You’ve made it! You’ve heard about this new amphibious sport and thought, “What the heck is this all about? Do people really run in a wetsuit? Tethered to another person? Swim in their shoes? You’re kidding, right?” Well, your curiosity, affinity for adventure with a dash of crazy, and a quick internet search have led you to the right place. Welcome to swimrun.
Swimrun is a new endurance sport where athletes travel over land and through water running, swimming, running, swimming… repeat! The sport originated in Sweden as ÖTILLÖ (Swedish for “island to island”), and was born out of four friends’ love of nature, respect for teamwork, and dedication to pushing their physical and mental limits. It is not a triathlon in that you work in teams of two and you must carry all your gear with you. It is not an aquathlon in that you complete multiple segments (40+ in longer events!) of swimming and running. And it is not adventure racing in that you are purely swimming and running to navigate through nature.
Swimrun events are wildly popular in Europe, and ÖTILLÖ governs and organizes the elite racing circuit worldwide. European events can take place anywhere from the azure waters of Croatia to the pristine mountain lakes of the Swiss Alps and ultimately in the rugged archipelago of Sweden, home of the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championships. While Swimrun is relatively new in the U.S. (since 2016), races are popping up from coast to coast: Odyssey Swimrun produces events in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington State; Ignite hosts races along the east coast and midwest; and regional organizers such as Quest Races hosts multiple events in Washington State. ÖTILLÖ has sanctioned a few merit races (where racers can earn points to qualify for the Worlds) that truly embody the spirit of Swimrun, namely: Odyssey’s Casco Bay and Orcas Island Swimruns, Swimrun Lake James, and Swimrun NC at Hanging Rock State Park. AND they are hosting their first US-based race in Catalina. Visit our Swimrun Events Calendar for upcoming events near you.
While racers can compete in shorter swimrun races solo, swimrun is really all about the teamwork. Experiencing swimrun tethered to someone else can be truly bonding. Sidenote: Annie and I call our tether the umbilicus…but that’s a whole other article. Partner racing allows you to contribute your individual strengths to the overall performance of the team, free each other from the relentless grip of seaweed and aquatic plants, encourage each other when things get mentally tough, and share in the beauty of the local culture and nature.
Swimrun is also unique in that it attracts athletes from a diversity of backgrounds, along the entire spectrum of recreational to competitive. At any given swimrun event you will see the intensely focused triathlete with their sleek gear and sophisticated watch, you will meet mother-son race partners just looking for a bonding adventure outdoors, you will chat with the seasoned adventure racer about navigation and currents, and you will notice the ultra-runner with their swim fins making them just as fast in water as on land
First, let’s talk gear. Gear systems can be as minimalist or complex as you want, as long as you’re willing to cross the finish line carrying the gear you start with. Here are some recommendations for gear must-haves and where to invest your dollars. For more gear talk, check out our in-depth gear reviews. In order of importance:
- Swimrun wetsuit with front zipper for easy ventilation during the runs and extra flexibility to support natural running gait.
- Trail shoes that are light-weight with good drainage and adequate traction.
- Socks are a matter of preference. I go with neoprene for warmth and cushion; Annie prefers lightweight trail socks. Some racers wear long socks or calf compression sleeves to prevent scrapes or stash extra flotation or nutrition.
- Goggles that are comfortable, leak proof, fog resistant, and UV-tinted for outdoors
- (Optional) Pull buoy modified to attach to your thigh or low back – I say optional because those who have pistons for legs may choose to kick on the swim and then use those same kickers for running. Annie and I prefer to rest our weary limbs around a pull buoy while swimming. Also, ÖTILLÖ added a new rule limiting pull buoy size (they were getting a little out of control) to be 40cmx30cmx15cm (16”x12”x6”).
- (Optional) Paddles will definitely give you more power in your swim stroke, but they will also fatigue your shoulder muscles more quickly, so best to train with these. Also, check out our injury prevention exercise videos to make sure these do more good than harm.
- (Optional) Race belt with tow cord can be useful if you have a partnership where one is a better swimmer or runner to help pull the other. Also, race rules are to stay within 10m (about 32 ft) of each other, so the physical connection helps with that.
- (ÖTILLÖ-mandated) Race whistle, one per person, for safety
- (ÖTILLÖ-mandated) Gauze bandage, one per team. With some rocky and slippery transitions you can get banged up pretty good.
- (ÖTILLÖ-mandated) Compass/Watch compass, one per team
- Extras: anti-chafing oil or vaseline, collapsible cup (for cupless races) and/or soft flask for hydration on longer segments, marker to write segment distances on paddles, anti-fog spray, extra insulation (removable wetsuit arm and calf sleeves) for cold weather, backup goggles, extra tow cord and carabiners, backup shoelaces, scissors and duct tape because they always seem to be needed for something.
Now, let’s talk training. This will obviously depend on your baseline fitness, swimming and running experience, and the type of swimrun race you sign up for. In general, give yourself at least 8-12 weeks to train for a swimrun event, so that you can truly enjoy the experience come race day. If you don’t consider yourself a “runner” or a “swimmer” but know how to do both at least a little bit, we’ve developed a free Sprint Course Training Plan. If you are planning on trying longer distances, check out our complimentary Short Course Training Plan and Long Course Training Plan.
Simply: because swimrun is unlike any endurance sport out there. For me personally, I’ve never felt so connected with nature and a place as I do when I’m traversing its landscape, getting glimpses of life below the surface, weaving through small towns of cheering locals, and experiencing the sounds and smells of trails off the beaten path. I love the journey. Then there’s the community. The people I’ve met through this sport are some of the most positive, supportive, and respectful athletes I’ve ever encountered. A swimrun start line is filled with chatter and excitement and a swimrun finish line is a spirited celebration. After years of triathlons, I found my people in swimrun.