SwimRun is a very interesting sport in terms of the extra gear that you are allowed to use during races. The current rules state that you must get from the start to the finish as quickly as possible using only equipment that you can carry all the way to the end, i.e you must finish with eveything you started out with! Regulations state that you must wear a wetsuit, carry certain mandatory safety items and that any flotation device should not exceed 100 x 60 cm, but really your imagination is the only other restriction! You can buy equipment or make your own – just watch a SwimRun event film, such as Ötillö, to see the variety of gear out there!
Most popular is the use of hand paddles, pull boys and fins. Some teams use tow lines and carry bags or tow floats. Some choose to keep it as simple as possible and take as little as they can. Whatever equipment you choose to use while you SwimRun, it is important to train with it and get slick at managing it during transitions when you are wet, cold and tired.
To help you decide what equipment to use, below is a list of common gear used for Swim Run:
The wearing of wetsuits is a mandatory requirement for most SwimRun races. You don’t need to have an all singing all dancing SwimRun specific model to take part – any swimming (Tri) wetsuit will do so long as you can move freely enough in it to run and it will keep you warm enough on long swims. See this article on Wetsuits for SwimRun for more in-depth information about what you need to think about when choosing your wetsuit for SwimRun.
The trainers you wear for SwimRun not only need to be comfortable for the long distances of technical trail running that you’ll be doing in your race but also need to be suitable for use in the water. Make sure they are a snug fit so they don’t come off when swimming and that they don’t soak up much water and drain well. Running with wet shoes on slippery rocks requires good traction so Good grippy soles are essential!
Make sure you wear your trainers in properly before the race day to avoid blisters! When your feet get the wet the skin softens and makes them more prone to soreness and rubbing. Start by running short distances with wet feet and build up – they soon toughen up! See article our article on SwimRun Trainers for more information.
Goggles are essential to avoid getting water in your eyes. You will need to have clear vision for sighting in open water. Cold water can also be quite uncomfortable on the face and eyes so covering up helps a lot! Goggles come in all shapes and sizes so try lots on and select a pair that fits your face well. Test them well in open water before hand – there is nothing more irritating than leaky goggles! Sprays are available that help coat the inside of the goggles and help to prevent them misting up. It might be worth having a couple of pairs at the ready with different lenses. On dull days clear lenses will be best but on bright sunny days a tinted or polarised pair will help stop glare from the water. Some participants carry a second pair of spare goggles incase they lose them whilst running. Think about how you are going to carry them if you take them off your head to run.
In many SwimRun competitions the organizer provides a swimming cap (we will be providing swim caps for Love SwimRun events). If they don’t, it’s nice to have your own. Caps are made of either latex or silicone – latex is thinner and can be more comfortable but can rip easily and some people are allergic to the rubber. Silicone of stronger and thicker and generally more popular – the choice is yours! You can get some in different sizes so its worth trying a few out to make sure you don’t end up having to wear one for the day that is too tight on your head or that leaks and keeps riding up. If the water is really cold you can wear two caps or try a neoprene cap instead. Go for bright colours such as red, pink, orange or yellow as these are easier to see in the water making you more visible to boats etc.
Cold water in the ears can be quite uncomfortable and irritate the balance nerve, making you dizzy and disorientated during the swim. A pair of earplugs often solves the problem. Good ones can be fitted to your individual ear shapes to give a really good seal. If you won’t want to wear them when running, think about how you will carry them.
Many people use hand paddles for SwimRun. These add some extra power to your strokes by increasing the ‘catch’ are of your hand. There are loads of different paddles on the market, but you’ll need some that have straps to hold it on your hand or they can easily come off and be lost in open water. You’ll also need to think about how you are going to carry them on your runs and practice your transitions – getting out on rocky ground is hard when your have paddles on your hands!
If you decide to use paddles you must train with them a lot! Using paddles takes good technique and puts a lot of strain on your shoulders and back muscles. You need to build up the strength to be able to use them over long distances. If you don’t you will soon find you get very tired and worse you can injure yourself!
Half paddles, such as the Speedo BioFUSE finger Paddle are a good compromise. I used these during Inch by Inch, in Loch Lomand, having only done a month of training with them and they were fine. I also find them useful in open water as when my hands get too cold I can’t keep my fingers together so this helps keeps my stroke together.
In very cold water or on very long swims you might want to consider wearing neoprene gloves. A bit like the paddles these take a bit of getting used to and can slightly increase the resistance of your ‘catch’ in the water. They need to be tight fitting or they can fill with water as you pull your arm back. You can get webbed gloves for swimming as well – these will act like a paddle (see above). I haven’t used them myself but I’m told they can feel quite heavy to swim in.
The use of fins/flippers is allowed in SwimRun. I haven’t used them myself. I think you’d need to try them out to see how much advantage they would give you on the swim and balance that with the fact that you have to take the time to change them for your trainers at each transition and then carry them on the runs.
SwimRun rules state that you can use any flotation aids so long as they are no bigger than 100 cm x 60 cm – imagination is your only other limit! Most people just use a pull buoy.
If you decide to swim wearing your trainers rather than carry them you might want to consider using pull buoy. This float, which you hold between your legs instead of kicking, gives you extra buoyancy and allows you to save your legs during the swims. You’ll appreciate this when it is time to run! Using a pull buoy is generally why people decide to use the hand paddles as the extra propulsion makes up for the loss of the power from the kick. Pull buoys come in different shapes and sizes – what you use depends really on how much lift you need in your legs. For example, if you have a short wetsuit and heavy trainers you’ll need a bigger float.
Remember that you are going to have to carry the float during the runs so for hands free usage you can customise the pull buoy so you can attach it to your leg. Pierce it and insert rubber or elastic straps to make a loop that you can wear around your leg. Test it well in the water and running before a race – if it’s too tight it will be uncomfortable and restrict the blood flow, to loose and it will twist around and drop down at inconvenient times! I used a thick elastic band on mine and used Black Witch wetsuit glue to give the inside surface of the band a rubbery coat to help it stick in place! Watch this ‘How to’ video from Head.
Tow floats are a brightly coloured, inflatable device that is tethered around your waist, increasing your visibility to other water users and, providing bouyant support if you need to rest or wait for assistance. They come in a few different styles: simple blow up floats, dry-bag versions (with internal inflatable pockets) in different sizes, and a doughnut shaped one with a dry bag on top – both of which enable you to tow belongings with you. They are great to use for security if you are swimming alone or if you are doing a long swim and want to carry some food, drink and your phone etc. Some now have pockets with clear windows that are great if you need to carry a map etc. You can also attach small items to the outside of your tow float, such as a whistle, or small mesh bags to hold gels for quick access. There are various tow floats manufacturers including SeeSwim, SwimSecure, Lomo and Zone3.
Most of the time you don’t even notice you are wearing a tow float but if you are towing a lot of weight or are swimming into strong wind it can cause some drag. If you swim with the wind it can blow over your back or head and get in the way of your stroke. If you plan to use one during your SwimRun event (sometimes tow floats are mandatory equipment) make sure you have practiced using it and if you are going to store kit it in, make sure you can operate the clips with cold hands! Think about how you are going to manage it whilst running and practice your transitions with it.
Neoprene calf sleeves
Neoprene calf sleeves are now available and even come as extra with some SwimRun specific wetsuits. They are usually made from 6-8mm neoprene so wearing these will give you lots of extra buoyancy in the lower legs and help in the same way a pull buoy will if you are wearing trainers during the swims – you can use both if you wish! The advantage of wearing neoprene calf sleeves over using a pull buoy is that you will still be able to kick freely during the swims. They also offer protection to your legs when you are getting in and out of the water on sharp rocks and when you are running through undergrowth. They do get rather warm though!
Having a small bag or pack can be useful for carrying the mandatory kit during an event, such as first aid kit, compass and map and spare food. Practice swimming with the bag/pack you intend to use to make sure it is not too heavy or restrictive to swim in. Close fitting bags made from free draining mesh fabrics often work best. If you use a tow float (see above) you can carry your gear in that instead.
Food & Water
Most SwimRun events will have water and food stations, but it’s also a good idea to take your own with you for emergency bonks! Some people swim with a hydration pack, others with a hydration belt/bum bag and it is also possible to stuff a small soft water bottle inside the wetsuit. Whatever food you carry needs to be water proof! Gels or individually wrapped energy bars are good. Make sure you take any litter away with you!
Some SwimRun teams use an elastic towline, this can perform several functions. Hooking yourself into your buddy prevents you from losing each other. Also, the stronger team member can help the weaker by pulling them along. This works in both the run and the swim and you can swap position at different stages during the race of you need to. The maximum length of line allowed for SwimRun is 10m. Bear in mind that you need to find a way if attaching the line to each other. This might involve wearing belts and using karabinas, or some SwimRun specific wetsuits are integral waist loops for this purpose. You also need to practice using the line as it can be quite fiddly to manage.
All SwimRun races will have a mandatory equipment list that will include at least a compass & map, whistle & some kind of first aid kit. It’s also a good idea to carry a phone in a waterproof case and some emergency food such as a gel. If you are not using a tow float then your wetsuit will provide you with some buoyancy if you need to stop in the water but other small emergency flotation devises can be carried such as The Swim It or Restube.
Here’s a link to an interesting blog post from UltraSwimRun, discussing the Pros and Cons of SwimRun gear.
Wtitten by Chloë, Love SwimRun Organiser, 10/11/15