Swimrun is a fairly new multisport that’s seeing a huge rise in popularity across the globe. We explain what’s involved and how you can give it a try…
Since time began, sporting events have been used (and invented) to settle disputes. So, it’s hardly surprising to learn that the long-distance multisport of Swimrun was born from a crazy, drunken bet. Back in 2002, four Swedish friends challenged each other to traverse the 75km Stockholm archipelago - swimming to and running across a string of 26 islands - with the losers picking up the tab for everyone’s hotel, drink, and food costs the following night. The two teams of two set out the next morning, both taking over 24 hours to finish the contest, and while the pals - now known as the ‘original four’ – were too exhausted to party afterwards, they took on the exact same challenge the year after.
In 2006, this challenge was turned into a commercial race called OTILLO (‘island to island’ in Swedish), and swimrun has continued to gain momentum ever since with various events companies now hosting hundreds of races each year worldwide. Yet it’s the original OTILLO race – now used for the Swimrun World Championship final every September – that’s internationally recognised as one of the toughest races in the world. Thankfully, superhuman powers aren’t necessary to give this exciting sport a go, and swimrun courses of varying distances are increasingly available for fitness fans of all abilities.
What is swimrun?
Swimrun sees participants complete multiple legs of continuous running and swimming over uneven trails and through open water. Unlike triathlon, you won’t find transitions and kit changes between disciplines: you simply turn up to the start line in one outfit and wear it throughout as you alternate between swimming and running. Not to be confused with the sport of aquathlon where participants undertake one swim and then transition into a run to finish, swimrun also demands that you compete with a partner who must stay within 10 meters of you at all times during the race.
The benefits of swimrun
Outdoor exercise: swimrun takes place outdoors in nature, with events often held in wild, beautifully scenic surroundings. Of course, swimming in the open water and running across rough terrain is far more challenging than your average pool swim or run on the flat, but you’ll push your body in new ways while enjoying all the mental health benefits of exercising outside in the fresh air.
Teamwork: You need a partner to take part in the majority of swimrun events, and your team can be all-male, all-female, or mixed. Some solo events do exist, but they really go against the whole spirit of swimrun, which is all about teamwork, having fun, supporting (and suffering with) your partner, and sharing an incredible experience together.
Minimal equipment: You won’t have to fork out on an expensive bike and all the associated maintenance and cycling kit to take part in this multisport. The two main items you’ll need are a wetsuit you can run in and running shoes you can swim in: swimrun-specific wetsuits normally have stretchy panels built in at the crotch, arms and chest for extra movement and breathability (and extra buoyancy in the legs to help you save them for running), while the shoes need to be lightweight with great drainage and grippy soles to cope with the rugged terrain.
How do I get started?
First up, you need to find a friend to train and compete with. Picking the right person is crucial for success: you want someone who can motivate and support you when the going gets tough, but not someone who’s all about smashing PB’s if you’re more of a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ kind of person. It’s wise to choose a partner of a similar fitness level to you, but it’s fine if one of you is a stronger swimmer and the other is a better runner - that way you can benefit from each other’s experience to make improvements in speed and technique.
Because swimrun races dictate you must be within 10 meters of your partner, you’ll often find yourself tethered together via a bungee cord. On the plus side, you can take it in turns to lead or tow in the water, and you’ll always have someone to help you with tricky exits out of the water. But being tethered also means you’ll need a healthy dose of patience, respect and understanding for each other – so choose carefully!
Next up, you’ll need to select a race to enter. Regular swimrun events range between 20-40km in distance, although the Swimrun World Championship final has an epic race distance of almost 75km, consisting of 23 swim sections covering 9.5km and 24 run sections covering 65km. Thankfully, there are also lots of Sprint (10-20km) and Super Sprint (under 10km) races around that are perfect for beginner and intermediate exercisers. Dedicated swimrun organisers in the UK include LoveSwimRun, Breca Swimrun and As Keen As Mustard, but you’ll find other events listed at Find A Race. Choose one that’s suited to you and your partner’s level of fitness – events often publish guidelines on the kind of distances you should already be capable of running and swimming to help you make a decision.
Swimrun requires aerobic endurance, strength, technical ability, and a sense of adventure. You’ll regularly need to clock up long runs and lengthy swims to increase your aerobic capacity, and eventually, you’ll have to practice alternating between swimming and running while wearing shoes and a wetsuit.
If you’ve never tried swimming in open water, now is the time to join an open water swimming club to build your confidence, technique and speed in the water (find your local club at the Outdoor Swimming Society). It might also be worth joining a running club to get advice on your form and receive support while you put in the miles (training for long distance events can be a lonely affair!).
You can download a free 12-week swimrun training plan by endurance coach and experienced swimrun athlete Nicolas Remires from 220 Triathlon magazine, but if you feel you need a more personalised plan, google ‘swimrun coach’ to find a local expert (a triathlon coach will also be able to help).
And finally, remember to train smart by scheduling in plenty of rests to avoid burn out and potential injury before you get to the start line. It can be easy to get carried away training for any multisport, but your goal should be to train effectively and progressively so you reach race day feeling fresh and fully prepared!
Swimming is renowned for taking longer to adapt to than any other sport as we have very little practice moving in the water. But don’t worry; even the fittest of land-athletes find acclimatising to a new breathing pattern and utilising new muscles a challenge.
It is not all bad news though. If you can master the art of swimming, then it will provide you with a full-body workout without any impact.
Get the gear
You don’t need much kit to get you started in the pool, but I would invest in the following essentials to ensure you get off to a good start:
A tight-fitting swimsuit or shorts
Anything baggy is just going to make swimming even more difficult because of the increased drag.
A set of clear lenses with an adjustable nose piece are the best for functionality and comfort in an indoor pool.
This will decrease the drag caused by your hair, making moving through the water a little easier.
A great tool to utilise when focusing on improving your kick.
This figure-8 shaped foam device sits between your legs and supports your lower body, enabling you to focus on your arm stroke.
Similar to a normal snorkel but the tube is mounted at the front of your face. It allows you to breath continuously whilst keeping your body in the best possible swimming position.
Master your stroke
My number one tip for any beginner is to find a coach or a swimming club. A certified instructor will be able to analyse your stroke and give you guidance on how to improve.
If you do decide to go solo, start with the freestyle stroke (front crawl).
Your head, hips and feet should form one long line (push your head down slightly if your feet are dragging). You should try to be relaxed in the water whilst maintaining tautness and elongate the body with every stroke. Keep the arm in line with the shoulder on each stroke and make sure it does not cross the midline when it enters the water. Whilst you are using your upper body to power your movement, your lower body works to keep your legs up and maintain posture. Kick from your hips in a gentle tapping motion.
Plan your workouts
Consistency is the key to swimming. The more exposure you have in the pool, the quicker you will progress. Try to schedule in three to four swimming sessions each week to ensure you are getting enough swimming stimulus. You do not have to spend hours in the pool initially, twenty to thirty-minute sessions are enough for any beginner to avoid fatigue and the break-down of technique.
For the first three weeks, focus entirely on your technique and take as much rest as you need when training. Incorporate drills specific to areas of your stroke that need developing and ensure that you include kicking sets (no matter how much you hate them!)
After three weeks of technique focused work, you can start to move onto building up an aerobic base. Begin to incrementally increase the sessions duration and change one to two of your technique-based workouts to ones which contain continuous swimming.
Once your aerobic capacity begins to build up, it is time to start adding in some anaerobic intervals to one session each week. Play around with longer and shorter efforts to keep things interesting and varied.
Stick with it
It is important to not get disheartened by the hard work and consistency that swimming requires. Stick with it and you will be amazed at the progress you can make.
If motivation begins to dwindle consider signing up to an open water event or joining a swim club to add an element of fun into your training.
About the author: Laura Smith is an elite-level athlete and has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.
Strength training is an important part of any balanced workout program and for a triathlete, this is especially true. All three sports of swimming, cycling, and running are strenuous activities that require careful attention to muscle balance to prevent injury and promote optimal performance. When you are consistently training in all three, strength training takes on a completely new component of importance.
Strength training for triathlon
Training for a triathlon is usually pretty time-intensive to gain the fitness level and specificity you need for each leg of your race. While lifting is a must, efficiency can help maximize your results without feeling too overwhelmed by your routine. (Plus, it’s nice to have time for other things in your life.) Find strength exercises that address multiple muscle groups at once, promote muscular endurance and stability, and ultimately give you the power you need.
Why you need a good lifting routine
Build muscular endurance for that extra “oomph” at the end of your race and power throughout. You don’t need to have bulging biceps to gain benefits either. Rather, you will maximize your muscles' reserves for pushing yourself to that next level. Plus, you’ll prevent injury. If you are intimidated by gyms or don’t have the time, consider a home gym set up. Ultimately, go for lower weight and higher repetition to gain endurance.
These moves will focus on typical problem areas that are common with all three sports. Complete 15-20 repetitions of each exercise for 2-3 sets. Your whole routine should take 20-30 minutes. When possible, do it 2-3 times per week.
- Choose light dumbbells.
- Get in a plank position on your hands with the elbows straight but not locked out or hyper-extended.
- With the core tight, bend one elbow as you extend the arm back and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Alternate between sides.
Keep your arms tucked in close to your side. Choose a weight that is challenging while still keeping good form.
Side Plank With Hip Abduction
- Get in a side plank on your elbow; make sure your body is in one line with no sagging at the hips.
- Lift the top leg straight up toward the ceiling.
- Keep the toes pointing forward toward the wall.
- Modify your knee on the lower leg if needed.
- Switch to the other side when complete.
You should feel this exercise in your obliques and glutes. You can add an ankle weight for extra resistance.
Prone Swimmers (Superman)
- Lie on your stomach with the arms outstretched in front of you.
- Lift one leg and the opposite arm off the ground 2-3 inches and hold 1-2 seconds.
- Focus on squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades as you lift.
- Alternate between sides.
You can progress to holding light weights in your hands when possible. You can also try doing this move on a yoga ball.
Lunge With A Bicep Curl And Overhead Press
- Get in a lunge stance while holding dumbbells or kettlebells in both hands at your sides.
- Bend both knees as you bring the back knee toward the floor (into a deep lunge).
- As you return to your original stance, curl your arms up until your elbows are bent past 90 degrees (bicep curl).
- Once you reach the top of your lunge, do a full overhead press.
- Bring the hands back to your side as you move into the next deep lunge.
Make sure you keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet (no leaning forward) and knees in line with (and behind) your toes as you bend.
Single-Leg Dead Lift
- Holding light weights in both hands, shift your weight onto one leg and find your balance.
- Then, hinge forward at the hips as you reach with your opposite hand for the inner ankle (the free leg will extend behind you).
- Stay slow and controlled as you return to the starting position.
- Switch to the other side when ready.
Try standing on a foam pad for an additional coordination challenge.
Rotator Cuff Strengthening With Static Sumo Squats
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width and the toes pointing out slightly.
- Hold a resistance band in both hands with the palms up and elbows bent and tucked into your sides.
- Assume a deep wide squat that you will hold while completing your arm exercise.
- While keeping your elbows tucked into your side, pull the hands away from each other as you externally rotate the shoulders and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Focus on keeping good posture and keeping the neck relaxed. The motion should be slow and controlled.
The caveat of specificity training
Specificity training is the theory that in order to make improvements with a specific sport, you must train your body to do those specific movements. Makes sense, right? However, when you are doing three completely different sports that require slightly different muscular coordination, this can be a tough balance to find.
Multi-move exercises are the way to go
Always try to incorporate key body stabilizers into your lifting routine, like the rotator cuff, shoulder blades, glutes, and abdominals. Challenge these muscles in ways that promote dynamic strength that you can easily carry over to your swimming, cycling, and running form. As a triathlete, don’t be afraid to get creative with your lifting routine and find what works for you.
About the author: Kevin Jones is a fitness coach and enthusiast. He writes about all things surrounding health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Kevin found his love for running on the trails in the Wasatch Mountain Range and regularly participates in half and full marathons.
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.
Getting in cold, open water can hold fear or confusion for many athletes, or others just simply don’t enjoy it. Whatever happens, it’s good to be prepared; follow these tips for preparing for the open water.
When you get in open water, take time to familiarise yourself and if you can't get comfortable, at least get acclimatised. The number one issue for panic is people setting off too quickly, either just to get on or to get warm. This spikes your heart rate and your breathing and will likely set off any anxiety that will become more difficult to control. Let your wetsuit float you up in the water and try to relax back so you can float on your back – and then on your front too.
Identify the struggles of swimming in open water
Going off course. Panicking. Swimming into people. Letting your form collapse. Maybe you’re not being used to swimming in a wetsuit. Unforeseen conditions like strong currents and surf/chop.
The number one remedy to the majority if not all of the above is practice, practice, practice.
It's true that it is hard to get a lot of practice in open water because of schedules, weather conditions, and other commitments. So continue to swim your regular sessions every week. But as the race approaches take one or two of those swims into open water, whether it be a lake, estuary, or ocean. Make it as high a priority as possible.
Swimming in the pool is not completely different from swimming in the open water – but it does have its own vagaries. So to get faster at the latter, you need to do it more. And not just on race day.
Use these swims to test your wetsuit, practice sighting, get used to not seeing the bottom, and practice with others. Also, work on longer intervals at race pace. Some people will benefit from maintaining a more constant rhythm – others will need to readjust from having a rest and a push off at the end of every length!
Prepare as much as you can in the pool
Swimming in the pool still has its place. Even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your regular weekly pool sessions, especially if your form is still weak. Of course, you can work on technique in the lake or sea, but it becomes more challenging. Pool swims are important to develop speed and improve technique without the distractions that open water provides. Use the pool to focus on your form and drill work as well as a few race pace speed sets for time so that you can monitor your splits.
If open water is simply out of the question, simulate the chop, surf, and congestion by trying to swim in a lane with three to four other people at the same time. It is tough but it will mimic that race start well. Also, close your eyes while swimming to mimic losing your ability to guide yourself with the black line (obviously only do this if you have an empty lane!) Turning before the wall is also a great way to simulate the stop-go of open water swimming, and not resting between lengths.
Swimming in open water – at least with a wetsuit – should be quicker than swimming in the pool. So make sure that you are prepared for swimming in open water. Practise putting your wetsuit on so that it fits properly over your shoulders. Get yourself comfortable entering the water so that your heart rate doesn’t take such a shock to the system come race day.
Read more: Tips For Swimming In Open Water
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete, triathlon coach, and Sundried ambassador.