Download PDF

Photo Credit: Camilla Rutherford photography

With breathtaking lake and sea swims, rugged trails and a challenging multi-sport set up, it’s no wonder the swimrun scene is growing. From swimrun rules to swimrun training, here’s the need-to-know for beginners…

What is swimrun?
Like the name suggests, swimrun mixes open-water swimming and trail running. The idea is to swim from island to island (or point to point across water), running trails in between. All whilst wearing your wetsuit and trail shoes.

Yup, that’s right, you run in your wetsuit.

Sounds challenging…
It is. The legendary ÖTILLÖ race series – the original swimrun event and grand-daddy of the sport – is considered one of the toughest events on the planet, covering 75km and 26 Swedish islands. As with lots of crazy ideas, it was the result of a drunken bet.

Don’t panic, however. Since swimrun hit the UK a few years ago, plenty of less brutal and more beginner-friendly options have emerged. Phew.

How does swimrun work?
Swimrun is a team event where you compete in pairs. You run together and swim together, straying no more than 10 metres apart. Some partners attach a tow rope to each other for the swim, but it’s not compulsory.

ÖTILLÖ lake image
Photo Credit: Camilla Rutherford photography

Is it just the one swim followed by a run?
No. It’s multiple swims and runs, with anything from four transitions (beginners) to 18 within a race.

What do I need for swimrun?
A partner, a wetsuit, a pair of trail shoes, goggles and a swim cap. Hand paddles and tow floats are optional. However, everything you use must be carried with you throughout the race.

Can I race swimrun competitively?
Absolutely. Test your endurance skills and take on the undulating trail runs and open-water swims at pace whilst rubbing shoulders with serious trail runners, swimmers, triathletes and adventure racers. Racing swimrun is relentless and the added elements of wind and choppy water add to the experience.

Not up for racing? Do it for the satisfaction, the blissful exhaustion and the glorious scenery!

What’s the choice of swimrun distances?
Unlike triathlon, swimrun distances aren’t standardised. This adds to the beauty of the event as, without the constraints of set distances, course directors are free to work with each location’s surroundings to create naturally challenging swimrun routes.

What you can expect is multiple ‘bite-size’ swims and runs within each race. For example, the beginner-friendly Fritton Lake 10km course is made up of 5 swims and 6 run sections.

Fritton lake photo by Wildman Media
Photo Credit: Wildman Media

Where can I get my swimrun on?
The Lake District, Wales, Scotland… Norfolk. Swimrun event locations in the UK are growing as the event gains popularity.

As a starter-for-ten for beginners, the Swimrun Fritton Lake, Norfolk on July 16 is a combined course total of 10km to ease yourself into it. (www.frittonlakeoc.co.uk/swim-run-fritton-lake)

Breca Swimrun is one of the most established and trusted swimrun organisers in the UK, delivering events in dream locations in the Lake District, Wales, Jersey and also New Zealand. The picturesque but seriously hilly Breca Buttermere event which takes place every July (sold out for 2017) now includes a Sprint option: Run total 17km, swim total 3km, total number of transitions: 8.
Feeling epically fit? Go for the standard distance: Run total 42km, swim total 6km, number of transitions: 18. Visit www.brecaswimrun.com.

Can I Swimrun abroad?
Yes! As mentioned, Sweden is home to ÖTILLÖ the original swimrun. And if you fancy racing in Europe, you can hop across to compete there, Germany, Croatia or Switzerland with the ÖTILLÖ Race series (www.otilloswimrun.com) – also organiser of the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship.

Thinking long-haul? Breca Wanaka, in New Zealand, is one for your bucket list.

ÖTILLÖ Swimrun image
Photo Credit: ÖTILLÖ Swimrun

SWIMRUN – FITNESS, KIT AND TRAINING
So you like the sound of swimrun, but still have a few questions about the basics? No problem. I grabbed five minutes with Ben de Rivaz, founder of Breca Swimrun, for tips on how to get the most of your swimrun – fitness, kit and training included.

Tip #1. Know that it will be challenging
Your biggest question as a swimrun newbie is probably, ‘How fit do I need to be?’ And while swimrun races are open to anyone, the challenging nature of the courses means that you will need to train for it, says Ben. With races varying in distance and challenge, how fit you need to be depends on the nature of the course. “One of the unique features of swimrun is that there are no set distances – the total run length and swim length can vary significantly from race to race, as can the elevation profile,” explains Ben. As a benchmark, Breca sprint races take between 2-4 hours to complete and are “comparable with an Olympic distance triathlon,” says de Rivaz. Like a challenge? “The 42+km courses take anywhere between 6-11 hours – they’re Ironman equivalent,” he says.

Tip #2. Familiarise yourself with open-water swimming
Relying on pool-based swim sessions will be costly come race day. “Open-water swimming experience is extremely important – it should be one of the cornerstones of your training,” says Ben. The key open-water skills worth mastering: “Swimming straight, sighting, group swimming, cold water acclimatisation and getting used to swimming in a wetsuit and trainers,” says Ben.
The bottom line? Don’t rely on the pool. “Swimming in a pool is great for developing your stroke and endurance, but it doesn’t fully prepare you for the changeable conditions, swells, currents and tides you will encounter during a swimrun race.”

Picture of running woman by Wildman Media
Photo Credit: Wildman Media

Tip #3. Practise with all your race gear
Get used to the equipment, advises Ben who warns that race day is not the time for experimenting with new kit. “It’s important to be comfortable running in a wetsuit and swimming in trainers. Practise with all your swimrun gear. If you’re going to race with hand paddles, gradually incorporate them into your training at an early stage,” he says.

Tip #4. Train to replicate your race
“Racing for several hours with dozens of transitions between swimming and running is a feeling no amount of swim sets or training runs can prepare you for,” says Ben who instead suggests training smart by finding a training location where you can replicate race transition lengths. His advice: “To help your body adapt, find an outdoor training environment where you can easily switch between disciplines.”

Tip #5. Swim and run with your teammate
Ben’s final training tip? Train regularly with your teammate. “It’s important to master the team dynamic in training – being tuned in to how your buddy is performing, and adjusting your pace accordingly, is a big part of the sport,” he says.

Camilla Rutherford photography
Photo Credit: Camilla Rutherford photography

BEN’S SWIMRUN KIT ESSENTIALS
I quizzed Ben on the best kit for swimrun (see below.) His top tip? “The key factor to consider with both wetsuits and trainers is the fit. Choose a product that’s comfortable and well-matched to your running and swimming style.”

Best swimrun wetsuit?
“Orca, our sponsor, have a fantastic range of wetsuits. The Orca RS1 Swim-Run Wetsuit is a high-end racing suit; the Orca Swim-Run Core Wetsuit is a great entry level model. Both come with pockets, high-visibility panels, removable arms, to allow you to adjust to the conditions, and a front zip.”

Best trail shoes for swimrun?
“Most swimrunners opt for light trail shoes – in the water they pull your feet down less than a heavier shoe and drain quickly. Inov8 have a great range – I use the Inov8 X-Talon 200.”

Best budget swimrun wetsuit option?
“The budget option is to cut the arms and legs off a second-hand triathlon wetsuit. For my first swimrun, I bought an ex-rental wetsuit for £40, cut the legs with a pair of scissors and patched it up with neoprene glue. The secret is to cut the suit down incrementally – cut off less than you think you need, try the suit on, then adjust accordingly. Don’t try and get it right first time, there’s no going back if you take off too much.”

Biggest tip for first-time swimrunners?
“Just do it: it’s more fun than you would ever imagine. And don’t be intimidated – many of the teams are new to swimrun just like you.”

Hungry for more swimrun info? Read how former GB triathlete, duathlete and aquathlete, Sami Anderson, got on in her first swimrun in our feature WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO… do an epic swimrun event a year after giving birth.

Share: