One of the joys of swimrun is shared experience, but racing with a partner can be a barrier to participation. Adopted from the adventure racing world, racing in teams plays a part in your safety - the harder the race, the more important your partner becomes. With the introduction of shorter and less exposed courses there is often a solo option, but it’s not as good as racing in a team.
Finding a Partner
If you have a network of swimming or running buddies it shouldn’t be too hard. Another option is to enter a solo race, stick around for the post-race social and see if any of the other solos fancy teaming up. It’s also worth emailing race organisers as they can sometimes help match you up. Maybe look closer to home - have you got a family member who you could convince to join you? There are several high performing husband-wife, sibling, and parent-child teams on the circuit. If you are travelling to a race it’s nice to share travel and accommodation costs too.
Partner sorted, now on to becoming an effective team.
The basics, compare your times for a 400m swim (pool) and 5km run (parkrun). This is an easy way to give you a baseline. Then compare your time for a 1.5km open water swim and a 10km trail run, ideally wearing what you expect to wear come race day. These comparisons will highlight particular strengths. Also note who is the best at sighting, swimming in a straight line, and running on technical terrain. Once you know your individual strengths you can decide on how you will operate as a team come race day.
Choosing a Race
All swimruns are different, very different. On each event website check the swim to run ratio, the longest swim, longest run, amount of ascent, terrain, number of transitions, expected weather & water temperature, aid stations, and cut-offs. Often there are videos and photos of previous years which can help you build a picture of whether a particular race is right for your team.
Towing makes drafting easy, increases your team swim speed and keeps you and your partner together during swim sections. The bigger the difference between individual swim speeds the more benefit you’ll get from using it. I still use it even when I race with a partner with the same swim speed, in this case you can take turns in leading.
The tow can be of benefit on the runs too. A length of no more than 3m keeps most at the right distance on the runs and swims; however, experiment with your teammate to find out what works best for you. Make sure it is easy to unclip your tow as you will want to unclip on some run sections.
Of course it is important to use what you have trained with. If you are not comfortable with something then don’t use it on race day.
Kit Management & Transitions
Smooth, well-drilled transitions are essential for a good performance on race day, a big part of smooth transitions involves working together. Practice getting in and out of water together (with tow system) as much as you can. Be comfortable and well-practiced with hand paddles and pull-buoy management - recognise when your partner needs help.
Learn The Course
Knowing the length of each leg will help determine your wetsuit strategy on race day. If you are staring down the barrel of an 8km run with ascent, you may want to pull down your wetsuit; if it’s a 1km jog until the next swim, you won’t. Similarly, knowing the length of the swim you are about to undertake will help you mentally prepare for what lies ahead. If you both know this you can anticipate when your partner may need help with a zip.
Tip: write the run and swim distances on your arm or hand paddles. If you do write them on your arm, use the smooth inside of your forearm, as writing on the hairy part is more likely to rub off over the course of a race.
At it's best swimrun takes you and your partner on a challenging, adventurous journey through the natural environment, it makes you happy.
In the words of Chris McCandles “Happiness is only real when shared”.
This article was also published in the April edition of the Outdoor Swimmer Magazine: