How do you train for a SwimRun or Aquathon to get the best results?
If you are looking for a sporting zeitgeist to catch in 2017, with a bit of Swedish noir, Scandinavia has given us something properly Baltic in the form of SwimRun.
SwimRun arrived in the UK around 2015 on the back of one of Sweden’s toughest endurance events, the OtillO, where trail running meets open water swimming. The result is an amphibious event, which adventure racing would be proud of.
Taking some of Britain’s remotest spots as its natural playground, from the Hebrides to Snowdonia, RunSwim is the wild at heart alternative to triathlon, where the only transition is likely to be in your head and the gear-faff quotient is significantly less. If you’re the kind of person who crams the kids’ stuff in to the boot for car journeys instead of painstakingly pre packing, then this event may be more for you.
The kit you pack, can be kept to a minimum. No spare wheels, no hydraulic pumps are needed, just a buoyancy bag with some spare socks or shoes and a buddy, who will look out for you when you’re turning blue. SwimRun, you see is a pairs event, at least in the main, adding an element of teamwork to the undiluted individualism of triathlon.
It began as a drunken bet between two friends, to swim between 20 of Stockholm’s archipelago islands, starting at Sandhamn and went commercial ten years ago. The 52 transitions include swims of between 100 metres and 1800 metres. You still have to qualify just to get in however, or ‘get lucky’ as the organisers say rather cryptically. There are cut off points, and an element of navigation, which means you are not spoon fed your way round a multiple lap course, which can sometimes send the brain in to standby mode.
Recognising the appeal of a sport, which seems to offer the best elements of a wild triathlon, with an off-piste route map, a group of triathletes behind the Celtman, an extreme triathlon in the Scottish highlands, staged the first Loch Gu Loch event last year. Sixty five teams signed up for it, not all of them from the UK. This year they are hoping to reach closer to 100.
Paul McGreal, one of the organisers with Durty Events, says: “Swim Run is very adventurous because you can hold a race in places you cannot hold triathlons. You don’t need a big transition afterwards either. There is still a rule book but SwimRun is much more free and easy, so you can come up with your own formula. It’s more like adventure racing but there are deliberate gaps where you can choose a strategy, for example whether to tie yourself to your partner. This is part of the creative process.”
He stressed however that their events do not encourage turn up and have-a-go heroes, coming at the extreme end of endurance sport. He advises first timers to ‘train in open water and make it as cold as possible.’
“Then you’ll be prepared for Scotland,” he cautions.
“We had a competitor who had only ever swum in a pool and they had to pull out half way through because of the cold.”
The mental and physical resilience you will gain from spending several hours of giving yourself the cold shock treatment, with the benefit of inspiring terrain, should enhance both your mental and physical resilience.
Swimming and running appear to combine the perfect upper body, lower body pump priming because your muscles and organs are forced to deal with a surge of blood to the shoulder and arm muscles for swimming and then to your hamstrings and calves in quick succession, when you are running. The physiological outcome should be a huge anaerobic boost, while keeping your metabolism on a high for some time afterwards, which is why it is also good for losing weight, in case that is a motivation.
It is also a great excuse to visit some of these isle’s more remote places, with three of the biggest events in 2016 happening in Snowdonia, western Scotland and the Lake District.
Five SwimRuns to add to your calendar in 2017
Loch Gu Loch (Loch Ness)
Loch Gu Loch SwimRun Scotland arrives in Loch Ness on October Divided in to seven running sections totalling 47km, the longest being 15km and the shortest only 450 metres, thirteen swim sections of eight kilometres, ranging from two kilometres to only 250 metres.
Hell’s Hop (Barra, Outer Hebrides)
September: This event, which starts near the beach airport on Barra, involves island hopping between the barren isles of Gighay and Hellisay (which is where the ‘Hell’s Hop’ name is derived), and the beautiful tidal lagoon between them. It passes sandy beaches and freshwater lochs, one of them with an ancient ruined castle in the middle. There are 14 running sections, totalling 33km.
You’ll have to smash the piggy bank for this one, as the entry fee is £500 per team. Not so bad for the experience of a lifetime though!
Otillo 1000 Lakes, Germany: Sunday, October 1st, 2017
Part of the Otillo World Series, as is the Scilly Isles (in June)
Otillo Sweden: (Part of the official World Champs) September 4th
The granddaddy of them all and the official RunSwim world championship. Teams swim between the 26 islands and run over them. The total distance is 75 kilometres, of which 10 km are open-water swimming and 65 km are trail-running. You may want to practice your transitions, as there are 52 of them.
Llyn i Llyn (Snowdonia, North Wales)
Saturday 5th August 2017 : Love SwimRun Llanberis involves four swims and four runs. It will take place in Padarn Country Park, Llanberis in Snowdonia National Park in the Y Glyn lagoons. The total course distance is approximately 16km (3.5km of swimming and 12.5km of running). The longest run is around eight kilometres and the longest swim bang on a mile. The cut off is 3.5 hours to finish swim 2. You cab race this one solo and the early bird price is £75 plus a £10 refundable deposit.
The Breca Gower SwimRun:
19 August 2017
40k of trail running on spectacular coastal paths with 6km of ocean swimming, broken in to 18 sections.
For a more moderate taster: try this aquathon in Devon, soon to be extended to form a classic swim run distance. Also suitable for teams.
The Vivo Barfoot Wild Dart Swim & Aquathon: 2.5k swim and 5k run
Training for a SwimRun Event
This depends on the weather and your proximity to the sea and/or a lake or river. When it comes to training, the formula is similar to trail running in that you will need to plot your route before you head out, so that you are not swimming in to a tide or flow.
If it’s the sea, swim out to beyond the chop, being careful to avoid rip tides and swim parallel to the shore for anything between four to six minutes. Then run back to where you started and do it all again, over and over until you’ve had enough. The same formula applies to a river swim or in the case of a lake, it could be a circular swim. Just remember where you left your shoes on the bank or shore. If you’re city bound, choose a gym with a pool and a treadmill and try some slightly longer intervals of up to 20 minutes on each, keeping the transition to a minimum. Just remember that the real thing is unlikely to be heat treated!
Swim parallel to the shore at a steady, tempo pace (about 85% intensity) for 4-6 minutes, concentrating on technique. Alter direction so you head towards shore, and swim hard back to shore.
Run back to wherever you first got into the water then run back into the water and do it again. 2, 3, or 4 or more times.