The newest kid on the multi-sport block is the crazy sport of Swimrun. There are many elements to this event that make it stand out from the crowd. My name is Alex Hemsley, English National Aquathlon Champion, and it’s my job to introduce you to this unique sport and how to train for such an event.
What is swimrun?
You might be thinking, "well that’s obvious, it’s swimming and running". Well yes, but maybe not as you think. Swimrun is an endurance event with distances often equalling that of a marathon or more. But oh no, you won’t just be running those miles on a road! The swim and run are broken up into multiple small runs/swims of varying distances, alternating between the two sports. Often, swimming in multiple lakes or around a shoreline and running across fells, through rivers, and over mountains. Swimrun events take place in the most beautiful locations in both the UK and abroad and you just have to remember to appreciate it while you're racing!
If you're a triathlete or multi-sport athlete, you will be familiar with transitioning from one discipline to another. In swimrun, there are no transitions: you swim in your running shoes and run in your wetsuit. Because of this, there is some specialist equipment you will want to invest in before your race.
A specific swimrun wetsuit is a must if you don’t want to get too hot on the run. There are plenty available online and more are becoming available in stores. My top tip is to make sure you follow the size guide if you don’t want horrific chafing from running in a wetsuit! Specialist Swimrun wetsuits have a built-in whistle which can be an essential item and clever pockets so you can carry gels.
Due to the uneven terrains on the run, a good trail shoe is well worth investing in as you will also be running with wet feet from the start. It is crucial that your shoes are clean before a race due to the unique biodiversity of the areas you are racing in. So no trail shoes that have lingered in a cupboard for months since last winter!
Swimrun events have pioneered plastic-free racing which, in these times of environmental decline, is so important. This means you need a container that you can use for water/electrolytes at the feed stations. My preference is a soft flask that can be folded up and put in a pocket on my swimrun suit. You can often buy them at events.
Hand paddles and pull buoys
Another aspect that makes swimrun unique is you can use whatever equipment you want... but before you think of taking your fins, everything you start the race with you have to finish the race with. So you need to be cunning with your swimming aids! Many people use paddles and pull buoys as swimming in shoes creates a lot of drag.
Pull buoys can either be altered to make some ties so you can attach it to the outside of your leg for the run or you can buy specific swimrun ones. With hand paddles, make sure you can quickly get them on and off otherwise you’ll be running with your goggles on as your hands won’t be free to take them off.
One final aspect of this is that swimrun is a team event and you can only compete in pairs. You can’t be more than 10 meters apart from each other at any one time. Some teams tether themselves together with a piece of rope cut to the specific length of 10m.
How do you train for swimrun?
You'll need to do lots of endurance swim sets both in the pool and outdoors. Make sure you follow your swim sets with a run as it feels very alien at first and feels different to running after cycling, which is the more traditional transition.
Get out on the trails and hit the hills in all weathers as it might not be a nice day when you are racing so don’t dodge the weather in training!
Train as much as you can with your partner as you need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work out what works best for you as a team. Is one person going to lead on the swim and the other on the run? Or one person does one swim and run and the other does the next. You might not follow it on race day but it’s worth having a strategy. Training together also helps you know each other’s natural cadence in swim and run so you can try to match this.
Before the race, go and do a recce where you swim in your swimrun suit and running shoes and run in your suit and wet shoes. This will help you work out what might happen on race day. Here's a recce checklist:
- Do you want to wear socks or not?
- Do you want to undo your swimrun suit?
- Will you get blisters from running in wet shoes?
- Which gels do you want and how many?
- Will you run with your hat and goggles on and if not where will you put them?
How do swimrun races work?
Prior to race day, there will be a map and details of the number of swims/runs and their distance and elevation. Study these carefully as you want to know how many you’ve got on race day and when you’ve finished the hills it’s good to know this!
Registration and race briefing will either be the day of the event or the day before. Make sure you attend and pay attention as they will tell you what the markers look like as the whole course isn’t marked so you need to pay attention! They will often inspect your trainers, so make sure they are clean.
Lay all your kit out so you know you have what you need. You will be given number bibs and these must be on you and visible at all times.
On race day, make sure you eat a good breakfast no sooner than 2 hours before otherwise running in your tight suit will make you feel very sick!
The meeting point is often close to the finish of the race so it’s all aboard a coach to take you to the start, often driving along some of the route you will be running and swimming.
And then the fun begins – you swim and run your way back to the finish! There will be feed stations along the route; these are well stocked with everything you could need including new potatoes! But remember not to get carried away or stop for too long or you might seize up or get a stitch.
At the finish, bask in the glory of completing one of the toughest but most fun multi-sports around.
This is by far my favourite event as you get to swim and run in the most beautiful locations with one of your friends. What’s not to love?
About the author: Alex Hemsley is a Team GB Age Group athlete and National Aquathlon Champion.
We asked our athlete ambassadors which races they think are the best in the world – from marathons to Ironman races, our list could help you find your next race!
Voted for by: professional triathlete Pablo Marcos
Next race: 23rd May 2020
Location: Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Europe
Out of all the races I’ve done, very few can compare to the “European Big Island”. This triathlon is the most similar to what Kona may be: an entire island that lives for the race and in which everything stops for that week. The atmosphere is something I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
In terms of course and race conditions, you can have a day with strong currents and choppy water, and with a mass start it's really challenging even for experienced swimmers. To put it into context, I was going for a 51-52 minute swim and ended up doing 58 despite starting at the front and avoiding the chaos with people.
The bike course is one of the most stunning I’ve seen. It's true that either you love it or you hate it though! There are constant climbs with the famous winds that seem to always be against you no matter which direction you are heading and those climbs towards Mirador...
When it comes to the run, if an Ironman marathon is hard anyway, Lanzarote takes it to another level. It's hot, windy, and constantly going up and down on a road by the sea that seems to never give you a break. Not to mention the fact of running through all the bars and restaurants with terraces full of people eating and drinking. Celebrating that they are with the cold beers you’d love to down by that time of the day.
With all that said, I absolutely love the battle with the island! I’m going back next year even though I promised myself I'd never do the same Ironman twice, simply because I love it so much.
Marathon Du Médoc
Voted for by: personal trainer Vikki Roberts-Caiger
Next race: September 2020
Location: Médoc (near Bordeaux), Gironde, France
If you like wine and French delicacies, this is the race for you. There is wine-tasting, oyster-tasting, steak, music, dancing, and partying all along the course.
The Marathon Du Médoc follows a beautiful course through the French countryside and vineyards near Bordeaux with wine and snacks all along the route. Everyone wears fancy dress for that year's theme and it’s got a wonderful friendly party atmosphere.
I made some great friends during the race 4 years ago that I’m still in touch with. Lots of people aim not to cross the finish line before the six hour cut-off in order to get the most from their entry fee. All finishers get a bottle of wine and the ladies get a rose.
The Great North Run
Voted for by: triathlete Calum Johnson
Next race: September 2020
Location: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Being from Newcastle, the GNR has a special place in my heart and a lot of other hearts too. I’ve watched it every year since I was a child as it goes along roads I live close to.
I’ve seen the event progress year on year to become the biggest half marathon in the world. Everyone who has run it will tell you how special the atmosphere is and how friendly everyone is. Everybody supports everybody. So many people run for many incredible causes and charities. Each person has a unique story as to why they are running and it’s brilliant to listen to everyone tell their story!
It’s also a unique course starting and finishing at different points which makes it a bit different to a lot of road races.
Challenge Peguera Mallorca
Voted for by: triathlete Harrison Rolls-King
Next race: 19th October 2019
Location: Peguera, Mallorca, Balearic Islands
Challenge Peguera Mallorca was my first 70.3 last year. It's the Challenge Europe season finale in a fantastic location with a great beach, clean and clear sea water, stunning and challenging bike course and the run is lined with bars and restaurants the whole way and all are packed with locals and spectators!
The buzz you get hitting the run course is amazing. The finish/lap zone has massive stands packed with people, super loud live DJ (my body could feel the vibrations of the sound from the stands and the DJ at the end of every run lap and finish!) and of course the famous red carpet!
After the race there’s a great recovery zone with buffet, benches, massages, bag drop, and so many helpful volunteers. I couldn’t recommend a better place to finish the season!
Voted for by: triathlete Marc Went
Next race: 5th July 2020
Location: Roth, Bavaria, Germany
For me it's got to be Challenge Roth in Germany (formerly Ironman Germany). The crowds are huge as some 260,000 spectators line the streets. There are 30,000 at the swim start and over 7,000 volunteers make it a very special day.
The world famous 'Solar Hill' sees thousands of spectators ten-deep line the road and part in the last seconds to create a Tour de France style single-file route up the hill as well as the final run into the stadium for the finish line where you're greeted by 10,000 spectators, which is truly amazing.
All of this is topped off by an event-ending firework display which, for me, makes Challenge Roth my race of choice and I can see why so many pro triathletes have this on their bucket list.
If you're tempted, the only downside is that it's so popular the general entry sells out in less than 60 seconds, so you've got to be quick!
As summer fast approaches and the weather warms up, it's time to start adjusting your training and racing tactics for the heat. Follow these top tips so that you can perform at your best in hot, humid weather and finish safely in good health.
Don't drink only water
This is possibly the most important point on this list. We all know that we need to drink plenty of water when it's hot, however an increasingly common mistake seems to be drinking only water and potentially over-hydrating. Didn't realise that over-hydrating was a thing? It can be potentially deadly. News broke last year of a woman who was left in a coma after over-hydrating at the London Marathon. The mistake this woman made was that she only drank water and caused her body to enter a state called hyponatraemia. This is when your body's sodium levels are dangerously low and in this context is caused by replenishing water but not electrolytes or salts.
The best way to stay safe and healthy when running in the heat, especially if it is a long endurance event like a marathon, is to top up your sodium before you run and then keep it topped up by drinking a sports drink or taking electrolyte tablets. Team GB duathlete and Sundried ambassador Louise Douglass says, "practise in training with different brands until you find the best one that works for you." This is important as the race you do may not have the sports drinks or gels that you're used to, so sometimes it's best to take your own, especially if your race is in a foreign country.
Of course, you need to keep a safe balance between water and salts, so try to work out how much of each you need before you start. You could do this by doing a sweat test, such as the one offered by sweat experts Precision Hydration, to see how much salt you personally lose when you sweat and go from there.
Adjust your hydration and nutrition from winter training
If you live in the UK and have signed up for a spring or summer race, chances are you've done most of your training in very cold, windy, and miserable conditions. What this means is you will need to adjust your hydration and nutrition for the actual race and it may differ from your training as the amount of water your body required in December will be vastly different to what it requires in July and August.
Make sure you are flexible with your hydration and take extra water and sports drinks with you to the race just in case so that it doesn't come as a surprise on the day. Most, if not all, races will have water available so stay topped up but as highlighted above, don't be tempted to over-hydrate!
Wear a hat or cap
Wearing a hat or cap is a great idea whenever you're in the sun as it protects your head from the heat and can reduce the risk of developing heat and sun stroke. Not only this, wearing a white, fabric cap when you run can mean you can keep a wet sponge under it to keep your head cool and keep soaking it with water to keep your basal temperature down.
"I would recommend wearing a white hat for sure, I’ve found wearing it backwards with sunglasses on actually is best." says Team GB age group triathlete and Sundried ambassador Sam Mileham.
Reduce your pace and listen to your body
You may have been able to push your body hard during training throughout the winter, but race day might be a different story. Especially if you're not expecting a hot race or race day is unseasonably hot (something that can often happen during the big April marathons) you may need to reduce your pace. Even if this means missing out on a potential PB, it's far better to get to the finish line with a smile on your face than being carted off on a stretcher!
Team GB triathlete and Sundried ambassador Paul Suett says "listen to your body and slow your pace down if it’s feeling too hard. London Marathon last year was my toughest race to date, the heat was insane and took a lot out of my body. Throughout the race I constantly listened to my body to make sure I was running sensibly."
Ironman athlete and Sundried ambassador Jon Dixon says "If you know in advance that the weather for a target race is going to be hot, then acclimatise by running in conditions similar in the lead up, preferably start at least 2 weeks out." Team GB age group triathlete Ali Trauttmansdorff adds to this by saying "I trained a few weeks before racing in Mexico by training in similarly hot and humid conditions in Florida to try and replicate the conditions as much as I could. I deliberately went out for my runs at 10am instead of early in the morning so that it wasn't cooler."
It may be difficult mentally to take yourself out for a training run when conditions seem tough, but this is how to train smart and will certainly pay off on race day!
We raced in the Swimrun World Series Finale in Cannes at the weekend, which was our final race of the year. 28km running & 8.5km sea swimming (in 25 degree air temp and 21 water!)
It was an incredible race; beautiful location - sun, sea, sand - and a surprise nudist beach thrown in! We ran over crazy terrain as ever, clambering over rocks, jungle-esque forest, and even a 50% gradient up an old funicular line!
Our result: 4th mixed team, top British team overall (beating all GB male teams!) and we qualified for next year's world champs.
Our 2018 season has been impacted by injuries and illness, but we managed to pull it out the bag for all the key races. Highlights include:
- 1st mixed team in the BRECA Gower swimrun in Wales (a win of over 40 minutes!)
- 2nd mixed team in the OtillO World Series on the Isle of Scilly
- 4th mixed team in the OtillO World Series in Cannes
- 13th mixed team in OtillO World Championships, Sweden
- Top ranked British team in the SwimRun World rankings (including mixed, men’s and women’s teams)
- 3rd mixed team in 2018 OtillO World Series
- Qualified for 2019 OtillO World Championships
Aside from the actual racing, we have continued to be ambassadors for our sport. We have promoted swimrun and our sponsors through presenting at the National Triathlon Show, promotional videos for the Great Swimrun series, interviews for blogs and social media.
Our 2019 goal will be to remain the UK’s top Swimrun team, focusing on OtillO and Breca events. Likely to include OtillO Isle of Scilly, Breca Jersey, OtillO Cannes – oh yes and I will be gunning for a podium in the running race up Alpe d’Huez race.
Swimrun continues to grow in scale, with over 400 global events in 2018 and sure to be many more in 2019. We are seeing it move from the very edge of endurance sports, to become a more mainstream sport, recognised as a team event, built around respect for the environment we race through.
About the author: Rhian Martin is a swimrun athlete who competes with her husband.
Whether it's your first race or your 100th, pre-race nerves can get the better of all of us. Follow our tips to help you calm your nerves and relieve any pre-race stress so that you can enjoy yourself and perform at your best.
Be well prepared
This surely is advice for a lot of things in life, but being well prepared will help to ease any anxiety or nerves you may be feeling. Of course, you can't control everything (which we will touch on in the next point), but being as prepared as possible will help keep your mind at ease.
When it comes to racing, make sure you read all of the information that the organiser sends out as well as checking the race website. There may be some important information that you need and this will also hopefully answer any questions you may have before the big day.
Additionally, recce the course beforehand if you can to suss out any tricky parts and if you can't do it in person, check to see if there is a comprehensive route map online.
Finally, reading race reports from people that have done the race before will give a realistic and personal account of what you can expect from the race.
If there are no nasty surprises on the day and you are confident you have everything you need, any excess stress and worry should be reduced.
As mentioned above, you can't control everything and no matter how prepared you are, there may be things that don't go your way and this could cause you extra stress on race day. Bad weather is a perfect example of this.
In these instances, it's best to be as flexible as possible. Unexpected rain shower? Make sure you've got a water resistant running jacket in your bag. Race is delayed? Make sure you have extra water and nutrition as well as extra layers to keep you warm while you wait if necessary.
Sometimes accidents happen, like dropping nutrition on a bike course. In this instance you can instantly fix the situation by making sure you have extra with you. Don't have a hard-and-fast plan in place and make sure you're flexible so that you can adapt to the situation without stress.
There's nothing worse than turning up late to a race and having to skip your warm up so that you can make it to the start on time in a fluster. Leave yourself more than enough time to arrive to the venue, check traffic and travel conditions the night before, and remember that it's better to be too early than too late.
Of course, if you arrive really early then this could give you time to overthink the situation and cause even more pre-race stress. If you're someone who is prone to doing this, try to find the right balance when deciding what time to arrive at the race venue.
Do your usual warm up
Not only will doing your usual warm-up help to put you in the right mood for the race, it could allow you to physically shake out any nerves and stabilise your heart rate and help you concentrate. If you're feeling stressed despite taking all the steps above, doing a steady warm-up will help you find your rhythm and focus your mind on the race ahead and help you forget about whatever it is that is stressing you.