On the surface, entering meets is a simple thing. You pick events, pay the fee, and you’re good to go!
Not so fast.
Over the course of my Masters swimming career, entire training cycles and seasons revolve around what you intend to do at your chosen meet(s). Broken down into its simplest form, I have encountered two mindsets among competitive Masters swimmers (those who attend meets): those who choose to focus on fewer races, and those who load up to the max.
Neither one is right or wrong; this article is intended to provide you with the pros and cons of both, and let you choose whichever works better for you.
First, let’s talk about swimmers who compete in as many events as possible. The most common reasoning that I’ve heard for this is that they want to get their money’s worth – after all, it isn’t always cheap to enter a meet, especially the premier ones, and if they’re traveling far from home to attend (especially in the case of Nationals), they want to get the most bang for their buck. Financially, it makes sense, and having many races to look forward to tends to make for a better overall experience.
That said, there are some drawbacks. I cannot count the number of times I’ve spoken with frustrated swimmers who entered five or six events in a single session, and can’t seem to figure out why they’re so tired and swimming so slowly. I am NOT saying that it’s impossible to enter lots of races and do well, but such entries MUST be backed up with the appropriate training, as well as the understanding that your body can only handle so much racing stress in any given period of time. If you are only able to train a couple of times a week and / or get in limited yardage, this could be a tricky prospect.
Note: Pentathlon/Animal/Brute Squad meets are different, and should be approached with the mindset that fatigue and slower times are highly likely. While not impossible, don’t enter one of these challenging events expecting to destroy all of your best times! Regardless, they are an excellent test of one’s training and spirit!
On the other side of the coin, some athletes will only swim one or two events at a meet. This is a far less stressful approach, both physically and mentally, and generally speaking, more conducive to success on a race by race basis. Still, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth shelling out top dollar, both in entry fees and travel costs, and be at peace with your decision. For those who have limited training time, but a desire to compete and succeed, this would almost certainly be a better option.
Regardless, one of the best things that you can do to have a successful end-season meet is to plan accordingly. If you have a certain event or events in mind that you’d like to focus on, you should choose a meet that will give you the best shot at success. “Shop around” and find a meet that will give you plenty of time between your prime races to prep and recover. For example, if you want to swim the 100 free and 200 breast, but they’re back-to-back at your local championship meet, that might not be the best one to hit up. You could also reverse engineer this process, pick a meet that you really want to attend (like Associations or Nationals!), take a look at the order of events, and set your goals accordingly. Base your training around whatever you choose.
Or, better yet, play around a bit. Sign up for a meet and enter as many races as you can. Go in there with an open mind. See how your body responds, and make the necessary adjustments in your training and in future entries. LIkewise, try the other approach. Go to a local meet and only swim an event or two, and see how you feel.
At the end of the day, I’m not pushing you down one path over the other – both options are great, and I myself have had tremendous success with both, many times over!