Just Do It Series: First Time Swimrunner Alex Sheen ‘I’m In Trouble With My Wife’

In the new ‘just do it’ series on swimrun.com, we feature stories from first-time swimrunners on how they have discovered the sport, approached training, acquired kit and entered a race.

This is a guest post from Alex Sheen who will be taking on his first swimrun with As Keen As Mustard Events in the coming weeks. Alex has truly embraced the swimrun spirit although is in trouble with his wife for buying a new wetsuit.

How did you find out about swimrun?

“Swimrun? What?” I was browsing an online sports retailer’s site Autumn 2021 and saw swimrun listed under the Speciality Stores. Like most people, I enjoy the idea of being “special”, I was a swimmer (or used to be), I’d recently started running…so I was intrigued!

I started wild swimming during the summer of 2021, followed closely by a bit of a “sorting my life out” period during the autumn of 2021 by running regularly and training for my first ever running events, and in early this year joining a Masters swimming club.

So having come across the term swimrun, I began my research and convinced myself that this was something I could have a go at.

The doorstep mile

The hardest part of any journey is starting, also known as the doorstep mile. Armed with the old sailing shortie wetsuit (worn back to front so the zip was on the front), a long sleeve rash vest, neoprene gloves, and a pair of trail shoes I ran to my usual swim spot and then swam (heads-up breaststroke) three times with successive groups of the local wild swimming group I’m part of, with a bit of a run between each swim. Despite some confused looks from other park users and swimmers, it was great fun and I was hooked…

Choosing a race

So now that I’d found something to be semi-serious about, it was time to choose an event, knuckle down to training, and make some kit choices.

My first race will be As Keen As Mustard’s Nene Park Intro 5km SwimRun on 18 June. I liked the idea of a short event, with low technical difficulty to see what swimrun is like under race conditions.

The main thing I knew I needed to get cracked was swimming with my face in. I’m a strong pool swimmer and had swum (heads up breaststroke!) all through the winter in my local river, so I was well acclimatised to the water but there was something of a mental block to actually putting my face in!

Once I’d overcome this, I settled into training properly which weekly usually looks like 3 runs (one of which is hills reps or intervals), 2 sessions with a Masters swimming club, and 1 either open water swim, or swimrun session.

A local swimming lake is surrounded by trails and a great venue for practicing transitions and running through the dizziness that sometimes comes when you finish a swim. The best tip I heard was to focus on the longest leg length of your race, not the total distance of the event, something that should make swimrun much more accessible than some endurance sports!

What gear is Alex using?

· Shoes: Adidas Terrex Agravic Trail Shoes. I had these already, didn’t really like them as trail shoes so relegated them to swimrun. They do the job well enough and don’t hold much water.

· Socks: Compressport Trail Socks V3. This is the one thing to spend money on if nothing else. Socks without cotton are an absolute must. I’m not a fan of knee high socks, so I’m very happy with these which are ankle height, super lightweight and work well when wet.

· Hand Paddles. Synergy Medium. I was unsure on whether to use hand paddles but with the opportunity to use them regularly in Masters swim training I’ve introduced (Sundried) and now upsized my hand paddles. If you’re going to use hand paddles, build up carefully to avoid injury.

· Pull Buoy. The one in my swimming bag! Another item I was unsure on but I’m now leaning towards as my stroke has a better glide phase with it than without. I just need to work out how to carry it, fortunately there are some excellent guides from the Low Tide Boyz!

· Swimrun wetsuit. Having promised myself (and my wife) to do it all on the cheap, I failed on this one and bought a swimrun suit. I’m keen on ethical purchases, so went for the Duel from Alpkit. A basic suit but still with pockets and a mix of smooth and durable neoprenes. It’s been comfortable to train in, and performed well on a very casual long course outing down the River Itchen. It’s nothing fast, but for the price (wait for a sale!) I’ve been very happy with it.

How are you feeling about your first swimrun race?

I’m excited to get to the event, albeit a bit nervous as generally flake on race day, so trying to keep focussed on enjoying it and not getting distracted by grand ambitions of something like the ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly next year.