December Champs season is upon us! On the National, Junior National and Age Group level - coaches and athletes have been preparing to swim fast over the next few weeks. For many of you, these meets will serve as a good indicator of how you are progressing in your training mid-season and include some very fast swimming!
They also feature multiple back to back weekends of prelims and finals format - which as we all know - takes a huge physical and emotional toll on every athlete. It’s a very fun part of the sport, but there are certainly things we can all do to help achieve our best performance at every prelims and finals meet.
The championship meet format is quite different from the normal challenge meet format and can be quite overwhelming at first. The first session of preliminary heats are swum in the morning and the top 16 or 24 qualifiers in each event will race again in the evening finals.
For example, if a swimmer swims the 200 freestyle, 200 IM and 100 breaststroke in prelims and qualifies for finals in each event, she will have to race each event again that evening. That totals 6 swims for that day, not including relays. Over a three day meet that can add up to as many as 18 total swims, plus relays!
SwimLabs asked many successful athletes, coaches and even parents to share their “best practices” for managing numerous events per day across a long prelims and finals swim meet.
1. Stay well hydrated. Staying well hydrated and replenishing your energy is crucial during these long meets. Swimmers should always have a water bottle during the meet and drinking to stay hydrated. Every aquatic center is very hot and humid and can take away a lot of energy without you realizing it.
2. Warm down properly after each race. Warming down after every race is crucial to success over a long meet weekend. Warm down allows your heart rate to actively decrease after a hard physical race. This process ensures a better recovery of your muscles and clearing out lactic acid so that you can again re-perform in your next race. Skipping warm-down or cutting it short, will not only affect your next race - but it will compound over the course of the weekend. Even if you are feeling great after a race, do not skip this important step.
3. Eat a small snack after each race to replenish your energy. After each swim there is a short window to replenish your body's glycogen supply. During this time swimmers should eat a quick snack to replenish their energy. Quick and convenient items are: PBJ sandwich, ham/turkey bagel, banana, protein bar, Power bar, Cliff bar as examples. Anything quick and light, but with a good balance of protein and carbs is ideal. This will allow swimmers to recover faster and be in a better position to perform at a high level for their next race.
4. Take a nap between prelims and finals. As soon as the swimmer's last race is done in prelims, warm down properly and quickly leave the pool. There is usually a 2-4 hour break between prelims and finals and the best athletes use this opportunity to nap and let your body recover. This is probably the most important factor when preparing for finals. Eat a good lunch, stay off your feet, relax and let your legs rest. Many families bring sleeping bags and rest at the pool, or in the minivan. If you have time to return home and rest or go to a hotel, it is highly recommended. We learned that some families will already have lunch waiting to go in the car, so the swimmer can quickly eat and then get right to napping!
5. Step outside of the pool to get fresh air. If you are going to be at the pool for several hours, it is a very good idea to just get outside and breathe some fresh air into your lungs. Pools can be stuffy and the smell of chlorine all day can make you drowsy. Therefore, going outside will help keep you fresh and ready to race. Parents might find this step most beneficial as well!
6. Be happy and positive! It is no coincidence that when you are happy and positive good things happen. Cheer for your teammates, say 'hi!' to your family in the stands, chat with your coaches, enjoy the sport. You've put in the training, now just relax and let good things happen!
Best of luck to all swimmers, coaches and parents this December Championships season and we look forward to cheering you on! If you have any swims that you would like us to highlight or share - please let us know directly via Jennifer Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org