Thinking of doing the wonderful Lock to Lock SwimRun this September? Here is a beginners' guide to understanding swimrun gear, as well as money-saving suggestions for getting by without the big outlay.
The Lock to Lock SwimRun has two options: a half stump and a full stump.
Half stump consists of 1.2k swim, 7k run.
Full stump is a 1.2k swim, 7k run, 1.6k swim, 450m dash, 1k swim, 6k run.
If you’re doing the half-stump, you won’t need any new kit. You can swim skins (let them know on your entry form; you’ll need a tow float, though) or in a regular wetsuit, and you will swap your wetsuit for your trainers at the transition. Your trainers (and any other running equipment, t-shirt, etc.) will all be taken over to the transition point for you and your wetsuit will be picked up from there and left for you to collect at the tea tent. You can use some of the kit here – but you don’t need it.
If you’re doing the full stump, you will need to consider your kit requirements.
In a swimrun, you’ll be swimming in your training shoes. Your shoes will get heavy, which will affect your swimming position, but you can counter the drag created by lowered feet with a pull buoy and/or neoprene calf guards (see below). Swimrun trainers are designed to limit the problems created by swimming in shoes. As with any running shoe, the best shoe is the one that you like when you try it.
Key features of swimrun shoes are that they:
• are lightweight and buoyant,
• drain well,
• have a good grip.
Swimrun is still a niche sport so the cost of the shoes is quite high; you’re likely to be spending upwards of £100. If swimrun is going to be a regular part of your life, it might be worth the expense. But what if you’re just testing out the sport or not planning to do a lot of swimruns – or maybe for environmental concerns, you’re keen not to go down the infinite kit-acquisition tunnel?
Can you do the event in normal trainers?
Yes! But do practise in advance of the event so you get used to the feel of swimming in trainers. You don’t need to spend anything extra, however, if you’re going to get some new running shoes and want to ensure they’re also OK for a swimrun, bear in mind:
• Some fabrics will hold more water than others; mesh uppers are pretty good for a swim-run
• Go lightweight
• Look for shoes with a good grip
• Shoes with a snug fit will stay on better in the water
• A light trail shoe is a good starting point for your searches
Pimp your trainers
You could customise some cheaper, regular trainers – or use a pair of trainers that are no longer good enough for your usual runs. For drainage, drill holes in the soles. Two to four small holes in the soles can make a difference but the holes must be very small – you want the water to drain out without grit coming in. One site suggests drilling a hole not in the soles of the shoes but in the arches to minimise the risk of grit getting in. You could also swap the regular laces for elastic ones so that if any grit does get in and need emptying out, cold fingers don’t have to fumble with laces.
Whatever your decision on trainers, remember that the most important feature is that they are comfortable to run in. And while we’re down at your feet, synthetic socks will be best after a soaking in the water.
Tow your trainers
What If you find your trainers are just too much of a drag? An option is to stow your trainers in a tow float. This is something to really practise before the event, but some participants have successfully placed their trainers in a near empty tow float for the swim section and then taken them out for the run. The time taken can offset that drag…. But go for no lace trainers and a good accessible stowing-type tow float and you can well do away with the soggy trainers, the calf guards and the pull buoy (see below)!
Moving on up…
What are those bits of neoprene on the legs of swim-runners? These sock-like tubes are designed to protect exposed legs from brambles or rocks, and provide some buoyancy to compensate for the weight of swimming in trainers. The compression might also limit fatigue. This piece of kit is going to cost you around £30 to £40.
We came across one swim-runner who used the calf section of a wetsuit for a calf guards. He found that he needed socks underneath the home-made calf guards to keep them in place.
If you have calf guards, you may not need the next piece of kit – a pull buoy.
This relatively cheap piece of kit - you may already have one - is highly recommended. Swimming in trainers will alter your body position, increasing drag. A pull buoy will help counter this. Although a pull buoy will limit your kick, many swim-runners prefer to use just the pull buoy and no calf guards. Some choose to use both.
You can carry a pull buoy round the course but it’s quite easy to adapt so you can wear it. Put four holes in your pull buoy and thread a bungee cord through to make two loops that go over one leg, knotting the cord on the other side. When you’re swimming, you can put the buoy between your legs then while running, move the pull buoy to your outside thigh. It’s worth giving this a test run and swim before using it for an event.
Of course, you can pay for a special swimrun pull buoy for around £20 but we could see no advantages in these when a regular pull buoy can be purchased for under £10.
The most essential piece of swimrun equipment is a the swimrun wetsuit - typically with a front zip, long, short, sleeveless or removable sleeves, and cut just above the knees. Fit for wetsuits of any kind is so very individual that finding the perfect fit, for essentially a second skin, can be really tricky!
The crucial thing about a swimrun wetsuit is that you have to be able to freely rotate your shoulders and arms with little or no resistance - and run in it without it affecting your stride. Any extra work you have to put in fighting the neoprene whilst swimming or running is extra fatigue which you really don’t need or want!
You may find that you have to put up with a slightly looser fit that causes some flushing of water and will cool you down, but this can be helped by the wearing a sleeveless rash vest or trisuit underneath to bulk up and insulate without restricting the arms. If possible, try before you buy to see what might work best for you.
If this is your first swimrun there is no reason why you can’t go in a wetsuit you already have. A regular full swimming wetsuit will do a good job for you in the swimming stages, it will just take a bit more getting used to when you find yourself out running on dry land. It may be too hot to run in a full wetsuit even with the top down but worth considering on a cool autumn day.
If you’ve got a cheap or old suit why not customise it into a shorty? Cutting a full wetsuit just above the knees and keeping the long sleeves (this can stop so much flushing of water through the suit, as well as insulating your arms) or cut above the elbows as well and you have the full wetsuit shorty. If you don’t have an old wetsuit to hand, you could always pick up an ex demo or second-hand suit to modify.
If you don’t want to compromise with your wetsuit and fancy looking for a new swimrun model they have great features but are an investment.
Zippers: usually a front zipper which tend to be longer than usual to aid the removal of the top half when running and allows ventilation when you want to cool yourself during the long runs, also giving you space to breath.
Pockets: Swimrun wetsuits feature accessible inner pockets for carrying things like snacks, earplugs, spare goggles. Some have external pockets on the back as well, like a cycling jersey.
Different thicknesses of neoprene: Swimrun wetsuits can vary between 1.5mm to 8mm - a greater range than normal swimming wetsuits, For instance 1.5mm placed around the arms and shoulders gives extra flexibility, 2mm around the hips will allow for free movement when running, 4-5mm on the body will give buoyancy, while 6-8mm on the front thighs gives extra buoyancy and an optimal swim position when swimming with shoes on.
Tough fabric: Nylon panels are sometimes placed between the legs to reduce the frictional damage that could occur when running with the suit on.
Glued seams: Seams maybe be glued, without over stitching, to help prevent chaffing.
Rubber seals: Short arm and leg designs often feature a rubberised leak-proof sleeve and leg cuffs to prevent them from rising up and prevents flushing of cold water into the suit.
Waist loops: These allow you attach extra equipment to your waist like a tow float if you are using one.
Prepared for cutting: Full swimrun wetsuits often have silicone or rubber tapes inside the arms and legs where you can cut them off you decide you want to customise it into a shorty.
Whistle: A bonus and built-in, as well as a great safety feature!
Bright: Most recent swimrun suits have bright coloured neoprene, instead of the traditional black. This means much better visibility in and out of the water but also helps to stop extra heat being absorbed into the suit on a sunny day.
Swimrun events allow for the use of these hand accessories which add extra power to your stroke by increasing the ‘catch’. There are many different kinds, but you really need to have trained with them, have a really good technique, and have good strength to be able to use then over long distances otherwise it can put a lot of strain on your shoulders and back muscles and you don’t want extra fatigue or worse injury! You’ll also need to think about how you are going to carry them on your runs and practice your transitions – exiting the river can be hard when you have paddles on your hands! Half paddles seem like a good compromise.
And then the normal stuff you need for any open-water swim…
Cold water in the ears can be uncomfortable and affect the balance nerve resulting in some dizziness or disorientation. A pair of earplugs often solves the problem. If you want to take them out when running, think about how you will carry them.
Goggles are essential and you will need them to have clear vision for sighting in open water. Also really important to have a pair that you have tried and tested. Some participants carry a spare pair of goggles in case they lose them whilst running. Also think about how you are going to carry them if you take them off your head to run.
Swim Oxford provides the swimming cap for their Lock to Lock SwimRun event. If the water is really chilly you should consider wearing two caps or a neoprene cap underneath. The Lock to Lock caps are in bright colours so easy to see in the water making you more visible to boats etc. We find that they really last, so proudly keep yours and add to your growing collection.
The Lock to Lock events are known for their very supportive ethos, so if you need a challenge and consider this gem of an event happening 19th September. Tickets available here but close on the the 14th September. See the Swim Oxford website for more information www.swimoxford.co.uk
All photographs are from the Lock to Lock SwimRun event.