The hugely friendly and popular Loveswimrun Llanberis event returned in 2017 with a slightly different course to the inaugural 2016 route. With my planned partner Owen succumbing to a knee injury the WESWIMRUN community kicked in to present Matthew, last year's Llanberis winner in the solo category.
The relatively warm dry May and early June had Llyn Padarn warming up nicely. In the lead up to race day there were some stormy conditions with heavy downpours, which cooled the lake but only fractionally. When it came to race morning conditions were perfect - light winds and light clouds, and a lake temperature of 17.5.
We set off at the front running swiftly, with team 122 by our sides. We soon arrived at the first swim just behind team 122 but overtook them in the water. As we got out of the first swim we saw the arrow pointing right down the train track and we set off in first place. It didn't feel quite right as we expected there to be a turn up into the woods, we got to the start of the 2nd swim too quickly but we cracked on.... something wasn't right. Matthew shouted to me half way across the lake. We stopped, looked around, no one behind us or in sight. We both knew we'd missed a turn. We briefly discussed the situation then turned around and swam back, then ran back along the train track until we found the arrow pointing up into the woods, there was a marshall there now.
During the next 30 minutes of the race we were both quite deflated, compared to everyone else we'd done an extra 2km of running and 700m of swimming and we were playing catch up big time. However it wasn't long before our positive race spirit kicked back in as we passed countless happy swimrunners.
In the end we came in in 5th position in the team category, the first time I've been disappointed with 5th. We both felt we could/should have won this. One thing that will stay with me is to remember not to lead at the start, particularly when racing a new course, that said it's rare I'll be leading anyway.
Aside from our navigational issues it was great to race with Matthew, a strong all-rounder, who I believe has now seen the light - swimrun is better together - get lost together, fight back together!
Thanks to Chloe & Johnny for staging another great event which continues to deliver on friendliness and inclusiveness, and thanks for the special "missing a turn" prizes!
I'm now looking forward to swimrunning in one of my favourite places in the world - Holy Island, Anglesey. I'll be teaming up with my sister to race in the mixed category, if we get lost on this one I'm retiring ;-)
When I first came across the sport of swimrun, I remember thinking how amazing the format sounded. So, with little knowledge either of swimrun race strategy or the equipment required I entered Uto 2014 with a friend. I absolutely loved the experience and have enjoyed building on my knowledge ever since, so what follows are some key points of what I have learnt.
Remember every swimrun course is different, and weather conditions will vary.
1. Learn the course
Knowing the length of each leg will help determine your wetsuit strategy on race day. If you are staring down the barrel of an 8km run with ascent, you may want to unzip your wetsuit; whereas if it’s a 1km sprint until the next swim, you might not. Similarly, knowing the length of the swim you are about to undertake will help you mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
A great method for tracking your progress around the course is to write the run and swim distances in permanent marker on either your arm, or, if you are using them, your hand paddles. Top tip: if you do write them on your arm, I suggest using the smooth inside of your forearm, as any writing on the hairy part of your arm is liable to sweat or rub off over the course of a race.
2. Practice your transitions - together!
Smooth, well-drilled transitions are essential for a good performance on race day. I define transitions as the last 100m leading into the change and the first 30m thereafter; each transition is an opportunity to gain position. A big part of this practice involves working together.
Practice getting in and out of cold water and on different surfaces as much as you can. This will help you become smooth in transition and will help maintain your breathing rhythm. Be comfortable and well-practiced with hand paddles and pull-buoy management (if you use them) as this is another opportunity to gain time on teams if you’re slick.
3. Start strong
A strong race-start can be a strategy for moving you clear of the pack. Your position in the starting line-up could be significant: start in the back third and you risk being caught-up in bottlenecks during tight sections of forest or trail. Complement your starting position with a strong first swim and you should be well-placed to crack on with the rest of the race.
As we now know, every swimrun is different, the over-riding advice is to decide with your partner where you want to start based on how you both feel come race morning. If the race starts with a long swim/technical run and that's not your strength it might be less stressful to start near the back!
4. Choose the right equipment
How do you carry all the required equipment whilst wearing a wetsuit? This is a question that often confuses novice teams and leads to missteps.
In the early years of the sport, teams would don full rucksacks to carry food and the mandatory race equipment. However, the sport has moved on and now its common for teams to stuff kit inside their wetsuits, undershorts or, if you have one, inside the carrying pouches of swimrun specific wetsuits. I've found there's no need to carry your own food as the food provided at energy stations is sufficient.
I would also recommend using a tow system. Tow lines work really well in any team-based endurance format: the rope (bungee) keeps you and your partner together during swim sections and helps you regulate, and thus optimise, your speed. I find it to be an extremely effective tool.
Practice using the tow on downhill technical terrain and in transitions. We found a length of 3m kept us at the right distance on the runs and swims; however, experiment with your teammate to find out what works best for you. Make sure it is easy to unclip your tow as you may want to unclip on some run sections.
5. Work on your running
The teams that place well are typically very strong runners. I find it useful to think of the swims as offering rest and therapy for tired legs. In particular, being an expert hill-runner can give you an edge in some races. Practice running in your wetsuit with full gear, whatever that gear might be.
Don’t neglect your swimming though, several races are increasing the swim distances, so there can be opportunity for significant gains on these longer swims.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by other teams: many are new to it just like you.
I had entered BRECA's debut race in 2015 however en route from Wales my truck broke down and I never made it past Conway. This meant my race partner from Uto and Engadin (Kate Murphy) missed out on racing, she volunteered to marshall instead. I think she was glad of the rest.
I had convinced my sister (Helen) and brother-in-law (Paul) to make their swimrun debut in 2015, they were suitably disappointed when I was a no-show, particularly after looking at the height gain. In the end they finished in 1st position in the mixed category! That said they were the only couple in the mixed category. So with Helen pregnant this year I said I would race with Paul.
A lot happened during the 7 hours of racing including a couple of minor wrong turns (which saw us running passed the finish line), some serious calf cramp, Cumbrian weather, and team bonding. I must say that the penultimate run felt much tougher than anything I experienced at Endgadin. We finished the race in 10th position. A challenging race with a good mix of challenging mountain terrain and weather. The Cumbrian ale at the finish went down a treat.