I finished my third SwimRun event, this time at the Cuyuna trails in Crosby MN July 28th and it was FUN! I recommend it to anyone who wants a ‘change-up’ from triathlons. For me it was a catered training event. The runs were rollercoaster rides; I could let my feet fly around the switchbacks of the well-worn red clay mtn bike trails in this mid-Minnesota state park. The swims were a throwback to how hot summers should be spent, jumping in with shoes on and splashing with abandonment across a reclaimed water filled quarry. And doing it over and over again (eight times in this race) with your good friend who is tethered by your side.
How does one define this new SwimRun idea? You could race it and coordinate with a partner of the same abilities. Or you could just label SwimRun as an event to be completed however it best fits your ability and desire and hope that your partner feels the same way. Either way, it’s an adventure if you chose unusual venues such as Sweden with the chilly Baltic sea, Portland Maine with an even chillier Casco bay + islands + tides or Minnesota with BALMY weed free quarry water and miles of mtn bike turned into run trails. I tried all three and it’s a colorful addition to triathlons, especially as one gets a little older and is looking for more ‘experiences’ than heart thumping racing. But doesn’t that description fit the millennial crowd too? To all who might be interested, whatever the reason, here’show a swim run works:
You and your partner are always tethered or need to be close (six meters or so).
The tether is clipped on to a webbing waist belt that holds a pull buoy and hand paddles when you run. The tether and waist belt contraption can be purchased or created with a little imagination.
You swim and run in a modified wetsuit. Either cut off the legs and lower portion of the arms on an older regular triathlon wetsuit or purchase a SwimRun wetsuit. (Gear West has these!)An older wetsuit is a bit heavier (thicker) than most SwimRun wetsuits but both should work. SwimRun wetsuits are evolving and reflect what the company thinks is important. In general, a SwimRun wetsuit is a ‘shorty’; it ends just above the knees. The arms are mid length, the weight is a lighter than most wetsuits so it’s more flexible for running. Many suits offer zippers both in the front and back for ventilation. Also, a hidden inside pouch is sewn in to carry the regulated compass, bandage, or …whatever is required by the race organization.
Shoes! Older, lightweight run shoes are passable but choose a shoe that drains well. Salomon makes a lightweight SwimRun shoe that holds no water, grips the terrain and works great. (Gear West carries them!) I wear a thin nylon sock (compression socks are useful too, especially in colder water) to protect from gravel abrasion that could definitely happen when stuff enters into the holes of your mesh covered water shoe.
Good ol’ hand paddles and buoys are a must to counteract the heaviness of swimming with shoes. I practiced swimming some with hand paddles. Using them demands additional shoulder strength as your legs just dangle behind, so consider bringing all this paraphernalia to a couple of practice lake swims.
Practice is necessary to mentally automate the sequence of events getting in and out of the water. You either put on or pull off your leg buoy and hand paddles. Yes, you can run with hand paddles and/or get in and out of the water with them, but believe me, I have tripped and fallen wearing hand paddles, and I guarantee you will get hurt. At the Casco bay triathlon, I slipped on wet rocks exiting one of the 53-degree cold water swims. I was a little dazed after battling the currents and I had not thought to remove my plastic paddles (affixed by a rubber bands to my middle finger) and ending up chipping a bone in my knuckle. At Cuyuna, I chose to run with my hand paddles on (because it seemed logical and energy saving). Yet after the 7th hot trail run leg I tripped over my toe on some root (that’s what happens to us older racers) and because my hands were full, my elbow took the brunt of the spill and is still sore and bruised as I type this. So, I exhibit mild but lasting hand paddle wounds from my SwimRun events. Good for memories.
A few more things. In cold water you may desire a neoprene swim hat to wear under your mandatory swim cap. Really. Those swims can be FREEZING. But they are invigorating… and something to look back as an accomplishment. Other little gadgets are cropping up in the tiny SwimRun world such as neoprene calf sleeves for additional buoyancy.I do not think they are necessary, unless you wear super heavy shoes. Save the money to purchase SwimRun shoes instead as they can be used for regular running in the future.
Lastly, pick a fun partner. It is all about sharing the experience; laughing at the ridiculousness of signing up for something new and different and strange like swimming with shoes or running with scissors (opps that is an odd book!) running with wetsuits. Or do it with your sibling and have a real reason to argue. I tugged my brother up some of the last hills in the Stockholm SwimRun (the beauty of the tether) because he was cramping from the swim and I thought we would never finish.I think he has forgiven me, but the experience provides a great story at family gatherings.
At the Cuyuna SwimRun this July, both me and my partner Allison, were dealing with separate but mentally draining family issues prior, yet we both chose to race because this was the type of event that adds to your energy instead of drains it. Ignite, this new SwimRun series in Minnesota (and elsewhere) was well-organized and professional.We both felt gratified we could do it together, and support one another, at the speeds our bodies had that day. We LOVED seeing Cuyana from the bottom of its quarries on up, we completed a GREAT workout and finished the day with more positivity than when we started. So, give it a try!