SwimRun is relatively new to the UK and since I signed up for it so many people have shown an interest in what I was doing, I thought I’d do a write up to share my experience. It was a long day, so this is not a short write up!
Google SwimRun and you’ll see it originated in Sweden around the Islands. An endurance event of multiple swims and runs to circumnavigate across wilderness. Breca SwimRun had their inaugural race last year and I can only see this sport growing in popularity year on year as word spreads about its awesomeness. After reading a magazine article about SwimRun something about it really appealed to me and before I knew it I was on the start line yesterday!
As SwimRun is completed in teams of two, the first challenge was finding someone who wanted to take on the challenge with me and was of a reasonably similar speed in swimming and running, a hurdle in itself. Luckily for me Simon Young answered my text request with a Yes. I knew Simon and I where of similar swim pace but he is a quicker runner and would have to slow down for me, but as he was using this as Ironman training he didn’t seem to mind. As we live too far away from one another to train together we had to do a lot of our planning over messages but managed to get two training sessions in together, including the Jubilee River Swim, which seemed enough for planning how we were going to partner together for the event.
The next challenge was working out what kit to use. I started off cutting up an old wetsuit but in the end we both opted for the Orca SwimRun wetsuit as when having to run 38k in your wetsuit you don’t really want to be getting too uncomfortable. During the event you can use pretty much any swim aides you wish but you have to carry them. We tried paddles but the gains where negligible so the faffing of carrying them didn’t seem worth it. As you have to swim in your trainers most people use a swim bouy and then strap it to their leg for the run sections and we both chose this method as we didn’t know how tired we were going to be at the end of the event. Other than that we used a waist pack to carry nutrition, water, glide, spare goggles and mandatory kit (bandage, compass, map).
The next challenge was training for the event, working out how to train for an event which is pretty much unknown is fun as you never know if you’re doing enough. Add into that the fact that my knees can’t sustain long distances in running and hate downhills. Luckily Adam from GreenlightPT (who was also doing the event) managed to pull a plan together for me which included multiple SwimRun sessions over a day. My longest run was around 12k and 18k over a day with multiple runs thankfully this was enough with my fitness to cover the 38k of running required for the event.
The Breca SwimRun took place in Buttermere, an absolutely stunning landscape in the Lake District. The good old English weather didn’t let us down by throwing in some torrential rain, hail, winds and the odd bit of sunshine (yes it was in July!) only adding to the toughness of the event. In total the event was advertised as 44k, made up of 38k of running and 6k of swimming, however my Garmin measured a total distance of 50.3k.
The start was so relaxed that I didn’t even realised we’d started until everyone started moving forward. We’d decided to start off slow to ensure we made it to the end but in hindsight could have done with being nearer the front as due to the bottle neck taking us to the lake for our first swim we ended up being one of the last teams to enter the water and some teams had already exited the other side before we got in!
The first swim was 0.6k and it was so slow, something was not right and I soon realised I was carrying too much kit which was weighing me down, we exited the water as second to last team which wasn’t the best way to start. I quickly off loaded a water bottle and some of my food and we set off for the next run leg of 1.9k followed by a 1k swim where we overtook a team on the swim – yay, no longer last! The next run leg took us up a really steep hill climb and here we seemed to be passing more teams, the hill training was paying off, the sun was out and the scenery was just out of this world. We were having a really good run on the decent and looking forward to reaching Check Point 1 when we realised we’d gone the wrong way as we’d lost sight of any markers and could see other teams on the other side of the stream – whoops. Luckily Simon had worked out that if we got down to the road we could follow it back up to the CP, adding on about an extra 10mins. The marshals and our support crew were a bit surprised to see us coming from a different direction to everyone else.
We were then onto the 1k swim and what I would say was the most amazing swim I’ve ever done. The scenery was unbelievable and as we swam away from shore we were faced with a big swell and choppy conditions which was so challenging. I felt so alive knowing that if I didn’t swim strong and keep moving forward I could possibly drown and I exited the swim on such a high. The marshal said we were the happiest team they’d seen so we’d won something.
We then set off on the longest run section of 13k and we really enjoyed this section, making sure we navigated well, we pushed on and got to run most of it even though it was very hilly. During this section we picked off another few teams and some seemed to be really struggling, we also ticked off the half way point which was a big boost. This section took us in a loop around the top of the route and back to the lake for a short 0.8k shore swim, this time fighting the current which wanted to take us into land. We then had a short succession of 3 runs and 2 swims which was really boggy, seeing me dispeappear into a puddle up to my knees and Simon ending up thigh deep in bog, it’s a good job he had his pull bouy on! It was towards the end of this section that I started to struggle and recognised I needed to take on more fuel but didn’t have anything left. Luckily we saw our support team and Mark threw mini mars bars to us, a much needed boost. We then had a panic on as we had a 1k swim to do to reach CP4 which was a cut off for the race and we were 15mins from the cut off time of 6hrs for this point. However, as we were getting into the water the marshals were informed over the radio that the cut off had been extended to the original 7hrs, luckily for us as we reached CP4 in 6hrs 2mins!!
The 1k swim was the toughest of the day as the current was pulling us off to the right and as we got to the middle of the lake we were met with dark clouds and really heavy rain which was lashing us and causing really choppy conditions. It also made us really cold and we couldn’t hang around at the CP as we were freezing. However, this turned out to be the just the start of the toughest part of the race so far. We crossed the road and were faced with a vertical climb up Honiston. We started off strong and overtook another team but the climb was relentless and we could do nothing but scramble up on hands and feet, sometimes using a fence to hold onto for support and our pace soon slowed to a crawl.
This was a cruel climb with four false peaks and took us around 1.5hrs to reach Dales Head at the summit. It was impossible to run and we were freezing cold as it had started with horizontal rain, a bit of hail and 40mph winds. To try and get a bit warmer we put our swim caps back on – can you imagine how we looked up a mountain wearing a cut off wetsuit, pull bouy attached to leg and a swim cap on – certainly not your usual hill walking gear! The decent was no easier, we were tired, cold and my knees were really sore meaning I could manage nothing more than a quick walk. Nearing the bottom and approaching CP5 we came across Mark and Oakley who had decided to run up the hill to meet us but unfortunately I was in a real low place at this point and I couldn’t appreciate the gesture as I should have. Finally after 2hrs we reached the checkpoint and got to refuel, have a joke with Maz and Mark, I got a hug from a Marshall and we set off on the home straight which was a 4K jog down the road back to Buttermere. Under normal circumstances this would have been a quick downhill road section but the pain in the legs really slowed me down.
We reached the final swim and what was supposed to be a straightforward 0.6k across the lake, that was until Simon slipped on the rocks and tumbled down the rocky slope into the water, but he brushed it off as nothing and we set off (later I found out he cut his arm and was in real pain swimming). We stopped for a cheesy photo at swim exit and a quick check with the marshals, who recognised us as the happiest team, to check we weren’t last. We had overtaken 10 teams, 6 of which had now pulled out and 4 others who were behind us.
We then set off on the final run section of 1.8k to the finish on very sore and tired legs, crossing the finish line in 9hrs 24mins; just 36mins inside the final cut off time.
So, there you have it, that’s what SwimRun is all about. A real back to basics event taking in some amazing yet tough landscapes and environment. A test of endurance, team work, physical and mental stamina and sense of humour………so Simon, same again next year?!
Big thanks to our support crew Mark, Maz and Oakley who where there at every checkpoint cheering and encouraging us on for the full 9hrs in the cold and rain and to Adam who managed to work out a way for me to train for the event given my knee issues (and congratulations on finishing the event too, bagging a top 10 spot). And most of all thank you to Simon for being daft enough to take on the challenge with me and pushing me on all the way round.