We caught up with Andy Blow of Precision Hydration about two hours after he and his race partner James Phillips completed the 2019 Ötillö Swimrun World Championships. The pair took 9 hours and 4 seconds to cover the famous course consisting of 65km of trail running and 10km of swimming, divided into 24 sections. Andy and James finished in 16th place overall, out of 162 teams that started.
Have you done this race before and how did you qualify this time?
I’ve done this course twice before, in 2014 and 2018. We qualified this time after we placed third earlier in the year at Ötillö Isles of Scilly.
[In 2018, Andy raced with Paul Newsome from Swim Smooth. They finished 32nd in a time of 9:04:23. In 2014, he competed with Eliot Challifour (a fellow director of Andy’s at event and training company VoTwo). They took 9:35:14 and finished 8th.]
How do you train for this?
Training is a challenge! I’ve got a growing business to run and two young children who demand and deserve lots of attention, so time is always an issue. Secondly, I recently had knee surgery and I need to take care not to damage it again. As a result, my standard training run is only around 8km, but I did manage a couple of 20km runs. This race really gets you in the back half if you haven’t put in the miles.
As for swimming, we’re very lucky to have access to a pool where we can swim with our shoes and paddles (we keep a special pair of clean shoes for the purpose). Almost 100 per cent of our training has therefore been swimming with paddles and shoes.
Luckily, swimrun training fits in well with my lifestyle.
Talk us through your race day nutrition strategy
On a race like this, it’s essential to conserve energy and to keep on top of your energy supplies. I aim to consume around 50 to 60g of carbohydrate per hour while racing. I carry eight ‘units’ of carbohydrate with me in the form of gels, blocks and energy bars, where each unit is around 25g. I then aim to pick up the rest of what I need – about another eight units – from feed stations along the way. I’m also guided by feel.
Regarding hydration, Precision Hydration is an event sponsor and our products are available at the energy stations. I drink at the stations and also carry a 500ml soft flask that I fill at each station. On a hot day, I’d aim to drink about 1l per hour of electrolyte drink. Today, as it was a bit cooler, I probably had around 5 to 6l in total. I also took a Sweatsalt electrolyte capsule once per hour.
If I got the hydration and electrolyte replacement wrong, then I would almost certainly cramp up on an event like this, so I was pleased today to get through with just a few niggles.
What advice would you give open water swimmers considering trying swimrun?
Firstly, pick your event! Every course is different and some have a much higher percentage of swimming than others. Ötillö Isles of Scilly is a good choice for strong open water swimmers. Then, given that your swimming is already strong, you should skew your training towards running. You’ll have to accept that your swimming may stagnate or even slightly decline because of this.
Do you use a tether?
Absolutely. Unless you are an absolutely identical swimmer to your race partner, then racing without a tether is a recipe for disaster. Even if your pace differs by just 5s per 100m, the slower swimmer will get stressed while the faster swimmer will forever have to be looking around. Use the tether like a lane line. The swimmer at the back should just put their head down and follow it.