A SwimRun adventure with Sophie

Sports physio Sophie Apps has been trying out the sport of SwimRun – and here she gives her verdict, and her advice for anyone else who’s thinking of giving it a go! 

I’d been planning to do a SwimRun race for ages, but finding one that suited my needs turned out to be trickier than I’d expected. Choices are generally a long-distance event in the UK, or a far-off land requiring a lot of training, or distances that (in my opinion) seem too small to actually take the effort to travel to the end of the country to get to.

Physio Sophie advises SwimRun athletes

Sunshine and clear skies for Sophie’s SwimRun

But I finally found an 18km event in North Wales (Holy Island), which seemed like a great opportunity to kick start my SwimRun experience. The video trailer for the event made it look awesome – and after doing a bit of persuasion I found myself a team mate but another team of friends to compete against. This was going to be a great event! Even better, we’d imagined that a race in late September, in North Wales after storms battered the UK, would be wet and windy but we totally lucked out with sunshine and clear skies.

Race registration took place on the Friday night, and once we’d done that, we were all set to race on the Saturday morning. We were competing as and against single-sex teams; but my friends and I had formed a girls’ team and a boys’ team so we had our own internal competition as well. On the day, the female teams set off 5 mins before the boys so the pressure was on to keep ahead!

The route for the Holy Island SwimRun event

The event itself is a 18k total distance running and swimming along the North West to South coastline of Holy Island. The course consists of 5 swims and 6 runs, which felt like a good mix. The majority of the runs are along trails hugging the coastline, and you dip in and out of the sea, swimming various bays along the way.

Throughout my training period, I took a long time considering and testing my equipment. There is some mandatory kit, and – props to the event organisers – one of these items was a reusable cup, and they provided water only, with no plastic water bottles.  This was to avoid anyone disposing of plastic along the course. Otherwise we just needed a wetsuit, shoes and a buoy or paddles.

  • Wetsuit: My wetsuit of choice was a Zone3 swim-run wetsuit, essentially a shortie with detachable arms, a zip at the front and a pocket/pouch at the back. It was really comfortable to race in and I’d recommend it to anyone considering doing a SwimRun.
  • Shoes: These are the next biggest choice. I’d previously trialled swimming in my usual Asics trainers, but they really didn’t work for me, so instead I wore a pair of trail trainers.  I’d usually wear these for cross country events but they proved great on the day.
  • You also have the option to carry a pull buoy and/or hand paddles. I chose not to have either, but most competitors had a pull buoy strapped to their thigh (they still had to carry it throughout the runs, when they’d switch it to the outside of their leg). I have to say I didn’t feel as though I needed it, and from a physio perspective, I suspect that using a buoy might put unnecessary stress through the shoulder joints when sea swimming.

Whenever you try a new event, it’s important to test your kit in training first – this really helped me to feel comfortable throughout the race. There is a lot of kit advertised online but really you only know what you like from testing it. This can be an expensive way to experiment but it makes all the difference on race day

The trail sections of the run were hard and after the third swim, I felt zapped of energy and needed a banana and some Shot Bloks to give me some pep. I’d underestimated how hard it was to swim out of the bays against the current and navigate through rocks so needed the extra energy to get to that finish line!

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

My team mate and I came in 5th female team to cross the line after 2 hours and 41 minutes of hard work – better than that was the fact that we beat the boys, who came in 6 mins behind us!

All in all, the course was well marshalled and had lots of safety teams out on the water in kayaks or paddle boards, but it was still a challenge! The friendly and laid-back atmosphere surrounding the race was perfect for me so I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a different type of adventure or just to go somewhere new. Similarly, the North Wales scenery was amazing – it was awesome racing through this wild landscape.

What I’ve learned from doing this type of event is that it’s really important to keep a good focus on lots of different types of training – not just endurance work. Of course, ideally you’d replicate the actual event by practising changing between running and swimming, multiple times – but in real life this is pretty hard, as most swimming pools won’t let you swim with your trainers on, let alone allow you to run around the block in your swimming costume, only to return and swim lanes again!

Assuming that’s not possible, though, I would suggest that you replicate this as far as possible, and then supplement it with gym workouts that vary between training upper body and lower body and then both, to build both endurance and strength.  I’ll dive into that further next week, with a SwimRun training programme.

For my part, when I finished the race, I found that my shoulders and upper back had really felt the strain of fighting against the currents of the bays, so before my next SwimRun race, I’ll be doing more press-ups and chin-ups to prepare myself!

If you’re planning to take on a SwimRun yourself, or if you’re looking for a new challenge for 2019, don’t forget to read my next blog about training programmes!  Or, if you need help fast, call us on 0207 175 0150. Come and see me at Victory for a really thorough, 90-minute physiotherapy assessment which will include a good look at your training and some advice to get you fit and ready to tackle the distance!