Extra equipment in Swimrun, good or bad?

Original post with pics HERE

One peculiarity with Swimrun is the allowance for using extra equipment to facilitate swimming. In theory anything you can carry is allowed with the only regulation being that a flotation device should not exceed 100 x 60 cm. Most popular is the use of hand paddles, pull boys and fins. The current rules fits with the definition of getting from point A to B as quickly as possible using only equipment that you can carry all the way to the end and the use of flotation devices is a relic from safety requirements for the original ÖtillÖ races. The rule has only been modified slightly over the years with the addition of the flotation device size limitation and the removal of the use of bicycles. Some Participants of some of the first ÖtillÖ used air mattresses during the swims which exceeded the current size limitations by far and bicycles were allowed to be used on big islands.
Now to the question at hand: is the semi-non-regulated use of extra equipment a good thing for the Swimrun sport, or should the rules be changed and the gear to be used, defined in detail? In favour of keeping the current allowances regarding equipment is perhaps the following arguments.

  1. It does fit with the definition of getting from start to finish using whatever aids you wish (not motorized we assume) using whatever you can carry along the way.
  2. It enables swimmers with a poor swim technique to compete at a higher level.
  3. It makes the sport stand out from other similar sports such as triathlon and aquathlon events.
  4. It makes it a more attractive sport for sponsors as the participants will buy more equipment.
  5. It makes the swimming part more fun since you can go faster and adds a new dimension to swimming (at least according to an ex swimmer athlete on our team).
  6. It allows for the sport to continue to develop, gear-wise, and what’s in stock for the future, is an open game.

With so many good reasons for keeping the rule perhaps you wonder whether there is any point in discussing it, but we have identified some problems and arguments that makes it meaningful to write about it in this blog. The use of extra equipment could be considered cheating… at least that is the reaction that we get when we mention the use of paddles and pull-buoys, describing the sport to non-swimrunners, especially those who are competitive swimmers. Further;

  1. Swimrun should be a natural and basic sport, independent from the gear used. It is mostly done in unpaved terrain and open waters and we have repeatedly heard the founders of the sport promoting the natural almost cave man like feeling of running through the terrain and swimming in open water as a selling point for the sport (and what we believe to be the essence of it).
  2. Using hand paddles increases the risk for shoulder injury due to the extra stress it puts on the shoulders.
  3. The risk of future technology doping – is it really fair that you can improve your times by using better equipment?
  4. The risk with technology development – remember the LZR Racer swim Suits that FINA finally decided to ban? The current somewhat vague rules may allow for equipment development that takes the fun out of the sport.

We, the Ultraswimrun team, totally agree with the natural and basic concept of swimrunning. It is a fantastic feeling running through the woods, stumbling on roots and rocks and to enter the waves from rough cliffs while getting see weed in your face. Would it not be even more natural without pull-buoys and paddles speeding up the swim sections? Disallowing any other aid than wetsuit (because of the cold waters) and running shoes (because or sharp rocks). Currently, using aids is optional, and there are those, usually really good swimmers, who skip these extra gadgets by their own preference. So if you don’t really need them if you are a good swimmer, why should they be allowed? Would it not be fairer, like in some other sports, to only allow differences between competitors depending on skill and training (and a tinge of genetic advantages)?

The risk of shoulder injury may not be a very strong argument as it can be overcome by training properly, but if the sport is to appeal to a greater audience than the super athletes participating today (and the sport is moving in that direction) there is a real risk that we will see more of these. Many will not do the necessary slow buildup of distances using paddles that is required or and quite a few will use them with poor swimming technique.

Perhaps most importantly, the current rules may be problematic because of some participants, with resources, taking advantage of them. For example, there is the possibility that someone develops a flotation device fitting the current dimension requirements, that enables the user to skip swimming altogether and use it as a paddling vessel (technology-doping). Will this then be allowed?

Also, wetsuits with more and more flotation capabilities are currently entering the Swimrun market. The latest wetsuit from Orca will have 8 mm flotation parts included. Triathlon wetsuits have limitations on thickness. Will this development go unchecked or should a similar rule as in triathlon be added? Currently, it is really only the imagination of the swimrunner and the rough 100 x 60 cm dimension limitation, that limits the development of swimrun-gear. We argue that more efforts need to be put on controlling the development of gear, to facilitate an equal racing opportunity for all. If the total race times vary much because of gear and not conditions, the swimrun genre stands to lose much of is raw beauty.

To sum up, there are arguments for and against the use of extra equipment and we are undecided, but we definitely think that this discussion should be encouraged so that the sport can find its ultimate format as soon as possible and so that we avoid people taking advantage of lack of or un-thought-thru regulations.

/ The Ultraswimrun Team

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