Swimrun not for the crazy, sexy, cool? Think again...after reading this “adult rated” review I am sure that the young (and not so innocent) will rip open your next shady on-line purchase while reading the content description: “stick it between your legs, it feels soft yet rough enough so it does not pop up and by the way the maximum size for usage is a whopping 60cm! Be ready that your kids might say something like: Wow dad awesome! I didn’t know you were into XXX rated blow-up dolls. The only way to win this is to leave them in complete confusion by saying: “dude listen, your mom and me only dig the real stuff and by the way your insulting our most essential and beloved pool boy!” Also known to most us in the swimrun community as: the pull buoy!
I am not going to hide it…Jasmina knows…if there would be a tinder for PB’s I would flirt with every single pull buoy out there. Besides designing, building and experimenting with my own PB’s I like to try out different models on the market to see what works best for me and Jasmina. Guess what, I figured out by now that the “feel good” factor is probably the one that makes the difference for me. When this feeling wears off it’s time for something else and even more exciting. This process keeps repeating itself. Yes, it’s true the grass is greener on the other side….as far as pull buoys is concerned…. gotta watch my words here. So, there you have it, I have an extramarital life with my pull buoy collection! Hey at least it’s better then a boring barby doll collection, right? If you decide to start a relationship with a new pull buoy then here are a couple of take away’s for your upcoming “speed date” session. In a nut shell:
1) Weight – you have to carry this piece of kit with you to the finish line. In the water you don’t notice the weight but if you have to run with a 1kg PB on your leg or wrapped around your waist…..it will start to bounce or drop. It’s annoying and it distracts your attention. My advise: the lighter the better…but not those “super skinny models because they tend to break in no time when you lay on top of them coming out of the water”…choose a “firm and sturdy model” they last a lot longer and are more reliable.
2) Length – whatever they say: “size DOES matter”….the maximum length a pull buoy can be is 60cm this is to prevent people turning up with….you guessed it: ”blow up dolls or worse”….. All fun aside…a massive pull buoy can be cumbersome on technical trails where zig zagging your way through forest becomes more like a “tree vs pull buoy” wrestling contest. Nowadays the general trend is that a swimrun pull buoy length is about two times the length of a conventional swim pull buoy….after plastic surgery and a botox job of course.
3) Material – the most commonly used material for a PB is EVA foam (or similar). It is soft enough to prevent rubbing, rough enough to prevent it from popping up out of the water or slipping down your leg whilst running. It’s also hydrophobic (i.e. the opposite effect of a sponge… so it sheds water rather then absorbing it – makes sense no?). Finally, if you drop it on the rocks it does not break but merely gets a dent (at most). There is also a trend where pull buoys are made of a harder and perhaps smoother material like (hard) plastic, composite or (polished) epoxy / glass fiber. I use both kinds and don’t really have a preference. I guess the good thing with foam is that you can make small shape adjustments quite easily. Secretly I am still waiting for a pull buoy with some sort of (kinky?) latex cover for extra smoothness. I already experimented with a latex cover around the shoes for this reason with mixed success I must say.
4) Shape – hold on now!...this is getting really personal…I like my ideal pull buoy to be quite bulky. The upper and lower floatation elements need to be quite large so that my legs are lifted as close as possible to the air / water interface. In other words I want to prevent my
legs and feet from sinking or dangling behind me. It’s always amazing to experience the additional amount of drag a pair of shoes generate when you do your first outdoor swimrun.
5) Fit – this is THE most important criteria if you ask me. It needs to fit like a glove. A good pull buoy just sits there and shouldn’t move at all. In “pull buoy Kamasutra” terms: “treat it like a lady” – no excessive squeezing force should be applied by the legs. This means that the “bridge of the pull buoy” (i.e. the part that is thin) needs to be just the right size so that the contact pads on either side fill up against your inner thighs all the way. Like this you will have no unwanted water turbulence and maximum friction to prevent the pull buoy from moving. Recently ARK has come up with a pull buoy shape that is slightly different in the sense that it has cut out a little bit of foam on one side of the pull buoy which allows it to be snug around your “family jewelry” even more.
6) Body type – today most manufacturers make a “one size fits all” type of pull buoy but with 3D printing advancements I am sure that in the future you can choose certain shape dimensions to suit your body type. For instance I have rather long skinny o legs whereas Jassu has more short bulky muscle legs so the shape of the pull buoy should be tailor made to fit in between two different kind of legs that have different buoyancy behavior. So remember: if the PB simply feels good (i.e. nice and tight) in between your legs…that’s a good thing and you don’t need to be shy about it to your partner either. Trust me Jasmina has thrown at least half a dozen of my tailor made prototype design’s in the bin. After a pool swim I would ask her: “so tell me how was your speed date? She would say something like: “we had a great time but it was slightly too long so it did not take long before we got into a fight”…oops sorry to hear that darling.
7) Effect of body position in the water – swimming with a pull buoy (and shoes on) is entirely different than normal swimming. In fact I dare to say that it has almost nothing to do with conventional swimming because there is no leg kick involved. All the power and propulsion comes from your upper body, yet your core must be strong enough to keep your body in a straight line to prevent “snaking”. I don’t have a lot of body fat so I lay relatively deep in the water which means that I have to displace more water to move forward. Other people have more body fat which helps them to float better and displace less water. So my point is that I need relatively more pull buoy floatation compared to naturally talented swimmers who tend to have more body fat and therefore often swim with a smaller pull buoy. The last thing you want is a pull buoy that is too big because then your body rotation will get messed up (i.e. your center of gravity is too close to the surface resulting in bobbing from one side to the other) which will negatively affect your catch and push phase as well as your ability to swim straight.
8) Effect of swim technique – as mentioned earlier there is a huge advantage if you frequently swim in the pool with your race gear on (i.e. unused shoes, wetsuit, pull buoy and paddles). Only then you will notice that other muscles are over used and others under used compared to swimming just in your swim trunks. The gym is a good place to strengthen those muscles separately.
9) Effect of swimrun suit and paddles - Swimming with a big pull buoy allows for swimming with big paddles because there is less drag due to improved buoyancy. At some point it becomes more of a power or pure strength work-out I feel. Depending on the type of wetsuit in combination with your pull buoy (i.e. high or low buoyancy effect) it is trial and error between laying deep in the water (which is great for maintaining a straight line and good technique) or laying close to the surface (which is great to save energy and generate speed). Not easy is all I can say….and there is continuous debate about what supposedly works best….time will tell. I just stick to running fast to compensate for my stif swimmers
ankles….One thing I am a big believer in is that your wetsuit can be thin and less buoyant as long as your pull buoy can compensate for it. It does wonders for your average running speed.
10) Seawater vs lakes – not surprisingly swimming in salty (sea) water requires less additional buoyancy material due to the natural buoyancy effect of seawater. Is the impact big so that you need a pull buoy for both salt water and lake water? I don’t think so but you definitely notice the difference. You just have to get used to it and adapt…
11) Effect of swim distance (short vs long) – different strategies apply here….if the individual swim distances are short but many, it means that your swims need to be explosive (so use a big pull buoy and big paddles). It’s a bit like a “tractor pulling” contest where all the power comes from the upper body and the rest simply follows. It’s not very efficient but it’s fast. If the distances get longer this strategy is not very economic and I don’t recommend it. Then it’s better to consider playing it safe and downsize your pull buoy and paddle combination a little bit. Of course there are different ways to approach this subject so it depends what your strengths and weaknesses are. Think about it and try different set-ups.
12) Sea state conditions – in rough weather where there is significant swell and waves it may be better to opt for a slightly smaller pull buoy. The net effect is that you lay deeper in the water so you’re not thrown all over the place and it’s relatively easier to swim a straight line. Flat sea state conditions are more forgiving so you can go for a bigger pull buoy and paddle set-up and power yourself to the next transition.
13) Consumable – pull buoys don’t last which is a great thing if you ask me. It just means that you can try out a new one every season. Don’t swim around with a damaged or even leaking pull buoy at some point the foam will absorb water so it will become heavy and loses its buoyancy effect. Yes, it will slow you down.
14) Models - there are hundreds of different pull buoys on the market. I have tried a lot of them (but not all). Here are three of my favorites: ARK (KEEL), Swimrunners (Super Croc / piraya), HUUB (Big buoy). Again, selecting a pull buoy is a personal preference. Everybody is different so my advise: experiment as much as you like during the off season until you are happy with a model. Then stick with it for a season. If you’re still friends by the end of the year that’s great if not, understand why and change model.
15) Mechanical doping – powerful batteries are getting smaller and smaller. I am waiting for the team that uses a pull buoy with integrated battery powered propeller. I tell you what: if I ever catch a team cheating, don’t come to me and say: “Hey it’s not what you think it is….its a pull buoy with integrated vibrator”….I wouldn’t be surprised….
16) Race history - Inspired by the ÖtillÖ World Series race in Utö….also known as the island of Love. It’s the place where we were both “pull buoy virgins” while battling our way to the finish line for the very first time. Can’t wait to get there.
See you out there. I hope you got something out of it. If nothing else, a good laugh.
Good luck to those athletes racing in Hvar. As for Team Say No! to Doping, Jasmina and me will be racing at swimrun Utö in May.
All the best,
Team Say No! to Doping
Partner: Jasmina Glad-Schreven
Utö swimrun is one of our favourites. Why?...because it was our first ever race as a team, back in 2014. It took us by surprise then and still 4 years later it’s no different. It’s so friggin intense! I think it’s the contrast that is unique in this race: hot runs vs cold swims and fast gravel roads vs technical rocky trails. For us it’s on the Island of Love where the swimrun season truly starts. “You can run but you can’t hide!” We already figured out a few years ago that pacing and monitoring energy levels were going to play an important role on this course.
Me: Thomas Schreven
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