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"This is just a hobby, but a fun adventurous one"

Orca sits down with athlete, editor, and co-founder of Swim Run NC, Herbert Krabel, to talk about the current and future state of SwimRun both in US, and globally.

Orca sits down with athlete, editor, and co-founder of Swim Run NC, Herbert Krabel, to talk about the current and future state of SwimRun both in US, and globally.

What inspired you to organize a SwimRun event?
I sort of stumbled upon it. Two friends of mine had the idea and the location and they asked for my help. Initially I was only meant to grab pics and help to promote the event. However, the venue is amazing and that roped me fully in. The 3 of us, though, run this race as volunteers.

Who do you see racing and participating in SwimRun? Triathletes? Adventure Racers? Anyone?
Depending on the course I have seen folks come from triathlon, trail running, open water swimming, adventure racing, ski mountaineering, and bike racing. But I would say the majority of SwimRun athletes also compete in triathlons or at the very least used to race triathlons.

What are barriers of entry for the sport?
I would say that finding a matching team-mate is still the biggest hurdle for this sport. I think many people are hesitant of adding this type of adventure in their life. I have raced almost all SwimRun races with different partners, and most of them I had never met prior to the race. These experiences were all positive and I now have many new friends.
Another issue is gear. I have heard some folks say they would try SwimRun if there were no toys to cheat with. Some of those folks however have no issue riding with disc wheels and aerobars, and carbon plated running shoes in triathlon events. Also, the idea of having to buy a wetsuit to try out a new sport is a tricky one. We though tell folks all the time that an old triathlon wetsuit with a few modifications will do for that first experience. However, once in folks are usually hooked.

Picture of Brian Fancher


Do you see this sport continuing to grow nationally/internationally?
There sport has a big growth potential and I say this as there are a ton of folks who would be fitting SwimRun participants yet have never even heard of the sport. And others have heard of it but are somewhat unsure what to make of the sport and the gear. I don’t think it will ever be a massive participatory or spectator sport, but we are nowhere close to the where it can go.

We know you race as well. What is your motivation in the sport? Your goals at this point in your career?
I try to race a couple SwimRun events a year and have been able to compete in Europe and North America. Earlier this year I raced with newbie Colleen LaFrance in the mixed division at SwimRun Maryland and we managed to grab the mixed division title. In September I will race Ödyssey Orcas Island with the very speedy Holly Benner and that should be a great race in a very beautiful location. I also race various ultra-running events and a few shorter triathlons. I am competitive and want to do well, though I am also well aware that it is only a hobby.

Picture of Brian Fancher


Any advice you'd give someone just starting out in SwimRun?
My advice for someone new to the sport is to go in it open minded and to have fun. It is super important to remember that this is just a hobby, but a fun adventurous one. As for finding the right partner, just make sure that you and your partner have the same goals. It can't be that one partner wants a podium finish and the other wants to "just finish".

Has the sport become more competitive?
The sport is more competitive for sure and that trend will continue, but I would say the majority of starters are simply looking for an adventure and a personal challenge.

What are the main differences and similarities between SwimRun, and triathlon or duathlon?
Considering the team aspect, I think it really can’t be compared to triathlon or duathlon, and since every SwimRun event distance is unique, chasing PRs is also less common. When folks say that SwimRun is a triathlon without a bike I cringe, as that is fully false. People who say that however usually have never done a SwimRun event.

Picture of Brian Fancher

How would you compare races in US to International races such as ÖtillÖ?
I think some of the races in the USA are equally challenging to some of the popular European ones, but often a bit shorter. Access to land and a good racecourse is a much more difficult topic in the USA, and what prevents race directors from offering longer courses.

Could you tell us about the merit system? We understand SwimRun NC is a qualifier.
As an ÖtillÖ merit race athletes in our event can earn points towards qualifying for the ÖtillÖ World Championships in Sweden. There are currently 4 such races in the USA. Our SwimRun NC race, SwimRun Lake James – also in North Carolina, plus the Ödyssey events Casco Bay (Maine) and Orcas Island (Washington).

How has SwimRun product improved over the years?
The buoys have gotten bigger and that is a very good thing. The wetsuits on the other hand are getting thinner because even in races with more swimming, the majority of time is still spent running. And the buoyancy is provided by the buoy and thus the legs of the wetsuit can by super thin and flexible.

Picture of Brian Fancher


What do you like about your partnership with Orca?
Orca has been with us since day 1 including during difficult times and we appreciate this loyalty. We also enjoy seeing Orca support other events, and their commitment to the sport.

How was it adjusting to talking a year away from racing, and race producing during Covid?
It was very hard for all of us, and I think we will feel that impact for a long time. I think moving forward athletes will be less willing to commit to a race 10 months out, as they have learned that the future is unpredictable. We however hope that all the various companies that make races possible will survive this.

As co-founder of SwimRun NC, can you share details about your event for 2021?
Our race is typically the last weekend in October, but our 2021 event is on November 7th. We have about 90 teams currently registered and we allow no more than 120 teams to apply for spots. All teams are screened before we allow them in because the course is very challenging, and the conditions can also be tough.
The start and finish of the race is at the Green Heron Alehouse, however most of the course is inside the Hanging Rock State Park – the most popular state park in North Carolina. Athletes get to climb through to 2 waterfalls and swim both in a lake and a river, and the trails are steep and technical, but beautiful. Everyone who has raced here seemingly has left with wonderful memories. 


Herbert Krabel is one of three passionate volunteer race directors of the ÖTILLÖ merit race SwimRun NC, and although born and raised in Southern Germany he now resides in Winston-Salem, NC with his wife Amy and sons Simon and Max. He is an avid runner, swimmer and cyclist, and although he competed as a professional mountain biker when he first arrived in the USA, he now mostly competes in ultra trail races and SwimRun events. Most recently he finished as the 3rd male at the Black Mountain Monster 6 hour race.


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