I’ll always say that joining your local triathlon club could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make – invariably you’ll meet some great people and improve your physical and mental well-being. That’s certainly my experience having joined Herts-based Freedom Tri in 2016. That said, it didn’t take long for me to realise that cycling was simply getting in the way of the two disciplines I had really started to love – swimming and running. Luckily, I’ve not been chucked out of the club (yet).
That might be because nearly everyone (well, everyone who owns an item of neoprene clothing) is talking about swimrun these days. Not as a replacement for triathlon, but something to add to your sporting calendar – especially if you like a little adventure over challenging terrain and waters in stunning locations.
I didn’t go from falling out with (and, occasionally, off) my road bike straight into swimrun, however, but rather via the aquathlon. For those not familiar with the sport (not many are), the aquathlon involves swimming and running short distances – normally up to a 1000 metre swim and a five-kilometre run. If you’re really good, it might all be over within 30 minutes. While still being some way off that level, I did qualify in my age-group for the 2017 European Aquathlon Championships in Bratislava last May. I say ‘qualify’ – it’s not nearly as competitive as the age-group qualification in triathlon. You just pick a local aquathlon and make sure you finish as close to your age-group winner as possible (winning it yourself would be a bonus!). It’s a great way into racing on an international level if you don’t mind spending a little cash on that treasured GB kit.
While my first GB age-group race was highly enjoyable, the best was yet to come that summer. It was during training for Bratislava that my head was turned by the allure of swimrun, which essentially involves seven back-to-back aquathlons. If nothing else, swimrun represents good value. As it turned out, our epic adventure around the Gower peninsula last August was the most exhilarating sporting experience of my life! For those hearty souls who travelled the 42km (and then some) by land and sea from Llangennith to the Mumbles – I salute you! Many a (four-letter) word has been shared about the race particulars that day – the causeway, the waves, the bloody vertical descent right at the end of the race. It was truly something to remember, and you can read our race report here if you’re up to the challenge (it’s almost 3,000 words, and took my teammate Chris the same amount of time to write as complete the race).
To compare a 30-odd minute aquathlon, which involved a washing machine ride to a big orange inflatable and back, followed by five laps of a small park, to our seven hour-plus life-threatening (jokes, kind of) and life-affirming exploration of south Wales is nigh on impossible. But there’s no reason why you should have to choose between the two. Training for the aquathlon will improve your speed and agility, which could give you a swimrun edge over the team that’s been annoyingly on your tail for the last five hours. On the other hand, if you’re reading this from a purely aquathlon background, then I implore you to investigate swimrun further. You’ve obviously got some talent – applying those skills over fells, lochs, rocks and sand is something you’re unlikely to regret.
James is a Level 1 Triathlon Coach and helps out with run coaching at Freedom Tri. He and his club mate Chris will compete as Dexy’s Midnight Swimrunners in the Breca Buttermere full distance in August. James will also represent the GB age-group team again this year at the European Champs in Ibiza, as well as hope to complete his first ultra-marathon (50 miles across the Lake District) in October.