Beginner’s corner

New to Swimrun? Don’t worry, it’s simpler than it looks. Hopefully most of your questions will be answered below.

It all started with the Andersson brothers Photo: François-Xavier Li
It all started with the Andersson brothers Photo: François-Xavier Li


History – Swimrun started with the island to island race Ötillö in the Stockholm Archipelago as a crazy challenge: going from one end of the archipelago to the other end. Therefore swimrunning is a multiple alternation of runs and swims: this is not an aquathlon. Over the years it developed into a formal race and now Swimrun races are popping up all over the world. The original distances were roughly 10km swimming and 70km running, but now there are many alternatives available both shorter, down to 12km total, and longer, up to multiday adventure swimrunning.

The rules – The rules are few and easy! Get from point A to point B over land and water as quickly as possible while carrying all the equipment you need from start to end. No external support is allowed except what is provided by the race organisers, e.g. food and drink at aid stations. You may use floatation devices, e.g. pull buoy, but the maximum size is usually 100×60 cm. You must compete in pairs and never stray from each other (usually 10m in swimming), although there are now some solo races. Littering is strictly forbidden.

Shoes 2015OtilloRaceShoes – you will probably wear them the whole race; you can take them off during swimming but you will lose time putting them on and off, and you will still need to carry them. Use shoes that drain rapidly and have a good grip on wet surfaces. Make sure you tie them well or use strings that are locked as knots tend do come undone during the swims.

Wetsuit – Use one that is appropriate for the water temperature and your resistance to cold water. It should be as light as possible and easy to remove as you will wear it during the runs. Swimrunning specific wetsuits are now on the market, but you can start with an old triathlon wetsuit. Wetsuits are often cut at the elbows and knees to facilitate running. Opening and removing the top of the wetsuit rapidly is important to prevent overheating whilst running.

Swimcap – Provided at the race and compulsory during swims for identification.

Swimming goggles –Standard goggles are fine, but they should be in good condition. Good visibility is really important to see where you are heading to during long swims.

Swim aids – Most swimrunners use hand paddles and pull buoys to increase speed and buoyancy. Some use fins (if allowed in the race), but putting them on and off is time consuming, and you have to carry them whilst running. Try it out before you race!

Full gear going out of a swim
Full gear going out of a swim

Race bib – They are generally provided at the race and worn over the wetsuit at all time.

Clothing – Wear as little as you can and make sure to use material holding as little water as possible. You will probably need some sort of underwear and perhaps a top under the wetsuit. Compression socks may be a good idea if the run sections are long.

Safety equipment – whistle, compass, map and first aid kit are usually required during races. If needed, maps will be provided by the race organisers. You will need to store these somewhere, usually tucked inside the wetsuit, except for the whistle which needs to be easily accessible during swimming. An elastic cord that you attach to your team mate may be a good idea to use so that you do not loose each other in the water, and the stronger swimmer can pull a bit the weakest swimmer.

Nutrition/hydration – Race organisers usually provide food and drink at aid stations. Eat more than you would during a running race as you will burn more calories than you expect. You may want to bring some water and a couple of gels/bars to complement what is offered during the race.

Rucksack – Beginners tend to carry too much equipment and use rucksack. Avoid this rooky mistake at all cost and travel light. You should be able to carry everything you need either tucked in your wetsuit or in the pockets of a swimrun-specific wetsuit. If you really feel you need to carry more equipment, a bum bag is an option almost forgivable for a rooky.

Team mate – finding the right team mate is part of the fun of swimrunning. Ideally you want to be evenly matched in swimming and running speed and endurance, but mostly you want to make sure you get on well together.

TUA8cuehAcETransitions – An art form in swimrunning. Novices are recognised by their slow and clumsy transitions. Before you arrive to a swim section you should already have your wetsuit zipped up, hat on and if you use them paddles on. These are done whilst running, sometimes with the help of your partner. Before going into the water (diving is usually forbidden for safety reasons) you should only have to put your goggles on, find out a bearing to guide you during the swim, check if your team mate is ready and go! Out of the water, reverse process: goggles off (you want to see where you are running), check team mate, run! Later, depending on temperature, you will have time to zip down the wetsuit and remove the top. Duration of each transition: less than 30”.

Training – As with any sport you do improve if you practice. Try different set ups and equipment until you have found what works best for you and you feel confident with.  If one is a strong swimmer it is natural to let that person lead, and the same goes for running. In order to be quick in and out of water, it helps to use as few pieces of equipment as possible that needs putting on etc and to actually practice entering and exiting.

That’s really all there is to it! See you at the race!