Domestic travel in the UK is set to get pretty exciting in summer 2016. SwimTrek taught us that “Ferries are for wimps,” and now SwimRun is helping us re-think land based travel too.
As Britain prepares for a SwimRun invasion, A Lotus Rises spoke to Chloe Rafferty, founder of Love SwimRun a new 16k event incorporating 12.5k of running and 3.5k of swimming in Snowdonia National Park to find out what SwimRun exactly is and about her dream to make it as accessible as possible.
What is SwimRun?
SwimRun is a fast growing endurance sport in which you run and swim between two predefined points along a set course of cross country runs and open water swims without stopping in between. SwimRun is quite similar to the sport aquathlon, where participants undertake a swim and then transition to a run. However, in SwimRun participants switch between running and swimming many times during a single race, running in their wetsuits and swimming in their trainers.
The sport was conceived in 2006 when Ötillö (meaning ‘Island to island’) was held for the first time in Sweden. The concept of SwimRun was the result of a beer fuelled challenge between a group of friends – to race across the Stockholm archipelago, running over the islands and swimming between them. The race has become an annual event and this year Ötillö celebrated it’s 10th anniversary!
SwimRun is gaining momentum and there are now SwimRun races all over the world, however, only this year has the sport reached the UK. There have been just a handful of events so far in Scotland and the Lake District and Love SwimRun is bringing the SwimRun craze to North Wales!
What inspired you to set up LoveSwimRun?
I discovered the concept of SwimRun early this year and loved it instantly. For me it offers the same great journey that I get from trail running with an extra element of adventure. I love the contrast between the swimming and running and the feeling of freedom that comes from seamlessly changing from one to the other. The stress of triathlon transitions has never appealed to me and I like the way you need very little gear – basically just your wetsuit, goggles, trainers and off you go!
Soon after I entered a SwimRun event in Scotland (8km swimming and 23km running). You had to be a team of two to do it and I really struggled to find someone mad enough to want to do it with me! Eventually an old colleague agreed but we were unable to train together due to distance and when it came to the event we found we are not evenly matched. He really struggled and in the end we had to drop out about 2/3rds of the way around. I totally understood as it was so hard, but I was also frustrated and disappointed.
On the way back home to Wales I thought it was such a shame that all the SwimRun events taking place were so epic! I decided that I wanted to share my love of SwimRun and putting on a more accessible event was the way to do it!
I wanted to make it easy for people to have a go and to find some else to have a go with! We are also offering solo entries for those people that can’t find a partner or just don’t want the pressure of having to keep up with a partner.
How, if at all, does your love of sport help with running your own business?
I run a few businesses, Love SwimRun being one of them. Obviously my passion for SwimRun drives me to work hard on promoting our SwimRun events but my love of running, swimming and mountain biking are what keep me going through every working day!
I work at home and mostly on the computer so I’m always looking forward to my reward of getting outside! I’m so lucky working for myself that I can pretty much go out whenever I want so if the sun comes out – off I go! On the other hand, this can be a bit of a problem as sometimes I spend longer outside than at my desk!…
Why has SwimRun grown in popularity? What are your hopes for the SwimRun future?
I think SwimRun has big appeal right now as it’s new and a bit different! Otillo has been in the media lately and its very aspirational to watch the videos and read about it. Outdoor swimming has grown massively in popularity over the last few year and this also taps into that. Again, I think it has a more natural feeling than the regimented rules of triathlon – you can use your ingenuity and you are working with the environment rather than battling against it. It’s the adventure and the challenge but there is also a feeling of unity with the other competitors, it’s a very friendly sport!
I very much hope that SwimRun has a future in the UK, but as it grows in popularity I hope that it can retain the unique qualities above. Our Love SwimRun races will always remain small compared to a lot of other commercial driven events. We want to make our events sustainable for the environment and the local area and community. We always want them to be fun, friendly and have a personal feel.
Do you have to wear a wetsuit and if so, is it different from a normal openwater swim wetsuit?
Wetsuits are compulsory for most SwimRun races in the UK. This is for safety reasons. Wetsuits make you a lot more buoyant so you’ll float easily if you have to stop swimming for any reason. Obviously they also keep you much warmer. The swims can be long and are often in big bodies of water that rarely reach much above 15 degrees so unless you are a hardened cold water swimmer you are likely to suffer! We are working on another shorter event where wetsuits would be optional though… keep an eye on the website for news about this hopefully coming soon!
Until recently customising triathlon/open-water wetsuits was what everyone did but last year (2014) the first SwimRun specific wetsuits became available. These have zips at the front to make them easier to take on and off while running, integrated pockets, thinner fabric on the arms and hips to make them easier to run in and a host of other features. All very nice, but also very expensive if you are just starting out! I don’t have one, I just wear a shortie triathlon suit.
If you have a full suit the next step would be to SwimRun customise it by cutting the arms and legs off to make it a shortie, but don’t commit to that until you are sure you want to keep SwimRunning! There’s more info about that at http://loveswimrun.co.uk/swimrun-wetsuits/
Do you run in the wetsuit and swim in your shoes?
Yes you run in your wetsuit! On longer runs you can undo it and take the top half off to help you breath and keep cool. A lot of people swim in their trainers but you can carry them instead by clipping to your waist or towing them on a float, but then you have the faff of taking them off/putting them on at each transition. I just like to wear my shoes and swim normally – it feels weird to start with but you get used to it.
And what about trainers – are blisters a problem if you’re not wearing socks?
Trail running shoes are best as they have a snug fit and good grip on wet slippery surfaces. Designs that drain well and won’t absorb a lot of water are essential. You can even drill holes in them to help! You do wear socks, it would be very uncomfortable without. I find a good quality, quick drying (synthetic) pair of ankle socks are best. I have never had a blister. If you do short distances and build up your feet get used to it.
What other kit do you need? Do you have to carry it all and if so where do you put it?
There is a lot of expensive kit that you could buy and use for SwimRun (you can read all about this on our website www.loveswimrun.co.uk/swimrun-knowledge/) but, personally I am very much about keeping it simple. Whatever kit you choose to use, remember you have to manage it at each transition and carry it all on the runs! You can use a small bag/hydration pack (if you can swim with it), shove it down your wetsuit or wear a nylon waist loop and use light weight karabinas to clip things to it.
Along with the wetsuit and trainers you’ll definitely need a bright coloured swimming cap and goggles. Other common but unessential equipment are hand paddles, pull buoys, fins and a tow line if you swim as a pair. If you swim alone or even with friend in a big body of water it’s a good idea to use a tow float – this a bright float that you tether around you waist that makes you much more visible and you that can hold onto it if you need to rest. Some have bags you can store stuff in to take with you. It’s also a good idea to carry a phone in a waterproof case, a whistle to attract help should you need it and some spare food. This safety gear is the same kit you’d think about if you were just open water swimming.
Do you need to be able to map read to navigate the course?
Most courses are well marked and marshalled – each race is different. You won’t need to be able able to map read at all for Love SwimRun events.
How do you train for a SwimRun event (e.g. adjusting from swim to run so quickly)? Particularly if you’re not based near lakes and trails.
The only way to train for it is to do it. It’s harder than you’d think to get straight out of the water and start running in a wetsuit – it’s such a different exercise your breathing is all over the place! I have to be honest, I don’t know how you’d train for it if you didn’t have access to open water – I am not sure the lifeguards at the pool would you like you wearing trainers and running around the changing rooms!
There are places you can swim outdoors all over the UK, be they man-made lakes or old quarries. I am sure there would be somewhere not too far away. Check the Outdoor Swimming Society website and look for outdoor swimming groups on Facebook for ideas and advice. When I can’t do much SwimRunning, during the coldest part of the winter, I just concentrate on swimming in the pool (drills, speed sets and endurance/distance training – joining a swimming club is great!) and keep my running up outdoors. If you can keep this up and then get to some openwater at the weekend to just concentrate on the transitions I think you’ll be fine.
What advice do you have for any openwater swimmers transitioning to SwimRun?
Start off with some easy sessions/short distances and build up, especially with the running to avoid injuries. Experiment with different gear until you find what is right for you – try using what you’ve got first or adapting things from stuff you have at home before spending lots of expensive gear. For example you can make a pull buoy from two plastic bottles! Watch any Ötillö video to see some amazing homemade gear!
Stay safe – swim with someone else, swim close to the shore or have someone spot you from the shore. Read up on http://loveswimrun.co.uk/swimrun-hypothermia/ . I will be running some free ‘Social SwimRuns’ in early summer to give people a chance to practise and try gear out. I’ll announce info about these in the spring – keep and eye on the website, Facebook and Twitter.
At a Lotus Rises, we’re working with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies (IISCS) on a groundbreaking study to discover the best cake for optimum swim performance. What, in your opinion, is the best cake for SwimRun?
Any cake that isn’t ‘sponge’! You need to absorb as little water as possible! Seriously, it’s good to take some food with you for energy – any individually wrapped (waterproof) flapjacks or seed bars are great!
A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.
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