For us, the team ethos of training and racing as a two person team is the best part of swimrun. It brings out the best in each of us; as one team member supports the other through the inevitable mental and physical lows experienced during the 5 – 12 hours of swimrun racing. And we’re able to celebrate the highs together.
But what happens when one of the team becomes injured?
An easy solution would be to find a new team mate. #brutal. We don’t recommend this option for a number of reasons...
- Finding the right swimrun partner is not straight forward. You need one with similar swim and run speeds, with the same outlook on training and racing. It’s not like they grow on trees.
- Ditching your injured partner is likely to have significant ramifications for their state of mind – which is fragile enough already when injury strikes! It could also ruin the chances of racing together in the future. And perhaps your friendship.
- Also remember that what goes around comes around.
As a married swimrun team, finding a new race partner would be as attractive as getting divorced, which is what would have happened anyhow, had this option been proposed.
So, what are the other options?
1) Sit down and talk through the situation with your race partner.
You race as a team, so now it’s time to put this relationship - formed through hours of training and forged in races across cold sea swims and hot, hilly trail runs - to the test. Go ahead and be honest from the start.
2) Get the best professional assessment of the injury.
Now is not the time for your own half-baked opinions on what hurts and how you’re going to get better. When there's another athlete involved, it’s more important to get outside, professional physio insight and opinion on the issue and the recovery timeframe. Not only for your own recovery, but to show your partner that you remain serious on your come back.
3) Once you have a recovery plan, assess how this impacts your team’s race season.
Consider whether it's better to withdraw from a race, allowing more time for recovery and a gradual return to training. Or consider switching to shorter races; many swimrun weekends feature a sprint as well as the longer endurance race.
This will get the team back into the action sooner and could prevent an injury relapse associated with longer events.
With the agreement of your physio, consider using any forthcoming races as “return to racing” training events. This means enforcing the physio’s orders on maximum distance and/or race pace.
With this in the calendar your race partner can amend their own training efforts to become the lead in both the swim and run legs, putting greater focus (and effort) on their race endurance – rather than pure race speed.
Not being able to race hurts, as does thinking you’re letting someone else down. But talking things through with your race partner and creating a “return to racing” plan helps ease the pain.
Consider our 2018 race season so far. Rhian tore a tendon in her right ankle at the ÖTILLÖ 1000 Lakes in October last year. This was a bad injury, with an initial diagnostic conclusion that she may never be able to race again.
But, with expert help from Mick Hapgood at Pod Biomechanics and intense physio and a detailed recovery plan from Alex Drummond at The Drummond Clinic, she saw gradual signs of improvement by February.
We revised our race season, with a focus on getting Rhian running as the only priority. Then, as fate would have it, I then caught pneumonia in April, wiping me out for 6 weeks.
We switched from the ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly World Series race to the much shorter Sprint event. Then, assuming neither of us suffered any type of relapse, we’d look to enter the Breca Gower swimrun in June as a training race – with the end goal of getting to the start line for ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championships in Sweden in September (thankfully we’d already qualified before the injury and illness!).
But then came the good news. The Drummond Clinic gave Rhian the okay to race the full Isles of Scilly race – on the condition that good running form must be prioritised over speed. This left us with about 3 weeks of full training. This wasn’t enough to regain last year’s fitness levels, but we were racing again, which was all that mattered.
Yet here emerged some unexpected benefits. We approached the race with excitement – the pure thrill of racing again and being part of the swimrun family.
It was a heavily stacked field, full of the best swimrunners out there, so we didn’t hold any podium expectations. We were relaxed and relishing just being on the start line and battling the elements to get to the finish line.
We concentrated on executing our hydration and nutrition plans. Halfway through the race we were in third place in our Mixed category and we could see the second place team 200 meters ahead of us.
But we didn’t push it like we would have in the past, recognising that we’d blow up. We just kept the pace, enjoying the excitement. This approach paid off, as we eventually did move up in to second place on the last 5.4km run – our best ÖTILLÖ result yet. We crossed the line in pure exhalation, evident in the finisher photos!
What did we learn? Never give up hope. Always have a plan. This enabled us to get to the start line. Open and honest communication remained vital, both of us needed to be pulling in the same direction.
Ben and Rhian Martin, racing as Team Precisiom Hydration UK, are ranked #1 Mixed team in the ÖTILLÖ World Series Swimrun rankings. Follow their journey on Twitter and on Instagram at benrhian_swimrun. For bespoke swimrun training sessions contact email@example.com