It is easy in the world of triathlon to get caught up in chasing the latest piece of fun gear. Gear is fun, but some investments are more cost effective than others. A good swim is built on 1) effective technique; and 2) effective & deadly even pacing.
Just like running and biking, it is easy to be tempted with swimming too fast. You feel like a dolphin for 200 yards and then all of sudden your swim comes apart and you can no longer sustain your pace. Worse yet, swimming provides almost no means to measure it while you are doing it so you have no idea if you have slowed down and by how much. Very few swimmers have a strong sense of pacing and very few can hold even splits over long swim sets. This is exacerbated in an open water race when you are surrounded by competitors and there is no direct means to measure performance at all.
Here is a $40 investment that really helps. A Finis Tempo Trainer is little device you put inside your swim cap that allows you set to a specific swim split time and beeps when you are supposed to hit the wall at each end. In doing so, it allows you to know when you are going too fast and also when you are starting to fall apart or losing focus. I find it highly motivating to know that I am nailing the pacing when the beep comes right on time. It is the real time feedback swimmers need.
As an example, your coach asks you to swim 400 yards @ T-Pace + 6. If your T-Pace is 1:30/100 yards, your coach is really asking you to swim at 1:36/100 yards pace. If you are swimming in a 25 yard pool, set the tempo trainer to beep every 24 seconds and try to hit the wall/push off the wall every time the tempo trainer beeps. Do this consistently and develop a real feel for pacing that you can now bring to your races.
There are other things you do with the tempo trainer. We can talk about those in another blog another day.