The journey for me started quite late. An innocent conversation with a long time old time swim buddy in Jan 2017 (the event was March 2017), “Shall we try something different – Breca Wanaka Sprint”. Like all good mates it’s not hard to egg each other on. And so it was that Olympic swimmer Murray Burdan and I came to this new world of swimrun. I say ‘New’ but I did have some experience coaching UK athletes for swim/run as part of our swim business however that had mostly been for coaching the swim only side of the event – technique, efficiency, open water skills and only some of the kit.

First step for me was to see if I could actually run – a 10 year hiatus that had started with a surgeon telling me to forget any triathlon ambitions. I went to the Frontrunner in Sydenham and met with the ‘guru’, JC. We made a plan. I was to use one shoe for training and another in ‘anger’ on race day. The training shoe had way more support. The race day shoe was to be light and well-draining.

Murray and I agreed early on our ambitions would be set fairly low; completion of the event, injury free, while having some fun. It was helpful having a training buddy to compare workouts and encourage each other as part of the process.

We tried various equipment concepts and eventually came up with

Wetsuit … a cut down full size wetsuit. I was dubious about this option but in the end I loved it. The sleeves were cut above the elbow, the legs cut quite high … European style JIt was a hot swimrun day and we ended up wearing the top half down for all but the last two run sections – this was a smart option for us to prevent over- heating. We helped each other zip up (zips at the rear) and managed fairly fast transitions. It was cheaper and ended up more reliable than a custom swimrun suit I looked at. If it’s your first event don’t blow the budget on a fancy suit. I’m still dubious of the two zip option suits.

No pull buoy for us – we’re both experienced swimmers and found with a shorty wetsuit and shoes plus paddles we could maintain a good body position without the pull buoy. The plus was we were unencumbered by one less thing on the run. If you need more support in your swim and you have time… sort your swim technique out. Then look at something with 5mm neoprene on the thighs. If you still need help clearly the pull buoy is the best option. Have a think about the size of the pull buoy though – too big and you might end up being too ‘feet up’.

Paddles – this was the balancer for the shoes. Use a paddle based on your competency and paddle experience. No big paddles for first timers or those with marginal technique – your injury risk and fatigue factor will go through the roof.

Cap and goggles – I did see one runner drop their goggles in the first run leg. Guard those goggles with your life during the run. I used the Zoggs predator photochromic goggles as they work well on cloudy and sunny days and are generally a comfortable google to wear fitting most faces with less risk of leakage. Be aware that all goggles will fog eventually, just a quick dip in the water before you start the swim should suffice or a bit of saliva. I train in a pair of goggles and then use the same style but a NEW pair on race day.

Shoes – Light with plenty of drainage. I didn’t put any extra holes in mine. They worked well – in fact I love them. Socks are a must in my opinion but be cognisant to keep it light, anything that retains water will slow your swim down. I used skin calf compression as well – loved them.

Wanaka dawned fine and still for Race day 2017… you couldn’t have asked for a better day on the inaugural outing. It was extremely warm. Athletes were jovial and enthusiastic if not a little unsure, I think upward of 95% had never completed a swimrun event. The bus ride in to the start was Very warm but scenic. It gave us the chance to check out some of the course. Stunning. Just stunning.

At the start Murray and I started off controlled … very controlled … in third to last place for most of the first 6 km run. We had out wetsuit tops down. We saw a number of teams with tops up and they clearly were not comfortable. We opted to skip the first drink station. At the top of the first hill climb I saw someone in a full wetsuit puking … heat management and pacing came to mind. All this sets you up (or not as the case may be) for the first swim.  As we approached the first swim section we saw the entire field spread out in front of us in the water – we were OK because our goal was completion. We entered the water and as we were swimming we carried out another phase of our race plan, Navigation. The fastest route to the finish line is a straight line. Learn how to sight properly. Do it regularly. Use all the features to guide you to your destination, big features to guide you onto small features.  We also hydrated by drinking the lake water. It saved us a lot of time during the day. We swam at a steady pace not pushing it – Murray will be the first to admit he isn’t swim fit. Pacing is essential especially at the start of the swim as your body moves resources to enable to cope with going from vertical to horizontal and more blood is required to the shoulders. The change in temperature can also be a challenge. Give your body a chance to adapt and it will do so fairly quickly. Trying to force it will only add undue apprehension and potential angst.  As we exited we looked behind us and were stunned to see we had passed almost the entire pack. Wow. That gave us motivation to keep jogging. We also planned to work the transitions ie not muck around at all and focus on the swimming; consistent, well-navigated straight-line open water swimming. That approach ended up giving us a top four placing in our division that day.

It appeared to me that the majority of the competitors were extremely good runners.  The range of swim ability varied greatly but it was certainly clear to us that there was a real opportunity to get an edge in the swim – far greater than in the run. I would say train your strengths, certainly. But also put time and effort into your weakness, this may be your greatest opportunity.

Get some swim coaching. Prepare and do some training in your kit. Understand the factors that influence your swim performance; Openwater skills (pacing, navigation, ability to breath either side), Fitness (relative to the distances you’ll be swimming) Technique Don’t under estimate the advantage an efficient stroke can provide in the swim, swim smarter not harder we say in the business.


We offer coaching in London June – August and in Christchurch New Zealand all year around Adult learn to swim, swim technique and open water swimming are our expertise. See you at Breca 2018. 

Dan Abel

Photo credit: Miles Holden