Last year, long time friends and drinkers of Precision Hydration Ben and Rhian Martin came 5th in the Mixed race at ÖTILLÖ Engadin in the Swiss Alps, which they described as tougher than an Ironman. This year they've already come 10th at the inaugural ÖTILLÖ Hvar in Croatia and have their sights set on a similar result at this year's World Championship race in Stockholm.
Of course, this year PH are the Official Hydration Partner of ÖTILLÖ and so the Martin's are now able to pick up the PH that matches their personalised hydration strategy at the Energy Stations. We were chatting in Hvar about how they got involved in the up and coming sport and why they think it's proving so popular...
So, what's your sporting background and how did you guys get into Swimrun?
Ben: We both been competitive swimmers and triathletes; Rhian was an Elite Great Britain triathlete (alongside Precision Hydration’s Andy Blow at Bath University!) and represented Wales at triathlon/duathlon/swimming/running, whilst I was a decent long distance swimmer. We’ve both done Ironmans and run marathons. However our first introduction to ÖTILLÖ Swimrun came from one of Rhian’s clients. He had qualified for the World Championships, was injured and needed Rhian’s help...
Rhian: We looked at the race video and were hooked! We wanted to know more.
When Votwo events hosted the 2015 inaugural ÖTILLÖ sprint, at Dorney Lake, Eton, we entered so we could experience what it was like. We won all three sprint events, then raced ÖTILLÖ Engadin (Switzerland) and never looked back!
What's the biggest challenge you face with a Swimrun event? What do you have to do differently in terms of training, nutrition and hydration versus a triathlon?
Rhian: The ÖTILLÖ organisers aim to provide “unique races in unique places.” So each race presents a different physical and mental challenge. Whilst most of the World Series events are between 7-10km of swimming and 30-35km of running, the changing lake/sea conditions and run terrains throw up all sorts of surprises, which slow you down. The weather conditions can also be very varied and unexpected, from 9 degree lake water to 30 degree running – all in the same race. And finally its adventure racing, so don’t expect the organisers to be kind!Ben: So whilst you might expect to be racing for 6 hours, you could be going for 9 hours – which has a massive impact on your energy levels and therefore the nutrition strategy needed to complete.
How do you fuel your ÖTILLÖ races then?
Ben: The rules dictate that you must carry your own energy or fuel up at the official Energy Stations. No other help is allowed. We work to a careful plan of what energy we’ll use per hour and assess where the Energy Stations are on the route. If we determine we’ll need gels/bars in between energy stations, we’ll carry them. We carry Torq gels to fuel us, in addition to what is on offer at the Energy Stations, such as bananas. The ethos of these events is not to leave a lasting mark on the environment, so they're very careful with what they provide to minimise the impact.
And, of course we have to ask, how do you stay hydrated during ÖTILLÖ races?!
Ben: Hydration is crucial as you’re running in a wetsuit, with a high risk of becoming dehydrated. It’s great news that Precision Hydration are the official providers at every ÖTILLÖ race this year, as it’s what we train on! In hot races we also carry your SweatSalts so we can top up on sodium when we're low on fluids or between Energy Stations.
How do you balance training with the demands of work/family/social life?
Rhian: Careful planning. We both run our own businesses so this gives us the flexibility to train/work at odd times. We have 2 kids, who are now school age so we balance our training around them, for example Ben takes James (aged 7) to football and does a circuits/run set whilst watching from the side lines!
What's it like racing with your partner?!
Ben: It’s one of the reasons we enjoy ÖTILLÖ Swimrun so much. Prior sporting careers have been individual events, so it’s fun to race as part of a team. It adds motivation to complete every training session. And it brings another dimension; you don’t race at the speed of the slowest partner. You can train so that you race at your best combined speed, often accomplished with a tow rope for both the swimming and running.
Rhian: We also understand what each other is going through and each decision is made from a team perspective rather than individual.
What are your aims in the sport this year and beyond?
Rhian: We have raced Hvar, Croatia and have recently entered ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly, where we want to medal. Both are in preparation for the World Championship race in Sweden which, with 10km of swimming and 65km of running, is going to be a huge mental and physical test.
Ben: We’re aiming to be within the top 10 mixed teams, but as this will be our first World Championship, just finishing will be an achievement!
What advice would you give to triathletes thinking about making the switch to Swimrun?
Ben: Do a short event just to try it. ÖTILLÖ have sprint races that are ideal for newcomers to the sport. Use old tri kit that can be cut down. We were hooked after our first race and then we began the never ending quest to improve our kit selections, race transitions and how we approach each race.
Rhian: Without the need for long bike training sessions, we’ll often swim and run on the same day, or as part of a brick session.
What about athletes who've never done a multi-discipline endurance sport?
Ben: Find a partner who runs/swims at a similar pace and has the same outlook on training and racing as you. Create a training plan ahead of your chosen race – and make sure you have the time to train together. You don’t want any surprises on race day!