If you’re taking on a swimrun what comes between your skin and your trainers is worth considering carefully. There’s a few choices including neoprene, compression socks, or nothing at all. Here’s a few tips from what I’ve learned years of swimrun racing.
I accidentally came across the Alder Vapour Sock during a March Beach Lifeguard course in Cornwall, just two months before my first OtillO Uto. When I saw them I immediately thought that they could be well suited to swimrun. They have an open heel so drain quick, this also helps with a secure feeling in your trainer.
They were designed to be used with fins, made from 2.5mm soft, double-lined neoprene, and have a built-in velcro “fin-saver” which I cut off as this was surplus to requirements. I used these in many races, but they have now been retired.
Key benefits are: extra cushioning, good drainage - especially if you nick a little hole in the front; extra foot buoyancy; and if you suffer from cold feet these will help. The only negative I found was they’d occasionally collect little pebbles, although I only noticed this at OtillO Isles of Scilly. In terms of weight there’s not much difference between a wet pair of compression socks and these.
Depending on the fit of your trainer you may want to remove the insole of your trainer, worth playing around with.
Popular with many swimrun athletes as they serve more than one purpose - they provide support to your calves on long runs, protect your lower legs from brambles/branches/nettles that you may run past on some of the trails, add warmth, and they can be used to store nutrition. Personally I prefer to store all of my nutrition within my wetsuit, but some use their socks too.
Not much to say here apart from they are relatively cheap and simple, you’ve probably already got some. They are also the lightest of the options discussed so far.
No matter how many functional textiles that are put into socks, it’s rare that they will dry out completely between swims. So if you’re looking in your sock drawer for a solution think about which are the least absorbent, and a snug fit. For a quick home-test soak them in your sink (do the same with your trainers for a full test!), put them on and run 5km. This will also help you ascertain how well your trainer drains.
A Dab of Vaseline
I’m always seeking minimalist solutions for a number of reasons including: reduced weight; economy; and being close to nature. In addition my feet are wide and get hot quickly so don’t lend themselves to the sock approach, in swimrun or society. I try to walk barefoot as much as possible/acceptable.
I’ve tested this method up to the 45km mark, on BRECA Coniston in 2017 (38.7km run, 6.5km swim), which went well. Originally this race was held in October which meant I’d had the whole season to toughen up my feet, the only addition was a dab of vaseline on my heel. I may not use this method if my feet were straight out of my winter slippers and heading to the early season OTILLO Catalina (early March).
To toughen up your feet, and general foot care, there’s some great tips at Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof, mostly aimed at long-distance runners and adventure racers but applicable to swimrun too. I can also recommend his book.
The “barefoot” approach isn’t used by many and it is definitely worth testing pre-race as if it goes wrong it could mean the end of your race. Severe blisters can be very debilitating, if there are cut-offs this debilitation may mean you don’t make them.
I love this approach, but it is a considered one. Like all gear choices, consider the course, conditions, and your body’s current state, don’t fall into an heuristic trap.
A Footnote on Calves
There’s a range of calf-guards available which add leg buoyancy, warmth, protection from the undergrowth, and the possibility of extra storage. They are generally not for me, but they do suit some.
For more knowledge from the field, gear demo, and a mini-swimrun check out our Introduction to Swimrun Workshop.
You can download the related article I wrote for the Outdoor Swimmer Magazine here: