View Full Version : 100 freestyle race strategy advice

jim thornton
March 5th, 2002, 11:14 AM
Having benefitted tremendously from advice gleaned from this forum on how to swim the 200 butterfly, and having no intention of doing the 200 butterfly again for at least a year, I would now like to switch my request for strategic advice to the next event I am hoping to swim well: the 100 yard freestyle.

Over the years, I have had several coaches tell me several different things about how to race this distance, and I would like to hear what my fellow masters have found to work the best.

Here are the two main strategies I've been given:

Strategy #1: The Don't Die Strategy

Swim the first 50 as fast as you possibly can while staying smooth and under control; this means it's a little less frenetic and exhausting than an all out 50 sprint.

Swim the 3rd 25 length long and smooth, resting ever so slightly. Make sure to stretch your stroke. As you approach the final turn, pick up the pace to full sprint, do a very fast turn, and continue sprinting all out till you finish.

Strategy #2: The Don't Save Anything Strategy

This one is a little easier to remember: just sprint the whole thing as fast as you possibly can from the get go. The rationale here is that even if you die on the final length, the time you save by sprinting early will more than make up for the time you lose by dying late. The advocate of this strategy suggests that when you die, you feel like you're swimming in molasses, but the truth is, you don't really slow down as much as you feel you're slowing down, especially on a distance as "short" as a 100.

One of the good things about the 200 fly is that if you can finish that, the pain of a garden variety 100 free seems relatively less intimidating. Still, I want to do my best time, and all considerations of pain notwithstanding, does strategy #2 really work better than strategy #1?

Or is some amalgam of the two the way to go--i.e., do strategy #1 without "resting" on the third length?

Final question: I feel I am in pretty good aerobic shape now, with my times in distances of 200 and greater the best they've ever been. My 25s and 50s, however, have noticeably slowed. The 100s are still pretty good--this year's best 100 free of 52.5 is not that far off last year's best of 52.09, whereas this year's 100 fly of 59.59 is better than last year's best of 1:00.20.

I suspect that my "slow twitch" muscles are much better trained now than my "fast twitch" muscles (and at 49, I also suspect that the latter are atrophying faster than the former.) Our next meet is in about 4 weeks. Should I start doing more sprint training at this point in the season, and if so, how much? And would it make sense to do weight lifting now (I've let this slack off during the hard swimming phase of the season.)

Thanks as always for your advice, fellow swimmers. I truly appreciate it.

March 7th, 2002, 08:20 PM
Not getting as much feedback here, are you? From what I remember, and it's been a while since I've swum a 100 free, I have subscribed to your scenario #2; go like heck and hope for the best at the end. I do remember that it really hurts, but in a different way than the 200 fly.
I've always equated freestyle swims with an equivalent distance in track. Basically, track distances of 4X the swimming distance are equal in effort (and, coincidentally in the time it takes for the race). A 50 free, where the top sprinters are around a 20.0 is equal to a 200 dash. If you consider the 100 free in this light, I don't think you see track guys sprinting a 400. Therefore, it might not be correct to sprint the 100 free (if my supposition relating swimming to track distances makes sense).

jim thornton
March 7th, 2002, 08:38 PM

I concur with your swimming/track analogy, including the factor of four multiplier. I'm wondering about the 400 meter dash, though. It seems to me those guys DO sprint this distance.

But back to the 100 free. My best time of my dottage--last year's 52.09--happened when I took a hair off the first 50 and did try to stay smooth on the 3rd 25. For whatever reason, that race felt very good. I'm in much better aerobic shape this year, but my 100 time isn't quite as fast.

I've been reading an excellent book on Swimming Past 50 by Mel Goldstein and Dave Tanner, and they've got me half-convinced that all these aerobic swimming sets I've been doing have paid short shrift to my fast twitch muscles. Given this, maybe I need to go with this year's strength--i.e., endurance. Even if my speed is a bit down, perhaps I should opt for the all out sprint strategy, hoping that my greater endurance will render this the right strategy for this season.

Anyhow, thanks for your reply. Jim

March 7th, 2002, 09:14 PM
A true sprint is an event that is powered nearly entirely by the anaerobic alactic (Creatine Phosphate) system. These exertions are done at the body's maximum effort level but do not produce much or any lactic acid - hence the term "alactic" - and therefore performance is not limited by lactic acid accumulation. The CP system can provide energy at max output for about 10 seconds. Carl lewis running a 100m dash is doing a true sprint. We have no such sanctionable events in swimming.

Once the CP system is depleted, nearly all the energy being used is provided by the anaerobic-lactic (ATP) system. This system cannot produce energy as rapidly as the CP system - hence only a somewhat lower intensity of activity can be supported beyond 10 seconds or so. So the 50 in swimming is not true sprinting - but the closest thing our rulebook allows.

The ATP system also produces lactic acid and at a rate faster than the body can clear it from the muscles. Hence lactic acid accumulation. At continued maximal effort levels lactic acid will accumulate to the point that it begins to hamper performance somewhere in the 40 second range. At this point, despite your best intentions, your body will begin to cut back on the work output. Any work beyond this point will be decreasingly less intense untill you reach an activity level low enough that lactic acid can be cleared as quickly as it is produced - anaerobic threshold. If you have accumulated a very high level of lactic acid you will slow down well below anaerobic threshold - this is called dieing in a race - until the excess has been cleared sufficiently to again allow for greater exertion - second wind.

The above explains why the 100 can be successfully swum "all out" by very few people. If, at the end of your race, lactate accumulation (fatigue) is what controls your speed, rather that your conscious intentions, I will guarantee you have not swum to your fastest potential speed. You have to go out slowly enough to have conscious control of how fast you finish (and then martial those resources well enough that if you had to swim 5 yards further you would no longer be in control) to swim to your potential.

jim thornton
March 8th, 2002, 09:40 AM

Thanks for your eminently erudite reply. A couple questions:

1) what does sprint training do for you on a biochemical level? Does it help your body get better at clearing lactic acid quickly? Or does it help you get better at tolerating it? Or something else?

2) I know this is difficult to do, but could you translate the physiology as best you can into a 25 by 25 recommendation for pacing the 100? Obviously, you don't subscribe to the "sprint the whole way" strategem (unless, I presume, you can finish the hundred in less than 40 seconds!) So what specifically do you recommend we do on each length of the race so as to achieve that point of putative failure at the 105 yard mark?

Does the first strategy in my original post make more sense?

Thanks in advance for your comments.

March 8th, 2002, 02:17 PM
Holy cow Emmett! You're forcing me to get the physiology and biochemistry books off my shelf where their only purpose has been to look good. I knew I should have paid more attention in those classes.
Seriously though, your explanation makes perfect sense to me and any thought I might have had about an all-out sprint in my 100 butterfly next week in Atlanta is hereby abandoned.
Jim, I too seem to have lost some of my "speed" while improving my endurance, but then again, at 51 I'm doing harder workouts now than at any time in my life. My swimming experience as a kid was not what some of you had, so I believe that with the work I'm doing now, I just might be able to achieve "lifetime" bests in some of the longer events.
Has anyone else been able to do this at such an age? Just wondering if maybe I'm dreaming.

Bert Petersen
March 8th, 2002, 04:11 PM
Greg; perhaps this will give direction and hope. My fastest ever 100 fly, at age 18, 55.50 (no 100th's back then). Age 47, went 58.72 - current age 63, best is 1:03.26-hoping for better before age 65. So- you will slow down, but it is amazing how slow we were way back then. Better pools, blocks, lane lines, suits, etc. have helped. Now, the plan for a 100. If you take the first 50 out in about 1/2 second slower than your normal 50 time, you should be OK. Build the 3rd length and hammer the last length. It is surprising that you can come close to your best 50 time on the way without killing yourself. Pay attention to what Emmett says- the man knows his oats....................... Bert

jim thornton
March 8th, 2002, 04:51 PM

You may well have seen this already, but on the old USMS forum, there was a discussion of how times change with age. It culminated with a great utility tool that is posted at:


You can enter your age and your current time, and it will compute your predicted future and past times in two ways--the first using some sort of American formula, the second using a more generous Finn formula.

It only works for freestyle, but I tried out your times for fly anyhow, and this is what it computed:

47 0:58.72 ( 0:58.72)
48 0:59.02 ( 0:59.10)
49 0:59.34 ( 0:59.50)
50 0:59.68 ( 0:59.91)
51 1:00.05 ( 1:00.34)
52 1:00.44 ( 1:00.79)
53 1:00.87 ( 1:01.26)
54 1:01.32 ( 1:01.75)
55 1:01.81 ( 1:02.26)
56 1:02.33 ( 1:02.79)
57 1:02.89 ( 1:03.34)
58 1:03.49 ( 1:03.92)
59 1:04.14 ( 1:04.53)
60 1:04.83 ( 1:05.17)
61 1:05.57 ( 1:05.84)
62 1:06.37 ( 1:06.53)
63 1:07.22 ( 1:07.27)

Thus, according to this means of computation, you are swimming faster at 63 than you did at 47! Or perhaps to put it another way, you are swimming like a 57 year old version of yourself! Either way, congratulations.

By the way, do you have any idea what is going on physiologically during your 100 strategy? That is to say, why does taking a hair off the first 50 save you from dramatically dying on the second 50? I 've heard that resistance increases exponentially with speed, so perhaps that slight slowing down reduces the effort significantly.

Anyhow, I will use your strategy the next time I swim the 100--



Bert Petersen
March 8th, 2002, 08:43 PM
Jim: I discovered way back, when I was coaching, that kids (and me too) could easily come close to a best time without expending a ton of energy. For example: it requires an all-out effort for me to go a 27++ for 50 yds. Surprisingly, I can do repeat 28's ++ all day. (OK, so I exaggerate a little). I THINK that what is happening here is that a 28++ is all technique. To go faster requires a whole lot of extra effort (muscle). This is why negative splitting works so well on a 200 free......Now, in Butterfly, you have an extra element not present in the other strokes: the dreaded sinking of the hips and subsequent struggle over the last 17 yards. Saving the legs and not changing your stroke gives this back to you. I like to think that I have a really good 83 yard fly in me. To get the rest requires planning. ;)

Bert Petersen
March 8th, 2002, 08:48 PM
One way to look at this is:
You sprint a 50, thoughtfuly race a 100 and plan/negotiate 200's +++

March 17th, 2002, 04:40 PM
~~ does sprint training ...help your body get better at clearing lactic acid quickly? Or does it help you get better at tolerating it? Or something else? ~~

Yes, yes and yes. The third aspect is that it helps to build your body's ability to produce energy at high rates. It also allows you to bring more and more productive muscle fibres into play - the "ramp effect" in muscle fibre recruitment.

~~ I know this is difficult to do, but could you translate the physiology as best you can into a 25 by 25 recommendation for pacing the 100? ~~

In general, you want to have a fast start, a period of easy speed and an "all out" finish.

Start planning your race from the finish and work backwards.

Through experimentation (ie. you gotta swim some races with a plan and analysis) determine how much of the back end of your race you are capable of going "all out" on and still be in control of your speed and DPS - almost certainly at least a 25, most likely more than that. For most people this is a point BEFORE their brain is confident of - ie you need to be "risky" in selecting this point as you experiment. You'll also find that this point moves around depending on what kind of training (and how much) you've been doing. For instance, if you are overtraining you'll find this distance gets shorter and shorter.

Let's assume you have determined, through such experimentation that you can go "all out" from no farther than about the 65 yard mark. Prior to that point you want to be swimming with "easy speed" - the fastest pace you can go that still allows you to have "something left" at the "all out" breakpoint. For some people this may be very slightly slower than their "all out" pace - for others there may be a bigger difference in speed. Your technique will determine how fast you can go at submaximal levels. In either case it will be faster swimming that you are capable of after you start to die due to LA accumulation.

Also consider tweaking the above to use the CP system to its fullest capacity by sprinting 100% out of the blocks for 8-10 seconds (because you actually start swimming AFTER the start this will get some people all the way to the first turn with great momentum) before settling into "easy speed" swimming. The greater your percentage of FTa muscle fibres the more likely this part of the strategy is to be beneficial to your race.

That's very general. Mike Collins does a great presentation on race strategy that elaborates on the above. Mebbe he'll post a response here too.

March 24th, 2003, 07:20 PM
The only thing I can add about strategy for a 100 that works for me is to force myself to breathe more often on the first 50. I don't feel like I need air in the first 50, but if I hold my breath, I will die badly coming home.

March 25th, 2003, 09:49 AM
Adding to the 100 race strategy I think #1 with a slight variation works best. Take the first 50 out as described swimming fast but stay "strong and long". As pointed out above, you'll still go pretty close to your best 50 (1.5 seconds slower perhaps): SPRINT the 3rd 25 then you can hold on for the last 25 since, as pointed by another observer, you will slow down but not as much as you think. This can work short course because with a really good turn at the 75 and strong push-off/streamline you don't really have to swim that far. I find if you push it too hard early in the race it's really hard to get a really good last turn that makes the final 25 seem much longer.