Katie Tobin on SwimRunDecember, 2019
What kind of gear do you need?
While races may differ, nearly all require a wetsuit, whistle (usually this is the pull-tab of the zipper for swimrun wetsuits), and first aid kit (a plastic-wrapped bandage is fine). Sometimes they require a map or safety buoy, but will provide it if that’s the case. Many races require partners to be tethered during the swim for safety (and it’s a lot faster to do so), so then a tether would also be required; many people use lightweight rope attached to carabiners. The colorful matching swim caps and jerseys will be provided at check-in. Unlike triathlons, you’re allowed to use a pull buoy, paddles, and fins–but have to carry them with you the entire time. To make this easy, you can buy or make a belt system where the pull buoy and paddles are clipped to your waist while running and then unclipped for use while swimming.
It’s a lot of gear, but still less than packing a bike!
Figuring out all the gear and transitions! It seems really foreign at first, and running in a wetsuit with paddles bouncing along your side feels super dorky (especially when training in a city), but then you’ll get used to it…or just lower your standards for normal behavior. The first few times, my partners and I practiced transitions extensively before the race, so we wouldn’t forget where to put our goggles while running, or how to attach the tether. But now it’s pretty automatic.
Is the training different from triathlons?
Well, the bike becomes a lot less useful… To prep for swimruns in particular, I do more swim workouts with paddles (and strength exercises to ensure I’m not stressing my shoulders) and trail runs. Unlike regular triathlons, which are on roads, swimrun is primarily on trails, so the terrain varies greatly–steep hills, sand, rocks, mud, etc. I try to research my upcoming races and find something similar to train on, such as long climbs (NC) or slippery rocks (Maine).
Sure, Maine has slippery rocks and saltwater that gives horrific hickeys, but also this.
Special bonus, I’ll give you two, and they both focus on food. One big difference between triathlon and swimrun is that the latter is a lot more low-key. Race distances are approximate. Courses differ from what’s on the website (due to safety and other conditions, not the whims of race directors. Usually.). The vibe is “just be cool and have fun; this isn’t Ironman,” which is awesome. However, this also means that aid stations might not have exactly the food you expect…or any food. (SwimRun NC is the exception, as they have one aid station you hit a bunch of times, and it is amazing.) So you need to come prepared with backup. I tend to shove a few gels down my sports bra (ladies, it is the perfect bento box for gels, tether, goggles, etc.). This works great when I unzip the top of my wetsuit to avoid overheating on the runs. This does not work so well when the weather is cold and rainy and I keep the wetsuit zipped up the whole day (Maine, 2018). It was always easier to just not go through the effort and assume I’d eat something at the next aid station. Nope. I finished the race but was firmly in bonktown. Likewise, at SwimRun NC this year, the race start was delayed due to storms, and I didn’t calculate that into my fueling plan. I started the race somewhat hungry and dehydrated, ran up a mountain in 80 degree humidity in a wetsuit, and set new PRs in heart rate (but not speed).