, try using a tempo trainer.) Also, be aware of how much you rely on the walls for rest in the middle of your swims.
Are you coasting into all of your turns? If so, you are cheating yourself out of training! You can improve your long course endurance by accelerating into each turn at practice. Go fast both into and out of all your turns, whether they are open turns or flip turns. Heading into the wall, kick hard. Coming off the wall, squeeze and stretch your streamline, and do sharp, snappy dolphin kicks. You won’t get to rest in the middle of the 50-meter pool, so don’t rest on the wall of the 25-yard practice pool.
The extra distance and the lack of walls in a long course pool will test your endurance. Add some long, hard kicking sets to your training plan.
Talk to the pool staff, and find out whether you can take a few laps in the competition pool at some point in the day or week prior to the meet. Of course, the pool staff does not have to let you swim, but they just might.
If it’s a big meet, such as Master’s Nationals, there is usually an “open training” time the day (and often several days) before competition starts. And even if there is no official training time, many pools have drop-in rates and open lap swimming hours.
Keep in mind that “open training” at big meets can be as crowded as the warm-up pool, and frequently is during “off-peak” hours. Be prepared to swim at odd times (after dinner, for example). But definitely take advantage of the opportunity to swim a few laps of long course before the meet starts, especially if you train in a short course pool.
Do you train in a short course pool? If so, what strategies do you have for getting ready to race long course? What have you done to make the transition to long course a smooth one?