Swimrun Training – Tethered

In this blog, I’ll be talking about our first effort at swimming whilst tied together with a rope, but first I thought I’d share the full kit list that I’ve settled on. There are two weeks till Breca Buttermere and, after a lot of trial and error, I think I have finally decided which paraphernalia I’ll be using.

Swimrun Wetsuit (Zone3 Evolution). It has the short legs which allows me to run more comfortably, front zip for ease of cooling whilst running, and several pockets for carrying kit. It also looks totally cool, and that is half the battle, no?

8mm Neoprene Calf Guards. These add buoyancy at the back end, and compensate for the drag of the trainers. They are a bugger to get off, but that won’t be a problem until the race is over.

Adidas Pull Buoy. More buoyancy. Last time I blogged, I was a bit unsure about being too floaty at the back, but I’ve practiced more in the last couple of weeks, and got used to the new position. I think we’re better off with the extra buoyancy than without.

Innov8 Roclite 290 Trail Shoes. These should give me the support I will need on the trailier sections of the run, but are reasonably lightweight and don’t hold too much water. I will NOT be drilling holes in them because money does not grow on trees. One other point learned through experience here is to tape up the laces. I don’t want to put elastic laces in because I most definitely want the shoes to stay attached to my feet, but I found that the laces worked themselves undone pretty easily after an hour of swimming. A stretch of masking tape around the laces seems to do the trick.

Drymax Socks. After a bit of advice from Kate Stone, a veteran of several trail ultramarathons, I bought a pair of these socks. She reckoned they’d stand up well to being soaked through, and not give me blisters. So far so good.

Speedo Finger Paddles. I have opted for the smaller paddles simply because they are easier to carry whilst on the run sections. Although the larger paddles gave me more oomph in the water, they were too big to fit in any of the pockets in the wetsuit. I didn’t fancy running for six hours whilst holding two yellow plastic saucers.

Right, so that’s my gear all sorted. I feel ready to race.

The last thing Zoe and I needed to get right was how we stayed together. The rules state that you are never allowed to be more than ten metres apart. It is suggested (but not mandatory) that we can be connected by a rope to allow the faster swimmer to pull along the slower one. This made sense to us. I am a little faster in the water than Zoe, but not by a huge margin. I imagined a situation where we would cruise across the lake, with me imparting about 55% of the power, and Zoe 45%.

I have read that the water in Buttermere is cold, whatever the weather. If a faster member of a pair is swimming slowly to stay in synch with their partner, their heart rate can drop and they can feel the cold. I don’t like the sound of that, so I was happy in principle to work a fraction harder in the water.

Trying this out is not as easy as it sounds. Zoe and I have been doing most of our training at the wonderful Blue Lagoon in Knottingley. Coach Morg has been patient and encouraging with our increasingly eccentric attire over the last few weeks, but even he was a little worried about us launching into the crowded water with what is essentially a subsurface garrotte tied between us. Fortunately, he found a way to facilitate us (humour us?), and he asked John, one of his spotters, to guide us over to a quiet corner of the lake.

In terms of equipment, we experimented with a few options, and ended up with a race belt around each of our waists. Ideally, these shouldn’t be too stretchy as they might just slip off the hips and legs when under tension. Between our two waist belts, we had approximately three metres of thin climbing rope. It had been suggested that we use one of those retractable dog leads, but I think that may have been a little insulting to Zoe. And if you think I am following her around with a little plastic bag, you are dreaming.

The first problem was attaching the rope. As established earlier, I struggle to tie my shoelaces with any sense of permanence, let alone lashing myself to another human being. I asked the crowd if there were any old Scouts who might help with a knot or two. One brave chap stepped forward and twisted the rope with dextrous fingers, linking us safely together. Impressed, I asked if he’d been in the Navy. He pulled a face. Turns out he’s an ex-Marine. Faux pas.

We got swimming towards our quiet nook, starting off alongside each other. After a minute or so, I upped the pace and pulled in front. I felt the rope start to drag across my left foot and impede my kicking. A quick wiggle of the hips, and I repositioned so that the rope was trailing straight between my legs and Zoe was directly behind me.

I felt the rope go taut and a small pull as I collected Zoe’s weight. It’s working! Then, suddenly, it wasn’t working, as my hands flailed and I couldn’t move. I spluttered to a halt and looked around to see John and Zoe laughing. She’d completely stopped and I was dragging her dead weight.

The problem for Zoe was that the rope was in front of her, not behind. Whilst I could forget about the rope hanging between my kicking feet, for her it was either over her shoulder preventing her breathing, or impeding her arm movement. We tried again a few times, and each time found that we were fine until the rope pulled taut, at which point, Zoe couldn’t effectively swim.

After a few minutes of this, we had an executive council meeting whilst treading water. The conclusion was that we’d be better off swimming side by side, or at least in an echelon formation. That being the case, the tether became redundant. We whipped off our belts, handed the whole contraption to John, who kindly returned it to shore, and set about swimming together without the spurious benefit of the rope.

So it’s settled: no rope. We’ve really only got time for one or two more training sessions before race day, so our next session will be a full dress rehearsal. Next Wednesday, we’ll wear the full gear, get some energy gels in our pockets, and attempt a full two hour training session where we mix up swimming and running various distances.