The swimrun wetsuit – History, current state of affairs and what the future can bring us

The swimrun sport has come a long way since the 1st race took place and looking back at the gear used, it’s safe to say that all the crazy ingenuity contestants gave proof of, provided a laugh or two. Much has happened since, especially with the wetsuit, but before we go into this, a quick trip down memory lane will serve us good. This will explain why we today have been blessed with a first attempt of a dedicated swimrun wetsuit and why we want to see the industry adapt their thinking when trying to construct us that perfect one.

[If you’re eager for our suggestions, just scroll down 😀 ]

In the beginning of swimrun racing, it was common for swimrunners to come with whatever wetsuit they had gotten their hands on. It didn’t matter whether it was a
t triathlon racing suit, the one used for surfing, or whatever could be found in the basement. Swimrun racing was in its infancy and no one really knew what was best to use. The first couple of races took place in the outer part of Stockholm archipelago, a place not really know for its high water temperatures, and we guess the motto for many was better safe than sorry. A 6 mm neoprene suit would at least keep you alive for your first ÖtillÖ adventure.

Needless to say, it didn’t take many races for people to start experimenting with the wetsuit. Racing experience gave proof of individual needs, driving people in different directions. Now, this phenomenon kept the swimrun community on their toes for each race, to see what new idea the competition would bring. Each new invention was followed by a technical discussion, which in turn gave people even more ideas. Some started to cut the wetsuit over or under the knee and also just above the elbow and it was argued that keeping a patch of neoprene over the knee-cap, would keep it warm during long cold
swims, allowing for smoother running afterwards. Others argued that it was better to free the knee up completely, for the sake of maintaining a good running technique. Then you had those who feared that cutting the legs off would mean the loss of much needed buoyancy and those who claimed that it really didn’t matter, because you would make up for it by not
having to run with them through rugged terrain for some 50+ km. You had those who started re-using the legs, to compensate for the loss of buoyancy and some took it even further, adding more neoprene inside their long compression sock et viola the neoprene calf-protector was born. Rumor has it that one team showed up to one race with something undefinable, yet within the limits of the floating device rule of 100 x 60 cm, and if found today by archaeologists, would be labeled as an unidentified water swimrun aid object (UWSAO) 🙂. In the end though, most swimrunners ended up going for the cut version of the wetsuit, that is, opting for what most surfers would call “a regular shorty”. Keep the surfers in mind, we will get back to them.

The mandatory racing gear put logistical constraint on the swimrunners, and in the early days most were using a backpack or waist pack, but also to carry food and water since the long ÖtillÖ race had logistical difficulties in providing enough energy depots. But, the packs impeded much on the swimming, why
some started experimenting with pockets on the inside of the wetsuit. Everyone also quickly learned that running in a black wetsuit (…we’ll let that one sink in for a while…), in direct sunlight, in thick forests with no wind, quickly built up the heat, and thus, the concept of “cabbing-down the wetsuit” was born. It was fun at times to see the swimrunner “cabbing-down”, while handling a sticky wet race-bib, swimming gear, being cold after a long swim, trying to get the running technique working again, and on rugged terrain :-). Then, at the end of the running stage, trying to reverse the procedure, and most often, needing the help of the team-buddy to close the up-and-down zipper. It’s amazing that more didn’t get hurt.

It didn’t take long until the first wetsuit with a front zipper emerged on the swimrun scene, and that the back zipper was reversed (down-and-up) into what the surfers (yet again) would call a regular back-zipper. (And yes, we know why the tri-suits have a reversed zipper, but when swimrunning, all the on-and-offs doesn’t make this practical). As you can imagine, the constant development of new swimrun gear, filled each new swimrun race with excitement and curiosity since this usually meant the arrival of a new swimrun invention for everyone to discuss (and later copy).

State of affairs today

Head was quick to adapt and launched the 1st ever dedicated swimrun wetsuit called “Base” in 2014. It had what most swimrunners had tried to fix by themselves, front zipper, reversed back zipper, inside pockets, added neoprene for buoyancy and so forth. Clearly a step in the right direction since it quickly sold out. Today, in 2015, more brands have started to provide us with dedicated swimrun wetsuits matching the swimrunner needs, e.g.;

  • SwimRun Rough (Head)
  • SwimRun Race (Head)
  • SwimRun Race L.E. (Head)
  • Utö Pulsor (Camaro)
  • SEAL R8 (Wolff-wear)
  • Amphibia (Huub)

 

More choices mean the individual pick gets easier, since no wetsuit can meet all individual demands, or that there ever will exist a perfect one-size-fit-all. We swimrunners are differently built, where some have larger / taller torso, and others have smaller / shorter, but still falling into the same size category and finding that perfect fit can be a hassle. We won’t go further into detail on what to look for when buying a wetsuit, since that is a blogpost on its own, and all about the individual fit. But one crucial aspect you need to think of is that you should be able to freely rotate your shoulders and arms (i.e. the swim-crawl rotation), with little or no resistance. If the wetsuit does this well, you might have to live with it also providing some cool-down effect, when letting in that first trickle of cold water run down your back, entering the first swim-stage.

What can the future bring?

This year the industry has picked up the speed of developing swimrun gear and the much needed wetsuit, but not as fast as one can wish. When will we see other big brands such as Orca, BlueSeventy or 2XU enter the Swimrun scene with a dedicated wetsuit, given that we now have over 50 known races (while writing) and more to come? How long will it be until we see the birth of that perfect wetsuit, the one that suites the individual need when running long distance trail as well as swimming long distance open water. That one golden standard swimrun wetsuit the industry will copy and reproduce, making it possible for (nearly) all swimrunners to find that individual good fit? We think it’s time for everyone to look outside the box and, as mentioned before
with the surfer wetsuit, have a peek at what other actors can do to help. Take the motorbike racing industry for example. They work with the 1-piece racing suit, sweating body conditions, an awkward uncomfortable racing position and a material that doesn’t really stretch out well. To counter the stiffness of the suit, they have added sections of leather type cartridge pleats, just like the bellow of the accordion, or the midsection of a long buss. This to allow for the suit to be flexible in angled positions, increasing comfort while riding the bike. A wetsuit with this option, could make running in the archipelago rugged type of terrain much easier. This is just one of many ideas that can be borrowed from the motorbike racing suit.

The needs are there and now we want to see the change

We think now is the time for the swimrun community to put all their needs and ideas on the table. The swimrun movement is growing and the industry is listening and is engaged. It’s up to us to push the industry forward in their development of swimrun gear and here are some pointers on what can be done to develop the swimrun wetsuit further.

  1. Stop making them in black / dark color. It gets too hot while running. A black object absorbs all wavelengths of light and reflects none, whereas a white object reflects all and therefore absorbs the least heat. Plus, the bright color is better for safety purposes when swimming in open water.
  2. Perhaps it’s time to skip the back zipper completely, and put more energy on developing the front one, making it possible to cab-down the wetsuit with ease.
  3. Could it be possible to insert zippers under the arm pits (pit-zips), as can be found on any regular hiking-jacket?
  4. Put a loop in the lower back and front section, allowing for attachment of various types of pull-cords.
  5. Find a way for the swimrunner to attach the buoy while running. Something smarter than velcro.
  6. Attach extra pockets on the lower back. Look at how a regular bike vest works and find a smart solution for the wetsuit that doesn’t impact on the running nor the swimming.
  7. Copy what the motorbike industry has done for the race suite, with added sections of leather type cartridge pleats (encircled in red), to allow for more flexibility when running.
  8. If you manage to remove the back zipper, a suggestion would be to develop an integrated type of camelback with the nozzle coming out somewhere on the top shoulder, close to the mouth.
  9. Figure out a smart way to attach the shoes to the wetsuit, (perhaps on the lower back?) to enable us the option of taking them off while swimming long stages during racing.

Well, we hope this can help keep the discussion vibrant and alive on how to develop the wetsuit further. And hey, we are already swimming with race-bibs made out of textile material, which is not ideal since it steals functionality from the neoprene wetsuit, so any ideas that will have minor negative impact on the swimming but positive impact on all other aspects of swimrunning are truly welcome. Please comment here or drop us an email if you have any cool ideas, or crazy for that matter, and remember that:

Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

/ The Ultraswimrun Team

P.S. Don’t forget to buy wetsuit glue. You will need it. Off-season, store the wetsuit hanging in a dark cool space on a coat hanger and remember that neoprene tends to shrink a bit from year to year, hence don’t buy ultrafit (or perhaps you shouldn’t have had all that Christmas pudding). Vaselin will always be your best friend, have plenty around.

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