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SwimRun – what’s it all about?

In the last few years a new multi-sport combination has become increasingly popular. 

Known as Swimrun it can best be described as an event where you complete multiple repetitions of swim and run sections. Typically you compete as a two-person team but there are individual competitions too. 

The event originated from a bet between a few friends in Sweden in 2003. Quite similar to the Hawaii Ironman origin story! They challenged each other to see who was fastest over a route that went the length of an archipelago, running across the islands and swimming between them. Hence the name of the original event was ÖtilÖ  – “island to island”. It took a few years for the challenge to develop into an organised race and it is only since 2012 that it has been known as “Swimrun”. 

There are a few things that have led to the growth and popularity of Swimrun:

  1. It is great fun – there is something very playful about scrambling in and out of the water, trying to keep forward momentum while frequently switching from swimming to running.
  2. It lends itself to exploring the environment – there are many places that can utilise the natural terrain to provide a challenge, make a journey, bring appreciation to places that you don’t normally experience.
  3. The sport has deliberately kept regulations to the minimum and encouraged innovation in the use of equipment and the choice of tactics. It appeals to those who like to use their brains to get an edge. 
  4. Most races are for two-person teams and bringing in team work and team spirit is refreshing in a normally individually focussed multi-sport world. 
  5. There is an increasingly extensive race calendar. You can choose to go solo or in a team, you can compete for as little as 30 minutes, as long as 8 hours or virtually anything in-between, you can experience beautiful coastal regions or go inland for lakes and mountain runs, you can travel the world or race more locally. 

Have a look at the map and you’ll get a feel for what a Swimrun course can look like. This is a “sprint” distance event with 6 swim sections and 6 run sections. The swims total 3.5km and the runs 6.5km. Teams would expect to complete this course in anything from one to two hours.

Some things to consider if you want to give Swimrun a go:

  1. Ideally find a partner and enter as a team. You don’t have to be perfectly matched in your swim and run speeds. A bit of variance is inevitable and you can take turns to set the pace on your stronger discipline. You can also help a weaker partner by allowing them to draft from you or by towing them with a bungee or strap. Even an occasional push on the run can help equalise the effort. 
  2. You don’t need any fancy equipment, some events don’t need a wetsuit and so a pair of running shoes and a pull buoy to help float your legs is all you need. Having said that athletes have worked out ways to add speed and the gear manufacturers have made some Swimrun specific kit that makes life easier as well as faster. It’s still an evolving sport though so there is scope for some innovation and getting ahead of the competition with some lateral thinking. Whatever you decide to use I would recommend testing it out in training – don’t go against Rule No. 1: Never do anything new on race day. 
  3. Some race specific training never goes amiss. When I first had an athlete trying a Swimrun event we put in a block of Swimrun brick training. That allowed for testing and evaluating equipment choices as well as preparing physiologically for the challenge of swimming with fatigued legs. 
  4. Familiarise yourself with the course as much as you can beforehand. Some events require you to do a bit of navigation and there’s not much worse than going wrong  and adding on some unnecessary metres. 

Then get out there and have a good time!