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I’m definitely a back-half swimmer. And by that I mean that the second half of my race is almost as fast as the first half.
One of my favorite things to joke about, but it’s really true, is that when I’m swimming a 200, I think of it like a 100. My mentality is... you just do the first hundred... get it out of the way... and you race the second hundred.
It’s almost a game. On the first hundred, it’s... OK, I need to go as fast as possible and make it as easy as possible. The game is to find speed that’s not costing you a whole lot of energy.
And then on the second hundred, it’s like you just go. The second hundred you just race. It’s a very different mentality from a lot of people who look at the 200 and they just go for it and then hang on.
Being a back-half swimmer is nerve-wracking because you can get behind sometimes and you have to be confident in what you’re doing -- that you’re not going to get tired and other people are going to get tired. It’s finding what works for you.
At Olympic Trials, my 100 backstroke was 29.2 and 29.9. It looked like I came from behind, but it was just an even split, with a steady stroke tempo the whole way through.
Swimming a strong second half is something I work on every day in practice. It’s not just something I do in a meet. I have to train for that on almost every set that we swim.
During practice, I make a constant effort to be relaxed on the first half of each swim. I don’t think of it as going easy, because it’s not easy. I like to think of the first half of the race as being as relaxed as possible, and then really going after it in the second half. I think about coming home.
In our practice sets, I mentally split each swim into two parts. For a 150, I think of it as 75 and 75. Or I stay relaxed on the first hundred and then push the second 50. I do this a lot more than my coach tells us to do it. It’s that little extra something that I like to do, and that gives me confidence that my race strategy is going to work.
And you have to be confident. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not been anywhere near the front at the halfway point in the 200. It’s about being confident enough in your race strategy that you’re not going to panic. It’s not letting others scare you. It’s not letting others affect you. It’s finding that strategy and having confidence in it and being able to stay in your head and in your lane.
It’s staying within your race and then finding that little extra...something that lets you get it done.
I have always been a back-halfer -- at least in backstroke. I’ve experimented with other strategies, but this is what works for me.
And knowing that’s my strategy, I like to figure out how extreme I can be with it -- or how not extreme I can be. Like... where is that perfect mix of being relaxed but not too relaxed on the first 100? Where’s the perfect balance for being fast on the first 100, but not expending too much energy to get that speed? How do I need to feel at the 100 to be able to finish the race?
Figuring this out is something you have to do in practice, by working on it in set after set. And then you take that strategy to a meet... and you practice racing.
If you’ve done a good job of practicing your strategy in practice, it should be automatic by the time you get to a meet, and you can just race, which is the most fun part of the sport.
But what can also happen is that you have a conversation with yourself, even while you’re racing. You know your strategy so well, that your brain can have a physical conversation with your body.
Sometimes I’ll kick out and I’m physically telling myself, “relax...be calm. You’re fine.” And then at the 50 I’m saying, “OK, don’t back off too much, but don’t go too hard.” I’ll hit the hundred wall and I’m like, “Slow down...” or “Now’s the time to make your move.” It’s definitely a conversation. And then the last 50 is everything you’ve got left. Sometimes I’m yelling at myself and it’s a pure “HANG ON.” I’m trying to find a way to finish the race and finish fast. So you can use these kinds of conversations to swim a positive race and swim according to your strategy.
But the most important thing is to find a race strategy that works for you, and then practice your strategy every time you go to the pool.