ÖTILLÖ Essential Gear – How to select your swimrun equipment?
As a sponsor of what is known as the toughest and most rewarding race in the world, ÖtillÖ. We’re always looking to drive the sport to new levels and help to get you involved. With this in mind, we teamed up pro Swimrun racer and trainer Nicolas Remires to bring you an 8-part series running you through everything you’ll need to know before you run your first ÖtillÖ race. Nicolas has over 10 years experience as a Swimrun racer and hosts the official training camps for ÖtillÖ, so you could say he is the best man for the job.
With that in mind we’ll let Nicolas take over from here as he takes you through how to select the right equipment.
Will you really perform better with ÖtillÖ-branded shoes? What’s so special about the swimrun wetsuits?
In the beginning there was air mattresses and big backpacks. Today there are wetsuits and shoes made specific for the swimrun market. Because yes, there is a huge swimrun market today. But is it really necessary? Will you really perform better with shoes branded ÖtillÖ and what’s so special with the swimrun wetsuits? What’s wrong with your old “surf-suit”? It has short legs as well …
With my job as a swimrun-coach, and having experienced it myself quite a few times, I often hear the same questions over and over regarding the gear. I will answer a few of the most common questions below.
On most of the swimrun races, the compulsory equipment is pretty much the same. You will have to wear a wetsuit and a swimming cap, you will have to carry a whistle, a compass (it can be a GPS watch), a compression band (first aid), and you will be allowed to use hand paddles, a tow line and floating devices. There is, however, a size limit to the floating devices nowadays. Air mattresses are out.
Why is it better to have a swimrun wetsuit instead of cutting my old triathlon wetsuit ?
It is all about the comfort. Swimrun wetsuits are more flexible around the hips. And even if you can run in your triathlon wetsuit, you want to have some comfort to really enjoy the experience. They’ve been specially designed for long, long days and have a number of features to make your training/event more enjoyable such as: pockets inside to store some nutrition, emergency kit or a LifeProof-protected phone. They have a front zip and some of them also have a back zip. If you are planning to put your wetsuit down during most of the runs because you are overheating easily, you should consider buying a wetsuit with a front and back zipper. They’ve even built in additional resistance on the butt (to endure sliding down rocks).
Should I cut my wetsuit or not?
It depends on the course and also how sensitive you are with the cold. You should definitively cut the legs above the knee, as this allows for better flexibility for running and less risk for overheating.
About the arms, it depends. It is a good feeling to have neoprene on the forearm to protect you from the harsh cold. But on a long race, it can be good to get rid of this part not to overheat. If you cut the arms, keep the cut parts. You can use them again during some cold training or race days, it may not look great but it’s definitely practical.
There are many brands of swimrun wetsuits today. It is hard to recommend one over another other. They all have advantages and inconveniences. But you have to try it first to be sure of the size. Be careful not to buy something too big. Be sure that the wetsuit you are planning to buy is fulfilling your needs. For example, if you are somebody sensitive to the cold, you should go with a full neoprene wetsuit, instead of a neoprene wetsuit mixed with mesh fabric.
What are the best shoes for swimrunning ? Can I do swimrun with my running shoes ?
The shoes should be light, preferably with a mesh material to allow the water to go out. Because it will go in!
- Depending on the course the shoe choice can be different. Slippery rocks call for a good grip and a bigger ground surface area. Lots of road (hard) running might call for more cushioning. Unless you’re used to running “barefoot” or in light racing flats.
- You can swim and run with any shoes you like. Just keep in mind that wet shoes get heavy and the best place to carry extra water isn’t your feet.
The Tow Line
What should be the length of the line ?
The tow line is great for both safety and to help your partner out if they’re not a strong swimmer. It is hard to tell the length you require because it depends of the elasticity of the rope and the strength of the swimmers. I would recommend you to take a long rope (leg’s length of front swimmer + arms length of back swimmer + 100cm) and you try to swim with that length. After a few practices, you will reduce the length of the rope until you get a tight distance between the two of you. But you have to consider that you might change positions during the race. That can happen. And the tension on the rope will probably be different. So it’s better to keep some extra length.
Should it be elastic?
The tow line should have a bit of elasticity to avoid too much shocks with the waves.
How do I carry it?
Rolled around your waist is the best way.
When do we use it?
There are different schools of thought on this one. You either have it just in case a team member gets really tired or you use it constantly. I get the comment quite often that the rope is always annoying to put on and off and to swim with, but this is easy to improve with training. You just need to fix a few details and get used to the transitions. The more you train on this, the easier and more fun your journey will be.
What works for you?
Equally strong swimmers might not need the tow rope, but it will help the team to be more co-ordinated and stay together more.
Navigating your course in open water can be a tough game. We had a good example during the first ÖtillÖ race of the year in Hvar, Croatia. It was strong winds and waves. It is better when only one person does the navigation and the partner can relax a bit. You can swap front swimmer during the next swim.
So, we agreed that air mattresses are not an option. Having some sort of floating device can however be a good idea. It will take some effort off by allowing you to kick less (you will need those legs for the running) and in most cases it simply makes you a faster swimmer.
Do I need a pullbuoy and where should I attach it ?
Yes you need a pullbuoy. Even the best swimmers use it. A pullbuoy will be set between your legs during the swimming sections. But when you are running, you have different options. You can put it on your leg with some elastic ropes or you can put on your back, attached with a rope around your waist. In both cases, you have to practice to be confident with it.
Since ÖtillÖ 2016, we have seen more teams using double pullbuoys. The advantage is more flotation. But you have to be vigilant when you are choosing the pullbuoys. Some pullbuoys do not float as well as others. Look at the density of the material. It has to be fluffy and light. If it is too solid, it will not float as well.
Isn’t it enough to have some floating chin pads ?
Probably not. You can add some floating pads in your compression socks. This is a great advantages to compensate the drag of the shoes but also to protect your chins in the technical terrains and rocky sections. But you will still need a pullbuoy to keep your legs tighter and in a more profile position.
Are you strong enough for those paddles?
Just because world champions are using huge hand paddles doesn’t mean that you have to do the same! This equipment will help you if you have trained with it. The advantage of swimming with hand paddles is to pull more water and to be more efficient on every stroke. You will also lower your heart rate. But it is demanding for the shoulders and you have to increase progressively the size of the paddles. To carry your paddles during the run sections, you have different options: you can keep them on your hands during the full race, you can put them in your wetsuit or hook them onto your rope around the waist. You will need to try all these different settings. Personally, during races, I never take them off my hands. I do not even think about that.
What can I do to avoid the fog in my goggles ?
Swimming goggles get foggy quickly. If you do not want that to happen during your swimrun event, you should buy new ones quite often. But during the race, when you run, you can put your goggles on your head or keep them around your neck.
Some swimrunners don’t use goggles at all which is another solution. But I would recommend that you train without goggles if you go for that option. Either way, you should practice with and without goggles because you can lose or break them during a race.
What you should always bring when you train swimrun with a friend
A swimrun wetsuit has enough pockets to hold a LifeProof-protected phone. Bring it! Not only to show off your handsome self in a wetsuit on social media, but also to look at maps and call for help if disaster strikes! A LifeProof phone case makes it possible. I strongly recommend a good case since I know from personal experience that homemade versions or cheap crap will only lead to a call (from someone else’s phone) to your insurance company.
I would also recommend that you have a neoprene headband or neoprene cap with you for the cold swims. Double capping is also a good solution.
Bring a whistle and a compression bandage. You do not want to regret not having it if an accident happens.
Stay tuned for the next episode coming at the same time next week.
Check out the first article here – How To Pick a Swimrun Partner