The ultimate guide - everything you need to know about swimrun training

The ultimate guide: Everything you need to know about swimrun training

Key learnings
In swimrun, you often find yourself in places you never thought of going before – totally surrounded by nature. And even if the swimrun event course is set, it is up to you to find the best way through the terrain. Consequently, most athletes we know got into the sport because of its challenge and adventure.

This article will help you prepare and make the most of your swimrun training and racing. Here we go…

How do you train for a swimrun event?

Compared to, for example, triathlon, with its “clinical setting”, swimrun training and racing is more “it depends”. Let me explain…

In swimrun, you often find yourself in places you never thought of going before – totally surrounded by nature. And even if the event course is set, you must find the best way through the terrain. It is very liberating.

Obviously, you have to put time into training for swimming and running. However, for practical reasons (i.e., weather and water temperature), you must do most preseason swim training in the pool.

But as soon as the climate admits, you should practice open water swimming and navigation. As well as the run-swim-run transitions.

On the other hand, running is a year-round combination of trail and road running – usually perceived as the less intimidating part of the swimrun training.

To become a good swimrunner and (at least) enjoy the experience, you need to be skilled at tackling the unknown – the “it depends” that nature ultimately brings.

How do I train for a swimrun event
In swimrun, you are taken on a journey through the wild and rugged landscapes of nature, where the beauty and serenity of the surroundings are matched only by the challenge of the course. The crystal-clear waters of the lakes and the oceans and the lush greenery of the forests. All provide a breathtaking backdrop to your adventure. The freedom to explore the terrain and find your own way through the course is what sets this sport apart and what makes swimrun so addictive.

Components of swimrun training

When planning and implementing your swimrun training, keep the below training strategies in mind to help build endurance and navigate the course efficiently.

Swim training: Focus on improving your endurance and technique in the water. To do that, get into the water and incorporate both pool and open water swimming into your workout.

Run training: Build up your running mileage by including hill and trail runs to simulate the terrain of a swimrun race. Start slow and escalate the volume as your fitness improves.

Transition training: Practice transitioning between swimming and running (and vice versa) to get a feel for the sport’s unique demands and improve your transition efficiency.

Strength and conditioning: Build solid core strength to help with swimming and running. Mix exercises such as planks, pushups, and pull-ups; start every morning with a 10-minute core routine.

Endurance: Build up your overall endurance by gradually increasing the volume and intensity in both swimming and running.

Mental preparation: Swimrun training and racing are challenging, so it’s essential to work on your mental toughness and practice visualization, breathing, and meditation techniques.

Race simulation: Include training sessions with your partner, and simulate the conditions of a swimrun race, for example, team pacing, transitions, and swimming with a towline.

Tackling the unknown in swimrun training and racing
Swimrun provides a unique and thrilling experience that you’ll never forget. The sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie with other athletes is something special. You’ll push your limits and find yourself capable of much more than you ever thought possible. That’s why most athletes we know got into the sport because of its challenge and adventure. They wanted to test their mettle and discover the beauty of the natural world, and swimrun gave them the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Structure and purpose in swimrun training

A well-structured swimrun training plan is a great tool to combine all the above components to achieve your swimrun goal.

The training plan aims to help you focus on specific areas of your training, avoid burnout and injury, and make steady progress toward your target. It also allows you to track your progress and make adjustments as needed. Additionally, incorporating consistency and variety in your training plan keeps the body challenged and prevents boredom.

Need some help? Take your swimrun game to the next level by signing up for our 12 or 24-week swimrun training plans.

Before we dive even deeper into the swimrun training aspects, let us briefly discuss swimrun gear.

What equipment do you need for swimrun?

The equipment needed for swimrun varies depending on the specific event and the conditions. Except for the regular swim gear like goggles, pull buoy, and paddles, there is some general equipment you need (or want to have) in your swimrun training and racing.

Swimrun paddles
Having a pair of paddles is an absolute must for any swimrunner. They are essential for building strength, endurance, and proper form. They can also give you the competitive edge you need to perform at your best during swimrun events. So, if you’re serious about swimrun, make sure you invest in a good pair of paddles and start reaping the benefits. Guess what ÖTILLÖ course Ville has mapped out on his paddles?

First and foremost, you need to have a wetsuit. It provides buoyancy and helps to protect against hypothermia in cold water. In context, a colorful neoprene swim cap is often required to help you stay warm and to make you more visible in the water.

On the same note, for safety reasons, a personal floating device is a great companion during swimrun training. Especially if you are open water swimming on your own. As a bonus, it usually includes a waterproof pocket fitting your keys and wallet.

Most events ask for a towline, connecting both teammates for safety reasons. It is also an excellent help when drafting during the swim sections. And that is not only during the event but also during swimrun training.

For more personal gear, we include swimrun-specific shoes. Those shoes are designed for both swimming and running, with drainage holes to let the water out and a good grip for running on wet and slippery surfaces.

A final note: Before race day, read the PM to check the specific equipment requirements for your event.
Find your calm when open wtare swimming
As you glide through the water, the only sounds you can hear are the gentle lapping of the waves and the rhythm of your own breath. You find your calm and continue.

Open water swimming

It is expected that beginners to swimrun training, or even experienced athletes, feel reluctant to jump into “the dark abyss”. Especially if the conditions are cold and choppy.

An excellent first step in your learning process toward mastering open water swimming is to get into the water. Just immerse yourself, and float on your back for a while to get comfortable and calm. Focus on breathing and acknowledge that the wetsuit keeps you on the surface. 

After that, roll over and start to look down. Again – find your calm. When you are comfy in the water, start doing some swim strokes to get the feeling of it. Keep close to your bathing jetty, beach, or boat.

And suddenly, off you go…

Open water navigation

The next step is navigating. Since you can not see where you are going while swimming freestyle (crawl), you need to look up to know that you are traveling in the right direction.

When looking up, lift your head enough for your eyes to be just above the surface. However, when you raise your head above the surface, your legs start to sink, creating lots of drag that will stop you from propelling forward.

So, when looking up to navigate, do it with your lead arm stretched out in front of you. And wait to start your next stroke until you have your head in its natural position, looking down.

Navigating short swims is easier. It is more point-and-shoot. But the longer the swim, the harder it gets. And during some swims, you must look up multiple navigational points to swim towards.

  • If you are doing a swimrun event with lots of swim sections, it can be beneficial to go in advance and check for reference points. Or use a map to do your research and planning.
  • When choosing a reference point, it should be easy to spot since you only raise your head for a short time.
  • Consider tall reference points that stand out from the water’s surface. Or color changes in nature so that you have an easy target to swim towards.

Speaking of navigation. During a race, it is, of course, vital to know where you are. So when you do the swimrun training to prepare for your next event, ensure you get all the swim and run splits right. This will save you valuable time and energy.

Open water triangulation

While swimrun training in open water, safety should be your top priority. And one way to stay safe is to know where you are in the body of water. So that you can adapt to your surroundings. Maybe there is a current, or the wind pushes you off course.

Therefore, triangulation is a crucial skill you should learn to better understand where you are in the water. And you can only reach your goal if you know where you start.

So, triangulation is a technique where you look for reference points on land and try to line up to stay between them. Creating a triangle between your reference points and yourself.

The goal which you navigate towards needs to lie inside of the triangle.

After finding your reference points, you need to memorize how they sit in relation to each other. Since you do not swim and look up all the time, you need to have a clear mental picture of where you want to be when you raise your head to navigate.

Well, practice makes perfect. So give yourself appropriate time during swimrun training to work on skills like navigation and triangulation.

Open water in swimrun
As the starting gun fires, you dive into the water, feeling the chill on your skin as you swim through the waves. The current is strong, and the water is choppy, but you have practiced for this. You know how to navigate through the water and emerge victorious from the waves.

Differences between open water and pool swimming

Although the technique is similar, open water and pool swimming are distinct variations of the sport of swimming.

Open water swimming occurs in natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. The conditions in open water can vary significantly due to currents, waves, and water temperatures. As a swimrunner, you also have to contend with other environmental factors such as sun, wind, and cold.

On the other hand, pool swimming takes place in a controlled environment, and the water is typically heated. Except for kids (and adults) who play around and stir up the water, the conditions are consistent. Another convenient variable is that the pool is marked with lanes, making navigation a breeze. And since you usually swim in a designated area, typically around 25 or 50 meters, you have total control of training variables like pacing and distance.

Again, to fully enjoy the swimrun experience, you need to be skilled at tackling the unknown – the “it depends” that nature ultimately brings. Therefore, as soon you can start practicing open water swimming.

Swim drills and endurance session

To make swim training more tangible, here is an example swim session from one of our swimrun training plans.

As you can see, this workout assumes that you are swimming in a 25-meter (yard) pool. If you have access to a 50-meter pool, then adjust accordingly.

Swim drills and endurance session

The warmup is meant to get you into the correct swim pattern.

  • Split up the 75 by first swimming freestyle (crawl) for 25. Then you continue with two drills – zipper and catch up – for 25 each; iterate this four times.
  • Rest between each 25 for 20 seconds.
  • Then do the upside-down paddle drill 2 times 75. Again, catch your breath for 20 seconds between each 75.
Swim drills and endurance session warmup

Next up is a series of endurance and tempo intervals. And you repeat all of it four times. Between each interval, rest for 20 seconds.

  • Start with 200 in your zone 2 speed. It should be a comfortable swim where you allow yourself to think about your technique.
  • If you have difficulty swimming the distance, add a pull buoy. To add more of the strength component, use your paddles.
  • Then we want you to alter your swim pace. Visualize each 75 as three parts (well, 25 each!) that you swim in a sequence without interruption. The first part swims in zone 2 and then escalate each 25 to zone 3 and 4. Iterate this three times.
Swim drills and endurance session series

Finish up the session with 200 – glide as far as you can on each stroke. Swimming should not become a stroke-glide-sink situation. So adjust your swim cadence to make it work for you. However, this part is about cooling down – so stay relaxed.

Swim drills and endurance session cooldown

How do you transition between swimming and running in swimrun?

The buttery essence of swimrun lies in the amphibious element. You are constantly in motion, going seamlessly through nature, from land to sea, and back up again.

There is a lot of energy and time saved in being efficient in your transitions, so it is vital to master it.

Unfortunately, our experience is that it is often overlooked. Therefore, in all our swimrun training plans, we help you prepare for the transitions.

When is the time to go from swimming to running?

We teach that you should stand up and move on foot when you start to hit the seafloor with your paddle.

Up to that point, in most cases, you travel faster by swimming than by wading.

Swimrun transitions
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of camaraderie and support during a swimrun event. And that’s exactly what I experienced when my swimrun teammate gave me a helping hand out of the water during a particularly challenging transition.

A smooth transition

The transition between swimming and running can be challenging, but with the proper techniques and practice, it can be made smooth. Here are some tips to help you master the transition.

  • To state the obvious – practice transitioning between swimming and running during your swimrun training to get a feel for the unique demands.
  • Understand when and how to remove your goggles and clear your eyes as you leave the water.
  • Unless it is freezing conditions, remove your swim cap when you leave the water to cool down and avoid overheating during the run.
  • Check your equipment and make sure it is properly secured and in place before beginning the run.
  • Help your partner exit the water safely. Try not to rush, but take your time. Remember that a good transition can save you seconds, but a bad one can cost you minutes (or the entire race!).
Trail running shoes for swimrun
Having the right shoes for swimrun can greatly enhance your performance and comfort by providing better grip and traction on different terrains, protecting your feet, and having a proper fit. It’s important to choose shoes that are specifically designed for swimrun and are suitable for the course you’ll be running.

Trail running in swimrun

One of the joys of running is that it is a straightforward and portable sport. However, it is well worth investing time and money in a competent running shop and getting them to fit you with the right shoes for off-road running.

Your training is year-round and combines trail and road running. Before we go on, it is worth mentioning…

  • Trail running is more demanding than road running because of the hills and uneven terrain – making it necessary to run slower.
  • Sometimes the trails are technical, slippery, rocky, and loose. So it is best to stay alert and keep your eye on the ground (not your sports watch!).
  • Speaking of…seeing your pace on a GPS watch is handy. However, if your path is hilly and technical, you are better off training with your heart rate training zones.
Trail running as a swimrunner
Trail running is an exhilarating and challenging experience that takes you off the pavement and into the great outdoors. Unlike road running, trail running requires you to navigate through hills and uneven terrain, which can make it more demanding and physically demanding. It’s not uncommon to have to run slower on trails to maintain balance and avoid injury, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.

Transition your running to any trail surface

At the beginning of your preseason, start by building a solid foundation of short and easy sessions before adding distance and pacing in the trails.

  • We advise you to do all your interval workouts on the road or track and easy runs off-road.
  • To increase your running ability, consider our 4-week run training program.

When you develop your fitness and skills, you are better off doing the real thing off-road. However, let your body adjust by escalating the complexity of your run sessions, going from dirt roads to buffed-out trails to animal paths.

  • As you get more confident, transition your running to any trail surface. And soon, you will find yourself comfortable running fast in very technical terrain.

To integrate your running and swimming, we offer a 12 or 24-week swimrun training plan that is fully individualized. Check it out!

Transition your trail running to any surface
When you’re on the trails, you’re surrounded by nature in all its raw beauty. The sights, sounds, and smells of the forest, the mountains, or the ocean are an ever-changing backdrop to your adventure. It’s a humbling experience that reminds you of the majesty of the world around you.

Trail run session with hill repeats

Hill repeats are an excellent way to build run strength, improve speed, and develop confidence off the road. So try this workout next time you are heading out.

Swimrun training trail run hill repeats session

As always, start your workout with a careful warmup. First, begin by jogging at an easy pace and escalate the intensity so that you end in zone 4.

Switch to some dynamic exercises to activate your lower body and core muscles.

  • Do 2* 1 minute on both Step-ups and Bulgarian split squats with a 1-minute rest between.

Finish the warmup with 10 minutes in zone 2. During that time, including four 15-seconds sprints.

Swimrun training trail run hill repeats warmup

The whole idea with hill repeats is to maintain the same effort at the end of the set as you do at the beginning – so plan accordingly.

  • For 20 minutes, you continuously run uphill at a hard and steady-state tempo. And recovery jog (or walk if needed) on your way down.
  • If this is too demanding, do not stress about it. Start with 10 minutes and add another 2 minutes every second week.
  • As you improve, aim to run uphill for 20 minutes (no downhill recovery).
Swimrun training trail run hill repeats

By now, you should feel leg fatigue. Therefore end the workout with an endurance run in zone 2, but do not overachieve – stay in flat terrain.

Again, when you get stronger, feel free to extend the session. But stay in zone 2.

Swimrun training trail run hill repeats endurance

Diversify your swimrun training with rowing

As much as you love running and swimming, your body and mind are not always up for it. Therefore, we always add rowing as an integral part of our swimrun training plans.

  • Rowing ultimately gets you off your feet – think about it, you get to sit down during your workouts – with zero impact training.
  • The work is spread throughout your body in a rowing stroke, engaging most muscles and muscle groups.
  • The diversity will help smooth imbalances, build core strength, and develop upper body strength.

Sounding like a rowing advertisement!? However, you will improve your running and swimming abilities with rowing.

A team rowing session

In the spirit of swimrun, one great rowing workout you should invite your swimrun partner to is this one.

This challenging ladder session will improve your muscular endurance and anaerobic capacity. And at the same time, build team morale.

  • During each set – one team member rows as hard as possible while the other recovers and cheers on.
Team rowing workout
  • After 10 minutes of warming up, start by rowing 500 meters in a demanding and steady-state tempo.
  • Then get off the rower quickly and have your team member row the same distance.
  • Immediately get back on the rowing machine and go 400 meters, then have your partner row 400 meters.
  • Follow that by each rowing a 300, then a 200, then a 100, in the same steady-state tempo.
  • Cooldown and compare notes!

Mobility and strength in swimrun training

Even if swimrun is a sport with constant change, you more or less move in the same pattern to propel yourself forward.

With that in mind, you want to train your muscles in different positions to move more freely and with greater variation. By creating more options, you lower the risk of injury and improve how well you perform.

When it comes to swimming, you want to maintain the ability to move well through your shoulders. In the running, your lower limbs and knees absorb the impact. Therefore you want to add mobility and strength to your lower body.

  • Single-side exercises should be a top priority since running requires constantly being on one leg. And in swimming, you work on your “diagonals” (asymmetrical).

Swim mobility

In the mobility routine shown in the video above, we walk you through 5 exercises that can be used during the warmup to open up your shoulder.

These five mobility exercises for swimmers are,

  • Sleeper stretch
  • Prone shoulder external rotation
  • Flexion PAILs/RAILs
  • Swimmer hovers
  • Scapula retraction lift-offs

Swim strength

To further help you increase your strength, flexibility, and overall physical mobility as a swimmer, Ville shows you (below video) how you can combine some upper-body strength exercises with core workouts.

Run mobility

We have previously presented a run mobility routine to prepare your lower limbs for upcoming efforts. Perfect during warmup or as part of your training to improve your performance and increase capacity.

In the video below Victor walk you through,

  • Knee rotation PAILs/RAILs
  • Adduction knee hinges
  • Straight leg hip flexion
  • Knee flexion lift-offs
  • Knee CARs

Run strength

In the video below, I engage myself in a combination of burpees, pushups, and running. The workout will develop your endurance and economy in running and build overall strength.

  • Also, to help you maintain stride length and speed late in the run, we have put together 14 strength exercises in a 4-week run strength program.

Common mistakes made in swimrun training

Swimrun is a challenging endurance sport requiring a high level of fitness, endurance, and skill in swimming and running. Over the years of coaching athletes, we have noticed some fatal errors when starting swimrun training.

The first misstep involves a combination of overestimating the abilities while underestimating the training required. Again, swimrun might be the ultimate endurance sport, which requires serious effort – over time. And with a poor analysis of strengths and weaknesses, training tends to be more of the same rather than what you need.

Next, we find the athletes neglecting training for the swimrun terrain and water conditions. It is unfortunately all too common to only swim in a pool and run on flat and prepared trails, not mimicking the circumstances of swimrun.

However, those mistakes can be easily avoided with proper guidance. And the recipe for success is a well-structured training plan.

The swimrun training plan

By now, you understand the matter of a swimrun training plan. It helps you as an athlete to prepare for the unique demands of swimrun. With a good program, you can take out the guessing and instead focus on your training and racing at your best.

So, introducing our 12 and 24-week swimrun training plans, designed for swimrunners by swimrunners.

You get,

  • Structured and progressive training with a good mix of endurance and strength.
  • Detailed and explained sessions, each with a clear purpose.
  • Continuous testing and zone-based training.

Take your swimrun game to the next level – sign up now, and start training today!


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