Swimrun – a beginners guide

It can be hard to predict the next big thing in endurance sport but if the coverage in 220 Triathlon, Outdoor Swimmer magazines and even The Guardian is anything to go by, swimrun is it. Attracting swimmers, trail runners, triathletes and adventurers alike, the number of swimrun events for both team and soloists are increasing here in the UK and worldwide. Having spotted more and more swimmers entering the water at Divers Cove in Surrey wearing trainers with pull buoys strapped to their thighs, Sarah of Tri Wetsuit Hire caught up with experienced swimrunner and Swimrun coach, Jude Palmer from Run Surrey Hills to find out what all the fuss is about and how to get started.

So swimrun, isn’t that an aquathlon?

Unlike aquathlon or triathlon, most swimruns are for teams of two and you don’t stop to take off your wetsuit or put on your shoes because there are multiple swims and multiple runs. Imagine a sport where you run and swim your way across wild and stunning landscapes; craggy islands, sandy beaches, deep fjords, calm lakes, big hills, rocky outcrops and you have swimrun. I love it for the adventure, being immersed in some fantastic landscapes and the challenge of getting myself and my team mate over the course.

What’s it like running in your wetsuit?

Definitely worth it for the funny looks you get while out training! First and foremost you need to be comfortable because no one needs chafe two hours in and quads that are being constricted on the run. There are lots of swimrun specific wetsuits on the market now, with varying price tags, which have more give in the legs for running, often have front zips to make taking them down to the waist on longer runs easier and usually have pockets for stashing the mandatory kit and snacks! Hiring one is definitely a good way to go. Hire a swimrun wetsuit for 2, 4 weeks or Season Hire from Tri Wetsuit Hire.

How do you stop your feet sinking on the swims when your are wearing trainers?

I well remember turning up to Breca Buttermere in 2016 to find someone stuffing pipe insulation down their socks! These days, most people use a pull buoy between their legs which they then keep out of the way using elastic on the runs but there are other ways including floats in your socks or on your shoes. When it comes to trainers, make sure they are trail specific and you are happy to swim in them. Again there are many brands out there but the most important thing is that you are comfortable running in them wet for several hours.

What other kit can you use?

Apart from the usual swim hat and goggles, people also use paddles for the swims, tow lines between pairs on the swims and runs and some teams use fins. But remember whatever you use, you have to carry it for the whole distance. Paddles can certainly add speed to your swimming but they are not for everyone and certainly not a one race wonder – and like the rest of the kit you need to regularly train with them. But of course apart from the swimhat, wetsuit and trainers everything else is optional and so if you want to keep it simple you can.

A tow line? Does that mean teams tie themselves together?

Sort of! The rules for Swimrun are that if you are competing as a team you have to be within 10m of your team mate and using a tow line in the form of elastic can make a huge difference on both the swims and the runs in terms of keeping you together and keeping the pace up especially if one of you is faster or more energetic than the other. I had a tough race at Otillo Engadin last year and the fact I could swim in my partners draft made all the difference to us finishing. I am a complete kit nerd and made my own tow line and belts but there are ones you can hire or buy. You definitely need to practice with a tow line and if its in your local pool, ask first – something to do with getting rope wrapped round your feet tends to make lifeguards twitchy!

You mentioned competitors – does everyone take it super seriously?

The great thing about swimrun is that you can push yourself alongside world class athletes or take part for the for the stunning views and pure satisfaction. At the end of the day everyone comes over the same finish line.

What if you can’t find a fellow enthusiast to be your teammate?

Photo courtesy of Paul Wildman. Breca Buttermere

More and more events are offering events for soloists (google swimrun solo) and so this is a great way to dip your toe but there are also several forums where you can advertise for someone to join you. I have done several seasons with a regular teammate and several where I have met them them the day before. Teams can either be male, female or mixed.

How good does your swimming need to be?

The total amount of swimming depends on the event and whether it is in lakes or the sea. Swim sections could be as short as 50m or perhaps as far as 2.5km with total swimming being around 6km for long course events. So you need to feel absolutely confident in swimming in open water. If you are not get, down to your local lake and befriend a coach or some fellow swimmers for top tips. Swimming in a pool is great for training for there is no substitute for the wind and waves of open water.

And what about the running?

The beauty of swimrun are the locations which means mud, rock, sand under your feet and almost certainly hills. At the Hokey Cokey last year, even the fittest trail runners ran like octogenarian zombies on the 2km run along the beach. So if you don’t already, get out and hits the trails. As a trail/fell running coach, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Runs can be anything from 100m to 16km with total running being around 40k for the long courses.

How do I train?

Focus on building your confidence and endurance in the separate elements of open water swimming and trail running as these are the bread and butter of swimrun. Swimrun is an endurance event and so find somewhere that you can combine the swimming and running several times over and practice transitioning between the two. Practise with your kit and what you are going to fuel with too.

How do I find events?

Google Swimrun and you will find lots to choose from. Look out for Breca, Otillo, LoveSwimRun, Hokey Cokey, Wild Running, Great North Swim to name but a few. Many offer long and sprint courses and events for teams and soloists. World of Swimrun on Facebook is also a great source of news, advice and partners.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of giving swimrun a go?

Go for it! The atmosphere at events is fantastic with people from all over the world and you will definitely come away with a big grin on your face.


If you have any questions about swimrun or would like some coaching, don’t hesitate to contact Jude on runsurreyhills@gmail.com


Header photo courtesy of James Street, Hokey Cokey 2018

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