Ah summer. Time for sunshine, warm days and spending time in the water. Why not mix in a multi-sport or endurance event that includes a swim? Here’s what you need to know to have a fun summer of friendly, splashy competition.
This unique event is said to be the fastest-growing endurance sport since triathlon was introduced. Athletes compete in teams of two and races are built around several islands with competitors swimming to each island, running across it, then swimming to the next.
Practically all SwimRun races take place in cold water so you must run and swim wearing a wetsuit and running shoes. In addition, safety equipment like a whistle and first aid kit must be carried. Completing one of these will require intense preparation and some orienteering experience.
Calgarians Calvin Zaryski and Myron Tetreault competed in ÖTILLÖ, the world championship SwimRun race in 2018, smashing the Canadian record along the way. The race included 10 K of swimming and 65 K of running. Zaryski says when they were first invited to compete in the race, he and Tetreault hadn’t heard of SwimRun which is much more popular in Europe.
“I loved it right from the start,” he says. “The seaweed in the water, hiking your way out of the ocean … just the uniqueness of it appealed to me. It’s not like triathlon where you’re just trying to go fast. SwimRun has a primitive side to it. You have to navigate across Mother Earth, going from island to island, following a course and using a map. Some of the islands aren’t even inhabited so there are no trails and you’re following little orange flags to stay on course. It’s a true adventure race.”
If you’re interested in an extreme adventure like SwimRun, Zaryski recommends lots of cold water training – he and Tetreault swam in the Kananaskis Lakes. He also advises some practice transitioning from swimming to running – it’s not that easy.
“SwimRun has a real grassroots feel and it’s neat to be in it during the inception of a sport. I enjoy it because it’s something completely different.”
This is a growing discipline within the multi-sport family featuring swimming and cycling. It is popular with athletes who have knee or other running injuries and with those who just hate running!
Bev Petryshen-Kozak of Spruce Grove, Alberta is a competitive age group athlete in the 40 – 45 year old category and recently finished sixth in the Aquabike event at the 2019 World Multisport Championships in Spain which included a 3 K swim and 112 K ride.
She has more races lined up for this summer, including the Great White North aquabike race on July 6 where she’ll try to qualify for the 2020 worlds in the Netherlands.
“The best way to describe this kind of race is a long bicycle ride home after a swim in the lake with a lot of friends,” says Petryshen-Kozak. “It is ideal for those unable to perform well in running. If I could give any advice or tips, it would be to pace yourself. Do not use all your energy on the swim as this is the shortest part of the race. A triathlon bike or time trial bike is always going to be your best option for the bike in regards to speed and comfort. Most important, have fun and run your own race.”
Petryshen-Kozak says the popularity of aquabike racing is growing. At the world championships in 2017 there were 300 participants, while at the 2019 event, there were over 800.
3. Open Water Swimming
This is an old sport with a new generation of devotees. Distances vary with ultra-swims starting at 10 K.
Alex Axon of Markham, ON. is Canada’s top junior open water swimmer. He placed 5th in the 2018 World Open Water Junior Championships in Israel, Canada’s best result ever. Axon says the challenges of open water swimming include wind, rough water, keeping focused mentally, cold water, staying hydrated and maintaining body temperature. And of course, there’s no black line on the bottom of the pool to keep you swimming in a straight line!
His advice to newbies is to start swimming longer distances in a pool to build up endurance. Once you’ve achieved that, focus on nutrition and hydration leading up to race day.
“Open water swimming is a nice change from pool swimming,” says Axon. “There’s a great camaraderie among the athletes and I enjoy going to the exotic warm places that host open water meets.”
Axon currently swims 64 K per week and outside the pool, focuses on strength and conditioning exercises to stay mobile, an important function for long distance swimmers. He hopes to qualify for the next Junior Worlds in two years and in the meantime, will continue competing in the pool in 400 m, 800 m and 1,500 m freestyle events.
If you don’t have a bike or don’t like cycling, this event is for you. Races start with a swim followed by a road run and distances vary. 2017 World Aquathlon Champion Matthew Sharpe of Victoria, B.C. says there are a few advantages to this type of multi-sport race.
“Aquathlons are shorter than triathlons so don’t take as long to complete,” says Sharpe. “And once you take the bike out of the equation it makes things less complex. The beauty of aquathlon is that it’s simple, just a swim then a run.”
Matthew, who is based in Victoria, B.C., is an elite triathlete but says in 2017 he had the opportunity to race in the Aquathlon World Championships in Penticton, B.C. so he took it.
“We don’t get the chance to race at home very often,” said Sharpe, “and I had a bit of experience doing aquathlons from when I was a junior triathlete. Aquathlon is a great introduction to multi-sport and it provides a big bang for the buck in terms of fitness.”
He recommends practicing going from swimming to running before participating in an aquathlon event and says it’s “quite a shock to the system going from horizontal to vertical. You also finish the swim fatigued and then have to run. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door for other multisports.”
Matthew was in Huatulco, Mexico at the time of our interview, getting ready for a World Cup Triathlon event. He hopes to qualify for the Canadian Olympic Triathlon team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
If you’re inspired to try one of these unique events, here are a few Canadian races to check out.
- Across the Lake Swim – July 20, Aug. 10 and Aug. 31, Kelowna
- Bay Challenge – Aug. 5, Sandy Cove Beach, Vancouver