‘Alluring’ isn’t a word often associated with jagged rocks, raging currents and 9°c water. The intense training, critical teamwork and constant threat of jellyfish-to-the-face that make up the SwimRun way of life were once the domain of a hardy few. But thanks to passionate advocates like Swede-in-Spain Fanny Danckwardt, women from all over Europe are finding themselves lured into the water.
We caught up with Vivobarefoot ambassador Fanny to talk navigating between islands, helping beginners take the plunge, and preparing to conquer the Isles of Scilly.
Croatia, Spain, France, Sweden…you’ve completed SwimRuns all over Europe. You must feel really close to nature in all these places?
Yeah, it’s such a nice feeling to move through those environments just in your wetsuit, shoes and maybe some swimming paddles. It’s just you and a friend. You don’t care how you look, if you go through mud or come out of the water with seaweed all over you. It gets to another level of yourself, just being right there with nature.
I usually walk barefoot whenever I can – I would in the office but it’s too weird. Sometimes I go running without anything, no phone or watch. It’s nice not to have anything that can disturb you. Your phone can be a real distraction from nature.
Do you find your approach changes depending on your environment?
A little bit. I’ve learnt to breathe fast when I swim off the coast near Barcelona – one time I was breathing to the side and then turned my face right onto a jellyfish!
There’s a competition in Sweden next weekend, and the water can be very cold, 9 or 10 degrees. So I’ve started to swim in cold water to get my body used to it. Some people take cold showers as well! But when you’ve been running, especially if it’s sunny, jumping in the cold water is the most amazing part of the whole race. You can just reset your body and your legs. Sometimes when I’m running I really long for it.
“When you’ve been running, especially if it’s sunny, jumping in the cold water is the most amazing part of the whole race. You can just reset your body and your legs. Sometimes when I’m running I really long for it.”
The sea conditions must be pretty challenging at times though?
Yes, I have a lot of respect for the ocean. Last year the ÖTILLÖ World Championships were on a very, very windy day. There were really big waves and stronger currents than I’ve ever felt. The waves didn’t really bother me, it was a bit like a rollercoaster! But you have to be smart with the currents – if it’s taking you right, swim more to the left. At the end of the race we had to swim between a bunch of small islands, and I remember one place where the current was like a river. I was tethered to my teammate Sarah, swimming and pulling her. It took forever. I had to grab onto the rocks on the other side, but the current was so strong she was getting pulled away, and I had to really fight to haul her in. We managed to get out but it was kind of crazy. Some other people got swept around the edge of the cliff and had to get help getting out.
But I’ve seen more people get injured after getting out of the water. In Sweden it can be really slippery, and in Croatia and Spain the rocks are really sharp. In one race we stopped to help someone after we saw them fall and hit their head really badly. You always have to help out – it’s a nice culture in SwimRun, like a little family.
One that’s growing with your Wild Coast SwimRun camps for women…
For some reason there are very few women doing SwimRun, so we thought it would be a fun thing to do, just for girls. It’s a different feeling when you’re just with a bunch of girls having fun and doing SwimRun.
We’ve done two now, with women from Sweden, Spain, Norway and Cornwall. Some of them had done a few SwimRuns, and the ones who were trying it for the first time overcame some of their beliefs about themselves and discovered how amazing it can be to just be out in nature.
How did you give them the full experience?
We took them along the course of the SwimRun Costa Brava. There’s a beach walk that goes along the entire coast – single-track trails that turn into stairs and tunnels leading through small villages, a very nice place for a SwimRun.
They took to the cold water like champs. They were tough, not afraid of it at all. I think they felt really inspired and pleased with themselves. We had a great time together and really got close during those few days. They all made new friends to train with and we still talk online, giving each other tips. And I’ll see the girl from Cornwall at the Isles of Scilly SwimRun in June.
Scilly a great location for a SwimRun. What are you most looking forward to?
I’ve wanted to try this race since last year. People have said it’s so beautiful; the islands look so unique. And the race director of the ÖTILLÖ races said it’s his favourite of all the races in the series. One thing I’ve heard is you have a 10m distance tide water, that’ll be an extra challenge. A team who did it last year said they had to wade. But they said it was the perfect day. It’s a bit complicated to get there from Barcelona, but I’m sure it’ll be well worth it.