The five things you need to know to start swimrun

You have been considering a swimrun for some time, but you have a lot of questions before you take the plunge. Let's look for the answers together.

For some time, you have been considering a swimrun, a new discipline from Sweden that combines running and swimming. You feel hesitant, because you have many questions that demand an answer… Do I have to be a good runner and a strong swimmer? How should I choose my teammate? Do I need to buy any special gear?

With the help of Thomas Weckx, Digital Leader at Nabaiji and the French swimrun champion, we will give you all the answers you need to get started in this discipline.


Swimrun: what is it?

Created in 2002 in Sweden, swimrun is the result of a bet between three friends. What was the original challenge? To reach a series of islands independently and as quickly as possible. The challenge consisted of a race between the islands, in which the competitors alternately ran and swam.

Four years later, in 2006,and still in Sweden, this crazy wager between our Swedish friends became a genuine discipline with the organisation of the first swimrun race, called the "Ö till ö" (or island to island). In the meantime, this race has become the world championship.

This discipline is particular for three reasons: the operational dimension of the competitors, the natural setting and racing in pairs. Unlike a triathlon or an aquathlon, there are always alternate swimming and running stages in a swimrun. The competitors are not allowed to change clothes in the transitions between the swimming and running stages. Therefore, they need all the gear that is necessary for running and swimming in order to make the transitions between the stages of the race. Another difference between swimruns and triathlons or aquathlons, is that competitors take part in swimruns in pairs. In fact, the members of a pair are tied together by a tow line.

Every swimrun is different. The organisers decide on the format of each race. This discipline demands a high degree of adaptation to the course. Swimruns take place in natural settings, so swimrunners must adapt to the terrain, which can be steep, slippery or muddy, both in fine and poor weather! Self-sufficiency and adaptability are the key words in this sport.

What level must i reach before starting?

There is no minimum level of proficiency in swimming or running. There is no obligation to be proficient and at ease in both sports. With enough motivation and training, you will be well prepared.

“It is important to get started in a pair! Pairs are central to swimrun competitions, and they are a factor of motivation too. Mutual motivation plays an important role in finding the energy to go training or to finish the race", adds Thomas.

All swimming strokes are accepted in swimrun races. You can swim the breaststroke if you want to. But most swimrunners swim the crawl. Almost all swimrunners choose the crawl, because it is faster and better suited to the environment.

In Thomas' opinion, “You need to know a bit about swimming to get started. Not everyone is necessarily familiar with this sport, which is practised in water, unlike running, which is easier to practise”.


1. How should i choose my swimrun teammate?

“If I could only give one tip, then it would be to choose the right teammate!”, explains Thomas.

Swimrun is a team sport, so choosing the right teammate is crucially important. You have two options to choose your teammate. The first option: ask a friend or someone you know (a fellow member of your club, for example). The second option: plunge into the unknown! In this case, forums exist where you can register and look for a teammate.

When forming your pair before the race, it is important to know the standard of proficiency of your teammate, to make your goals quite clear (fun, time, etc.) and to be quite open about your strengths and weaknesses. It is not necessary to be on exactly the same level. Thomas adds: “The goal is to have similar levels and, quite often, to have one swimrunner who is a slightly better runner, and the other who is a slightly better swimmer. This is the ideal balance”.

Your most important strengths during the race are communication and listening to one another. Your teammate is your main source of physical and emotional support. The keys to a successful race are being transparent, listening to one another and talking openly".

2. How to choose the right race

Choose a race format according to your level of proficiency. This is especially important for your first swimrun. There is no point in setting your sights too high. This initiation may be the first race of many. There is no point in overdoing it and attempting to exceed your capabilities, because doing so could put you off this sport for good, which is not really the goal! For example, choose a swimrun race in an environment you are already familiar with. If you are used to running on flat courses, then there is no point in competing in a race on steep and hilly terrain. Likewise, if you have never swum in the sea before, then opt for a race in lakes, for example, to avoid the problems caused by waves and currents in your very first experience of swimrunning.

Analyse the course before the race. Check the distances to be covered in the water and on dry land, the transition zones, the changes of elevation, etc. This will avoid any unpleasant surprises on race day. If you have the chance, scout out the course in advance, or even do a practice run on the course, so you know what to expect. Once you know the course, you will be able to adapt your pace, anticipate the obstacles and adjust your efforts.

3. How to train for a swimrun

Vary your training sessions.

It is quite unusual to run in a neoprene wetsuit and to swim wearing trainers! The effort you will have to make during the race demands training. You cannot choose between running and swimming.

Your preparation must consist of running practice, swimming practice and swimrun training.
- Running: Swimrun races consist mainly of trail stages. Therefore, it is important to vary your training sessions (road, track, mountain, sea) in order to become accustomed to all types of terrain and gradients. Also, go out for a few long runs to test your shoes and make sure that they really suit you.
- Swimming: Start practising in a swimming pool. Alternate between your usual sessions and longer sessions with equipment (hand paddles and pull buoys). You will be able to test and adjust the equipment and to find your cruising speed. Finally, practise open-water swimming to become accustomed to the environment in which the race will take place.
- Swimrun: Remember that a swimrun is a sequence of running and swimming stages! Therefore, it is essential to do a few practice swimruns, in which you alternate between running and swimming, in order to perfect your transitions and accustom your body to this type of effort.

When it comes to your times, do not pay too much attention to your performance in a swimming pool or on practice runs, because numerous other factors will come into play on race day.
- Running in a wetsuit is more tiring than running in shorts and a T-shirt. The neoprene wetsuit restricts your movements and demands an extra effort.
- Running after swimming demands a completely different type of effort. You will be running in a wet wetsuit and wet shoes, which can add between 3 and 5 kilos to their initial weight. Plus the changes between heat and cold that your body will have to cope with.
- The weather: front or back winds, waves, currents, etc.


Train with your teammate.

“Generally speaking, anything is possible. You can train without your teammate, but that is not recommended. Ideally, you should make at least two swimrun practice runs with your teammate, to test the tow line, the equipment, your pace and the pair!”, explains Thomas.

“In my opinion, it takes about 4 months to prepare for a swimrun: 95% alone and 5% with my teammate, because we do not live close to one another. Ideally, start off by training a little alone, or together, but without the tow line. Training together can also be more motivating. Then, it is a good idea to do a few runs as a pair, just to get the feeling, and not at race pace. Finally, just before the race, it is a good idea to do at least one run together at race pace, but over a shorter distance", he explains.

4. Refreshments during the race

“In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary to stop at every refreshment point,especially when you are competing in your first swimrun race. You can end up with hunger pains, or even hypoglycaemia, in the middle of nowhere! This situation must be avoided at all costs, explains Thomas.

Take careful note of the positions of the refreshment points when studying the course. You can also take some small refreshments with you. For example, a small bottle that you can fill up with water during each break, energy gel or energy bars in a small watertight pouch.


5. Wetsuit, shoes... the right equipment for a swimrun

Swimrunners have to wear the same equipment throughout the race! So, what should you wear to swim and run without being too heavy, or feeling too hot or too cold?

Here is a list of the ideal equipment for a race in an outdoor temperature of about 20° and about 18° in the water:
- A neoprene wetsuit. This is essential for most races, because it protects you against the cold in the water, adds more buoyancy and, therefore, protects your safety. Swimrun wetsuits are made of a specific neoprene for a better glide through the water. They also feature a front zip that can easily be opened when running to prevent you from overheating.
- Trail-type shoes. The shoes must be light and well suited to your stride and the type of terrain. The shoes must drain out as much water as possible and retain as little water as possible.
- Swimming goggles adapted to your body shape and your habits. Prefer goggles that are easy to adjust. For example, swimrunners often prefer mask-type goggles, rather than Swedish-type swimming goggles.
- A pull buoy. Most swimrunners use pull buoys, because they improve buoyancy and help to reduce leg efforts!
- Swimming paddles. Choose paddles according to your level of proficiency and your usual habits. There is no point in choosing paddles that are too big, if you are not used to swimming with paddles, because they can result in injury.
- A cap, or even two. The organisers always provide a cap, in the colours of the event, that you must wear during the swimming stages. I recommend that you also wear a second cap under the first one in order to hold your goggles firmly in place and to protect you against the cold.
- A tow line that ties you to your teammate!

A tip: test your equipment! It is essential to have the right equipment, so don't buy it just before the race. There is nothing worse than discovering that your shoes are uncomfortable after running just a few kilometres, that the wetsuit irritates you or that the goggles leak, because they do not fit the shape of your face. Your equipment must not be a burden!

Carefully choose your teammate, vary your training sessions, choose the right equipment and test it before the race... All these tips will enable you to really make the most of your first swimrun. You are now ready to try out this new sport!



Decathlon writer

As a dance enthusiast, a big fan of swimming pools, a fitness enthusiast, and a budding yogi, when I'm not working out, I like to write about its history and its benefits!

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