The most raw form of fitness for humans, running and swimming have been activities that humans have been doing for an absurdly long time. Humans evolved to run millions of years ago so they could outlast their prey as they chased them during a hunt. Swimming, while tough to pinpoint when humans first swam, can be traced back thousands of years. Just pick up something like The Iliad, Odyssey, or even the Bible. In fact, the very first swim book was published in the mid 1500’s by a dude name Nikolaus.
Competitively, running and swimming have been around for a while. However, the pairing of both sports as one event has not. Since the 20th century only 2 main competitive events have been created by combining swimming and running. These two are the shorter distance Aquathlon and the ultra/long distance event known as the Swimrun.
The earliest known aquathlon was formed in the 20th century in the form of lifeguard races. Competitors would run down the beach, swim a short distance in the water, come back out on the beach and run to the finish line. Now there is an international standard lifeguard race that consists of a 400 meter run, a 400 meter swim, and a 200 meter run.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the International Triathlon Union first held the international Aquathlon World Championship. From that point forward it has been an accepted race format around the world. While different national federations have different standard distances for the aquathlon, the ITU has 3 set distances:
- Warm Water Standard: 2.5k run, 1k swim, 2.5k run
- Cold Water (wetsuit) Standard: 1k swim and a 5k run
- Long Distance: 2k swim and a 10k run
If you live in the US here is their Aquathlon information.
The Swimrun is a mutliple stage event where competitors traverse a large course that transitions between swimming and running multiple times. It was technically created in 2002 by a couple of crazy Swedes who wanted to get a free hotel, dinner, and drinks from the people they challenged. It was designated as a formal race in 2006 and has grown incredibly quick ever since. Today, the same course that the creators competed on is the course for the Swimrun World Championships. It is right outside of Stockholm Sweden and consists of a 75 kilometer course with a total of 10 kilometers of swimming and 65 kilometers of running. This particular race has been dubbed “one of the toughest races in the world” by CNN and certainly lives up to its reputation. Like the Ironman race, it has spawned many other Swimrun races around the world and has now developed it’s own ranking system.
The uniqueness comes in the rules. There are few but not many. There is no limit or maximum number of transitions that a race can have. There isn’t really a standard distance that races should adhere to. There is no water temperature guidelines or certain equipment that you can’t bring (besides the obvious propellers and stuff). You are even allowed to have a buoy between your legs, custom wetsuits, and paddles! The only problem is that one little rule exists that states whatever you bring with you, you must carry with you the entire time. Being that there are no traditional transition areas and the courses aren’t loops, you can’t just change in and out of swimming and running gear. You run in a wetsuit with paddles and a buoy strapped to you and you swim in your running shoes.
Swimruns in the US
While there are a lot of awesome Swimrun races around the world, there are some closer to home for all you folks in the United States. If you live on the east coast there is a great one that runs through the city of Richmond, Virginia in October every year. The SwimrunVA event is a 18.31 mile course with a total of 3.37 miles of swimming and 14.95 miles of running. A large part of the course is right next to the city since the James River runs through the city.