Having a good flip or open turn is often an issue with triathletes. And if the primary measurement for finding pace is looking at the pace clock – most never factor the turn, number of strokes (SPL) or rate of turnover (tempo).

If you are a triathlete swimming in open water, it’s important find out your “pace without walls”, and you can easily do this removing the turn AND the pace clock too.

There are no walls or turns in open water and is why I exclude the turn when determining open water pace in the pool. The is all based on SPL (strokes per length), SL (stroke length) and tempo (rate of turnover). The math is simple: SPL x tempo = pace (per length). Coach Mat Hudson has written several rich and informative articles/blogs on this very subject, see the following:

Metrics 102 – Tempo

Metrics 103 – Pace Construction

Metrics in Open Water: Measuring Distance

In interest of adding to and not repeating what Coach Hudson has published, and assuming you understand tempo, SPL and SL, I will illustrate how to calculate a swimmers 100y ‘pace without walls‘, as well as predicting a mile, 1.2 mile and 2.4 mile triathlon swim times. This also includes a 4 x 300 time trial test at your fastest sustainable tempo while managing SPL

Even a slow or poor turn, as long as the wall push is consistent, this is most important to determining your ‘pace without walls‘.  I have my swimmers start stroking (or “break out”) at the flags which is 5 yards in 25 yard pool, the actual stroked distance is 20 yards. This is frequently 3 beeps off the wall from the Tempo Trainer, but in some cases (with a crisp turn) it’s only two beeps.

100 yard ‘pace without walls‘ = (SPL x Tempo X 5) /60 (divide by 60 converting to minutes). Why multiply by 5? 20 yards stroked per length x 5 = 100 yards stroked.

Calculate your ‘pace without walls':

(SPL x Tempo X 5) / 60 = 100y pace
(SPL x Tempo x 88) /60 = 1 mile pace
(SPL x Tempo x 105.6) /60 = 1.2 mile pace
(SPL x Tempo x 211.2) /60 = 2.4 mile pace

Example: SPL @15, Tempo @1.1, and 20 yards stroked per length:

100y: 1.375 mins or 1:22.2
1 mile: 24.2 mins
1.2 mile: 29.04 mins
2.4 mile: 58.08 mins

What about all of the “what if’s” in open water such as current, sighting, drifting, bumping, course slightly longer or shorter, etc? Time will vary given these conditions of course, but they are relative to all competing swimmers with the exception of sighting and drift. If you sight frequently, you’re stepping on the brakes too much, if you drift you will swim longer. You should be able to swim in open water sighting forward only once in 20-30 strokes or more with little to no drift.  If you drift after a six to eight strokes that require you to ‘course correct’, don’t compensate by sighting forward more, find why you are drifting too much-too soon, and fix in your stroke and/or head position.   See this video on Open Water Sighting and Breathing – maintain forward momentum

Time Trial:

10-15 mins tune-up, your choice. Get level, stable, tempo and timing under control like you would do before a race.

4 x 300, 10 beeps RI (rest interval): Swim your fastest tempo while maintaining SPL. Count strokes on odd lengths, sight forward once on even lengths. Hold stroke count to SPL to SPL+1. PE or perceived effort should not exceed 7 on scale of 1-10; 10 being all out sprint.

If you find you’re adding 2 or more strokes per length and clock time is well outside the 10 sec range, perceived effort blowing up, especially on last 300 – then your tempo may be too fast and/or SPL may be too low (or high) to sustain for longer distances. Adjust both tempo and SPL as needed to maintain consistency across the 4 x 300’s.

Although this is 1200 yard test, excluding 5 yard wall push the actual stroked distance is 960 yards. I find the 4×300 time trial much more accurate in predicting race pace than the 1×1000 yard test that many triathlon swim plans encourage.

If you don’t have a Tempo Trainer, get one!  It’s not only a tool to aid in determining ‘pace without walls’, but even more important, aids in improving and measuring progress in your stroke, and building razor sharp focus.  Purchase a Tempo Trainer from the Total Immersion store, enter “coachstuartmcdougal” in discount code box at checkout and get yourself 10% off.

Please feel free to post any questions, experiences in the comments section below.

Coach Stuart