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Are you ready for your first swimrun?

Building up your tolerance to cold water is crucial for some races

When Breca Swimrun asked me to write a short guide for swimrun beginners it was a great opportunity to sit down and get my thoughts straight. I've been involved in endurance sports of so long it's important to take time when writing advice for beginners not to assume too much. The article below first appeared in the Breca newsletter in Feb 2019.

You can also get a free Real Endurance Coaching designed 'Beginner to Sprint 12 Week Swimrun Training Program', just go to and sign up for their newsletter.

Thinking of doing your first swimrun? Not sure if you are ready for it? Swimrun is a new and growing sport so you’re not alone in wanting to give it a go. You’ll probably be surprised at how accessible it is to beginners. 


Firstly, which race should you choose? Well the best Breca events for a beginner in the UK are the sprint distance races at Buttermere and Coniston. Both have their swims in fresh-water lakes meaning you don't need to worry about waves or currents and the distances and elevation profiles mean that they're challenging but achievable.


Diving into a bit of detail and breaking down the races makes it easier to see what you need to be ready for. Buttermere and Coniston sprint courses are about 19-21km in total, with up to 18km of running and around 3km of swimming. These distances are split into up to 8 runs and 8 swims with the longest run section being under 7.5km and the longest swim section being less than 900 metres. All this adds up to finishing times ranging from 2.5 hours for the winner to 4.5 hours for the back markers.  


For most people the biggest barrier to racing a swimrun is a worry about the amount open-water swimming experience needed. Sprint distance swimrun races are designed to be accessible with straightforward navigation and shorter swim sections. Remember, you'll have the buoyancy of a wet-suit and a nice big pull-buoy to help you out. You'll be floating high in the water before you even start swimming! Add to that the benefit gained by using hand paddles and a tether and the swims aren’t as hard as you might think.  It's rare to be out of breath in the swim sections, it's more about settling into a nice relaxed rhythm and navigating the shortest route to the exit. 


What about the running, is that doable?  Don’t feel daunted by the total distance. Splitting up an 18km run into 8 sections, many of which are less than a mile, makes the process much more manageable with less muscle fatigue than you would have from a continuous long run. Plus your legs have a chance to rest in nice cool water between each run!


How fit do you need to be? The duration of a sprint race time-wise suggests it's similar to a marathon but that would be an over-simplification. By splitting up the distance into smaller sections of swimming and running it's both psychologically and physically more manageable than a marathon and you certainly don't need 7% body-fat and a heart the size of a balloon to race, finish and enjoy a swimrun!

So, can you do it? Well obviously the answer depends on you as an individual but the following checklist should act as a good starting point for making a decision:

1)      Can you swim 1000m non-stop in swimming pool?

2)      Can you run 5km without stopping?

3)      Have you got 10-12 weeks to train 3-4 times per week in the lead up to the race?

4)      Do you have access to an open-water swimming venue to practice once a week?

You don’t have to answer ‘yes’ to all those questions, but they should give you a framework for deciding whether you are ready to have a go. If you have done an open water sprint triathlon you are certainly capable of a sprint swimrun with a little bit of specific training and if you’ve done an Olympic distance triathlon you’ll be fine!

And if you don’t think you’re quite ready, why not volunteer at a Breca event first to get a taste of what’s involved? You’ll gain an insight into how a swimrun works and be able to experience the atmosphere before giving it a go yourself.



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