So you've probably trained for a running event before, probably trained for a swimming event or a triathlon before. The key difference with swimrun racing is that you may be racing with a partner, in unusual attire, in the water, out the water, repeat.
For teams, best practice is to train with your partner, if you can. If you can't then not to worry, you'll just have to treat the first third of your swimrun race as training - this can go well, and it can go very wrong.
RUNNING IN A WETSUIT
The second thing to get your head around is running in your wetsuit - it's perfectly OK to cut down an old thin wetsuit and race in this. Although the first time you cut your wetsuit it feels like sacrilege, it is how many swimrunners start. You may want to invest in a swimrun specific wetsuit further down the line, they provide the advantages of having the zip on the front, and greater flexibility in the legs. There are many run sections that you will want to unzip your wetsuit and roll it down to the waist ("cab down"). The easier it is to do this the faster your transition will be.
We have thoroughly tested, and can recommend the HEAD Aero which we reviewed here. The man behind the design of the HEAD Aero has now go on to set up ARK Sports - also very good swimrun wetsuits.
So wetsuit sorted - put it on and go for a run!
SWIMMING IN SHOES
Swimming in trainers is no drama. It's just like swimming, except you've got trainers on. Just wear whatever you normally wear for trail running. Want to splash some cash on a new pair? Then key features are grip, weight (when dry & when wet), drainage, tread, comfort!
Using a pull buoy to increase buoyancy help keep your legs floating and aligned. Check out our article on gear to see how to modify your pull buoy. Note when in and out of water your laces (if you use them) can magically untie so make sure you triple knot them, or opt for the lock/bungee laces.
JOINED AT THE HIP
Next up is to try swimming, transitioning and running with a tow system. Coming from a kayaking and white water perspective I was initially very reluctant to tether myself to someone else in the water, now I wouldn't have it any other way.
Look out for my next blog post specifically on the tether coming soon!
With training the tether can become very effective on the run sections too.
Something that might catch newcomers out is you get given a race bib to race in. This makes unzipping and peeling down your wetsuit slightly more awkward, and will add a little extra drag on your swim.
Try all of the above whilst wearing an old race t-shirt to mimic the bib.
ALL THE GEAR
Forgetting about the kit for a moment, remember the basics - hill training is possibly the most effective run training, so work it into your training schedule. Swimming ten to twenty sets of 100m to 250m at 80% is a good way to improve your swimming endurance, and along with a few swim coaching sessions to improve technique you should see improved efficiency and speed.
The best swimrun gear in the world is no where near as good as lots of consistent training.
One thing I did before Coniston was to write down the 8 swim distances and complete them in the pool (resulting in a great 5km swim session). After each swim distance I pulled myself out of the deep end ("deck-up") had a cold shower and jumped back in, just to mark the end/start of each "transition".
If you can get some swim - run - swim - run sessions in your training then that's ideal. It might be worth a weekend in Wales/Lake District/Scotland/coast/ suitable wild area to facilitate this. Might be worth reading Decision Making In The Wild before you embark on any epic swimrun journey.
Wetsuits - most swimruns require you to wear a wetsuit but there are a few in warmer climes where it is optional. You don't need to shell out on a swimrun specific wetsuit for your first race. Many just take an old triathlon wetsuit and cut at the knees and elbows (depending).
The advantage of swimrun specific suits include more flexibility in the legs, and a front-zip. Up until 2014 there were no such wetsuits on the market, that's almost 10 years after the first OtillO Race.
HEAD Swimming were the pioneers of swimrun wetsuit design, and I can recommend the HEAD Aero. The man behind HEAD's swimrun wetsuit design (Daniel Sand) has since co-founded ARK Sports.
Key considerations are weight, grip and drainage. For the more mountainous races you may want to consider more support and cushioning. We can recommend Inov-8. If in doubt just use what you normally use on a trail run.
There are few rules about what extra gear you can race with. For your first swimrun it's a very good idea to keep it simple. The more kit you have the more you have to manage. In training allow yourself time to experiment with different gear, make mistakes, learn and evolve.
Remember each swimrun is a different, key differences which may influence your kit decisions are:
Kit management can add stress to your race if you are not used to it. For your first swimrun it's not a bad idea to strip back to minimal kit, especially if you haven't trained with your extra kit.
Increase the bouyancy of your lower half by using a pull bouy. You can also play around with ideas to increase bouyancy of lower legs, neoprene calve guards are used by some.
This is effective in the swim for keeping together and speeding up a slower swimmer. It can help on the runs too. A simple 3m length of bungee with 2 clips attached to both partners works. Practice with your partner!
Lots on the market, different sizes, shapes, attachments - try some. Consider the length of the longest swim, transition management, and how you will store them during the runs. If you are going to use them, train with them first! Some paddle advice here.
Remember every swimrun is different just like every human is different. Part of the fun is deciding what's right for you (and your partner) for a given race, on a given day.
So here we were. Coniston Water. With 38km of running and 5km of swimming to come on a cool and Autumnal Lake District day it was time to take on the first ever BRECA Coniston race.
The day before I had managed a quick look at the entry list and saw a couple of strong players in the mixed category, not least the swimrun legends, and World Champions, Daniel Hansson and Kristin Larsson. Every single OtillO race I have ever been to they have always been on the podium. I tried to explain to my sister (Helen) how awesome these guys were, she glazed over and thought of sleep.
Race morning came: grey, cool and moody. Neither of us had run 38km for a very long time, and in the last year Helen could count on her fingers the number of times she'd been swimming. We both agreed we just wanted to complete the course.
The first swim was fast and furious. For some reason the main pack were aiming left of were we should be swimming to, I spotted this early on, cut behind and set a course for the exit. I love confusion in the water, it is so engaging. What was really helpful for sighting this exit was the bright light that someone was shining, so much more effective than flags. Well done to whoever thought of that.
Three more fast runs and swims followed in and around Coniston Water, as we got out of the final swim (of Coniston) there was only one mixed team ahead of us, the Swedish legends. A true honour! Next followed a grueling 12.5km run that took us from the north end of Coniston water to Windermere. Lots of ups, downs, forests and gates. We had known this was going to be tough and we'd be looking forward to getting it done. We were moving well, I was impressed with Helen's pace knowing that her training had been seriously hit by her one year old. At some point during the 12.5km run Team Rick & Rice overtook us pushing us into 3rd place. I knew Rice had strong swimrun pedigree as I'd seen her perform well on the OtillO circuit.
At some point during this run we came across a descent on the most slippery rocks I have ever run on, so slippery that we un-tethered. It was truly remarkable how slippy they were, we embraced it as an agility test - thankfully we both passed.
The next two swims and runs in/around Windermere passed quickly. We faced a 6.5km technical and undulating run to Rydal water. We were starting to slow, I had a particularly bad slow down around about the 5 hour mark... but I picked up again. Helen remained steady throughout which is testament to her stamina, maybe motherhood enhances this quality.
Rydal water. It was great to be swimming again. Unfortunately just before this penultimate swim a mixed team passed us which nudged us off the podium places. A short run after Rydal to the final swim at Grasmere. This was the longest swim (800m); the coolest and the most effected by wind. But when compared to some of the sea-swims of 2017 it was very straight forward. We gained slightly on the 3rd position team but couldn't quite catch them.
It was great to finish with some lovely home-made soup, tea and a heated tent that was like a sauna. With the longest swim being last, and only a short run before the finish line, there were quite a few cold folks so the heated tent was appreciated. This showed a considerate and thoughtful approach to Race Directing by Ben, a good shout.
In the end we came 4th in the mixed category and 9th overall (out of 55 teams).
A superb event and a very welcome addition to the swimrun calendar. Well done to all who took it on and to all the BRECA team for making it happen.