~ SWIMRUN: more fun than triathlon? You said "Yes", our survey said "Yes!" ~
"So it's like triathlon but without a bike?". Well.... no, not really.
Most people can relate to triathlon and are comfortable with what it is so they naturally try and put swimrun into the same category. But swimrun is so much more than this. At it's best swimrun takes you and your partner on a challenging, adventurous journey through the natural environment.
Differences include the racing in pairs, the multi-transitions, the start with what you finish - a "leave no-trace" approach to racing, the variety and adventure of each race, the team-work ethos, the "tow system", the camaraderie and feel-good atmosphere throughout - the harder the race, the more these qualities shine through.
The racing with a partner element is one of the biggest challenges for triathletes to get their head around. It comes from the adventure racing world and it plays a part in your safety. It is alien to most but can be so rewarding and fun. I have come to discover that the most important part of swimrun is your partner. Train with them. Race with them. Enjoy their company.
Simplicity. You can just turn up on the start line and go, you don't have to put your bike in a transition somewhere and faff around with changing shoes, or get told off if you take your helmet off to quickly, or fix a puncture. Although there is an array of kit for swimrun it's up to you what you take as long as whatever you take you finish with (there is a maximum buoyancy allowed). In triathlon a feature of a transition involves you getting changed, in swimrun a transition is simply getting out of the water and running or getting into the water and swimming, as you are.
Travel. Have you ever entered a triathlon abroad and faffed around with bike boxes and paid through the nose to transport them? When I go to a swimrun abroad I only take carry on luggage. Simple. For my first swimrun we just had goggles, a wetsuit, and trainers - swim hat supplied by OtillO :-)
Once you are hooked on swimrun (you will be) you will no doubt start playing with hand paddles, pull buoys and tow systems, which all fit in to your carry on luggage!
Recovery time. If you are looking at IRONMAN distances most people will be sore and stiff afterwards. Do a swimrun and you are almost fine the next day, maybe tired, but even though often you run marathon distances in swimrun you don't feel marathon sore. For me the last 5 miles of a marathon are grim, and the next day walking down stairs is comical. After swimrun I feel like I could race the next day. Swimrun feels better for the body.
Why is recovery so quick? Well it could be to do with the runs split up into sections combined with some cooling and relaxation effects on the legs during the swims. In addition most swimruns have run sections on trail/softer terrain and don't involve running on tarmac so the pounding of the joints is less pronounced. Most people also run slightly slower on swimrun which may also aid recovery.
Having said all of this I think that the biggest factor is the multiple in-built recovery times for your legs in (cool) water during the race.
"Triathlon is boring compared to swimrun." Controversial? Most triathletes know how long it takes them to swim 1.5k, to cycle 40k, and to run 10k so they can predict pretty accurately how long a race will take them, the question is will I get a PB, or will I be faster than Mr Y or Ms X. Swimrun however is an adventurous journey you embrace with your partner and are often just happy to complete the course and enjoy the day with your buddy. In these relatively early days of the sport you will quite often achieve a PB.
Don't get me wrong, I love cycling but for me it is more of a stand alone sport, a bit like kayaking, which I also love. I've completed several adventure races and loved them but the kayak and bike sections add a complication that I don't need anymore. San Sebastian to Barcelona via the Pyrenees is what I'd like to use my bike for, not in between a swim and a run. Sea kayaking around Ireland is another goal for my kayak, not in between a cycle and a run.
For my 5th OtillO World Series race I journeyed to Hvar, Croatia. What a beautiful place.
Unfortunately none of my UK race partners were able to make it to the Dalmatian coast so I was in touch with Fix from worldofswimrun.com about teaming up. We were all set but then he remembered it was his parents 60th wedding anniversary that weekend so he put me in touch with Bernhard from Austria. We had some brief Internet chats. We didn't really talk much about the race but we did establish that Bernhard supported Norwich City. Odd, I thought.
We met for the first time an hour before race briefing. This is generally not good practise but, rather than not take part at all, we both felt it was worth the risk, see what happens. That's the post-Brexit spirit!
There was talk on the island of serious concerns about the wind strength, indeed the wind was strong enough to cancel the ferry crossings on race day. Some strong teams decided to not even start the race, wow!
For the short time we were together we raced well, at the start of the 3rd swim we were 10 minutes behind the leaders. However around about 2km into the challenging 3km swim, I turned around to check on Bernhard but no-one was there. Absolutely no-one, except the carnage of the water.
I looked around, scanned for the tow-float, whilst being beaten up by the waves and the wind. I very quickly came to the conclusion that during these beatings our bungee rope had somehow failed and the only thing to do now was to finish the swim and hopefully meet up on the beach so head down I ploughed on. I know my ability in water so wasn't concerned to be alone, and Bernhard had the tow float so I figured a safety boat should see him if he got into difficulty.
Around about 5 minutes later a powerboat pulled up, I lifted my head and saw Bernhard on the boat. Sh*t. This meant our race was definitely over. I told them I was going to finish the swim. Between the wind, waves and different accents I don't think words were useful or apprehended but my actions were. Head down heading for the island.
Sighting was tough. I was heading for some sort of shipping beacon on a very small rocky island were a few teams had scrambled onto, looking like lost penguins fully exposed to the wind. I scrambled up onto the rocks to try and work out where the finish to this wild swim actually was. Hard to tell. I briefly chatted to a British female team and told them of my lost partner before heading off towards what I hoped would be the exit point.
I finished the swim and was now in the unusual position of being disqualified. So I stripped down my wetsuit and sat in the sun, and cheered on the swimmers that came in behind me. I knew what they had just been through. That swim was "memorable".
There were quite a few teams milling around this area, giving up due to early stages of hypothermia, illness and general broken-ness.
An hour or so later we were taken back to Hvar by boat, what a sorry looking crew we were.
I was keen to find Bernhard to work out what had actually happened. We were reunited and he showed me the bungee - it was fully in tact. One of the clips must have come undone. Got me wondering about the role of locking karabiners in swimrun.
So unfortunately I can't give a full report on the race as I didn't see much of the course. But I saw enough to know that I would return in 2018.
The starting field of athletes was very strong, the stats are an indication of the level of difficulty: