Beginners Guide to Swimrun
Starting out in any new sport can seem a bit daunting so here are a few little pointers to get you into SwimRun with a splash!
What is SwimRun?
SwimRun is an endurance sport in which you run and swim along a set course of cross country/trail runs and open water swims without stopping in between. SwimRun is quite similar to the sport aquathlon where participants undertake a swim and then transition to a run. However, in SwimRun participants switch between running and swimming many times during a single race, running in their wetsuits and swimming in their trainers.
Embrace the outdoors
SwimRun is all about getting outdoors into beautiful scenery on the multi terrain journey. SwimRuns take you into wild locations and allow you to feel in synergy with the great outdoors, rather than battling against it. So, to enjoy SwimRun adventures you need to get used to running off road on different terrain and swimming in open water.
Run off road
When you start running off road begin with shorter runs on good tracks that you can follow without getting lost and take a phone or GPS just in case! You’ll need some trail running shoes that will give you more support and better grip. As you venture further afield take a windproof/waterproof jacket and some gels and water and let someone know where you are going. As you get more confident try and incorporate some different surfaces such as grass, rocks, mud, sand and a few hills into your routes. Running though puddles, ford or steams will get you used to running with wet feet!
Find a friend to run with or see if there is a trail or fell running group near you. There is safety in numbers but it’s also really fun to chat while you run and have someone to share the scenery with and to encourage you when you are flagging.
Brave the open water
First forays into open water swimming can be a bit scary! Start out in a well used swimming spot that you know is safe and then stay close to the shore or in water shallow enough to stand in. You should only venture into deeper water if you are confident you can swim the distance, being mindful of wind, currents and the cold.
Find a friend to swim with or have someone on shore to keep an eye on you. A wetsuit will help keep you warm and give you buoyancy and a tow float makes you highly visible, gives you something to hold onto for a rest or if feel worried.
One thing that often puts people off swimming in open water is the depth and the fact that you might not be able to see the bottom or anything much for that matter. They key to this is to keep positive! Focus your mind on the end goal and on what you can see above the water. Tell yourself you can do it! Your wetsuit will keep you afloat even if you stop swimming so don’t panic just slow down and calm your breath, take a moment, think about why you are doing this and then try again. Only stay in the water as long as your are enjoying it.
Practice your sighting by lifting your head out of the water to see where you are going. Because there are no lines on the bottom of a lake to keep you in a straight line, you have to pick a focus point and make sure you are swimming toward it. You can use buoys as a point to sight, but also buildings, trees or tall landmarks on the shore.
As you get more confident you can try swimming in choppy water. Even tiny waves on a lake can be a challenge and will slow you down. Learning to breathe bilaterally(breathing on both sides) is also especially helpful in the open water as you may find that the waves are hitting you on the right or you are staring into the sun on the left. Being able to breath on either side is a great help in these situations.
Location, location, location
Find pretty and inspiring places to train outside and don’t worry about doing big distances – you can have loads of fun doing short loops of the same route. Build up slowly, giving yourself achievable challenges.
During a SwimRun event you don’t change your kit, so you swim in your trainers and run in your wetsuit. This can seem like a challenge in itself but it doesn’t take long to get use to it. Once you are happy swimming in open water you can give swimming in your trainers a go. Shoes that are light weight, buoyant and that drain well are the best for SwimRun. They’ll need to be a good tight fit to stop them coming off when you swim. As you’ll have wet feet and will be running over all sorts of terrain you need trainers with really good grip, especially on wet rock. You can find lots more information about shoes for SwimRun here. Wear quick drying synthetic ankle socks to help prevent blisters.
There are now SwimRun specific wetsuits available but if you are new to SwimRun there is no reason why you can’t give it a go in the wetsuit you already own. A regular full swimming wetsuit will certainly do a perfectly good job for you in the swimming stages, it will just take a bit more getting used to when you find yourself out running on dry land. During a SwimRun race you are likely to be wearing a mesh bib over the top so suits that have the zip at the back can be tricky to undo when you start to get hot and want to take the top half off.
Some people take a pair of scissors to a standard wetsuit cutting just above the knees and the elbows to make a surf style shortie, thus allowing better freedom of movement when running, but with good quality wetsuits now costing upwards of £200, it’s a committed move!
If you don’t have the money for a new SwimRun wetsuit but you’ve got an old suit that will need replacing soon then go for it! If not then I’d suggest looking for a cheap or secondhand suit that you can modify to suit your needs. If you suffer from cold, then maybe try just cutting the legs off first and see if you can get away with keeping the arms long while running. This will stop so much flushing of cold water through the suit as well as insulating your arms. The back zip will still be an issue but so long as you practice you will get used to it. Find out more about wetsuits for SwimRun here.
Keep it simple
One of the best things about SwimRun is that unlike triathlon there are no transition areas and no faffing about changing gear – you simply put your kit on, cross the start line and keep moving. Another unique thing about SwimRun is that the rules allow you to use additional equipment to help you, for example swimming and floatation aids. Managing all your equipment can take some practice though, so to start out with, don’t worry about using paddles, pull buoys etc. Keep it as simple as you can so you can just enjoy the movement and journey without fumbling about each time you get in and out of the water. As you get more comfortable swimming in your trainers and running in your wetsuit you can introduce other bits of kit. You can find more information on gear for SwimRun here.
As you start to add a bit more kit to your SwimRuns you really need to practice your transitions from land to water and vice versa until you get really slick! The physical demand of going from running to swimming needs to be trained too – whilst swimming after a run is more about being able to regulate your breathing, running after a hard swim requires your legs to adapt to both the rigors and the mechanics of running as soon as you exit the water. Training your body for these changes is important or you’ll soon become exhausted! Whether you are SwimRunning alone or with a partner, a smooth transition is essential to making a good time in a SwimRun race. For lots more information on how to make a seamless transition and how to train for them have a look here.
Team or solo
The original concept of SwimRun was always to race in pairs. SwimRunning with a team mate can be a really fun and sociable experience and having an extra pair of hands on slippery sections, someone to urge you on when you feel tired, check you are ok on longs swims and share in your successes adds a fantastic dimension to the event. You do need to find someone at a similar level to you in running and swimming though, or be prepared to adjust your speed accordingly. Training together is really important so it helps if you live close by!
Not everyone can find a SwimRun partner though and not everyone wants one! Sometimes traveling at your own place with no pressure to perform can be more enjoyable. There are fewer races that offer solo places in the UK, but Love SwimRun offer solo entries in both our events in Wales and the Hokey Cokey in Cornwall does too! There are a number of races that offer solo entries in Europe.
Your first race
A lot of SwimRun races are pretty epic in terms of the distance the course covers and these are not achievable by everyone, however there are more shorter distance races popping up all over the world! LoveSwimRun Llanberis is 16km, with 12.5km of running and 3.5k of swimming split over 4 runs and 4 swims. There is a full list of SwimRun events here. You should choose your first event based on your fitness level and train for those distances. Training your swimming and running individually is just as important as your SwimRun and transition training. You can add in some technique sessions and sprint sets into both. Read more about training here.
Make sure you have practiced using all your kit before it comes to race day so you won’t be fumbling about or having to adjust anything once you start. If you plan to use hand paddles, make sure you have done a lot of training with them first as they can put a lot of strain on your shoulders and cause injury if you have not built the muscles up. You can carry a gel or small soft water bottle inside your wetsuit if you think you’ll need a boost before the first feed station.
Keep positive and remember it’s about the experience, rather than the race and the aim is to enjoy the journey and appreciate the scenery. Don’t forget to enjoy the view!
Enter Love SwimRun!
We have two Swimrun events in North Wales! Love SwimRun Llanberis is a lake based 16km figure of eight course with a 5.5km sprint option open to ages 10+. Love SwimRun Holy Island is an 18km linear coastal course. Check out our event pages to find out more and if you have any questions you can get in touch here.
Written by Chloë: LoveSwim Run Organiser. 09/11/15