Tether a teammate and tow to the line in Lake Wanaka

Hamish Cropper, left, and Alan Scott, compete in the BrecaButtermere swimrun race in the United Kingdom.
Steve Beattie

Hamish Cropper, left, and Alan Scott, compete in the BrecaButtermere swimrun race in the United Kingdom.

On March 25, about 100 hardy - or stupid - multisporters will strap their team mate to their hip and tow each other through and around Lake Wanaka to a finish line some 50km away.

The organisers don't really want the 50 tandem teams to swim until they sink or run until their skin is rubbed raw - but that could happen if no thought goes into preparation.

Another 50 teams of sensible people are doing the 18km "sprint" version.

UK triathletes Alan Scott and Natalie Ruffell in Wanaka.

UK triathletes Alan Scott and Natalie Ruffell in Wanaka.

But even the short course is not for the faint hearted, because everyone must complete the entire race in the trail shoes and wetsuit, plus find somewhere to store a cache of compulsory gear - probably inside the wetsuit.

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With two months to go, it is time to focus - but who to turn to when few people in New Zealand have raced this sport before?

Ben de Rivaz, of the UK, is the BrecaWanaka event director.

Ben de Rivaz, of the UK, is the BrecaWanaka event director.

BrecaWanaka's UK-based organiser, Ben de Rivaz, put Wanaka Lake Swimmers Club members in touch with BrecaButtermere record holder Alan Scott, of Clapham, London, who happened to be holidaying in Wanaka with his partner, Natalie Ruffell.

Scott and Hamish Cropper (Team Clapham Bruder Wunderz) have twice won the 42km BrecaButtermere and placed at numerous other European swim run races. 

Scott has also competed in triathlon and raced at the Ironman world championships in Kona in 2015.

BrecaWanaka SwimRun race organiser Ben de Rivaz has included the Outlet Track in the course.

BrecaWanaka SwimRun race organiser Ben de Rivaz has included the Outlet Track in the course.

"New Zealand is perfect as a swimrun venue. I can see it really taking off in New Zealand, just like the Coast to Coast. I am hoping to come back for BrecaWanaka, Hamish and Ben willing," Scott said.

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How did you get started? I started in triathlon in 2008 and did my first Ironman in 2009 and gradually built up to do the world championship at Kona in 2015. Hamish had heard about this crazy Otillo swim run race in Sweden and we loved every minute of it. Having a good team mate is fantastic. The race is a team sport, is about camaraderie, sharing an experience of being in the middle of nowhere together.

How did swimrun get started? The Otillo was a drunken bet between friends about 10 years ago to swim and run across an archipelago. In the last three years, it has popped up across the UK, Europe and in Australia. The Swedes absolutely love it. You can find one or two races in Sweden every weekend. They are mad about it, even in the winter. They will run into lakes with snow on the ground. They are a tough breed.

A topo map of the BrecaWanaka swim run course.

A topo map of the BrecaWanaka swim run course.

Are wetsuits compulsory? Yes. There might be some events in Spain where they are not. You can buy specific swimrun wetsuits if you want but they are not necessary. Cut your old one off at the knees but keep the arms on to start off and see how you go. I wear a normal trisuit underneath and put my compass, whistle and pressure bandage in the trisuit pocket. I have never had to use them yet, fortunately. If the run leg is anything longer than 3km you might like to pull it down to your waist but you have to keep your bib on.

Can you take a hydration bag? You could take a bag with you but you have to swim and run with it. There are aid stations. You will be in the water a fair amount. It's not the sea, which you don't want to drink. I have never done an event with a bag because I want to be as light as possible. If you don't need it, don't take it.

Trail shoes? Yes, trail shoes. I use Inov8. Find something that drains fairly well.

Do you wear a pull buoy? You will see most people with a pull buoy. You need to do a DIY project with it. Drill some holes in it and thread a bungee through so you can wear it on your thigh when you run.

And handpaddles? For a weaker swimmer, these can help. But you have to build up your strength. If you just go out there and swim 10km with hand paddles, your arms will fall off.

What else to wear? Gloves are fine. Also neoprene vests and cap are good. Practice in the kit. There will be a bib over the wetsuit which might get loose so tie it tightly at the back so you are more hydro-dynamic. You can take your caps off when you run but put them back on for the swim. I have done races in Britain and Germany where we've kept the caps on because it was freezing.

How do you save your legs? For the long swims, you could take your shoes off - if they are not too clunky - and stuff them down the back of your wetsuit. But remember other bits of small gear will also be underneath your wetsuit or clipped to your waist belt. People like to experiment. Some people have worn flippers. They go fast at the start but it puts extra strain on your legs, so if you can get by without fins, that would be good. Remember, you have to carry them on the run.

Socks? Socks are a must. Definitely socks. Don't wear low cut ankle socks because grit will work into them. Wear socks just above the ankle.

Antichafe cream? Use something like Vaseline. I know you are not supposed to, with a wetsuit, but you want something that sticks. There is also a product called Bag Balm. Vets use it to treat cows udders and it works a treat.

Tethers: how do they work and are they necessary? There are some swimrun specific tow ropes being made in Denmark. You can make your own with a bungee and tri race belt. Have a clip at the front and back of the belt. The front swimmer tethers at the back clip and the back swimmer tethers on the front clip. The good thing about them is the stronger swimmer doesn't need to keep checking where their team mate is behind them. You have to keep within 10m of each other for safety - as well as camaraderie. The front swimmer can get very, very cold swimming slowly. If they are tethered they can churn away and keep warm. Try it in training. Take it. Just because you have it doesn't mean you have to use it. When you are running keep it taut so you don't trip over it. Three metres is a good length.

Training? Do hill reps, fast feet work. You will be skipping over boulders. Your arms must be strong. Do pool training with drag pants and paddles. Do lots of transition training, little sections of the event.

Nutrition? There will be food at aid stations. You can take it with you. Tuck energy gels down your wetsuit. There should be coke, flapjacks, bananas at the aid stations. The less stuff to carry, the better.

Drafting? It is permitted. Make sure your tether is not in the way of others. Take turns. Try not to get a shoe in your face.

Tips for team work? Afterwards, you will either be best mates or you won't. You will have highs and lows. You will definitely get to know each other throughout the day. For health and safety, don't lose your team mate.

Do swimrunners get good prizes? It is in its infancy. It is nothing like triathlon. It is like adventure racing. You do it for the love of the sport. You might win a wetsuit or some transition bags. You will get a beer on the finish line. [Scott hasn't given up his day job as a property consultant.]

How to get to the Otillo world champs? You have to do a qualifier race and qualify on merit. There is a ballot at the end of January. It is capped at 300 teams to protect the environment and keep the racing relaxed and friendly.

Is the BrecaWanaka course marked? Yes it will be marked. The checkpoints are all at the transitions or aid stations. It is normal practice to have a big flag, a bright sheet or a flashing light on the other side of long swim legs to help with sighting. I imagine Ben will be onto that for the 2.5km swim at the top of the lake.

[The Q&A has been abridged.]

 - Stuff


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