Swimrun USA: Race Winner Matt Hurley On Why You Shouldn’t Focus On Winning

Winning a swimrun race isn’t as simple as having the gear and trying your hardest. Without the right combination of preparation, nutrition, and a suitable partner, you’re not likely to make it to the podium.

Whether you’re gearing up for your first swimrun event or you’re a veteran of the sport, the best way to improve your strategy is to hear from someone who’s done well at races before. In this case, that person is Matthew Hurley, an experienced endurance athlete from Portland, Maine. But is it all about winning?

I’d say if your goal is winning you’re in the wrong sport. It misses the point for me. Go have fun, enjoy the experience.

matt hurley eating during competition

His journey to swimrun started with swimming and running in high school, later progressing to triathlon—an obvious gateway sport for swimrun. Despite his experience with endurance sport, he admits that swimrun was a challenge for him at first.

It seems he’s taken to it like a fish to water, though. Matt and his swimrun partner John Stevens won the San Juan Islands SwimRun in 2018, beating a certain Lance Armstrong and his partner, Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield. Matt and John have also won every edition of the ÖDYSSEY Casco Bay Islands swimrun in Portland, Maine, which started in 2016 and was the first ÖTILLÖ-style event in the US.

We spoke to Matt to find out about his race strategy and hear his tips for winning a swimrun race.

matt hurley running in a competition

Did You Enter Your First Swimrun Race Hoping To Win Or Was It A Surprise?

What I love about swimrun is there’s a competitive element of course, but it’s not an individual effort. There’s so many things that can go sideways. You’re managing someone else, they’re managing you, and there are a lot of things beyond your control. Easy to get lost, broken shoes, lost paddles, goggles etc. I think John knew we’d be competitive, so we weren’t surprised, but that was besides the point.

How Did You Go About Training For Your Swimruns?

The jump was fairly easy as I was swimming, biking and running already. I’ll admit I’ve never trained specifically for swim run, it sort of defeats the purpose of the endeavour for me. I like that it doesn’t have the structure of triathlon. However I was still training a lot, just not with swim run in mind.

How Important Is Choosing The Right Partner For Your Race?

I do think you want to pick a partner you can communicate with, and whose strengths or weaknesses compliment or balance your own. For example, John is a great navigator, and I am not, so that’s not something I need to think about out there. I think having a partner who is comparable on the run is helpful as you can pull the weaker swimmer, but it’s harder to drag someone over the run course.

Is There Any Equipment In Particular That You Swear By?

I forego the equipment that most use, no paddles or buoy, as I’m not faster with those pieces. I don’t think this is the case for most and I’m sure if I were to focus on the event I’d do more specific work with paddles and buoys.

Do You Have Any Tips For People Attempting Their First Swimrun Race?

I would say the most important element is eating a ton. It’s a long event and it’s easy to undershoot. Most athletes don’t eat enough, and it’s a real challenge to eat enough while you’re in those elements.

And Tips For Anyone Who Has Completed A Few Races But Is Yet To Clinch First Place?

Unless you’re racing in world championships, I’d say if your goal is winning you’re in the wrong sport. It misses the point for me. Go have fun, enjoy the experience. It’s a different vibe.

matt hurley competing in a swimrun