Transitions during SwimRunning are an important element of a successful race. Going from running to swimming and from swimming to running requires practice in different ways. Whilst swimming after a run is more about regulating 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 for SwimRun can be a little logistically complicated unless you have a lake with good running trails straight from the shore close by. Since most triathletes will train in a pool, usually indoors, going straight into a run is not as easy as running out of the water already wearing your trainers and hitting a trail. Many fitness centers would most likely frown on soaking-wet swimmers running through their facilities dripping water on the floors, treadmills or track and are very unlikely to let you wear trainers in the pool!
Outdoor pools make transitioning to the run easier, but are usually limited to summer season use, unless you live somewhere warm year-round. The same goes for most open-water swimming lakes that close during the winter months.
Nevertheless, there are several reasons why incorporating SwimRun transition practice into your training program is well worth some extra effort:
Practice makes perfect
Training your body to transition from one sport to another when it’s already being pushed hard and you’re gasping for air can help make those transitions less daunting and painful—and being able to run better out of the water can help keep you ahead of your competitors as well. Practicing transition techniques alone or with your partner and managing your equipment (goggles, paddles, pull buoys etc – see our article on SwimRun Equipment here) will all make for a smooth and pain free race.
Quickly regain your land legs
Know that woozy feeling you have after stumbling out of the water while trying to focus your legs into running? Going suddenly from a horizontal position to a vertical one takes some getting used to. Teaching your body how to run again quickly and efficiently will help in curtailing that wobbly feeling you might have coming out of the water. As many SwimRun races feature upwards of 8 transitions it’s well worth getting this nailed!
They add variety to your training
Swim-run transition practice offers a break from your typical run or swim training. Rather than try to cram a bit of SwimRun transition practice into an already overcrowded training/life schedule, alternate them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, substituting a dedicated transition session for a standard run or swim workout.
How to practice SwimRun transitions
It may be challenging to find ways to practice however, with a little bit of planning and ingenuity it can be done. Here are a few ways you can incorporate SwimRun transition practice into your training:
Run after you swim
Whether you train for your swims in a pool or in open water, try to incorporate a run at the end of your session. Even if you need to take a few minuets to get dry and changed into running gear and can only fit a short run in, it will all help to get your legs used to going from swimming mode to running mode. Go into a run as quickly as possible, either outdoors, on a treadmill or on an indoor track. The idea here is to run for about 10 to 20 min. at a moderate to high intensity pace. Work on running fluidly and keeping your breathing under control. If you have time you can head back to the pool for another short swim session as well.
Workouts in the pool
If running right out of the pool is simply not possible, there is another way to replicate the feeling. If you can do a short run before you hit the pool, so much the better but if not go straight into this workout: Swim a warm up set of 100m then sprint for 50m, get out of the pool and do 20 to 50 squats on the side in a safe area, get back into the water and repeat the swim/squat intervals a few more times. You can vary the work out by doing other stationary exercises such as static lunges or calf raises. Use your imagination but make sure there is no risk of slipping. You can also walk around the pool between swim sets.
Experiment with equipment
You can try experimenting using a pull buoy during your swims and seeing how this effects your run performance. Using a pull buoy will save energy in your legs but will mean you need to use your upper body more during your swim – the main reason why SwimRun athletes use hand paddles. This is a personal choice and you’ll need to experiment to find what will work best for you. Make sure you regularly train using the gear you choose for your event. Hand paddles are hard on your shoulders and back and you will need to strengthen these muscles well for long swims.
Open water practice
Make the effort to incorporate open water swims in a lake or the sea into you training, even if this means you have to do some traveling – there is nothing like the real thing to give you the best idea of what it will really be like during your SwimRun event. You can replicate the experience of a race as well as hone your ability to run well out of the water by incorporating a short but high-intensity runs between short swims. You can build up the distances each time you go, depending on the length of the race you are training for.
While you swim in open water you have the opportunity to experiment with wearing your trainers while you swim. This feels pretty odd to start with but you’ll soon get used to it. Getting the right shoes will really help (see our article of SwimRun shoes here). You can swim normally wearing them, or use a pull buoy – now is the time to really work out your equipment strategy! If you decide not to wear trainers during your swims practice with ways of carrying them and of taking them on and off whilst wet. If you have to use a tow float, practice swimming with one. If possible practice entering and exiting the water on different types of surfaces. Be aware that some my be uneven, rocky or slippery.
Register for a short or off season Swim-Run or aquathlon event There are more short distance SwimRun events popping up now so you could look at entering one of those before your big SwimRun race to give you an taste of what it will be like and an opportunity to test out your gear and strategy. There are also some non competitive SwimRun type events that take place off season. Check out The Swimmer in London. Aquathlon events are also a good way to practice and train for swim to run transitions in a competitive environment.
Work with your partner
Spending time working out transition strategy with your team parther is time well spent! Train together and work out where your individual strengths lie in each discipline. In a team it is possible to work entirely on an equal basis but it can also be really helpful if one team mate takes the lead at certain times. If one member is a stronger swimmer then they should swim ahead and allow the other of follow in their slipstream and you vould use a tow line to help pull the weaker swimmer and even up the swim speeds. The same goes for the running.
During long SwimRun races you are bound to have high and low points at different times and it is important that you can support each other during these times, especially at transition points where the change from one discipline to another can really take it’s toll. You need to learn how to communicate at these difficult times and to read each others body language. Be prepared to swap positions and take the lead if necessary and practise helping your partner to manage their gear as well as your own.
8 tips for a smooth SwimRun transition
Entering and exiting the water is an important part of the transitions in SwimRun. Many seconds can be gained and lost, so technique and planning are important.
Tip 1: Know where you are going. Know the course and find course markers, land features or trees to sight that are in line with the swim exit. Look for the run direction as soon as you can after you begin to exit the water.
Tip 2: Activate your legs. Kick a little extra during the last 200 meters of the swim to get the blood pumping and muscles working in your legs ready for the run.
Tip 3: Keep swimming! Don’t stop or stand up until you have run aground in the shallow water. When your fingers scrape the bottom, take a few more strokes by pulling right under your torso. You will move faster in water in a horizontal swimming position than by trying to run through it, especially if the bed is rocky and uneven. When you do stand up be aware it may be very slippery!
Tip 4: Manage your gear. Stand up and lift your goggles onto your forehead, if you are wearing hand paddles you may need to remove these first. This action clears your vision as you start to run out of the water. If you are using a pull buoy you’ll need to move this from between your legs to be able to run. You may be clipped to your partner with a tow line and will need to manage this to prevent trips and tangles. If you’ve towing a float you’ll need to pick this up and carry it.
Tip 5: Run to Swim. Going from running to swimming doesn’t feel so physically demanding but it still requires practice to regulate your breathing and to manage your gear as you get back in the water – practice reversing your gear management process from Tip 4. Take care as you run into the water and beaware there may be hidden obstaces under the water. Dive into a swimming position once you can see a clear space in the water. Set off steadily until you find your breating pattern and your muscles adjust. You may need to breath on every second stroke for a short distance.
Tip 6: Train with your partner. If you are in a team make sure your partner is working with you to practice the transitions and knows how to manage their gear. You can work together and have specific roles depending on who will enter or exit the water first. Schedule training sessions where all you will do is practice getting in and out of the water between running and swimming short distances until you have a really slick system. This is more tiring than you’d think!
Tip 7: Fuel. Have an energy bar or gel at hand to take when you exit from a long swim to give you energy going into the run. Remember to keep hydrated – its easy to feel you don’t need to drink when you are swimming.
Tip 8: Have fun! If you’re not having fun during training, stop and have a break or do something else. All training is best if it is a positive experience. If your transition techniques or equipment don’t seem to be working, try something different. Search online for some videos of other SwimRun events to give you ideas for gear and techniques.
Written by Chloë: Love SwimRun Organiser. 14/01/16
We will be organising some Love SwimRun FREE social SwimRuns to help with training and gear selection. Keep an eye on our social media for updates!