Alpkit customer Alex took part in his first SwimRun event with his Alpkit Duel wetsuit. And he smashed it. He won his first SwimRun event. Here's his story.
“SwimRun? What on earth is that?” I was browsing the speciality sports pages of a retailer website and was surprised to find a sport I had never heard of. Having swum competitively as a teenager and dabbled in triathlon many years ago as a student, I was confused by the images and kit presented to me. Wetsuits you can run in? Trainers to swim in? Stunning backdrops to the photos? Blessed with the wonders of the internet, I had to get my head around what this was…
What is SwimRun?
SwimRun is an adventure sport that combines multiple legs of swimming and running into a single race. First done as a bet between friends in Sweden, courses are over challenging but beautiful terrain. Unlike an Aquathlon (triathlon without the bike) which is one swim, followed by one run, with a kit transition in between, SwimRun sees competitors alternate between swims and runs without any kit changes at all. This means completing the whole course with wetsuit and trainers on! Having trained hard for my first race, I can honestly say that running in wet trainers and a wetsuit is not as bad as it sounds, though I wouldn’t want the first time I’d done it to be event day!
Entering the event
So armed with with a better idea of what this crazy sport is (and indeed it is now one of the fastest growing adventure sports), I entered myself into a “Super Sprint” introduction race run by As Keen As Mustard at Nene Park in Peterborough. A “proper” SwimRun is usually in excess of 35km, and the World Championships held on the original course in Sweden is almost 80km, so 5km in contrast felt very manageable! SwimRun usually follows a 1:4 ratio for swimming:running such that if your swimming is on par with your running, you’ll spend about the same amount of time on each discipline. In my case, with more of a background in swimming and having only begun running last Autumn, my endurance swimming is much better than my running, albeit on a short race like this it wouldn’t make much difference.
The Duel SwimRun Wetsuit
While SwimRun is a very accessible sport and requires no specialist gear (most people do their first events in an existing wetsuit, even a non-swimming one, and an old pair of trainers), I know we all love a bit of shopping! I was therefore delighted to find Alpkit had released the “Duel”, a specialist SwimRun wetsuit with the specialist features such as storage pockets and a front zip that make competing that big easier. SwimRun requires carrying a number of mandatory items such as a compression bandage and whistle, which I can easily stash in the rear pocket, and for when it gets a bit warm running, the front zip provides a welcome relief or an option to “cab down” and take the top half down - something that is almost impossible in a normal swimming wetsuit stood still, let alone while running!
So after extensive weeks of training, not necessarily because of a need to do so for an introductory race, more because it’s an absolute laugh running through a park squelching away in a swimming hat, goggles and wetsuit, race day arrived! Being an introduction race distance, the day before the longer course races for the weekend, there were a huge array of individuals lined up. People like me who had splurged on gear (all the gear, no idea?), through to people in surfing wetsuits just giving it a go. What really struck me, unlike the running events I’d done recently, was how friendly everyone was. There is something slightly quirky about the world of SwimRun that recognises more than many sports that simply getting to the finish line is an achievement, which combined with the intentional vagueness of course distances means that no two events can be compared for times.
So as the gun went off on a rather overcast June afternoon, I stuck with the front pack of runners for the first run of about a mile to reach the first water entry point on the course. Second into the water, I was pleasantly surprised to see the frontrunner start swimming breastroke (showing again how accessible the sport is), so I put my head down and started front crawling the first swim of 350m taking the front spot and building a bit of a lead. From then on, it was a surreal experience to be leading the field and having no one to follow, indeed at times I was worried I’d taken a wrong turn as I am so used to not having to pay that much attention!
Budding SwimRunners take note, SwimRun demands “heads up racing”, you have to be eyes open to the subtle course markers! Dragging myself out of the water at the end of the first swim, I was the happiest I’d ever been in an athletic event and managed to smile lots over the subsequent 4 runs and 3 swims. As a very amateur athlete, I was as surprised as anyone crossing the finish line in first place. After a couple of very disappointing first forays into running events earlier in the year, it was very vindicating to have so much fun on an event and do so well!
I’ve got a couple more UK races booked this year at Bewl Water, and Grafham Water in September, and then my Duel wetsuit and I will be heading over to Austin, Texas in November for a long course race there. I just hope the Duel provides protection from rattlesnakes….
5 Top Tips
- Don’t overthink it. It’s easy to look at all the gear you can buy - specialist wetsuits, pull buoys, hand paddles….all in good time. To start with just go for a run, go for a swim, and then run a bit more! Wear an existing pair of trainers (good grip when wet is important depending on terrain!), your regular outdoor swim kit, and give it a go.
- Socks. I would say the only “must buy” is a pair of non-cotton socks that do not absorb any water. You can’t stop your feet getting wet, but sticking to socks that won’t hold water is important!
- Explore. SwimRun doesn’t have to be fast! The wild swimming group I’m part of has done a SwimRun at a very leisurely pace from Southampton to Winchester a couple of times and it’s been a great way to get to know one another over the better part of a day mixing gentle runs and swims.
- Breaststroke. Yes, a YouTube search will show professional looking athletes navigating the open sea with hand paddles swimming front crawl, but many people (including me!) have their first go at SwimRun doing heads up breaststroke. This is a great way to get into the sport (and for those of us who are very average runners, catch our breath!)
- Have Fun. I know it seems daft to say, but so often we can get wrapped up into a performance mindset and forget why we’ve done this in the first place. SwimRun is an absolute blast, so give it a go!
Duel SwimRun Wetsuit
Front zip shorty wetsuit