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Running and swimming in Poland: discover swimrun, a discipline from Sweden

Polish athletes who love challenges, during the year 2016, events in the mountains or in the lake regions of the northern half of the country very quickly appeared: Poland welcomed a new discipline, the swimrun with open arms! Let’s discover this sporting challenge combining running and swimming.

What is Swimrun?

A little like the Hawaiians when they created the “ironman” triathlons, following a bet during a drunken evening, the Swedes imagined, in the early 2000s, a challenge consisting of running and swimming on and between all the islands of the Stockholm archipelago. ÖTILLÖ (“from island to island”, in Swedish), was born.

Only two rules : we take all the equipment we want, provided we finish the event with it, and we do it in pairs, for safety. By alternating portions of running and swimming, of various lengths and generally numerous, understand that you have to swim in shoes, and run with swimming goggles and swimming cap!

The geography of the Scandinavian peninsula lending itself well to it, the “swimrun” (no one has imagined a more original name), surfing on the sporting culture and the love of nature among the inhabitants of these countries, has become a discipline in its own right over the years. Remained for a time “intra-muros”, it gradually became fashionable in other countries, mainly in Europe, and discovered a new idyllic anchorage point on the coasts of the Mediterranean basin. Thanks to the richness of its geography, France has itself become one of the countries where the discipline is the most fashionable, and there are few trail runners who have never heard of it.

Photo: Dorota Wilk-Visentin, Nidzica: plastic paddles on the hands increase the efficiency of the crawl movement

What equipment to practice swimrun?

As in any sporting discipline, equipment inexorably follows the search for performance, and nowadays, “swimrunners” use a now established panoply: to compensate for the lack of efficiency of the feet (with shoes, etc.) and to improve buoyancy, you swim with a float between your legs, and plastic paddles on your hands increase the efficiency of the crawl movement. In pairs, the two team members are connected by a 5m elastic rope, which allows the less efficient swimmer to be towed.

Of course, on the shore all this hangs on the waist. Since the water is generally cold in northern countries, and triathlon wetsuits are too stiff and hot for running, swimrun suits, flexible at the leg level, and with short sleeves, have conquered a new market. Some shoe brands now also offer models dedicated to swimrun, evacuating water more quickly.

One of the key points of success lies, among other things, in the speed of the transitions: you have to know how to adjust the cap, goggles, float and paddles during the last hectometres of the race, in order to be able to jump into the water by swimming immediately. And vice versa on the opposite bank, visible in the distance thanks to flags.

In summary, an endurance sport where you have to have a strong heart, but which rewards the effort with a complete “immersion” in the place visited.

Swimrun Slezka Harta CZ
Photo: Tomas Matera. Eric Visentin with his partner, in full effort, Slezka Harta

The swimrun in Poland

Endurance sports experienced a spectacular boom in the 2010s, benefiting from growing purchasing power, leisure, and the interest that Poles have for the nature of their country: marathons, mountain bike races, trails, and more recently the democratization of triathlons. Polish athletes love to mix tastes, it didn’t take long before events appeared in the mountains, or in other regions that are the country’s natural tourist attractions. With its lake regions in its northern half, Poland welcomed the swimrun with open arms.

The birth certificate is probably at the beginning of September 2016, when a small group of enthusiasts, regular subscribers to extreme sporting events and for some organizers of small local events, decided to meet in the Bieszczady, in order to test some portions of routes between the meandering arms of Lake Solina. Among them, a certain Jędrzej Maćkowski, former TV presenter, who with his colleague Rafał had just finished the “Rockman” event in Norway, as well as Gabriella and Kacper, organizers who would later perpetuate the idea in the region. of Solina.

2017 saw the almost simultaneous appearance of three official events, each claiming, somewhat chaotically, the title of the first swimrun in Poland. Solina’s course, divided into three distances (40, 20, 10), gave birth to the “Swimrun Polska” event. Gabriella and Kacper even accomplished the tour de force of registering this event, from its first edition, on the official ÖTILLÖ calendar, grouping together the events allowing to qualify for the world championships, in Sweden.

Jędrzej and Rafał created “GoSwimrun”, another event taking place on Lake Wióry, in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. Also a reservoir with a complex geography, and surrounded by pretty hills, this event has also become a flagship event.

Finally, in the North West, in the region of Kociewie (near Kashubia), sports enthusiasts from the municipality of Starogard Gdański created an event called “Polswimrun”. Benefiting from the exceptional patchwork of lakes in the region, despite a flatter profile, it provides a magnificent swimrun experience, and is also long-lasting.

The following year, Swimrun Garmin appeared with a test not far away in Stężyca (Bory Tucholskie), on a nevertheless shorter distance. Near Opole also appeared the “Swimrun industrialny”, so named because using a group of lakes in the heart of a formerly mining region. Fantasy knows no bounds when it comes to exploiting the specificities of the regions of Poland, including where no one considered the possibility of swimming in open waters!

In recent years, despite the pandemic, paradoxically new challenges have continued to flourish. This can be partly explained by the fact that the traditional mass events have been canceled due to health restrictions. The swimruns, generally on a small scale and not representing a major risk of contamination because they are outdoors, have been able to circumvent these restrictions and attract a new audience.

The flagship events have turned into cycles with additional races, and Masuria, hitherto unfairly spared by the swimrun phenomenon, has seen the appearance of three events: on Lake Jeziorak (Swimrun Polska, renamed since Aquaman), in Nidzica (GoSwimrun), and in Gołdap (Garmin Series).

In the region of Poznan, also appeared the Swimrun Lwa (of the eponymous triathlon), and in Miedzychód (Aquaman). Among the Czech neighbors, also keen on sport, a “Czech Swimrun Tour” was born. Certain stages in the Sudetenland regularly attract members of Poland’s sporting microcosm.

The Swimrun, a hobby above all

This avalanche of dates and events should not give the false impression that swimrunners are “geeks” addicted to performance and competition, as triathletes are sometimes caricatured. The swimrun is above all a hobby, which many practice for their simple pleasure. The pandemic has even accelerated this phenomenon.

The lakes near Warsaw are regularly the scene of training and initiation during the summer. There is a group on Facebook called “Swimrun Polksa”, where members actively share their discoveries and experiences.

Creating a swimrun course from scratch, in a region that we know, or that we don’t know (sometimes using Google Maps) is part of the adventure and the fun! It is nevertheless essential to ensure the possibility of swimming from a legal point of view, as well as a prior identification of the areas allowing you to enter and leave the water: beaches, pontoons, open banks… under penalty of to make their way through the reeds!

These two years of pandemic have seen countless spontaneous gatherings, via Facebook “events”, sometimes bringing together up to thirty people and monopolizing campsites, in the pretty regions of Masuria and Kashubia, or the reservoirs in the Sudetes and the Beskids. The “tourist swimrun” has a bright future ahead of it!

One of the fundamental rules, let’s remember, is to practice swimrun in pairs. Only rare exceptions exist for short so-called discovery distances. A team sport, it leaves no room for ego: support the partner above all, including in difficult times.

A bit like tennis in pairs, canoeing in doubles, or figure skating, swimming and running with your best friend, or on the contrary with a person you know less, is an excellent way to learn to get to know each other and make good friends.

Nowadays, the swimrun in Poland is carried by a hard core of a few dozen enthusiasts, thanks to whom each meeting is a great moment of conviviality.

Poles at the World Championships

The initial event in the Stockholm archipelago (ÖTILLÖ) has become over the years a flagship event where everyone wants to go, to the point that the organizers of ÖTILLÖ set up a scale, a bit like the points UTMB in trail, where points are earned during partner races of the cycle, called ” ÖTILLÖ merit races “.

Solina, as mentioned above, is one of them, as is Cannes in France. There are three categories: men, women and mixed.

Aiming for the ÖTILLÖ is an expensive undertaking, which involves three, four, or even more in the event of failure, trips during the year, to fairly distant places in Europe. The physical preparation that accompanies this objective, if we want to achieve it, is also quite substantial, and we get out of the “swimrun-hobby” scheme with many training sessions in the swimming pool and in running…

About twenty Poles and Poles nevertheless managed to qualify and finish the event:

  • In 2021, three mixed teams placed 21st, 34th and 37th respectively;
  • In 2019, two men’s teams placed 37th and 75th, and a mixed 31st;
  • In 2018 also a mixed (65th) and two men, 31st and 48th, including the best performance to date: Wojciech Ptak and Jacek Śliwiński are the only ones to have connected the 24 islands and the 75km in less than ten hours.

Some links to go further:

aquaman swimrun

goswimrun

swimrunsumin

swimrunseries

Facebook group SwimRunPolska

Eric Vinsentin, the author of this article, is himself a keen follower of this sport! Some reports on the Polish events have appeared on the Swimrun France website here, here and again here, with a small bio as a bonus.

Joggers and swimmers from the French-speaking community, don’t hesitate to take the plunge to visit Poland from all angles!

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