My First Swimrun: 5 Lessons Learned

Swimming in shoes and running in a wetsuit: Rick Pearson enters the eccentric world of swimrun – and learns some hard-won lessons along the way

Like many of the best ideas, swimrun began as a drunken bet. Two sizzled Swedes challenged each other to swim between and run across a selection of the islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago. The result was ÖTILLÖ, a mammoth swimrun involving 65K of running and 10K of swimming that’s now considered one of the world’s toughest one-day races. There are now a number of similar events in the UK including Llyn i Llyn, which literally translates as ‘Lake to Lake’. It takes in 6.3K of swimming and 33.3K of running. I raced it in the summer, and here is what I learned:

Teamwork makes the dream work

One of the rules of swimrun is that you must complete it as part of a two-person team. Picking the right partner, therefore, is absolutely vital. The winning team of Alex Warner and Andy Morgan know all about the importance of teamwork.

“We both did Ironman 70.3 at the end of June so carried a lot of that fitness into the race,” said Warner. “My advice is to pick your teammate carefully: someone you’re prepared to spend long periods of time with and who can endure the highs and lows of race day. Teamwork was essential to our victory.”

Practice makes perfect

My First Swim Run

Swimrun poses two unique challenges: swimming in shoes and running in a wetsuit. Neither is particularly efficient, but both can be made more manageable by being practised beforehand. We headed to Hampstead Heath for a dress rehearsal, and I had a few more shoes-on swims in a Canadian lake while on holiday. It made the whole prospect of swimrun that little bit less intimidating.

Work on your weaknesses

If you’re reading this article, chances are you do a bit of running. However, if your swimming is more Eric the Eel than Michael Phelps, you’re going to struggle during a swimrun. Much better to be decent at both disciplines than incredible at one and awful at the other. To this end, we focused more on the swimming element of the race, confident that the running aspect would take care of itself. And, by and large, it worked.

Get attached

As mentioned above, swim-run requires that you compete as part of a two-person team, staying within 10m of your partner in the water and 100m on land. For this reason, many pairs choose to compete attached by a bungee cord. We decided against this, and soon regretted it. While the cord is less important on land – unless one of you is a much better runner than the other, in which case you probably should pick another partner – it’s useful in the water, where it’s easy to lose sight of your teammate.

Invest in the right gear

While not as gear-orientated as triathlon, swimrun does require a certain amount of gear to make the experience as pleasurable as possible. I opted for a Zone3 Evolution wetsuit. Specially designed for swimrun, it has a number of smart features, including pockets and a front zip that you can pull down during the running segment. In addition, you’ll need some fast-draining trail shoes and a pair of leak-free goggles. A pull buoy is also highly recommended to help keep your legs more buoyant. Follow this how-to video on how to modify your pull buoy for the rigours of swimrun.

For more information on the Llyn i Llyn swimrun, visit

Rick Pearson

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