Review: How we took on the inaugural Swimrun Australia

I’m not sure where I first found out about the inaugural SwimRun Australia, but I do know that when I first saw it I had no intention of participating in it.

Just one look at the distances – a total of 17km made up of 3km in swimming and 14km in running – was enough for me to quickly switch back to my off-season of surfing, camping and Friday night drinks.

The mistake I made was mentioning the event to Jules, I remember saying something sarcastic like, “we should do this in a team, haha”… unfortunately (or fortunately) these turned out to be famous last words, because that night Jules said she’d organised her employer lululemon (The Ivy) to sponsor our entry fees – thanks!, entered us in the mixed team category and booked time off for the event!

Where did SwimRun come from?

SwimRun events might be new to Australia, but they’re a big deal over in Sweden where they originated in 2006 after a drunken bet between two Swedes to swim and run across more than 20 islands in Stockholm’s archipelago.

Unlike traditional aquathons, which combine swimming and running in a two stage event, swimrun involves teams of two completing the course with multiple legs of each discipline, swimming and running in the same gear and carrying everything you need for the race from start to finish.

The brainchild behind bringing the sport to Australia is Bondi lifeguard and race director Adriel Young, who has been living in-between Sydney and Sweden for the past 18 months.

Adriel had seen the sport well established in Europe, participated in events himself and watched as the sport exploded to over 100 events worldwide – bringing SwimRun to Australia seemed like a good thing.

Swimrun Sydney

Preparing for the event

So there we were, entered into the SwimRun with no idea of how fit we’d need to be, what gear and equipment we’d need to wear or how we’d stack up against the sold out 100 teams competing for the first time in Australia.

The course itself is nothing short of breathtaking. Weaving itself around the harbour foreshore from Rose Bay to Watsons Bay (and back) the terrain was a mix of road, footpath, beach, rocks, wooden walkway, grass and stairs (lots of stairs).

But it wouldn’t be until the week before until we found this out, because we planned our training around Bondi; with a swim session, two beach swim/run sessions, one coastal run to Clovelly to match the type of terrain of the event, a longer road run for endurance and yoga to stretch and prepare mentally, each week.

With two weeks to go we started to think about what gear we were going to wear. The event organisers sent some great emails with tips and we watched a few of the YouTube videos of the events being run in Sweden so see what they were wearing.

The first thing that became clear was that we weren’t going to need wetsuits. That was a relief, I’m still not sure how I’d go running 14km in a wetsuit, but we were lucky the water temp was still hovering around 20-21 degrees.

Swimming in our shoes was the main concern, you wouldn’t want to drag heavy legs with shoes as anchors throughout the swim legs. The great thing was you could wear a pull buoy, you just needed a way to attach it to yourself so you didn’t have to hold onto it during the runs.

After a few prototypes we went with two loops of bungee cord that would sit high on our thighs. On the day there were a huge range of ways participants had attached theirs, including tucking it into a belt, on a retractable cord, and tied to their calves.

We also swam with paddles (to counter the pull buoy drag) and kept our compulsory safety whistle in a pocket in our belt.

We had a couple of training sessions with all our gears down at Clovelly, it’s the perfect location to practice swimrun transitions and there are a heap of locals that do a swimrun circuit most days (you won’t look out of place).

It was pretty fun getting all geared up and we learnt a few things, particularly about the need to have the right shoes, socks and have your feet taped up to avoid blisters. Everything else seemed to go well.

Race Day

By the time race day came around we were happy we’d put enough training in to make the course, but we were still a little anxious about how taxing it would be on our bodies.

When we got down to Rose Bay each of the 100 teams were preparing for the start, you could tell everyone was looking around to see what others were wearing and how they’d interpreted the gear and equipment side of things.

Then it was all on! The male teams went first, followed by us wearing number 67 in the mixed team and tailed by the female teams.

The pace was pretty good and we settled into the race – it was just unfortunate that the prelude to the first swim was a 200m wade out into the harbour due to the low tide!

Jules was on fire in the swims, she was built to power the paddles and I did my best to sneak in behind her and draft. My shoulders didn’t quite enjoy the extra strength required to pull the paddles through the water, so I ditched them after the second swim to conserve energy.

Swimming and running our way to the halfway point at the South Head Lighthouse was actually quite enjoyable. I had to make sure I looked up to take in the view to really appreciate where we were (it also took my mind off the fact my legs were brutally hurting).

By the time we were hitting the turning point we started to cross paths with the mens teams who were on their return leg. Boy, some of those guys looked super fresh and there was definitely a battle for placings going on up there.

Our trek back along the course was actually very enjoyable, and we did a faster split. We started to pull in more mixed and men’s teams, and with the muscles warm and the body and mind familiar with what was ahead we could race with a smile (really only for the cameras).

The one part I didn’t get used to though, was the steep inclines out of some of the swims – whether steps or steep paths, my heavy legs were not happy with me after their rest in the swim – going from doing nothing to tackling a hill is not ideal.

So then we were on our last leg, the beach and road run back to the start/finish which we thought we might really dig in for. Except the course took a slight deviation from the hard sand onto the soft sand around some flags and that was nearly the undoing of me. My legs cramped up as soon as I took a step onto the soft sand and I was almost paralyzed, if it wasn’t for Jule’s (forceful) encouragement to “keep going, we’re not stopping here and getting taken over!” I’d probably still be there.

We finished moments later, crossing the line in fifth place in the mixed category in a time of 2 hours 17 minutes, which also placed us 27th out of the 100 teams overall – not a bad effort for a couple of weekend warriors.

Post Event

For the rest of the day we celebrated as best as we could given we could hardly walk, and it was early to bed that night. I needed the sleep, because at 5.30am the next morning I’d be on my way to skipper a boat in the South Head Roughwater Swim.

If you’re thinking of giving this event a go next year I can’t recommend it enough. It’s an awesome adventure race in the heart of Sydney harbour and a great variation to the classic run swim run.

Grab a friend, start training and I’ll see you next year.

SwimRun Training Tips

  • Start training early and plan your training
  • Mix long distance road runs for endurance with runs on undulating tracks that match the course
  • Compliment your pool/ocean swimming with in’s and out’s at the beach (the sand running after the swims is awesome preparation)
  • If you’re going to where hand paddles and a pull-buoy, start training with them early to develop strength and stamina
  • Aim to complete at least two training sessions with all your gear, try to have your gear settled by the last session

SwimRun Gear & Equipment Tips

  • Decide early on whether you’ll be participating in a wetsuit, and then train in what you’ll wear on the day (I wore Vorgee jammers and Jules wore the Vorgee Neptune Race 3/4 Suit)
  • Choose a light pair of shoes that will drain well and have plenty of grip (I wore Salomon Mens Speedcross 3 and Jules wore New Balance Womens Minimus Cross-Training Shoe)
  • Tie your shoelaces in multiple knots and tape together for additional security
  • Tape your feet up, including your toes to avoid blistering
  • Wear a thin belt (we wore the Large Pocket Spibelt) with two small carabiners to clip your paddles into whilst running and use the pocket to store your whistle and nutrition
  • Choose paddles that are the right size for you to be able to maintain speed and efficiency throughout the race (We used Vorgee Hand Paddles)
  • Attach your pull-buoy to your upper thigh by using bungycord (We used Vorgee 4-Layer Pull Buoys)
  • Connect your whistle (we used the Fox 40 Classic Pealess Whistle from Mountain Designs) your swimsuit, or place in your belt pocket
  • Wear thin lightweight socks (we wore the gococo socks supplied in our race packs)
  • After training in our Vorgee Missiles, we decided not to wear any googles to reduce the fuss entering and exiting the water. If you wear them, make sure you practice transitions in them. We decided we would use either hand paddles or goggles, but not both.
  • In training we wore lululemon, their range of activewear was perfectly suited to our running and yoga.

First published in May 2016

This post was written by Andre Slade

Andre is the owner of OceanFit with over 20 years in the swimming education, lifeguarding and coastal safety industry.

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