The latest race craze involves swimming in shoes, running in wetsuit, and we’re all in

Amy Bush shows off the outfit she’ll be wearing this weekend for a swimrun race in North Carolina. Photo courtesy Amy Bush

 

I could turn into a popsicle this weekend.

I’m heading to Red Top Mountain State Park in Georgia to try a crazy new sport – swimrun – that started in Sweden.

Teams of two alternate between running and swimming over a pre-marked wilderness course, staying within 10 meters of each other during the entire race. They wear shoes while they swim and they run in wetsuits. Some races unfold between islands; others between lakes.

At SwimRun Georgia, my race partner Gretch Sanders and I will run through a pine-studded state park, swimming across 10 or so coves.

Conditions are not ideal. The water temperature, I am told, is hovering in the mid-50s. The weather forecast calls for a low of 43 and a high of 59, with partly cloudy skies.

Coincidentally, another Austin athlete is headed to a different swimrun event – SwimRun Lake James in North Carolina. Conditions for her race are even worse. The forecast there calls for a low of 26 and a high of 55, with periodic rain.

I’m not a fan of cold water, as you can see by this photo of me at Barton Springs last winer. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

 

Good grief. What have we signed up for?

The whole swimrun thing started as a bet between four drunk guys (of course) in Sweden. They challenged each other to race from island to island, stopping at restaurants along the way. The last team to finish had to drink and pay what the team ahead of it had ordered for them.

In 2006, a version of the race went commercial in Sweden, attracting 11 teams. Only two teams finished within the time limit. CNN has ranked the Swimrun World Championship there as one of the toughest races in the world.

I love to swim: I swam around Manhattan Island (yes, in New York) a few years ago with Sanders, my partner on this race. But the water was way warmer. I did jump in the Hudson River once, when water temperatures were in the 50s. I think I lasted about 2 minutes.

I had an entertaining online conversation this week with Amy Bush, the Austin athlete doing SwimRun Lake James. She’s racing alongside Trista Mennen, a former Austinite.

Bush was initially excited about the event, which she describes as the perfect combination of sports – “no bike. Just swimming and running.” Then she saw the forecast. Now we’re both freaking out about the cold.

“I’m just … trying to ignore the whole cold thing,” she wrote me. “For a long time we were like, ‘Well, sure, the water’s going to be in the 50s. But as long as the sun’s out, we’ll be fine!’ And now it’s supposed to be in the 40s and raining.”

I know from swimming at Barton Springs in the winter, where I always wind up shivering in the 70-degree water even if I’m wearing a shortie wetsuit, that bright sunshine mentally makes me feel warmer, even if it’s still cold. That’s not going to happen this weekend. And even if it was sunny, there is a limit to what my brain can do.

“I mean, it’s already completely ridiculous, what we’re doing,” Bush wrote me. “Why not have it be terrible weather, too? Better story, right? I mean, if we live.”

Then she sent me a photo of her race outfit, which looks pretty identical to what I’ve got planned: shortie wetsuit, pull buoy strapped to thigh (to counter the weight of soggy shoes worn during the swim), swim paddles (same story) and swim cap.

“The people walking around Quarry Lake on Saturday morning think I’m a complete nut job as I run around in this,” she wrote.

Well, it’s true. We are nutjobs. But in a good way, right?

“We just have to live through it and then a couple days have to pass, and then we’ll be able to talk about how fun it was.

Once our limbs thaw enough to type,” she wrote.

Look for a recap coming soon. And enjoy the warm weather in Austin this weekend, people.

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