SwimRun Paddles are pretty much essential items for most SwimRun events. Having said that, I have only used webbed neoprene gloves so far in my first 3 SwimRun events. But that is changing - I am now training full-time with the standard "stiff" SwimRun paddles!
BUT why use paddles in the first place? This is a "double-edged sword". On the one hand, paddles will increase the surface area of your hand, and so increase the power you can generate when swimming. That means you can go faster!
BUT that increased surface area ALSO means that you have to work a little harder. You will not notice it much during the first swim leg, nor the second . . . BUT after that you will start to tire a little, and by the LAST swim section you will definitely know that you are using SwimRun Paddles! It's an extra effort.
AND THERE IS ANOTHER DISADVANTAGE - you have to carry the paddles while you are running. In all SwimRun events, you have to cross the finish line with ALL the equipment that you started with. So you can't throw the paddles away mid-race if you get fed up with them!
There are 3 ways of running with your paddles;
But what do paddles look like? Here are some photos of my current paddles, from Speedo. I like them because they are not too big - some paddles are huge!
I have since replaced the black rubber straps with softer rubber tubing, in a different layout. You can see what I've done in the photos below. The new layout and softer rubber tubing allows me to turn the paddles round quickly when exiting the water, allowing me to use my hands without the paddles falling off.
And here are some photos of the swimrun paddles that Mogsy is now using. They are a bit smaller than mine, but easier for her to manage.
GETTING BACK TO THE "WHY" - how much faster can you go? When I talked to several other experienced swimrunners, they all estimated that they could swim faster by about one minute per 1000 meters. AT LEAST. So if yo have an event with several swims adding up to 5 kilometers or more, that's a 5 minute difference! MINIMUM! So definitely worth swimming with paddles.
BUT here's my tip; it's more effort to swim with paddles, so you MUST train for it. During your pool sessions (which should be based around speedwork/repetitions), you should wear the paddles for at least 75% of the session.
And in your open water swim sessions, be it lake or sea, you should wear your paddles for the entire swim. It MUST become second nature to swim with paddles!
SO, SwimRun paddles are ESSENTIAL to use, but you have to train with them a LOT beforehand! If you are entering your FIRST swimrun event, DO NOT feel that you HAVE to use paddles, especially in a sprint event - say under 15km (9 miles total). The shorter the event, the less you NEED paddles, and the MORE you need to concentrate on your running!