Catching runners to get a lift

Swimming efficiently in the ocean is all about getting as much from the ocean as possible.

Whether you’re timing your swim on the surf cycles and patterns, riding the currents, or catching a ride with the waves, you’re using the ocean movements to your advantage.

One of the little known advantages you can get from the open water is through the ‘working’ of swell ‘runners’ to catch a lift forward as you swim towards the shore.

Every time a swell rolls underneath you, from behind, it will lift you and propel you forward with it.

If you were to do nothing (keep swimming as usual), you’d still be slightly benefiting from the lift. You might feel like you’re getting a little helping hand.

But, if you were to ‘work’ the swell runners by increasing your effort as it rolled underneath you, you would benefit from an exponential lift and gain a significant advantage.

Either way, what you’ll experience will be a greater distance per stroke for the time you’re riding the runner.

To get the most out of the runners you’ll need to continually keep an eye behind you to see when the next swell is about to reach you. As it is about to catch you, start to increase your swimming effort/speed so that you’ll closer match the speed of the runner. Keep up the effort until you feel the swell sneak ahead, it may even feel like you’ve fallen down the back of the swell into the trough.

Increasing swimming effort means you will need to have a ‘2nd gear’, so if you only have the one speed, then this might not be for you. Derive the speed from a stronger/faster kick and pull phase, but don’t confuse arm speed with swimming speed.

In deeper water when the swell is flatter, you’ll get a slight lift, but as you get closer to shore and into shallower water, the swell will start to stand up, with a steeper face, which will, in turn, give you more of a lift.

Try this technique with a friend of similar speed next time you’re ocean swimming, with one person working the runners and the other swimming as normal. You’ll quickly see the benefit in working the runners.

How to catch a swell runner

  1. As you’re swimming towards the shore, sight backwards to look for approaching swell lines
  2. As the swell reaches you, but before it gets to you, start to increase your swimming effort/speed to more closely match the speed of the swell
  3. As the swell rolls underneath you, ride it as long as you can
  4. When you feel the swell sneak ahead, bring your speed back to normal, and check behind for the next approaching swell.
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