The start of a new racing season can be a nervous time for any swimmer. But if you've never competed before, it can be an even more stressful occasion.
Your first ever swimming race is a big moment. It is one you'll always look back on and remember, and it will give you your first taste of the buzz and atmosphere that comes with competition.
But it's also a step into the unknown, so nerves and anxiety are perfectly normal.
It is important to embrace the challenge, and even more important to enjoy it! So we've put together six top tips that will help to cure those pre-race jitters and make your big day run smoothly.
1) Pack your swimming kit bag the day before
The last thing you want to be doing on the morning of your first race is rushing around trying to back your swim bag. It will leave you feeling flustered, and will only serve to increase your anxiety.
Take time the day before your race to pack your swimming kit bag carefully and thoroughly.
We recommend coming up with a checklist so you can tick items off as you pack them. You'll then be able to go to bed knowing that your bag is fully packed and good to go.
On your kit checklist, you may want to include the following:
- Sports drink
- Comfy and warm change of clothes
- Tickets / paperwork
- Printed directions
- MP3 player
2) Prepare your sports nutrition plan in advance
It's important to plan ahead regarding sports nutrition and what you're going to eat and drink during race weekend.
The food and drink you consume the day before your race is just as important as the energy snacks and recovery foods you eat on race day.
The key thing to remember is not to try any different food or meals that you've not eaten during your training. You just don't know how your body is going to react.
Stick to the food you know, and what has worked well for your body during training. The same can also be said of the time you leave between eating and swimming. Any sudden changes to your dietary schedule could have an adverse affect on your body's ability to perform at 100%.
Generally speaking, food containing slow-release carbohydrates such as wholegrain pasta or bread, brown rice, porridge oats, peas and beans can all be good pre-swim foods, while lean chicken, turkey or oily fish contain high levels of protein that make them excellent post-swim choices.
For more ideas on swim nutrition, read our blog article The Best Food to Eat Before and After Swimming.
3) Arrive early and check the racing timetable
You want to make your race morning as stress-free as possible, so you really don't want to be worrying about whether you're going to be late.
Check Google Maps the night before, and first thing in the morning when you wake up, to make sure there are no road closures or accidents that may cause delays. If there is, adjust your leaving time accordingly.
Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the pool without being rushed.
Familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Find out where the changing rooms and lockers are, where the toilets and showers are, how to get to poolside area and how long it takes.
Most importantly, find out where the heat sheets are pinned up, so you can find out what time you are swimming and which lane you have been assigned.
If you can't find something, don't be afraid to ask! Swim volunteers and club officials will be happy to help, and point you in the right direction.
Once you've seen the start lists, we recommend taking some time to plan your day's timetable. Pay special attention to the event scheduled immediately before yours, and how many heats it has (so you know exactly how much time you've got left once that event starts).
If you're swimming in more than one event, work out how much time you'll have in between races and plan your downtime accordingly (cooling down, eating a snack, going to the toilet, socialising, warming up).
If you're in any doubt at all, watch the opening few heats and study other swimmers to see how they prepare.
4) Allow time for your full stretch and warm up routine
Make sure you leave yourself a good 5-10 minutes before your heat to go to the toilet and warm up properly.
If you've tapered your training over the previous few days prior to your race, it's even more vital that you stretch and warm up thoroughly.
Much like your sports nutrition plan, you'll likely already have a set of stretches and warm-ups that worked well for you in training. Stick to these, get your muscles ready and even swim a couple of laps if it's possible.
If you're looking for some ideas, our blog article 13 Stretches to Help You Warm Up Before Swimming will help.
5) Get in the zone
You may or may not realise it, but your mental preparation for this race started the moment you packed your swimming kit bag.
By clearing your mind of all unnecessary worries and distractions, you're clearing your head to focus on the job in hand — swimming your race to the best of your ability.
A lot of swimmers will take their iPod or MP3 player so they can listen to their favourite music and relax before a race. Others may use special breathing techniques.
When planning your day, make sure you've got plenty of free time to do whatever it is that will help you to relax, concentrate and focus.
Our blog article How to Mentally Prepare Yourself for a Swim Race goes into more detail about mental preparation methods, including setting goals and visualisation.
6) Have fun!
It goes without saying, but... enjoy it!
Entering a swim meet is a fantastic experience, and you'll only ever get to experience your first race once!
Embrace the atmosphere, enjoy the challenge and, most importantly, don't be too hard on yourself afterwards if your time wasn't quite up to where you hoped it would be.
The whole swim meet experience is entirely different to training in the familiar surroundings of your local pool.
Remember to take all of your experiences from this first race, and learn from them. Use your performance to set new goals for your second race!