How to Train for a SwimRun Event

open water swimmer

Whether it’s ötillö or a local challenge, this is a sport you have to try

 

More adventure style racing than like a triathlon, SwimRun is a sport born out of Sweden.  The archipelago in Stockholm, Sweden is the perfect place for SwimRun, where the premise is to get from point A to point B with constant transitions between swimming and running.  You swim with your shoes on and run with your wetsuit on, and in most races you are required to have a partner where the two of you have to work together to race other teams.  One thing is guaranteed – this sport is FUN.  Whether you are a trail runner, triathlete, or open water swimmer adding in a SwimRun event will add to your skillset as an athlete.  If you are keen to try this unique and fun sport, here are some tips to help your first SwimRun event be a success:

 

  1. Get comfortable with transitions

Unlike triathlon where you only have to worry about two transitions, SwimRun events have multiple transitions throughout the event with athletes constantly switching between swimming and running.  You may only swim 100 or 200 meters before needing to climb back out again to begin a run segment.

From a physiology standpoint, constantly transitioning from horizontal to vertical requires your baroreceptors to help adjust your blood pressure so you don’t fall over.  You may have seen a few triathletes that struggle with this transition getting out of the water where they are weaving as they attempt to adjust to standing up.  When approaching a swim to run transition, first stand in the water at about hip level and let your body adjust for a short period of time.  Then start your transition which will require your focus to get out of the water and start running on the trail.

Find a suitable venue where you can practice these transitions with all your gear on.  If you plan to swim with a pull buoy and paddles it is really helpful to practice how to get this gear out of the way, so you don’t fall as you get out of the water.

Including a strength training program in your training can help you master the transitions more quickly.  You will need strength and stability to get in and out of the water with ease.  You will be using every muscle group so include a mix of upper and lower body strength training.

 

  1. Dial in your equipment

The equipment for SwimRun events is unique.  Let’s start with the essentials.  You will need a wetsuit and goggles to swim in, and you need to shoes and socks to run in.  Because your body temperature will increase as you do the run portions, the SwimRun wetsuits have short legs and other key features such as a front zipper to allow for airflow when running and zippered pockets to store things like nutrition.  A few brands that make SwimRun specific wetsuits are Blue Seventy, Orca, and 2XU .

You should wear trail running shoes, and the pair you go with will be unique to each individual.  One consideration is to wear trail shoes that drain well since you will be swimming with them on.  However, how the light the shoes are should be balanced with the amount of running you will need to do.  Total run distances for most races range from 10 – 15 miles which is significant.  You should wear tight fitting technical socks that will not slide around.  Many athletes opt for compression socks since they are tight fitting, and it also provides some protection of your shins when climbing out of the water.

Although not mandatory, you will see a vast majority of SwimRun athletes using a pull buoy for the swim portions.  It provides flotation which is particularly useful when you are wearing shoes where it would require more energy than normal to kick your legs in the water.  The pull buoy should be worn on either a waistbelt or on a strap around your thigh so you can quickly move it to the side or behind you when doing your run segments.

Hand paddles are also not mandatory, but many athletes take advantage of the extra pulling power that they provide.  Hand paddles come in many different sizes, and it is important to train in the pool with paddles to determine the best size for your shoulder strength and to get used to them.  If your shoulders aren’t strong enough, hand paddles can make your arms tired very quickly!  You should also consider that it is one more thing you need to get out of the way for your transitions out of the water and when running.

 

  1. Include speed work in your training

When you look at the total swim and run distances of the events there is no denying that these are endurance events.  However, with so many different segment distances of the swim and run portions you will draw from several different abilities throughout the event.  Envision a fartlek style workout with two different sports.  You will want to be comfortable at a wide range of intensities.

 

A sample swim workout:

  • Warm Up:

400m with every 4th length scull

  • Drill Set:

12 x 25’s

Odd 25’s catch up drill

Even 25’s swim build to fast

  • Main Set:

2 x through

300m @ Z2 endurance pace

50m recovery

200m @ Z3 tempo pace

50m recovery

100m @ Z4 threshold pace

50m recovery

  • Cool down:

200m choice

 

A sample run workout:

  • Warm Up:

20 min easy jog

4 x 20 sec strides with 60 sec easy jog between strides

  • Over-Under Fartlek:

3 – 4 x through

3 min @ 10 km pace

2 min @ marathon pace

1 min easy recovery jog

  • Cool Down:

10 – 20 min easy jog

 

  1. Study the race course

Knowing the race course well is essential in a sport like SwimRun.  It will help you decide the line you will take for the swim portions, where to get out of the water, and where you need to run after the transition.  Getting lost or being unsure where to go will be frustrating and add lots of time to your race.  Taking time to study the course maps will also help guide your training in terms of terrain you should run on, the various swim and run segment distances, and how many transitions to prepare for.

Below are links to SwimRun races in the USA, and if you aim to complete the ötillö race in Sweden there is a series of events where you will need to amass points to qualify for entry.

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