Swimrun.com’s Editor, Fred reflects on this year and makes predictions for the future. As the sun sets on 2022, here are some candid thoughts on where the sport is at the moment and what the future might hold.
Just how big is swimrun?
It is growing but still relatively small, take the below numbers with a big pinch of salt. In 2022, estimated numbers as follows:
- 100-150 organisers worldwide
- 300-450 distinct races
- 12,000 – 15,000 swimrunners
- 25 nations hosting races
Since Michael and Mats put on the first ÖTILLÖ in 2006, there have perhaps been 75,000 – 100,000 swimrunners all-time. As a point of comparison, triathlon has at least 3 million active triathletes worldwide .
Anecdotally, 50% of people doing a swimrun race are doing it for their first time although that number drops to around 30% for longer distance races.
How has 2022 played out?
The sport is still finding its feet again following the pandemic which has been lousy for events. But there are many reasons to be optimistic. Swimrun has spread to 6 continents with over 25 countries hosting races.
ÖTILLÖ Swimrun had record breaking fields of over 600 participants several times over. ÖDYSSEY Swimrun added in a new race now with 5 races in the series. The One Water Race was a breathtaking new challenge at 250km long.
And there were many smaller organisers putting on new and local races, often run by committed people who are also holding down full-time jobs.
Swimrun continues to orbit around races and events. In most cases, while you might ‘go out for a jog’, you don’t yet ‘go out for a swimrun’.
Is swimrun at a tipping point?
Not yet, but it could tip by 2030. Triathlon boomed, swimrun will boom.
Triathlon took 15-20 years to establish as a global phenomenon. We should view the start of swimrun’s expansion as a global sport in 2014 when it left Sweden to go to other countries. Based on the triathlon timeframe, we are talking towards the end of the decade where we will see hundreds of thousands of swimrunners each year – which would be incredible.
What makes swimrun so great?
For many, swimrun is the abrupt antithesis of everyday lives with a close connection to nature and each other. Since swimrun is an events based sport, let’s wind back and ask the question, why do people participate in events? The top 6 reasons from the National Running Survey (US) are listed below:
- Location is convenient
- Is the distance I prefer
- It sounds fun
- I have time to train
- Scenic course
- My friends are doing it
Swimrun ticks a lot of these boxes. It’s fun and exciting, in stunning scenery with a friendly and inclusive community. In addition swimrun puts you in a dreamlike state as you flow through water and land.
Our own survey of 200 swimrunners, asked a similar question and ranked the following reasons for doing a swimrun race:
- Try something news
In summary, people participate in swimrun as it is fun and adventurous. But practical reasons like how convenient the location are clearly very important as well. Probably even more so in 2023, with the cost of living on the rise.
What does the future hold?
There are three things which will help shape the expansion of the sport: accessibility, the short term growth outlook and establishing a central governing body.
Number one on the list of reasons for participation in events from the National Runner Survey was ‘location is convenient’. Swimruns by their very nature are in wilder place and therefore are not easy to get to.
Growing the sport will need more races like ÖTILLÖ Cannes, which is just a stunningly good race in the heart of the city or a new breed of swimrun races nearer to major population centres.
2. Short term growth
An increase in the number of races which come from existing organisers and new organisers. There is a real shortage of races outside of Europe and the Americas, increasing the number to 500-1000 races globally would significantly raise awareness and participation.
Swimrun will grow quickest in France and the US over the next few years. The US has the biggest market of multi-sport and triathletes, with some really committed people and a strong set of existing races.
More people will attend existing races. Existing races are expensive to put on, having fuller capacity allows race organisers to become more profitable which in turn means growth and expansion of the sport.
It is hard to say what an average number of participants per race are, an estimate of that number is currently around 60-100 participants. Which in most cases might be a break even number for organisers. Doubling or tripling that number, puts more money into the sport.
3. Governing bodies
In order for swimrun to realise its potential, it requires a central governing body. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) had the first official World Championships. It actually makes for some interesting reading on some of the growing pains the ITU experienced.
The ÖTILLÖ World Championship is totally worthy of its status as well as having historic roots in the sport. But a Swimrun World Championship which moves between host county would do wonders for raising the profile of the sport. Imagine bringing the Swimrun World Championship to a new country for the first time and the excitement that would bring.
Should swimrun sit under Triathlon Unions?
An interesting question. It does in France, and look how the sport is flourishing in that country.
There are of course concerns, when you introduce barriers to entry and a clash of cultures. Swimrun is not triathlon. Triathlon is not swimrun.
But there is no denying, what Triathlon Unions could do for growth of the sport.
In conclusion, swimrun needs a central governing body which isn’t simply a subsidiary of triathlon. This central body would need the buy-in from race organisers, have regional reps and a clear mission statement with ambitious objectives. This governing body should be truly independent.
What can we do as individuals to help grow the sport?
- Introduce a friend to swimrun. If we all encouraged a friend, helped them with training and got them to enter a race. That would be at least 10,000 new swimrunners next year.
- Call the sport by its proper name which is ‘swimrun’. Swimrun is its own distinct discipline like triathlon. It is not Swim Run or Swim/Run. Small point but important.
- Produce more content. Whether that be on your own social channels, writing or videos about your experiences. Content will help reach an even wider audience and raise the profile of the sport.
What role does swimrun.com play?
Since we launched almost a year ago, readership has grown each month to just under 5000 visitors a month with 15% returning.
I see our main role as storytellers. Editorial in swimrun.com will always be positive. Our mission is to help promote and grow the sport of swimrun.
A last and personal note, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has taken the time to participate in interviews or submitted content to the website. Without people taking the time to do this, it would be impossible to fulfil what we are trying to do.
To share my personal swimrun highlight from this year. I participated in the ÖTILLÖ Final 15km and for most of the race was yo-yoing with two young lads who must have been about 14 years old. I think was their first ever race. They were giving it absolutely everything, encouraging each other over the highly technical trails and smashing me on the swims. We chatted at the finish line and it left me full of hope that this sport has a bright future.