Podcast, Swimrun, Training

How to train for a Swimrun | EP#57

 September 11, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

How to train for a Swimrun | EP#57

How do you train for a swimrun? In this episode you'll get an overview of a Swimrun training plan I'm using (and the actual plan as a free download), and learn the main principles behind good swimrun training.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The swimrun training plan I use (available for download - see above)
  • How to execute the training in the plan with swimrun in mind
  • Race-specificity for your goal race
  • The technical aspects of swimrun training
  • Why I started using stretch chords in my core routine now that I'm training for a swimrun


Overview of swimrun

02:42 -

  • Swimrun is a long endurance event of swimming and running in multiple segments in teams of two in nature or wilderness.
  • You run and swim within 10 meters of your teammate. You go back and forth between running-swimming, running-swimming, and so on. You keep the same equipment and the same apparel on you at all times. You don’t change from a wetsuit to a running gear.
  • ÖTILLÖ is the premiere race series. They also organize the world championships. They are like Ironman in terms of branding in the Swimrun world. They have the slogan, “Unique races in unique places”.
  • The original swimrun race (and World Championships) in the Stockholm archipelago is a 75 kilometer long swimrun. The teams swim and run across 26 islands. 10 kilometers are open water swimming and 65 kilometers are trail running.
  • Here's World of Swimrun's map of most of the swimrun races up and running globally.
  • In terms of equipment, you have a swimrun suit that you both swim and run in. You also have calf sleeves that add some flotation to your legs and feet because you have to swim in your shoes. Your shoes can be trail running shoes, but now companies are coming up with the specific swim running shoes.
  • Often in the swimrun, the segments are short, but a few longer segments like a 2-3k swim and a 5-7k run are often included. Some segments are much shorter just a couple of hundred meters of swimming or running.

Training for swimrun

06:45 -

  • There isn’t a whole lot of information or actual fact-based knowledge on how to train for swimrun. So, this is based on the information I found in my research and also based on my current swimrun training programwritten by my coach Simon Brierley with some input from myself.
  • The swimrun this coming 23rd of September is the inaugural Finnish National Championships. It’s in the Åland Islands which is an archipelago in the southwest of Finland.

Here’s the program overview:

NOTE: Between recording this podcast and executing the first two weeks of the swimrun, I switched my training around a little bit for weeks 2 and 3 due to a coaching course at the weekend.

The overview below (a transcription of what I said on the podcast) was my initially planned program.

But the program you can download is what I actually did, which was essentially move the Monday rest day of week 3 to Sunday of Week 2, and instead do a 90 minute swimrun on Monday of week 3. Either way is fine if you decide to follow this program.

Week 1

  • Basically, more of a recovery week from the Olympic distance nationals with 2 swims, 3 runs, 1 swimrun for a total of 8 hours of training.
  • The swims were 1 easier pool swim (technique focused) and 1 open water swim which was 30-40 minutes with some solid pull buoy and paddle efforts.
  • Then there was a swimrun which was 2 hours with some harder segments in it.
  • 3 runs, including 1 long run on trails (2 hours), 1 speed run on undulating terrain with 8x1k efforts, and an endurance run for 70 minutes with some efforts in that one as well.

Week 2

  • 2 swims, 2 runs, 2 swimruns
  • 2 open water swims
  • 2 swimruns, 2x90 minutes with practicing transitions mostly in one and then some harder efforts in the other.
  • 1 long run on trails, and an endurance run of 70 minutes with some efforts
  • 8.5 hours in total

Week 3

  • This week cuts back a bit to 7 hours since we’re getting close to the race with 2 swims, 2 runs, and 2 swimruns.
  • 2 open water swims with some solid pull buoy plus paddle efforts in one session. The other is the same thing but more of a continuous race effort workout.
  • The 2 swimruns will be 90 minutes for the 1st one and 75 minutes for the other. One of them will practice transitions and one will have more intensity with some harder segments, fartlek style intervals.
  • 2 endurance runs, no long runs anymore, just 70 minutes of running in both with some efforts, fartlek style intervals.

Week 4: Race week

  • Pool swim with more of a speed component to it.
  • An open water swim with some race intensity but nothing too taxing.
  • 2 easy runs, 45-minute jogs with some strides.
  • 1 swimrun the day before the race. Me and Simon will be practicing together for the first time. This is very important since it’s a team sport and you really need to have teamwork and collaboration to be effective in swimrun.

Key takeaways

  • In general, it’s definitely an endurance event as you can see with longer, continuous workouts especially on the swim side compared to what you might be used to from triathlon training (which is likely more interval-based training).
  • To some extent, this is true same for the running as well. Especially if you're focusing on short-course races. There's still a fair amount of intensity in the runs in swimrun training, but they are more fartlek style, going on feel, and having somewhat flexible recovery intervals as well.
  • There’s a big focus on strength both on the swim and run. Paddles on the swim and pull buoy to really work the upper body and prepare it to withstand the large amount of paddle swimming that will come on race day (swimrunners use paddles in the races to go faster).
  • For the run, try to find as many hills and trails as possible to work that strength.
  • For technical skills, obviously training in race equipment in the swimrun sessions themselves and practicing transitions is an important part. Also, getting used to swimming in the open water. You can notice that there were very few pool swims in the program.
  • Pacing must be learned again because you will be using new kinds of equipment. So the same effort doesn’t necessarily translate directly.
  • Handling the cold temperature. I expect the temperature on race day to be between 11-13°C or 51-55°F. So getting into the cold water as much as possible is a critical part of preparation.
  • Some of the swimruns workouts include harder, fartlek style intervals.
  • It is very important to practice nutrition intake as well. One thing that I find difficult is hydration because you can’t really carry around any water. If possible, leaving some water bottles somewhere in the places where you do your swimrun workouts might be a good idea.

Technical skills and equipment for a swimrun

22:13 -

  • For trail running and technique, there’s nothing that will help you as much as just getting out on those trails and run and run and run and have fun.
  • One technical tip that I can give for trail running is to keep you gaze up and ahead. Don’t look down at your feet or just in front of them because you will be feeling as if you’re running so much faster even if you aren’t. You’re actually running slower when you look down at your feet, and you're not any more safe from tripping and falling either.
  • When you practice keeping your gaze up and ahead, you will learn to memorize the way that you will put down your feet even if you’re not looking at them, even on the most rocky and rough terrain.
  • For transitions, starting with running to swimming, start by pulling up your zipper and maybe even your wetsuit altogether if you have pulled the upper part of it down completely when you’re running, which some people do for some longer run segments in hot weather.
  • Put on your goggles and ideally your paddles (but that depends on the entry point). For really difficult entry points, you might need to put on the paddles only as you get into the water.
  • Then coordinate with your partner. You need to give each other confirmation that you’re both ready to go. I think it’s smart to let the leading swim partner enter the water first. You should know who the stronger swimmer is, and he or she will be leading most of the swims.
  • For swimming to running, as you approach the exit of the swim and touch the bottom, the first thing that I do is to quickly pull up my goggles to see better, because you usually need to climb at these exits, and it’s tricky and rocky, and you can easily fall. Then I remove the paddles to be able to use my hands.
  • There is one paddle trick that I have read about on World of Swimrun that I haven’t used yet. That is to attach an extra strap that is much larger to the paddle so that you can keep the paddles just dangling from your wrists or arms so you don’t need to have them on your hands as you exit the water and start running, but don't need to hold them in your hands either.
  • For the buoy, I’ve drilled some holes and tied some elastic bands to it. This means that I can have a race belt on my swimrun suit and attach that buoy through those elastic bands to the race belt (see image below). Then as I move into the swim part or into the water, I will just take the buoy from my side and grab it. I don’t need to remove it from the race belt as it’s hanging around those elastics. I just put it between my legs and start swimming. When you exit the water, you take the buoy and throw it around to your side or back on that race belt and it’s out of the way.
  • Then just get on climbing out of the water, check that your partner is with you. When you start running, pull down the zipper or the entire upper of the wetsuit as you go. If it’s a long run segment and it’s hot, I think pulling down the entire upper of wetsuit is the way to go.
  • Remember to fuel as you’re running because you can’t do that when you’re swimming. If you’re going to be out for some of these races which are almost 9 hours then you need to fuel diligently. Get into a routine of doing this every 15-20 minutes.
Swimrun pull buoy modified

Why I started using stretch cords in my core routine now that I'm training for a swimrun

28:06 -

  • In my core sessions that I’ve been doing diligently for 4-5 times per week, I’ve been adding a new thing for me which is stretch cords for doing swim-specific stretch cord strengthening.
  • I do 3 x 50 which is quite a lot at the start, and if you stand back enough from the stretch cord attachment point, it adds quite a lot of resistance.
  • So it’s a really good workout and I think that this has something to do with the fact that I’ve adapted so quickly to swimming 4k swims with my paddles and not having my shoulders be toast as I did in last year's swimrun
  • This is something that a friend of the show, Gerry Rodrigues from Tower 26 is a big fan of. Throughout the swim training year he prescribes doing those 3x50, 3x60 stretch cords before every swim workout.
  • See my interview with Gerry hear: 3 foundational elements that will make you swim faster with Gerry Rodrigues | EP#3

Links, resources and contact

Special thanks to

  • Icebug, for sending me their fantastic Acceleritas5 Swimrun shoes to use. These shoes were best in test in World of Swimrun's test.
  • ColtingWetsuits, for providing a Swimrun suit and paddles (Colting Paddles). Again, best in test in World of Swimrun's test. 

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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