Swimrun recently celebrated its 10th birthday. Since the first race in 2006, swimrun has picked up momentum and it is the new go-to multi-sport adventure race and for good reason. Typically undertaken as a team of two, you and your partner will traverse rugged areas of natural beauty, running in your wetsuits and swimming in your trainers. You wear the same kit throughout the various swim and run sections (of which there are typically several) – so if you want to swim with a pull buoy and hand paddles, don’t forget you also have to run with them!
An avid triathlete, I (Alan Scott) cut my teeth in Swimrun back in 2014 when racing the Otillo World Championship in Sweden. The Otillo is to Swimrun, what Kona is to Ironman. Since then my team-mates and I have continued to race and develop as Swimrun athletes, achieving such results as 6th place at the Otillo World Champs, 3 x winner of Breca Buttermere and 3rd at the inaugural Otillo 1000 Lakes.
Here are my top-10 tips that should help you in your Swimrun adventures:
1. Get the right kit
Having the correct equipment and getting used to it is a key aspect of Swimrun (this topic probably merits an entire blog post in itself!) In short, the key bits of kit you will need are:
Wetsuit: Either Swimrun specific or an old triathlon wetsuit cut above the knee. Depending on conditions you can decide on cutting the arms off above the elbow or not. If it’s your first race don’t worry about using an old suit – I have always raced in an old triathlon wetsuit, it won’t hold you back.
Shoes: Your shoes need to drain well and have good grip on the trails. I have always raced in inov-8 X-TALON shoes, which are lightweight and offer amazing grip. Also, thin socks are a must as they stop grit working into your shoes and rubbing like sandpaper.
Hand paddles: Not essential but these will help you. If you do want to race with them you must train with them first and build up your strength endurance (see tip 5). Start with small paddles and build from there.
Pull buoy: You fasten this to your body via a bungee cord – as don’t forget, you will have to run with it too. It acts as flotation, helping your feet sit higher up in the water while swimming, which will certainly help reduce the drag of swimming with your shoes on.
Mandatory kit: Read the race brief as most races insist on some form of mandatory kit be carried at all times such as a compass, whistle and pressure bandage.
Lube: Chaffing can be a big issue with Swimrun so healthy dollops of Vaseline will help alleviate this problem. Yes, it’s not good for the suit, but unfortunately the water based lubricants just don’t last the day, so it’s your skin or the suit!
Extra layers: If it’s going to be a cold race then consider neoprene base layers, gloves and hats, all of which can make a big difference in the long swims. Last year we raced the Otillo 1000 Lakes in October in Germany in 7 degree air temperature and 11 degrees water temperature. The extra layers we wore proved to be the difference between 3rd place and a DNF!
2. Practice transitions
There will be upwards of 20 transitions between land-to-water and water-to-land during a Swimrun and so you need to make sure you practice this before race day. Where are you going to put your hand paddles for the run? Are you going to strip the wetsuit to the waist for the longer runs? Think about when it is best to take off/put on your goggles and swim hat. By perfecting your transitions you can save a lot of time over your rivals.
3. Nail Your Nutrition
This is the ‘3rd’ discipline of Swimrun racing, just like it’s the ‘4th’ in triathlon. Nailing your nutrition can be the difference between a great day and a horrible day! Find out what is going to be provided on course, then practice taking this nutrition and have a plan for race day. It’s a long day and you need to stay fuelled. I always keep a spare caffeinated gel tucked in my suit for emergencies. Nothing is worse than bonking mid-race!
4. Prep for the course
Swot up on the course and write down the distances of each swim and run on your hand paddles or arm so you can remind yourself exactly how long each leg is going to be. This will help manage effort levels and is good for moral too. It can also be a good idea to note down where the feed stations are, and also if there are any particularly tough/hilly sections.
5. Work on your strength endurance
Swimming with trainers and potentially hand paddles creates a much bigger load on your swim stroke and thus you need to develop your strength endurance in training ahead of race day. Furthermore, if the running stages are going to be technical and hilly (they often are) then working on your leg strength will really help too.
6. Pace yourself
This has two parts. If you are going to be competitive then you need to position yourself towards the front of the pack as bottle necks can be created at the start of the run. It may sound a little contradictory but not going out too fast is also key – you must manage your energy levels. It’s a long day and you don’t want to create any extra fatigue early on by burning unnecessary ‘matches’.
7. Teamwork is everything
Virtually all Swimrun races are done as teams of two and this is a huge part of what makes this racing so special. Be sure to meet up with each other for key training sessions. Work out each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, practice swim drafting and decide if you are going to attach a tether (lightweight elastic cord) to each other on the swims and runs. There will be hard times and good times, but supporting your buddy is a massive part of Swimrun. If you haven’t bonded before the race you will certainly have by the end! The guys who I have raced with are now some of my best friends. #bromance
8. Use a GPS watch
Having a GPS watch is really useful for working out your pace and effort, but most importantly it will keep you up to date on when the next transition is approaching so you can prepare for it. An example of this would be as you are coming to the end of a 5k run leg… it’s at this point you may want to start putting your swim hat and googles back on, zipping your wet suit back up and having your hand paddles ready to go. All this helps for a seamless transition.
9. Train smart
Sounds obvious, but the best way to train for Swimrun is to practice Swimrun. Find a local lake with some trails nearby, or even better around it. Jot down some of the race course distances and recreate them in training using your race kit. It’s amazing the things you will find out during the training sessions…. goggles that mist up, hand paddles that are too big, shoes and wetsuits that rub etc. By addressing these in the build up it will go a long way to mentally preparing you for race day.
10. Smile it’s race day
Come race day make sure you have a bloody good time. You are going to be racing through some stunning areas of natural beauty with a great mate or significant other, so soak it all up. Swimrun is one of the few races that you can share in the experience together. Enjoy the challenge… there are bound to be many of them!
More photos from 2017 Breca Buttermere Swimrun