SaltStick is used by athletes in sports worldwide. SaltStick CEO, Jonathan Toker, Ph.D., recently had an opportunity to compete in Sweden in a Swimrun event as part of Team SaltStick.com. This week’s blog post, authored by Jonathan, shares his story.
Many athletes begin their “careers” as a single-sport athlete: swim team, track, cross-country, or even mountain biking teams at some schools. The arc of athletic progression differs, of course, but many athletes who enter multi-sport events these days began with these school-age experiences.
Perhaps through a desire to try new adventures, a 5K runner may be inspired to “go long” and try a marathon. Perhaps boredom with a specific single-sport event sets in after some time, and athletes begin to toy with a short triathlon or obstacle course event. As one develops familiarly with one type of event, often a motivation develops to try other new and different sports to keep the experience fresh and exciting.
From a personal perspective, after having raced long-course triathlon events from 2000 through 2009, my interest began to wane, until I found a calling in long-distance off-road running. That phase persists, but with the increasing popularity of Swimrun events, my time to try one arrived recently.
What is a Swimrun event? Also known as “swim-run,” it’s basically a course designed to encompass the best of both water and land, alternately with at least two transitions, so that most athletes run in a wetsuit and swim with running shoes on. Transitioning between swim and run phases usually takes place at whatever interface the natural terrain provides — whether a beach, rock or marsh — and adjoining lake, ocean, quarry, or whatever is available. Swimming between islands and running across the island to the other side for the next swim leg is also popular.
Though still a fringe sport, it appears to be gaining in popularity, and there are now events worldwide with over 100 events hosted in 2016. The sport began to take shape in 2002 in Sweden, noted for it’s natural beauty and well-positioned islands in the archipelago off the coast of capital city, Stockholm. The many lakes dotted across the mainland form another attractive palette for such events, and so it was in June 2018 that Team SaltStick.com (CEO Jonathan Toker and good friend Stefan Lemurell) toed the line in the shadow of the Gunnebo Slott on the outskirts of Sweden’s second largest city, Göteborg.
The event was called “10 Lakes Swimrun” and as indicated, the course crossed 10 lakes with an approximate total distance of 4500 meters of swimming and 25 kilometers of running. The day dawned clear and sunny, at about 4 a.m. due to the high latitude of 57°N! The race began at 10 a.m. in the already-hot morning, and Team SaltStick, along with about 40 other teams, began our adventure.
It was quite a different sensation and shock to one’s body to have to move between vertical and horizontal so many times, shake water from goggles and ears to regain balance, and swim while wearing shoes! Special gear continues to evolve, and I was fortunate to be racing in a pair of Salomon S/Lab XA/Amphib shoes and an Orca Swimrun wetsuit (both purchased — no endorsement here). These shoes shed water efficiently, and the flexible wetsuit could be un-zipped in front to provide some cooling while running.
There are a few common rules in Swimrun events. One of those rules states that most supplemental gear is permitted (paddles, pullbuoy, etc…) but that any gear must be carried throughout the event through to the finish. We used an elastic tow rope in the water to keep us together and faster as a team, and many teams also used hand paddles that we opted not to use due to ongoing shoulder issues. My teammate used a pullbuoy, which can be helpful to raise legs and shoes out of the water a bit. It’s held in place with elastic rope, allowing it to turn outward along the leg while running.
For food and hydration, there were four aid stations along the route, stocked with water, a sports drink and some basic food. And so we carried most of the energy and electrolytes. I consumed about 500 kcal during the 3.5-hour event. For electrolytes, of course it’s no surprise that I carried SaltStick products. In this instance, I relied on SaltStick Fastchews in their watertight pouches (with zip seal), and consumed about 12 tablets (600 mg sodium) during the event. Unfortunately, I neglected to properly seal one pouch at some point, and so I quickly learned to drink lake water mixed with the dissolving tablets as I got to the end of the event and realized I still needed electrolytes! Note to self for the future: ensure packets are well sealed!
There was a great camaraderie and atmosphere within the race that reminded me of the early days of triathlon, and fellow participants just seemed joyful to be on site and competing. Travel and racing without a bicycle made for significantly easier logistics.
One curious aspect involved the public and their apparent awareness and acceptance of such a sight of a wetsuit-clad runner on their street or forest path — not only during the event, but in the week prior, not even a eyebrow raised as we ran, wearing swim gear, past hikers. It felt nice to be accepted.
Another difference from prior events in which I’ve competed was the stretchable-fabric numbered bib one was forced to wear. We had lucky number nine. The only issue was the bib caught significant water while swimming, and somewhat impeded ventilation while running. I don’t think there is any solution to either issue — at least nothing I know of yet. But it’s a handicap throughout the field, so I guess it’s fair.
Stefan and I came over the last hill and past the castle and down to the finish line, placing as the 11th team (of 41) and 6th in the 2-men division in just over 3:36. We were overjoyed to have finished, and surprised by the placing since it was our first-ever Swimrun event, and we broke the rule about racing on new gear…quickly forgotten with the post-race food and friendly surroundings.
At SaltStick, we embrace the support of athletes and their events worldwide. It was an delight to participate in the developing sport of Swimrun and meet with fellow athletes in a most beautiful setting. If you are ever tired of the same sports or races, consider giving Swimrun a try. Try to work in a visit to Sweden at the same time too!
The helpful resources listed below will get you off to a great start: