Swimrun versus Triathlon
Are you a swimmer or runner who wants to experience more of the world that you are journeying through? You may be considering trying a multi-sport event. Of course triathlon is huge, most folks understand what it is and naturally try to put swimrun into the same category. But swimrun is so much more than “triathlon without a bike”. Here I look at the advantages swimrun has over triathlon.
You can just turn up on the start line and go, you don't have to put your bike in transition, faff around with changing shoes, get told off if you take your helmet off too quickly, or fix a puncture. In swimrun a transition is simply getting out of the water and running or getting into the water and swimming, as you are.
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 (most races expect you to wear a wetsuit, swim hat, race bib, and something on your feet). Hand paddles, pull buoys, towing and flippers(!) are all optional extras. If you enter a triathlon abroad or at home there is a certain amount of bike faff. Whether it’s attaching your bike to a car, or the expense and hassle of bike boxes on aeroplanes. If I go to a swimrun abroad I can fit all my gear into my carry-on luggage and can share transport/ accommodation costs with my race partner.
Triathlon is more predictable than swimrun, and hence less interesting. Swimrun was "invented" by adventure racers, the best swimruns are set in wild places - think mountains, lakes, coastal paths, ocean, archipelago, trail running, away from tarmac. Race Director’s plot engaging routes through nature and are not restricted by the set structure of triathlon. Most triathletes know how long it takes them to swim 1.5k, cycle 40k, and run 10k so they can predict fairly accurately how long a race will take them. Predictability is far from adventure. There’s a general feeling in swimrun races of the pure joy of completing an adventurous journey through nature with your race partner, rather than achieving a PB.
You may well find yourself swimming in what the International Triathlon Union (ITU) would deem as too cold or too rough. For example the ITU states that if water is less than 12 degrees the swim is cancelled, if this was applied to swimrun then one of the best swimrun races, OtillO Uto, simply wouldn’t happen.
Why is this OK? As a swimmer what’s one thing you don’t want after a cool swim? Wind chill. Cycling is one sure-fire way to achieve wind chill whatever the weather. Running, or even walking, in neoprene is a sure-fire way to generate heat. You can also get a hug from your partner.
In swimrun the swims may alter, but they don’t get cancelled.
If you are looking at IRONMAN distances most people will be sore and stiff for several days post-race. Do a swimrun and your legs are almost fine the next day. Even though often you run near marathon distances you don't feel marathon sore. For me the last 5 miles of a marathon are super-grim, and the next day walking down stairs is comical. After a swimrun I feel like I could train the next day. Swimrun feels better for the body.
Why is recovery so quick? 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 pounding of the joints is less pronounced. Most people also run slightly slower on a swimrun which may also aid recovery. I think that the biggest factor is the multiple recovery times for your legs in (cool) water during the race.
Don't get me wrong, triathlon is great, and I love cycling but for me it is more of a stand alone sport. 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.
Simplify your racing.
This article featured in the Outdoor Swimmer magazine's May 2020 issue: