Unlike many other sports swimrun is a relatively “low tech” sport compared to adventure racing or triathlon. In fact it’s possible to carry all the essential gear with you in a big bagpack enabling you to take the opportunity to jump in the water any where you feel like it. Please bear in mind that there is quite a bit of wear and tear when you train and race on a regular basis so you do need to replace worn out equipment from time to time. The other thing is that swimrun is a seasonable sport meaning that if you want to race and train all year around you ideally need two swimrun wet suits, one for warm conditions and one for colder conditions. Some people have a suit for training and one only for races but it’s always better to train and race in the same suit.
Safety first, so invest in quality products that suit your body type and skill level. The last thing you want is suffering from hypothermia in a super fast swimrun suit simply because everybody else is using it. We will come back to that later in the selection criteria where we explain the function of each piece of kit and how it interacts with the rest of your swimrun gear. It’s all about harmony between the disciplines of running and swimming so in reality everything will end up being a compromise between fit, weight, size, functionality and durability. Below we will briefly go through the essential swimrun gear you need for training with some add-on equipment for participation in races, some of which is mandatory and is indicated with a *.
A few years back it was hard to find a wetsuit specifically for swimrun but nowadays you can find them in most webshops and stores where they sell triathlon equipment. It’s hard to say what is a good wetsuit simply because there are so many different personal criteria but there are a few ones that are more important than others so let’s start with those and work our way done the list:
overall fit: depending on your body type and the wetsuit design the wetsuit needs to sit nice and tight. When you try a new swimrun wetsuit on make sure to put underneath a swimrun tank top or vest (as pictured below). Then add in the storage pockets the amount of gels and hydration system you usually carry with you on race day. then close both front and back zipper and see how it feels. Best is to actually swim in a new swimrun wetsuit before you buy it. Some brands offer demo suit to try out. SRF will also organise HEAD try out days with 2020 swimrun wetsuit models. Contact us if you are interested to sign up and participate in these demo events.
sealing capability: the last thing you want is cold water ingress into the neck, zipper, shoulder pits, arm and leg cuffs. It means that your body is constantly working on heating up water and it does not take more than a few minutes before you start to feel really cold in the water which than because a safety concern and that’s bad news. Good wetsuits have a very thin rubber or silicone type sealing arrangement around the neck and arm cuffs which are the areas most prone to water ingress. So make sure your wetsuit has the same. It’s a good sign of a quality wetsuit.
functionality: in swimrun you run and swim so the wetsuit should not retain a lot of water coming out of the water, it should also have pockets to store things like pulling cord, first aid kit, whistle and gels. However, nowadays swimrun vests (see below) come with ample storage pockets for these items as well. The high end swimrun wetsuits have superstretch material in the hip and leg area which facilitates a good range of motion for the run sections. The shoulder area is often hold together by 1.5-2mm very flexible neoprene, its great for shoulder mobility but it’s also very easy to destroy your expensive wetsuit in a few “rough” running sessions through the forest. Front AND back zipper or only front zipper it’s a personal preference, really. If you are more into long distance and ultra swimrun events then I would recommend front AND back zipper because the individual run and swim stretches tend to be longer so your easier inclined to cab down your upper half and that is always easier with a back zipper. For shorter distances the jury is still out unless you opt for a sleeveless wetsuit then you only need a front zipper to cab down. This seems to be a trend within the Pro teams nowadays. HEAD (among other brands) have sleeveless swimrun wetsuits for sale. Try it out is the only way to know if you like it. Then you immediately know if you’re prone to cold or not.
buoyancy and safety: a swimrun wetsuit is the single most expensive item in swimrun. Not surprisingly it is also one of the most important items! Not because it will make you fast or look cool but mostly because it is what separates your body and skin from the elements of cold water, wind, sun radiation and surface contact. It’s foremost a safety item and sufficient insulation and buoyancy are important factors to consider. A lot of swimrun wetsuits have buoyancy and insulation panels for chest and leg areas. There are some brands that have developed buoyancy panel inserts for chest and leg areas to optimise your body position in the water. It aligns with the thought that everybody has a unique physiology so the wetsuit should tailor for the differences in body shape.
quality and selection of models: as mentioned before once you find a wetsuit model you like it’s hard to change and find something even better that’s why quality swimrun brands put a lot of effort in coming up with separate size charts for men AND woman. The days of “one size fits all” is way behind us. People expect and demand a perfect fit and that means that wetsuit brands are forced to develop several (sometimes even up to 10! different sizes) for one model. Multiply this times two (MEN and WOMAN) and you need 20 different sizes to sell one specific type of model. You can imagine the huge investment this requires but it pays off because a good fit is indirectly related to the selection of models a brand can offer. It is the number one selection criteria for a swimrun wetsuit. Unlike triathletes we wear the suit for the entire race and not just for a one off swim section. TIP: pay close attention to the number of models a wetsuit brand offers for one model because its a good first indicator how it will fit you. Finally, leading swimrun wetsuit brands don’t compromise on quality and only use the best neoprene on the market. It does make a difference but there comes a point where other factors like swim technique and overall swimrun gear set-up take over. For instance you can influence your center of buoyancy and therefore your body position a lot more with the shape and size of a pull buoy than with 1-2mm of neoprene. We come back to this point later. If you are looking for a good source of information for swimrun equipment reviews than navigate to the website world of swimrun.
This magic piece of floatation comes in so many different shapes, sizes and material that it’s hard to make a choice. Most swimrunners love to experiment with this piece of kit simply because after investing the bulk of your money in an expensive wetsuit the pull buoy is a relatively cheap option to positively (or negatively if you do it wrong..) influence your body position in the water. Find below the criteria that you need to take into account when buying a pull buoy,
Purpose and function – pull buoys are excellent training buddies AND race companions if you use them in the right way. First of all never swim ONLY with a pull buoy because you lose the feeling for the water. Mix and match your swim work-out with and without pullbuoy, paddles and flippers. In the pool it does not make sense to use a big swimrun PB because your not wearing a swimrun wetsuit or heavy trail shoes to lift out of the water. Smaller is better, so you get a good cardio work-out. However if your practising a swimrun in openwater than it does make sense to practise in your race set-up which means a swimrun wetsuit, bigger pullbuoy, bigger paddles and shoes on. Finally, if you’re only going for a longish 4-5km openwater swim then you can stick to a normal oenwater / tri wetsuit (with or without small paddles and small pullbuoy). There are different combinations depending on what the aim and purpose of your swim or swimrun work-out is so adjust your gear set-up accordingly.
Shifting Buoyancy effect – If you look at the effect of the pull buoy in isolation (i.e. wearing a swim outfit only) then things are relatively simple: the bigger the pull buoy the more you move the centre of buoyancy towards your feet when you swim. There comes a point where your feet are out of the water and everything from chest, shoulders and head will get submerged underwater….this is the “submarine effect” and puts a lot of unnecessary strain on your shoulders to rotate. It also get’s more difficult to keep a straight core (i.e. you will start to bob from one side to the other due to too much buoyancy around the hips). Then again, if you review the impact of the pullbuoy in a swimrun set-up then things get a bit more complicated. Now, you need to try and find harmony between equipment that sits in front and behind the pullbuoy. In front of the pullbuoy: extra upward buoyancy is created by a swimrun wetsuit. Behind the pullbuoy: trail run shoes create hydrodynamic drag and pull your legs downwards. If the tow line is under tension because you’re pulling swimrun partner on the swims then this will create even more backward and downward force. So what is the solution to neutralise all these upward buoyancy forces and downward gravity and drag forces? A massive pull buoy! One that is preferably 40cm plus. So that has been the trend over the last few years. At the same time swimrun wetsuits have less and less buoyancy because this role has been taken over by these enormous pull buoys. It has gone so far that some race organiser have put maximum size restrictions on pull buoys and this in turn has spurred the use of calf buoyancy inserts and swimrun wetsuit inserts….all with the objective to have an optimal position in the water (enabling to pull your drafting partner). (Pro) TIP: Attach the tow cord on the front side of the lead swimmer instead of the backside. If you put it on the back side AND you pull your lag swimmer there is a resultant force that pulls your lower torso down creating additional drag. Attach the rope in the front and it is perfectly aligned (horizontally) between both swimmers. Don’t tell anybody…it’s a secret!
Fit and shape – if you need to squeeze your legs together to secure the pull buoy in place or prevent it from popping up then it’s not the right shape for you. Skinny legs, sturdy legs, O legs, X legs we all look different so pick a pull buoy that is big to start with so that you can easily change it’s shape to fit your curves. All you need is a glue gun and heat gun to make your tailor made pull buoy. It’s easy to cut, shave or melt parts of a pull buoy with a sharp knife or heat gun and add some material with a glue gun provided your pull buoy is made of EVA Foam. Plastic pull buoys are also a good alternative because the surface is hydro dynamically smooth I.e. fast) but since the buoy is hollow and full of air it is also more prone to get punctured and start leaking. Tip: if your pullbuoy has a tendency to flip up in between your legs just make two rims out of a kids foam tube and glue them to the lower side of the pull buoy (i.e. the side that presses against your quads (as shown on the green Super Croc pull buoy from SWIMRUNNERS).
attachment and fixation – how do you fix a pullbuoy to you body….well you don’t carry it with you in your hands on the runs so there are two main types of fixation: 1) attach it to around your thigh with a single or double elastics strap. Turn the pull buoy in between your legs when you enter a swim section and turn it outwards when you start a run section. The advantage is that it takes one single rotating movement to put the PB in swimming position and one single rotating movement to put it back into running position. The downside is that you have a certain amount of weight around your leg that constantly moves back and forth. SWIMRUNNERS have developed a pull belt system that connect the pull buoy to a waist belt. It’s a clever fail proof system. 2) drill a hole on one side of the pull buoy and put an elastic cord through it that long enough to fit around the waist. When you run you stick the pull buoy in between the elastic cord and your wetsuit at your back and it will stay there pressed against your lower back. Advantages: an effective and low cost solution for swimruns where the transition frequency is relatively low. Disadvantage: you cannot use a strap system to prevent the lower pull buoy part from popping up and the extra elastic cord around the waist might get tangled up with the towing rope (unless you can store it in a separate pocket on the outside of your wetsuit.
In case you feel like reading a “funny” blog about pull buoy trends then check out website: http://www.swimrunning.com past coverage on this subject (or dig into the archives for more blogs from Team Say No! to Doping, author Thomas Schreven).
Other essential gear that we will cover very soon in detail are the following items and more…
Find below a quick summary of selection criteria for the different pieces of swimrun equipment for now. We will go systematically go through them over the coming weeks.