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Swimrun Nutrition: Interview With Precision Fuel & Hydration’s Andy Blow

You can find out more about PF&H and get a special swimrunners discount by following this link: Precision Fuel & Hydration.

Business owner and dad, Andy Blow of Precision Fuel & Hydration (PF&H) has been participating in swimrun for over a decade which makes him a grizzled veteran of the sport. He comes from a triathlon background with a top 10 Ironman finish and is an expert in fueling having established one of the world’s leading sports nutrition brands. Andy (on the left) chatted with swimrun.com, sharing some great advice about nutritional strategies and resilience mindset.

Swimrun: triathlon without the bike?

Actually it is much more than that, and totally different from any other sport. Andy was drawn to it for its unique elements of teamwork (swimrun pairs must stay within 10m of each other for the duration of a race) and the wild and rugged nature of the sport. This was the total antithesis of disciplined and regiment sport Andy was used to and a refreshing change. For Andy, swimrun is one of the several types of different sorts of events you might do throughout the year and is always an invigorating experience.

”The pictures you see of swimrun are absolutely true, it really is as spectacular as the photos”

How hard do you race?

Hard! Part of the enjoyment for Andy is pushing himself as much as possible. He has raced a lot of them with different partners and had many types of experiences as a result. Having partners of different fitness levels is less important than you might think. Sometimes he has been the guide and been able to take in the scenery a bit more. Sometimes, and as the slower member of the team bringing a wealth of experience to the table as a multiple finisher of the ÖTILLÖ, Swimrun World Championship. You do take stock during these races and say ‘wow, just look at where we are!’

Worst moment in swimrun?

Getting cold. Anytime the water gets cold, 10-11 degrees is miserable for Andy and recalls the long ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly swim, a 2.5km monster when his partner was having a tough day at the office. The team was moving slowly with an unhappy Andy unable to warm up, suffice to say the swim felt never-ending.

Best moment in swimrun?

Also in the Isles of Scilly but this time with his partner JP (pictured below), the team were in good shape and the duo had a great day out and managed to get a podium finish. It was one of those races which just played out beautifully. Despite JP being the better athlete, Andy felt like he pulled his weight with experience that day. Of course, getting to the finish at the ÖTILLÖ, Swimrun World Championship for the first time is right up there as a highlight. There are ankle breaking rocks at the start and you think, how on earth are you going to get through over 40km of running like this.

”The ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship is really really tough, it just keeps on throwing stuff at you. It is a special place”

What do you think about when you are in ‘the pain cave’?

Experience is the biggest thing you draw in. You have hit bottom before. You should always approach a challenge in a positive frame of mind but with the realistic expectation that a race will be way more tough than you think. Accept the tough times and remember that nothing lasts forever, these things are actually quite transient. When you are feeling good, pace yourself and eat. When you are feeling bad, is there something I can do about this? One of the best things about swimrun is you are in a constant state of change and flow. And that really helps mentally with saying ‘I’m just going to have to get to the end of this run or swim and I will get to the end’.

Is swimrun accessible for beginners?

It is becoming a more accessible sport with the number of races and not having to travel so far. You can also play to your strengths, if you are a good runner – choose a course with more trail running. If you are a good swimmer, then head to Cornwall (The Mad Hatter Sports Events in Cornwall are infamous for glorious sea swimming with a high proportion of swimming to running). The beauty of swimrun is that you have this depth of choice.

The equipment has made a huge difference over the years. You can get some really really good wetsuits which perform well on running, before they were only good for swimming. For Andy, the gear enhancements knocked off 40 minutes from his World Championship time and as an added bonus. there was no horrific chafing.

For Andy, the heart of the sport is to race as a pairs team although there are lots of practical reasons why you would choose to race solo. And most event organisers have cottoned onto the fact that individual entries remove one of the biggest barriers to the sport which is finding a partner.

Endurance side of swimrun. How would you advise someone approaching their nutritional strategy to the day?

Swimrunners are perhaps a little behind the curve in understanding the importance of correct fuelling to maximise your own performance.

The really important point with nutrition is to carry as much as your own nutrition from the start as you can, something like the ARK Kangaroo style vest is perfect as you just fill your pockets with nutrition. You have to understand the basics, which is how much carbohydrate, fluid and sodium you need. For most people, that is 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour (which is 3-4 standard energy gels). One of Andy’s biggest improvements in performance was to fuel more. There is a bit of a hesitancy to fuel so aggressively compared to cycling, but you really need to. The other advantage of carrying your nutrition is you can eat and drink when you want rather than faffing around at an aid station.

”In swimrun, the energy burn is real and you need a lot of calories”

How are PF&H products on athletes’ stomachs?

You have to test your approach in the build up to a race. The good thing about energy intake is that it is relatively stable whatever the weather conditions. Fluid however and sodium requirements are a bit more volatile, for example in hotter weather (Editors note: PF&H products are widely thought to be excellent for sensitive stomachs).

Start with an amount which feels comfortable then over 6-8 weeks build it up and get to a comfortable ceiling for you. Correct fuelling will make you faster later in the race. We know from talking to some of the top swimrunners that they consume 90-100g carbohydrates an hour (most ‘normal’ athletes consume around 60g).

”In the same way you should do a lot of miles for trainers, you should prepare your stomach properly for fuelling” 

Future of swimrun?

Hopefully it continues to grow but doesn’t grow too fast. Andy has seen triathlon grow exponentially and change as the years have gone on, the soul of it has peaked and started to go slightly in the wrong direction. With swimrun, the limiting factor is the viability of really good natural courses. The ÖTILLÖ, Swimrun World Championship is so iconic and really hard to replicate anywhere in the world. Swimrun requires either a spectacular geographic setting or it needs spectacular course planning (like ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Cannes). Andy is excited to track how swimrun grows while retaining many of the elements which make it such a special sport.

You can find out more about PF&H and get a special swimrunners discount by following this link: Precision Fuel & Hydration.

Fred Newton

Fred is the Editor and co-founder of swimrun.com. He has actively been involved with the sport of swimrun as an enthusiastic participant, race director, volunteer and journalist.

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