Swimrun may sometimes be more accurately be described as "swimfellrun" - when it comes to the likes of BRECA Buttermere and OtillO Engadin this is certainly the case. There are several fell runs across the mountainous areas of the UK that provide plenty of scope for race training in the hills.
There is now a new race on the scene that is closer to population centres and more suited to the run pattern you may come across in swimrun - in a place called West Malvern...
The Malvern Hills Trail Half Marathon made it's debut on 17th June 2017 in glorious sunshine. The race has several distinct ascents and descents, akin to a hilly swimrun, along with beautifully less-trodden sections through woods and meadows.
The total ascent is around 800m, which isn't far off the infamous Cader Idris Mountain Race (Ras Y Gader), the multiple ups and downs make it feel like there's more! It's also over 5km longer than the Ras Y Gader. The timing of the event is perfect when training for a hilly swimrun in July.... which just so happens to be the month of OtillO Engadin followed by BRECA Buttermere.
My fell races of choice when training for swimrun hills used to be Ras Y Moelwyn and Ras y Gader, now The Malvern Hills Trail Half Marathon may trump them both. Of course it's probably best to do all three!
If you want specific hill running advice or guiding in the mountains please check our guiding section.
Train with the paddles, start small and grow - a good paddle to start with is the Speedo Tech (small version). The cadence of your stroke will decrease but the power of your stroke will increase (hopefully!) a bit like going up a gear when riding a bike. Once your shoulders are used to the paddle do some timed 400m sets with and without paddles to make sure you are actually going faster with the paddles. If not then either change the way you use them or don't bother with them at all!
For my first two OtillO Uto races I didn't use hand paddles, then I tried the small version of the Speedo Tech paddle for OtillO Engadin. They grip the water well and being small didn't put too much extra strain on my shoulders. I have now worked my way up to my current favourites the TYR Catalyst 2 paddle.
I have found I can go up to around 10% faster over 400m, it's improved my stroke technique too. Be mindful of the shape of the paddle and it's movement through the water, you don't want to waste strokes with slicing and "wobbling" the paddles through the water. Using hand paddles is a great opportunity to get feedback about the entry and pull of your stroke, and to slow your stroke down.
Of course always remember the principle of streamlining for efficient swimming.
It's now 3 years since I first tried paddles and only now do I feel completely comfortable with them so give them time and start small. It is unlikely that you will instantly love them... try a little patience yeah!
Recently Sealblades asked me to test their product. Originally designed for surfers, they may be worth giving a try for swimrun. They feel better than expected in the water and they didn't put any unexpected strains on my shoulders in testing.
I'll be sticking to my TYR paddles for now but if you are new to hand paddles the Sealblades might be worth trying, if you don't like them you could always use them for surfing!