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What is a swimrun race?

As more organisers around the globe are getting involved with swimrun, the definition of a swimrun race keep evolving, morphing out in different directions. Going from a 2-person team sport, with today ‘s upsurge in solo racing, but also organisers providing group adventure or relay races with teams of up to 6 participants, it’s hard to keep up. Not to mention races, in France in particular, also using a variety of expressions such as “Swim & Run”, “swim-run” and so forth.

We at WoS have been directly confronted to this issue when entering races into our race calendar, struggling to find good ways to categorise all these “new” modes of swimrun racing. E.g., is an indoor pool + treadmill event OK to call a swimrun race? We therefore turn to you swimrunners out there to ask for your help to figure out what can be considered to be a swimrun race?

The original rules

We don’t claim to have the ultimate answer but want to open a debate to examine some key-factors of importance and necessary to take into account. But first, and to set the scene, let’s remember what the original idea of a swimrun race was:

“Always carried out outdoors on land and in water. Carrying at least two swim and run sections. Whatever equipment a participant starts with, has to be brought to the finish, (apart from redundant garbage left at energy stations). You race in teams of two and any flotation equipment can’t be larger than 100×60 cm.”

Swimrun race factors of importance

Based on our swimrun database we have collected a number of factors we think are important. But we have also had a sneak-peak of the multitude of rankings out there, to see how they do it, and in essence come to shortlist the following key-factors:

  • Team sport or not

Although the sport started as a team-of-two challenge, more races are now including the option of solo competition. It seems accepted at all levels, from the ÖtillÖ organisation to a solo World championship, and here to stay. But how many people should be in a team? Is two an upper limit or should there be races with 3, 4 or more teammates? The experiment has been done in some races, e.g. Côte Vermeille, with a mixture of success.

  • How many times a race has taken place

We have seen many races popping-up in the last couple of years and unfortunately a significant portion of them have had to be cancelled for a number of reasons. Should there be a minimum number of times a race is run to be included in a calendar, a ranking system or even a championship?

  • Number of starting or finishing participants

As the sport is growing so are also the number of participants. But is there a bottom limit to the number of participants for the race to qualify as a race? What if only 7 end up starting a race? It’s safe to assume that even smaller races would claim to be a race regardless of number of participants but a bottom line has to be drawn at one point. We would suggest that if a race has less than 10 participants, either solo, or 10 teams of 2, classifying it as a race is borderline. On the other hand, if the weather is turning extremely challenging, it is possible that one year nobody or exceptionally few finishes the race. With this definition, ÖtillÖ would have only started in 2009 as a “real” swimrun race.

  • Established route

An outdoor race route is bound to change and adapt. There are many reasons for that, e.g. local authorities changing constraints, feedback from participants and previous years’ experience, weather, etc. But these are tweaks, not complete revamp. Therefore, a race should have a recognisable, mostly stable, route, which would allow for comparison of times between the years.

  • Race format

It’s safe to assume that the old rules no longer apply and that solo swimrun racing à la Ironman is here to stay. But what about the other options, the swimrun invitational, adventures, relays, pool, beach or inner city races, or even the loop-type races which are based on time rather than distance? It’s a tricky question as the logical answer would be that as long as a race has a winner or a fastest known time or distance, it also has the competition winning-losing aspect of a race. But would an indoor mixture of track running and swimming pool sections still be a swimrun? In other words, can swimrun be purely indoor?

  • Ranking

If there is no ranking, there is no competition, and following the definition of a race from Oxford or the Collins dictionary, then it’s not a race. Therefore all events, however challenging and interesting, that produce no ranking, should not be in a race calendar. It doesn’t diminish the merit of the participant or the beauty of the course, but it’s something else. There are some fantastic adventures (raids), ultra and other challenges organised everywhere, and maybe they deserve a separate calendar given that they are growing in popularity.

  • “Winning concept” – Timing vs. distance

How do we measure the performance? Most races set a course and measure how fast people cover the distance. Then you have those only measuring the time of a certain distance, which can be covered whenever you want i.e., a fastest known time (FKT) concept. Fewer races set a maximum time and measure how far people have swimrun. Very few even set an open scene, where swimrunners can go until there is only 1 person left standing, the so-called back-yard. All formats already exist in running races and they seem legitimate.

  • Cost

Ever been to a race that doesn’t charge anything? Some of us have, but it’s rare. Should we assume that “free” race rather qualifies as a training opportunity rather than a race, regardless if there is a winner or not? That would be a pity as some sponsors may be willing to put up free races, or maybe the concept of “Parkrun” hugely popular in UK will emerge in swimrun?

  • Check equipment and rules

Fairness is the essence of competition. Although most agree that swimrun rules should be kept at minima, a set of rules seems unavoidable and necessary. But to what extent should the rule book be of importance? Is it enough to stick with the original simple rules, or should we expect a much complex set of rules to apply when the races are developing? The explosion of equipment also raise this issue. Do remember that rules differ between organisers setting an uneven playing field, as the example of fins has shown us before.

  • Safety

Can a race take place without having any form of safety arrangement? Even though some actually tend to do so, there is always some form of disclosure agreement in place, verbally or written, that a participant enters the race (“event”) at own risk. It could be argued that this would be a minimum requirement whereas a federation like in France would require the race organisers to have a higher level of safety provided, maybe over the top. But shouldn’t this be a decision for the individual swimrunner to take?

  • Race bib

Many swimrunners don’t like the race-bib, especially since it really doesn’t do much when being submerged under water other than slowing you down. But many (most?) races however require you to have them on in various forms for marketing purposes. There have been experiments with race numbers attached in various forms to the leg or arm, clearly visible at check points, and as more environmentally friendly options are made available, isn’t it time to skip the race bib once and for all but still call the race a race?

Let the swimrunners decide what a swimrun race is

This is a selection of key-factors of importance, but are there more? What would you consider to be the minimum requirements for calling a swimrun event a swimrun race?

Answering this question now is difficult and it can be assumed that there will be calls from the swimrun community to leave swimrun “open” and free from “regulations”. But unfortunately this luxury is diminishing as more national associations and/or federations linked to the general sports system make their entry into swimrun. Likewise, the private corporations’ can decide for themselves what is considered a swimrun race and what rules to apply, just like the fins example, without much (any?) interaction with the swimrun community, which is yet to be organised.

For transparency and longevity purposes we, swimrunners, together, now have the chance to set our mark in swimrun history by together drawing up a “lagom” loose yet strict framework for what constitute a swimrun race.

Give us your thoughts and see you at the races 😉 

/The WoS Team

Photo: Akuna SR-France


  • Have a look at our updated swimrun race calendar, the most comprehensive in the world with over 500 races!
  • Interested in swimrun science? We’ve got it all covered as we love science too! Head on over to our science corner and check out the latest in research.

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