Swimrun Training – Wet Shoes and Shoulder Strength

Coach Smithy and I are now only eight weeks away from our A race. We’ll be racing the Breca Buttermere Swimrun. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a suitably crazy event where you run, then swim, then run, then swim, then run… and so on and so on, with a total of eighteen transitions.

Unlike a regular triathlon, though, you can’t leave anything behind in transition. You must carry everything with you, which means you have to run in your wetsuit, and you have to swim in your trainers. This presents a whole range of problems and kit requirements which we’re still working our way through.

With the sun out, and open water season now in full flow, I’ve been practising swimming in running shoes. Last week at Blue Lagoon, I gave it my first shot. After a couple of laps of easy swimming to warm up my shoulders, I put on my trail shoes. I’ve had these shoes for ages, and they are just bog standard La Sportiva trail shoes. (We’ll need to wear trail shoes on the day as the running takes us up over Dale Head amongst other climbs.) To compensate for the drag caused by trail shoes, most swimrunners use plastic hand paddles, so I trudged back into the water looking utterly ridiculous in my shoes and paddle combo.

What I’ve never considered before is how much material goes into making trail shoes. As soon as I started swimming, I felt like I was being dragged backwards by the heavy sodden uppers of the shoes. Although the paddles compensated somewhat for that drag, it felt like I was swimming with a parachute trailing behind me. After about 400m of swimming this way, my shoulders felt absolutely battered!

So first things first… new trainers. On Saturday at Pugney’s I borrowed a pair of Inov8 Roclite 290s from my friend Andy. They are a bit more lightweight than my shoes, and I could immediately tell the difference. I’ve ordered a pair online so I don’t have to keep dunking Andy’s trainers every time I train.

Secondly, building strength in the shoulders. Even with lighter trainers, and incorporating a pull buoy, I will still be muscling my way through the water with paddles. On race day, although the longest swim leg is only 1100m, we’ll be swimming a total of 6km. Add to that the fact that I will be slightly dragging Zoe along (I’ll explain that in a later blog when we’ve practised it!) and my shoulders are going to be working really hard.

I have added some shoulder strength work to my daily strength and conditioning routine to try to build this up. Most of the conditioning work I do is focused on my hip rehab, although I also work on calves and hamstrings most days. I am now also using a resistance band to simulate the pull phase of the swim stroke and strengthen the muscles. I’m doing 30 pulls on each arm twice per day.

We are really learning as we go here, so I will report back on any progress. We also need to add a pull buoy into the mix, practice transitions, and more importantly start swimming as a pair. We plan to be tethered together for the race, so the next step will be practising that. That will be a future blog though.