5 tips for swimmers tempted to try swimrun

Matt Hill, a triathlon coach based in Stockholm, shares his top five tips for swimmers tempted to try swimrun

If you’re used to the types of conditions an open water environment can throw at you, then you have a big advantage in swimrun, compared to people from a running background.

“All” you need is a compatible partner, and both be able to run. In swimrun, much of the running is on trails, and the repeated transitions from running to swimming and back again can make both activities feel very different to usual. In addition, getting out and back into the water can be tricky and demands an awareness of the environment and conditions to be successful – for swimmers used to scrambling in and out of wild swim spots, this may be another advantage. 

Here are our my five tips for a successful transition to swimrun. Apply these to your training and come your first swimrun event, you will be better prepared.

1 – Get used to frequent changes in body position and movements

Obvious, but often overlooked! Throughout a swimrun event you will constantly be transitioning from swim to run and back again. Swimming is upper body dominant whereas running is mainly lower body dominant. Your body automatically pumps more blood to working muscles and has to adjust quickly after a transition, while also always making sure there is sufficient blood available for your brain to remain aware of what is going on! 

These demands mean that experiencing disorientation when transitioning from horizontal to vertical, especially when you are cold, is common. Changing from swim to run increases your heart rate, breathing rate and affects balance. Swedish swimrunner Ulrika Hotopp says, “knowing when to get up (or into the water) on all kinds of terrain and conditions is an art and where you can lose a lot of time even if you are a fast swimmer or runner.” 

In addition to practising transitions, during a race you can help your body adjust before exiting the water by easing off the pace in the final 50m or so of each swim, and not running too hard before entering the water on each run.

2 – Work on your upper body strength

As an outdoor swimmer, you will be familiar with the potential conditions you may encounter in the water, and that it can be hard work. However, running is by far the most stressful form of activity on your body, and will take a lot more out of you. 

It may be counter-intuitive, but being a stronger swimmer is a great way to improve your overall performance as you will conserve more energy for the run. Work on your upper body strength, using swim paddles, a pull buoy and maybe an ankle band. Adapt your training to focus on developing aerobic strength so that you retain speed while using less energy. 

While racing, “not kicking is one way to save your legs for running, especially for longer distances,” says Hotopp, which is another good reason to ensure your upper body strength is good.

3 - Choose your kit carefully – and train with it

Swimrun allows you to race with toys, such as pullbuoys and paddles, and the majority of participants use them. You may find the pullbuoy and paddle combination significantly faster than going without, especially when swimming in shoes. You also need to be aware that swimming in paddles will fatigue your shoulders more quickly. 

For the less experienced, and especially in choppy conditions, a tether will ensure you and your race partner remain within 10m of each other. Know how to position yourselves, who will pace, how to change positions, etc, while tethered adds another dimension to swimrun. 

Whatever kit options you choose, it’s essential to train with them if you are going to get the best out of yourself.

4 - Plan your nutrition

On longer swimrun events you will need food to maintain energy and this means you have to: 

  • carry your own food and know how much you need 
  • know what foods work for you whilst racing 
  • be confident in eating and drinking when running. Once again, training is the time to test things out. Don’t make it up on race day.

5 - Be prepared for cold conditions

There is no minimum water temperature for swimrun and it’s not unheard of to experience single digit water temperatures. Find out what to expect at your event and prepare accordingly. Coming from a swim background you may be aware already of what cold water can do and you’re probably well adjusted. 

However, while running should quickly warm you back up, your next swim may feel even colder as a result. 

“The effect of the cold must not be underestimated; at Swimrun Poland, Solina, I towed my partner for 800m of the swim as he was severely affected by the temperature,” says Yuriy Danylchenko, a Polish swimrunner. 

Be prepared: use the right wetsuit and accessories, and pay extra heed to your nutrition.

Image: Swimrun Poland Wióry

Masters of Tri is a family run coaching business. Qualified BTF L3 and ASA coaches with Trisutto Certification, Masters of Tri provide online coaching and host training camps in Spain as well as coaching for clubs around Europe. Using their coaching knowledge and life experiences, coaches Matt and Martin assess every individual, whether on-line or on a camp. This very individual approach provides the advice each athlete requires to improve performance. Find out more: mastersoftri.com