Urban SwimRun

Feet first into the fast growing new sport

SwimRuns usually take place in wild locations such as the Lake District or the Scilly Isles, but SLSC and Total Motion Events recently organised one of the country’s first such events in an urban environment.

On a chilly and drizzly June evening, around 50 people turned up for the inaugural Tooting Bec swimrun. The sprint course consisted of 1km of swimming and just under 9km running around the common. This was was split into four swims and four runs of differing lengths with competitors alternating between the two disciplines.

As Patricia Richardson explained in her Introduction to SwimRun, swimrun is a fusion of trail running and openwater swimming that sees competitors wearing the same outfit throughout the race – you remain in your wetsuit during the runs and keep trainers on for the swim. Pull buoys, hand paddles, even flippers, are allowed, but the one rule is that you have to finish the race with every piece of equipment you started with. You either run solo or in teams of two.

The mass start for the first swim was a bit of scrum, with the added danger of being kicked with a trainer or smacked on the head by someone’s paddle. But the 90-metre pool soon spread out the field, with the more experienced powering ahead with their paddles.

It was then a quick climb out and, with no complicated transition other than twisting your pull buoy from between the legs, straight into the running. To begin with I felt ridiculous plodding through the park in a tight wetsuit, trainers squelching and swimming hat and goggles still atop my head. Not surprisingly there were plenty of bemused looks from dog walkers and people out for their evening stroll, but soon enough I was just concentrating on the race.

Approaching the pool for the second swim, the pace was broken by stepping through a shoe dip, ensuring only clean trainers entered the pool.

And so it went on, with the longest swim taking in two circuits of the pool, the longest run 2.6km. Things to get used to included everything from wobbly legs after immediately going into running from a swim, to working out the best way of carrying the pull buoy.

The winner was SLSC’s Ben Hieatt-Smith with an impressive finishing time of just under 59 minutes. Most crossed the line 10 to 15 minutes later.

A real mixture of people entered the event, ranging from triathletes checking out what all the swimrun fuss was about, those using the event as a training exercise, to others just giving it a go.

Without fail though, everyone I spoke to after the event praised the brilliant organisation and friendly atmosphere. Matt Hudson and Total Motion Events (co-organisers) did a fine job with the time chips, directing people, etc, but what really surprised newcomers to the lido was just how friendly and encouraging the race marshals were.

It really did help us get round the course and club volunteers went way beyond the call of duty in cheering, clapping and even singing. Few races can claim to have people directing you with what looked like a synchronised swimming shimmy – or was it a Zumba move? Cake afterwards was also much appreciated.

The club, and particularly Mandy Worsley and Jonathan Cowie, is to be congratulated on having the foresight to get involved with this new, and fast-growing sport. The event was such a success that another is planned for 24 September.

By Richard Nelsson