The Ultimate Guide to Swimrun (2024)

ultimate guide to swimrun
OTILLO - Pierre Mangez

If you are seeking a unique and exhilarating test of endurance, swimrun racing has emerged as a thrilling option that blends two of the most fundamental human movements: swimming and running.

Originating in the pristine landscapes of Sweden, this sport has rapidly gained traction among endurance athletes worldwide.

What is Swimrun?

swimrun swim
OTILLO. Pierre Mangez.

Swimrun is a unique and challenging endurance sport that combines open-water swimming with trail running in a race format. Participants, often in teams of two and tethered together, navigate through a course that alternates between swimming across natural bodies of water and running on varied terrains like trails, rocks, and even roads.

The defining feature of a swimrun race is that participants must carry all their gear with them throughout the race, including wetsuits, swim caps, goggles, and sometimes even flotation devices. This allows for quick transitions between swimming and running without changing clothing.

Again, you won’t set up your gear from a transition bag to a transition area. It’s more primal than that, and that’s what makes it awesome.

While there are solo entrants, it seems to be more common to be a team event.

The Origins of Swimrun Racing

The concept of swimrun racing was born in 2002 when a group of friends in Sweden decided to race each other across the Stockholm archipelago – a challenging endeavor that involved alternating between trail running and open-water swimming. Inspired by their adventure, they created ÖTILLÖ, the first time official swimrun event.

Since then, the sport has evolved into a global phenomenon, featuring various distances and formats to cater to athletes of all levels.

Swimrun Race Distances

Many races offer different categories to enter, each varying in their race distances. Here are some examples from a recent OTILLO race in Cannes, France (similar in many countries):

Short Course Distance

Total Race Distance – 7.3 km (4 run sections, 4 swim sections)

Total Running Distance – 5 km
Longest Running Section – 1800 m

Total Swim Distance – 2 km
Longest Swim Distance – 750 m

Sprint Course Distance

Total Race Distance – 13 km (5 run sections, 5 swim sections)

Total Running Distance – 10 km
Longest Running Section – 5700 m

Total Swim Distance – 3 km
Longest Swim Distance – 1000 m

World Series Distance

Total Race Distance – 40 km (11 run sections, 11 swim sections)

Total Running Distance – 32 km
Longest Running Section – 9.2 km

Total Swim Distance – 8 km
Longest Swim Distance – 1300 m

Clearly, the categories vary widely, and there are opportunities for many fitness levels to participate.

The Challenge of Running and Swimming in Harmony

swimrun water exit
OTILLO. Pierre Mangez.

At its core, swimrun racing challenges athletes to embrace the natural environment as they navigate through a dynamic course that includes a series of swims in open water and trail runs.

Unlike traditional triathlons that have a single transition area, participants transition between swimming and running multiple times throughout the race, all while wearing their gear and carrying essentials such as swim caps, goggles, and even floatation aids.

NOTE – Check out the best pace chart for running and the best pace chart for swimming to estimate your times.

Gear You’ll Need For a Swimrun Event

Here’s a comprehensive list of gear that a person may need for a swimrun event:

swimrun running
OTILLO. Pierre Mangez.
  1. Wetsuit: A special swimrun wetsuit is essential for both swimming and running portions. It provides buoyancy and insulation in the water while allowing air circulation during the runs.
  2. Running Shoes: You’ll want lightweight, quick-drying shoes with good grip for traction on various terrains, including wet and slippery surfaces.
  3. Goggles: Suitable for clear vision and eye protection during the swimming segments of the race.
  4. Swim Cap: Provided by the event organizers for safety and visibility in the water.
  5. Whistle: A safety requirement for emergency situations and communication with race officials.
  6. Pull Buoy: Helps elevate your legs with the increased weight of swimming with shoes on.
  7. Hand Paddles: Increases the amount of water you “pull” with each stroke.
  8. Tow Float: A small inflatable device attached to your waist that helps with buoyancy and can also serve as a safety float. Restube is a popular choice.
  9. Race Bib: Given to you when you sign in for the race. This is worn over your wetsuit and must be worn for the entirety of the race.
  10. Hydration System: Depending on the length of the race, consider a handheld water bottle, hydration pack, or a combination of both. You’ll have to carry it with you while you swim.
  11. Trail Running Gear: If the event involves challenging trails, bring items like compression sleeves, calf guards, or trekking poles for support.
  12. Sunscreen and Lip Balm: Apply liberally before the race to protect your skin from sun exposure and wind.
  13. Extra Clothing: Depending on the weather, you might need a cap or visor, arm sleeves, or a lightweight jacket.
  14. Snacks and Nutrition: Portable, energy-rich foods like gels, bars, or chews to refuel during the race.
  15. First Aid Kit: A small kit containing essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, blister treatment, and any personal medications.
  16. Dry Bag: A waterproof bag to carry your extra clothing, nutrition, and other essentials during the swim segments.
  17. Towel: A small, quick-drying towel to dry off during transitions. Not required.
  18. Navigation Equipment: If allowed or required, a waterproof map, compass, or GPS device to navigate the race course.
  19. Identification and Medical Information: Carry a copy of your ID, emergency contact information, and any relevant medical details.
  20. Change of Clothes: Comfortable clothing and footwear to change into after the race.
  21. Cash or Payment Card: In case you need to make purchases or payments at the event venue.

Swimrun events can vary by length, location, and specific requirements, so always check the event’s official guidelines and requirements before assembling your gear. Make sure that you’re familiar with all of your gear so your experience is a positive one.

If you’re not familiar with anything in this list, check out our glossary of triathlon terms which might have what you need.

Training for Swimrun Racing

swimrun running
OTILLO. Pierre Mangez.

Here are some key training tips for endurance athletes looking to take on a swimrun challenge:

  1. Hybrid Workouts: Incorporate training sessions that seamlessly combine swimming and running to simulate race conditions. This helps your body adapt to the unique demands of quick transitions.
  2. Open-Water Practice: Spend time swimming in open water to become comfortable with different conditions. Work on navigation skills and practice swimming with shoes on to replicate the race environment.
  3. Trail Running: Off-road trail runs to develop the strength and agility needed for the running segments. Focus on uphill and downhill techniques to tackle varied terrains.
  4. Gear Familiarization: Train in the gear you plan to wear during the race. This includes wetsuits, swim caps, goggles, pull buoys, and any floatation devices you may opt for.
  5. Endurance Conditioning: Since swimrun races can cover considerable distances. Prioritize building your endurance through long-distance running and swimming sessions.

Check out our 8-week swimrun training program here.

Why Endurance Athletes Love Swimrun Racing

swimrun exiting the water
OTILLO. Pierre Mangez.
  1. Connection with Nature: Swimrun racing immerses athletes in the great outdoors, allowing them to appreciate natural landscapes from a unique perspective.
  2. Teamwork: Many swimrun races are completed in pairs, fostering a sense of camaraderie and teamwork as partners support each other through the challenges.
  3. Adaptability: The ever-changing nature of the course – from water to land and back – requires athletes to be adaptable and versatile in their approach.
  4. Mental Challenge: Conquering the physical demands of swimrun racing is also a mental triumph, pushing athletes to overcome doubts and fears.
  5. Adventure: For those who crave adventure, swimrun racing offers a thrilling and unconventional way to test their limits.

How to Find Swimrun Races

Check out the following sites if you’re looking for a swimrun race:

Swimrun racing’s unique blend of swimming and running, coupled with the beauty of the natural world, creates an experience beyond traditional races.

If you’re an endurance enthusiast seeking a new and exhilarating challenge, consider taking the plunge into the world of swimrun racing – where the journey is just as rewarding as the finish line.

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