Mike Alexander of 'WeSwimrun' shares his top tips for swimrun racing.
I would like to share with you some of the insights I’ve acquired over three years of swimrun racing. It is worth noting that every swimrun course differs and weather conditions will vary; nevertheless the following tips should be instructive.
1. Learn the course
Knowing the length of each leg will help determine your wetsuit strategy on race day. If you are staring down the barrel of an 8km run with ascent, you may want to unzip your wetsuit; whereas if it’s a 1km sprint until the next swim, you might not. In the same vein, knowing the length of the swim you are about to undertake will help you mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
A great method for tracking your progress around the course is to write the run and swim distances in permanent marker on either your arm or your hand paddles.
Top tip: if you do write them on your arm, I suggest using the smooth inside of your forearm, as any writing on the hairy part of your arm is liable to sweat or rub off over the course of a race.
2. Practice your transitions
Smooth, well-drilled transitions are essential for a good performance on race day. I define transitions as the last 100m leading into the change and the first 30m thereafter; along with the run, these are one of your best opportunities to gain position.
Practice getting in and out of cold water and on different surfaces as much as you can. This will help you become smooth in transition and will help maintain your breathing rhythm. Be comfortable and well-practiced with hand paddles and pull-buoy management as slick drills offer another opportunity to gain time on other teams.
3. Start strong
A strong race start is an excellent strategy for moving you clear of the pack. Your position in the starting line up is crucial: start in the back two thirds and you risk being caught up in bottlenecks during tight sections of forest or trail. Complement your starting position with a strong first swim and you should be well placed to dominate the rest of the race.
4. Choose the right equipment
How do you carry all the required equipment while wearing a wetsuit? This is a question that often leads to missteps.
In the early years of the sport, teams would don full rucksacks to carry food and the mandatory race equipment. However, time and the sport have moved on and now it is common for teams to stuff kit inside their wetsuits, undershorts or, for the lucky ones, inside the carrying pouches of their swimrun specific wetsuits. Also for most people there is no need to carry your own food as the nutrition provided at energy stations should be sufficient.
I recommend using a tow system. Tow lines work really well in any team-based endurance format: the rope keeps you and your partner together during swim sections and helps you regulate, and thus optimise, your speed. I found it to be an extremely effective tool, particularly in the mixed category where disparities in speeds can be more pronounced. Practice using the tow on downhill technical terrain and in transitions. We found a length of 3m kept us at the right distance on the runs and swims. Experiment with your teammate to find out what works best for you.
5. Work on your running
The teams that place well are typically strong runners. In my experience, little ground is made during the swims. In fact, I find it useful to think of the swims as offering rest and therapy for tired legs. Being an expert hill-runner can give you the edge. In the races I’ve done, many teams were not too good in the hills.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by other teams: many are new to swimrun just like you!
Mike is a swimrunner, triathlete, long distance runner & swimmer. He runs WeSwimrun, a swimrun training camp focussed on swimrun strategy and equipment.