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What is Swimrun? The History and 101 of The Sport

What is SwimRun? 

Swimrun is a sport that consists of running and swimming interchangeably in the same race or session, with many transitions. Teams of two competitors alternate between running and swimming together, in a loop or from point A to point B, usually throughout a pre-defined course. You wear the same equipment and outfit, even swim with your shoes on, because of the many transitions you don’t have time to take them off. 

The swimming can be done in lakes, rivers or the ocean. The running can be performed in urban environments through city streets, but it is more common to move through trails, mountains and off-road paths. Depending on the race and location, the environment can vary greatly. 

SwimRun History and the Beginnings of This Sport

Swimrun was started in Sweden around 2005 by four friends making a drunken bet in a bar in Sweden. They wanted to see if they could move across the archipelago of Stockholm, from the Island Utö to Sandhamn (a stretch of 75 km total). They actually did it! In teams of two, the bet was that the losing team would pay for all the drinks and food at the restaurants they passed along the way. 

In the following years, more friends joined, and eventually, the event caught the eye of Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott – two adventure athletes and renowned race organizers. They took on this event and evolved it to something big: the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship and later also the ÖTILLÖ World Series with more races around the world. 

Swimrun is becoming increasingly popular with both athletes and spectators alike due to its unique combination of different disciplines which make it a very exciting sport to watch as well as participate in!

Swimrun is still not an Olympic sport, but it’s gaining traction as one of the fastest-growing endurance sports around the globe. Since ÖTILLÖ, many more events have popped up across the world. The sport has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in Sweden. Today, there are over 40 countries hosting events around the world including Germany, France, Italy and Australia. The sport is big in Europe and is slowly catching up in the United States and other continents. 

What Equipment do you need for Swimrun?

Since Swimrun is a sport that combines running and swimming, the equipment is a compromise between these two sports and what is needed for each medium. The most common equipment used is: 

  • Swimrun Wetsuit (to keep warm in the water)
  • Shoes (light trail shoes) 
  • Paddles (to swim faster and combat waves and current)
  • Pull buoy (to float better)
  • Tether (rope to use between you and your partner) 

You are actually free to use any equipment you want, even fins. The most common rule, however, is that you need to bring anything you start with all the way to the finish line. There can sometimes be restrictions on how big or long your fins and paddles can be, as well as limits on the size of your pull buoy. 

Other things you usually bring with you during a race are a required waterproof pressure bandage, a soft water bladder, and whatever nutrition (gels, bars) you need. You can tuck these things into your wetsuit pockets or wear a thin vest with pockets underneath your wetsuit.

Depending on how cold the air and water are, you may also want to add a layer underneath your wetsuit. Usually, a swimsuit or similar is enough to wear underneath (I usually wear seamless panties and a sports bra with a pocket).

Who is SwimRun for?

Swimrun is a sport for everyone, from beginners to experts. If you want to practice, just grab a friend and go outside to try! You can get by with limited equipment – in the summer, just a bathing suit and a pair of shoes will do. 

If you want to race, there are plenty of choices. You can start with an easy race of just 5 to 10 km, and advance to more intense and longer races as you get comfortable and stronger. Find a Swimrun group or someone experienced to show you the ropes. You can also find a training plan that suits you to follow.

Swimrun is not recommended for people who cannot swim well – so make sure you take a course first and are comfortable getting out in open water. Swimming in a lake or ocean can be quite different if you are used to the pool! 

What are the Benefits of Doing SwimRun?

The benefits of doing a Swimrun race are many. It helps you stay in shape, a fun challenge for your mind, an adventure that lets you explore new places, and a great way to spend time with your friends or family. 

One of the best parts of Swimrun is the wonderful community around the sport. You will meet adventurous, helpful people and be conscious about nature.  I’ve met some amazing people through Swimrun! Most people around this sport love the outdoors and combining it with social activities. You will feel welcome as soon as you sign up for a race or join any training group.

Curious to try Swimrun? Pick out a training plan for yourself and get started!

Photo: Catarina Axelsson (from a photo shoot with Desirée and me in Hvar, Croatia)