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How to Pace a Mid-distance Freestyle Event

Pacing  for a mid-distance event can be one of the hardest parts of the race. It can feel awkward: You can’t quite sprint it, yet you can’t really treat it as an endurance event either. It’s somewhere in-between. This guide is filled with great suggestions to help with pace a mid-distance event.

What Events are Mid-distance

The 400m freestyle, the 200m freestyle, the 200y freestyle, the 500y freestyle are all considered mid-distance events. Although some other events are considered mid-distance, these are the core events for this category. As a rule: All events below 200 yards (yds) are considered sprints, while anything above 500 is considered a distance event.

Different for Everyone

Everyone swims slightly differently. This makes sense! Think about it: Swimmers are not all built the same. Some people will be able to start the race fast, and hold onto that pace. Others will get exhausted quickly, and start to slow down. Find out what type of swimmer you are by testing different pacing techniques.

Common Pacing Methods

There are a few common ways to pace a mid-distance event. Listed in order of popularity, here are some methods to try for your next race:

Negative Split

The most common way to swim a mid-distance event is to start off at a solid pace, and build up to a faster speed throughout the race. Negative split pacing saves your energy just enough to leave you with a quick burst of speed near the end of the race.

Hot Tip: Get Your Splits
When figuring out correct pacing, you’ll need to know your split. Have someone time you and get your split at each 50, so that you know if you’re actually gaining or decreasing speed.

When you dive in for the race, it’s hard to hold back. You have a ton of adrenaline running through your body. The last thing you want to do is restrain yourself. Still, holding back is important. It’s common for mid-distance rookies start out the race by sprinting. If you do this, you’ll have no energy halfway through the race. All of your energy will have been depleted in the beginning.

Make sure you don’t start off the race too slow, either. You want to hold back just enough to reserve some energy for the end of the race. If you get out of the pool at the end of the race and you don’t feel completely exhausted: You back too much.

Think about your speed as a percentage. Sprinting as fast as you can is swimming at 100 percent. Using this scale, you should start the race at about 80 percent. If you’re swimming the 200y freestyle, swim the first 50 yds at about this pace. After 50 yds, build your speed to 90 percent. Hold that speed for the next 100 yds. When you get to the last 50, you should go all out and sprint at 100 percent. Give that last 50 yds everything you’ve got.

Stay Consistent

Hot Tip: Practice before the Meet
Don’t wait until the race-day to test out different pacing methods! Make sure you practice these strategies before race-day. Otherwise, you will be setting yourself up for disaster when it comes time for the actual race.

Some swimmers perform better by maintaining their speed. If you have trouble building your speed, this is good way to pace the event. As you dive in, try to hold back a little bit. Try to pace your swim at about 90 percent for the entire race. If you have enough energy left as you reach the last 50 yds, give one last final push of 100 percent effort.

Make sure that you don’t slow down on your last 50 yds, though. If your split on your last 50 is slower than your others, this pacing method is not for you.

Go out Strong

Some swimmers feel like they build throughout their race. However, when they talk to their coaches and get their splits, they discover they actually split slower. If you feel that you simply cannot build throughout a mid-distance race, try a new strategy.

Start out the race as fast as you can, and try to hold onto that speed. You can surprise yourself. You might even discover that you can maintain your speed enough to get a lead, and hold onto it for the rest of the race.

Keep in mind that this strategy is a bit risky. You can end up exhausting yourself to the point that you don’t know if you’ll be able to finish the race. This type of pacing does not work for most swimmers. Make sure you test it out!

Try Them All

Before your meet, spend some time in the pool to test your pacing. Have a teammate or coach time you while practicing each of these strategies. This way, you’ll learn which method is best for you. With some practice, you’ll know exactly which pacing method to use!

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2 months ago.
I'm a 13 year old looking to improve my 500 time. I spend time in practice working hard but I'm just not seeing any improvement. Any ideas for me to improve for my next 500?
2 months ago.
Hi Cale!

Improvements sometimes depend on your technique. We suggest that you work closely with your coach/professional that can oversee all your workouts and try different techniques that suits for you.
3 months ago.
Hi! I'm swimming the 1650 this weekend and don't really know how to pace it. Any tips?
3 months ago.
Hi Laura! There are a few common ways to pace a mid-distance event. The most popular method is the Negative Split. You start off at a solid pace, and build up to a faster speed throughout the race. Negative split pacing saves your energy just enough to leave you with a quick burst of speed near the end of the race.
1 year ago.
Hi Swim outlet! I’m swimming a 500 tomorrow, and I want to make the state cut. I’m really nervous, and I’m not sure how to pace it. Thanks!
Coach degler
1 year ago.
I need some fresh training sets for my swimmers wanting to drop time in their 500yd free
1 year ago.
Hi Coach Degler!

Please refer here - Hope that helps!
Jackson Challey
1 year ago.
Hi, I'm a 15 year old, and I just joined my high school swim team this year. My coach signed me up for the 500 free, but my endurance sucks since my form gradually becomes worse. Any tips to help my form not drop as I swim??
1 year ago.
Hi Jackson!

Techniques are important. Make sure that you -
Use a neutral head position, press your buoy, do not lift your head to breathe, swim on your sides, breathe out in the water, use a high-elbow position, do not overreach with your recovering arm, use a two-beat kick for long-distance swimming and do not push water forward.
1 year ago.
Yeah same but i was signed up for the 200 free
Youssef Erfan
1 year ago.
Hey swim outlet,
I have a race tomorrow and ill be competing with swimmers older than me how do I keep up with them?
Please respond asap!
( my time is 4.50 and theyre times are at 5.30 ).
Thank you.
1 year ago.
Hi Youssef!

They may have an edge when it comes to experience but remember that you being young have more stamina than them. Use it to your advantage so swim at your 100% capacity but don't forget your techniques.
1 year ago.
Hiya I’m mostly a distance swimmer and what would be a good way of training negative splitting? Would it just be race practice or is there a set I could do??
Bill Ryan
1 year ago.
I am a 68 year old Masters swimmer. I negative split my races of 500 yards and longer. For the 200 Freestyle I positive split or even split. When I see the results of younger masters swimmers - e.g. 25-35 years old, the fastest swimmers have a positive split of around 4 seconds. My question, as a good negative splitter in long distance races is: should I positive split, even split, or negative split the 200 Free? Thanks.
Aidan Johns
1 year ago.
I would highly suggest that you experiment with how you split. Work with your coach and do a few 200's in practice and try positive, even and negative splitting to see which you prefer. I would say that if negative splitting works for you with the longer distances, I dont see why it wont work for the 200. It's all about what will work best for you.
Ryan Saraf
1 year ago.
Hi I'm 15 and I do all types of freestyle(mostly distance and mid distance) I'm gonna do a high school race against one of my friends who's much faster than me in the 500 but the point is do any of you think it's possible to drop around 15-30 seconds while already being at a 5.15 on the 500 free
1 year ago.
Hi Ryan!

It is possible if your strategy is conserving your energy at first then go full throttle on the last part. But keep in mind that usually our body creates a lot of adrenaline at the start so better capitalize that situation then hold back at mid-part then go wild on the last. Good luck Aquaman! ^_~
1 year ago.
i'm a 13 y/o freestyler and i have to swim the 200 fr (i am currently a 2:03 in yards) how can i make my 200 faster for my race?
1 year ago.
Hi Victoria!

The answer is to know which type of swimmer are you and which pacing method works best for you.

Swimmers are not all built the same. Some people will be able to start the race fast, and hold onto that pace. Others will get exhausted quickly, and start to slow down. Find out what type of swimmer you are by testing different pacing techniques. Good luck! :)
1 year ago.
I'm 13 and not a phenomenal mid-distance swimmer. I've always just done 50s up to this year, and only recently have I started doing 100s and my first 200 free. I have a 2:28 in my 200 free. I recall being extremely tired and my arms soar even after the first 100, unable to move it. It was unusual, considering it was my first race in the meet. Next week, I'll be doing 50 free, 100 fly, 100 back, and 200 free, and they're each 2 events apart. I don't know if my body can handle that, given even my arms were soar with well-rest.
1 year ago.
Eric, I am 14 and have suffered the same experience going into high school swim. For the hundreds start practicing and sprint 75's to get a little bit of an idea of what's going on and start recording that time, if you know your 50 time multiply it by two and add five seconds and try to score that time and decrease (for each of your strokes). It helped me get through my season I hope it works for you.
11 months ago.
are you 14 yet.
2 years ago.
I am 14 years old and I have a 4:47 500 yard freestyle, and I am really trying to break the 4:45 barrier. I normally take my races out pretty aggressively in about a 1:52 for my 200 split. Some races I feel as if I can keep that pace and I do while others I start to split 30 seconds and maybe even a 31! Is there any way that I can always have a great freestyle strategy and become consistent?
1 year ago.
Hi Jeffrey! Here's some things that would help you drop your 500 times:

- Let your coach and teammates know your goals. They will assist you, cheer for you and help keep you accountable. When others see you working hard for success, it breeds success for the whole team.
- Long sets (maybe 1000 total yards) with intervals that leave you short rest (5-10 seconds). 3-4k/day, 5 days a week.
- Push yourself but don't get so tired that your stroke gets sloppy. It does little good to swim hard the wrong way.
- Learn to pace. Try to make your last interval as fast or faster than your first one.
- Time yourself weekly. If you can, get your coach to get your splits for each 100. Write it down so you can track your progress.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.
1 year ago.
It really helped, At my regional championship meet I went a 4:40.62! This was the first time I actually focused on training freestyle in a long time, So that was a big change for me. Thanks for the advice!
2 years ago.
I turned 18 and I have regionals in a few weeks and I go about a 2:08-2:12 SCY on the 200 free and a 26 on my 50 and a 5:49 on my 500 I would like to get my 200 free to a 2:04 can you tell me the best way
2 years ago.
Go out aggressive and build that 3rd 50 and bring it home at the end
Adaeze Atumah
1 year ago.
Thank I never saw this I did end up going a 2:04
1 year ago.
hey man, good luck and swim fast, i am sorry
2 years ago.
Hi my name is chase and I am doing the 500 freestyle swim this Friday what are the perfect strategies for it
2 years ago.
Keep a good pace and make sure your stroke is smooth and steady. Good luck! :)
2 years ago.
Hi!! So I’m a 14 yr old swimmer who has been on the team for 2 years and just joined varsity! So I have a 200 and a 500 tomorrow and I just can’t comprehend how I will complete that with the competition that I’m up against. I just want a few tips on how I can calm myself bc right now I’m so nervous it’s not right:( thanks!
2 years ago.
Dear Savannah,

The best way to cope up with anxieties prior to a competition is to preoccupy yourself with some physical activities like yoga activities. Sometimes, it could be more helpful if you distract yourself like engaging to music, reading or watching your favorite TV shows.Hope this helps!
raekwon noel
2 years ago.
Hi! I am 12 years old going unto 13 years old I will be swimming the 400 freestyle at my next competition. Please give me some tips on how to make my 400 free faster I am at a 4.49 and want to get to 4.37 I hope you respond to my message accordingly THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME AND OTHER SWIMMERS YOU ARE STEPPING US UP TO A NEXT LEVEL OF SWIMMING THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2 years ago.
Hi Reakwon!

There are 3 elements that can be applied to a successful 400m freestyle regardless of the strategy the swimmer employs:

1. An efficient energy conservation stroke for the 1st 200m.
2. Management of the middle part of the race with steady pacing through 50's 2 - 6
3. Acceleration through the last 100m ending with a significant increase in tempo by increasing the kick rate and quickening the front part of the arm stroke to finish.

Hope that helps!

Always remember that hard work pays off!
2 years ago.
Hi! I'm a 16 yr old freestyler. I have my regional championships this weekend and I'm swimming the 500 yard free. My time as of now is 6:18:97 and I would really like to break 6 minutes. I have been training hard all season and I've been recently eating better for the past month. Any tips on how to meet my goal?
2 years ago.
Hi Layla! Building endurance, watching your form, managing your pace, concentrating on breathing and perfecting your turn can help make this swim successful. Though, endurance is a major component of completing an optimal 500-yard freestyle swim. Swimming 500 yards is not an easy task. It requires a lot from your body and you need trained muscles and lungs. While distance training is essential to increase endurance, interval training also helps improve both speed and endurance. To build endurance, throughout a long training swim, include bursts in which you go all out for a certain distance -- such as one lap or a length of the pool -- before returning to your normal pace. Schedule two or three strength-training workouts each week, as well as a day of cross-training: Running and cycling are both ways in which you may build endurance. Incorporate high amounts of lean proteins in your diet and hydrate well throughout the day.
2 years ago.
Hi again! Thank you for all the wonderful tips, ill be sure to work on those! Any recomendations for a pre-event-warmup (about 15 minutes before my event) set?
2 years ago.
Hi Layla!

Please use this link - Have a great day!
2 years ago.
hi, I'm doing a 200 tomorrow and I am nervous I have never done it before...
2 years ago.

To get the perfect race plan, you can actually do some pace work during training (E.g. 4x50m Freestyle on 0:50-1min rest intervals with your desired 200m Freestyle race plan) and see if that particular race plan works for you.

Try different race strategies like going fast/slow for the first 2 50m and see which 4x50m added time is the fastest and use that race plan when it comes to a competition!

Hard Work Pays Off!
2 years ago.
Hi I am 14 years old with a time of 2:21:00 in my 200m freestyle.I used to race the 200free with going out hard and holding on.I would like some tips to get under 2:20:00
2 years ago.
I am a 13 years old going to 14, I currently have a 2:05 in my 200 free long course.
I think the first thing you want to do is to make your body fit. Start doing 100 push up each day,and slowly to 300 or 500 push up each day. After 1 month, you would feel that your pectoral, biceps, triceps and even your core muscle will improve dramatically.
Now, here are some tips for a 200 freestlye.
1. Do more dryland and workout at home
2. At the start of the race, make sure your suit is tied and your caps and goggles put on properly.
3. Push off each wall as hard as you can because think about this, their is no way for you to go any faster than the speed you pushed off each wall, and if you have a lead on your opponent by doing a 1second faster turn, that is a 3meter distance that will take your opponent a very long time to catch up later.
4. Pace your stroke, don't care about what the other guy is doing is key cause everyone has their own pace and strategy.
5.Think about distance per stroke, you want to grab is many water as you can per stroke instead of thrusting your arms everywhere and spin your arm like a madman without actually going anywhere.
6. At last, give a full sprint to the end and don't take any breath in the last 3-8 meters.
7. I hope you all can have a successful swimming career and I wish the best for you all.
8. good luck and have fun!
2 years ago.
300-500 push ups each day is definitely NOT necessary, especially for a 13 year old. But yes, dryland is very beneficial.
2 years ago.
Literally just do like 0.20 seconds faster on each 25 and you will obviously get the time you want. It's good to set a goal for each event you swim at a meet. If you make 2:20, then try to make goals that are 2-5 seconds faster than your original time.
2 years ago.
Hi I’m a 14 yo. mid-long distance freestyler and a 200 and 100 breaststroker. I really want to improve on my 500y free time (5:39.01) any tips
2 years ago.
Try to get the most out of every stroke. I am 12 and have a 5:19 and I’m short. You have to pull past your waist and swim strong.
3 years ago.
Hi, I am a 11yr swimmer and I am a all rounder. I am swimming 800m free for the first time in a couple of days and I don't know how to pace it as I have never done it before. My 50m is 31.75 and my 100m is a 1:12 and my 200m is a 2:38 and my 400m is 5:35 do u have any tips???
2 years ago.
Your 400 m is averages 100m just above 1:20. That is fine, and starting with that pace is comfortable but provides room to build and descend thereafter. Good luck and congratulations.
3 years ago.
I'm a ten year old Butterflyer, Backstroker, and Freestyler. I'm at Far Western and I have the 100 back and 200 free. I was looking at these tips and I think I'll share them to my coach. Thank you for the tips!
4 years ago.
i am an 11 year old backstroker and i have the 200 free and the 400 free. The 400 free i am wanting to brake 5:00 and i have he skills to do so. But now i go a 2:24 and i want to go under 2:20. Since i am a long distance swimmer its hard to sprit so i am going to go out fast and do my best to hold on. Thanks for the tips~ Maddy :)
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