I love swimming. I love running. So what better event for me than Love SwimRun Llanberis?
Here’s the deal…
There are 8 transitions, starting with a run then alternating, crisscrossing Llyn Padarn and climbing the slate quarries that tower over it’s banks.
SwimRunning is a relatively new sport, originating in Sweden in 2006 and slowly spreading across Europe. I’ve been following the growth enviously for a while, but races are traditionally run in pairs and I don’t know anyone who both swims and runs at a matched slow pace to mine. I didn’t fancy being dragged around on the end of a tow rope, (another part of the deal,) and hands up; I’m not a great team player. This Welsh event is one of the few that can be entered solo; when I found it, I couldn’t get my credit card out quick enough!
The nature of SwimRunning brings several technical challenges. Unlike triathlon, there are no transition areas where you can deposit and arrange all your worldly goods, towel and talc your feet, change your outfit and move on refreshed. SwimRun is essentially a journey. Everything you need, you carry. That means running in a wetsuit and swimming in your shoes!
It is the technical side of SwimRun that gave me, (and apparently others,) the most pause for thought. Mandatory kit is surprisingly sparse: wetsuit, shoes, goggles, cup or bottle, a whistle and a tow float for us soloists. Above and beyond that, the world is your oyster. You can spend a lot of money buying specific SwimRun kit; wetsuits that zip down the front so you can strip down on the run segments, quick-draining, minimalist shoes and all sorts of other branded paraphernalia. I decided that I couldn’t justify spending on a one-off event and found to my pleasure that SwimRuns are the make-do crafters paradise.
Here’s My Guide to SwimRun.
Technical challenge 1 – Sinky Feet.
The weight of your shoes is going to drag your feet down in the water. Solution? A pull buoy, which most swimmers use to train with, shoved between your thighs will provide buoyancy. Fasten this to your thigh and it can be swiveled onto your hip for hands-free running. A quick watch of a YouTube video, a screwdriver and a spare elastic shoelace and I’d saved myself 20 quid!
Neoprene calf sleeves can be worn and I even spotted a chap with chunks of a kid’s swim noodle strapped to the top of his trainers! As for shoes; my old faithful innov8 xtalons were absolutely perfect as they drain quickly and boss the trails!
Technical challenge 2 – No Motor.
Using a pull buoy means your kick is down to a faint flutter. (In the pool we use these to train and strengthen our arm stroke.) Many SwimRunners use hand paddles to counteract this. Again, this was kit I already owned, but, using these for long periods pulls on my weakling shoulders. I had a long talk with myself over paddles! In the end, timing that they gave me an extra 9 secs per 100m was the deciding factor. Neoprene webbed gloves are another option.
Technical Challenge 3 – Carrying Stuff.
Stuff I needed to carry. Pull buoy, (hands-free), paddles, cup or bottle, goggles, swim cap, ear-plugs and cup, (I’d decided to rely on the aid stations for nutrition.) Again commercial solutions were available at a price which I was determined to avoid. A chance encounter with some experienced SwimRunners at Gaddings imparted the following wisdom; “shove everything in your suit.”
So, harking back to my clubbing days when I’d go out with a tenner in my bra, my flexi-cup went up one leg and my earplugs were stuck up my sleeve, (after running in them, I found my breathing was magnified in my skull to that of a hyperventilating, asthmatic elephant.)
It seemed entirely practical to me to carry my cap and goggles on my head; though I watched others stash these inside their wetsuits too. What better way to carry my hand paddles than on my hands with the straps provided? I found I could chuck my tow float over my shoulder on slower sections or carry it with the handle for the rest.
Others lugged dry bags and one lady had rather ingeniously sewn a mesh pocket onto the vest she wore under her wetsuit, perfect for a soft bottle and a couple of gels!
Technical Challenge 4 – I Ain’t Yo Mama!
At all other swim events I have done there have been marshals ankle deep in the water who haul you out and check that your wobbly legs will hold you before letting go. Not here! Nor is there a nice rubber mat to aid you as you emerge. The entry and exit points are another technical aspect to SwimRun; at Llanberis they involved a bit of scrambling up slippery rocks and avoiding sharp slate.
I found the key to this was running through a checklist in my mind. Usually as I enter the water I set off with a few breaststroke strokes to get me going. Result? My pull buoy floated askew! I needed to make sure my goggles were properly on before my hands were incapacitated by the paddles. On exit, a quick flick would twist my float around so I had my legs free and I slipped off my paddles as I floated in so my hands could be used if necessary.
Technical Challenge 5 – Due Respect
Although the distances don’t sound massive, this is definitely an endurance event. It was stunningly beautiful but also tough and I was out for 3hrs. Nutrition is important and pacing yourself for the final long sections key.
Saying that, it wasn’t as intimidating as I expected. There was a great craic with lots of novices as nervous as each other. On paper SwimRunning sounds complicated but it’s really not. This was the best event I’ve done in ages and I can’t wait to have another go!