After years of preaching about how the team element of swimrun is fundamental to the joy of the sport I figured that I should at least try a solo race so I can back up my argument. And here it was OTILLO Malta Sprint.
It was a fast start, so fast in fact that a slight nudge on my right leg from a fellow racer caused me to topple over only 300m into the race. I hit the tarmac superman style sliding on my hand paddles which protected my palms well, my knees suffered minor scrapes, good start Mike.
I couldn't wait to get to the first swim, it was a slight bottle-neck with rough water and bouncing swell all around, loved it. This went quickly, as did the following short runs and short swims. I started to overtake during the swims and on the technical downhill runs, my race was going well. I arrived at the penultimate swim (650m) with no-one in the water to sight off, no boats and no visible exit point. Unfortunately I misunderstood the marshals directions and added an extra 400m swim to this 650m swim.
I cracked on with the long run and began overtaking the folks who had passed me on my extended swim. I got to the last swim (700m) neck and neck with a fellow solo man, he edged it on this swim to claim 5th place (solo). I was happy with 6th place in the solo (out of 61), and 8th overall (out of 149). My error nagged at me a little, but it was nothing a couple of cans of Cisk couldn't rectify.
With the water temperature at 20 degrees I went for the zero-neoprene option which worked well, other than having to stuff a race-cup, whistle, map and compression bandage in my speedos. I am happy to report they lasted the course. Big thanks to Andy for the loan of the whistle and bandage, sorry about where I stored them.
A fabulous race with technical run sections and interesting swimming, but what's the verdict on solo versus team? Swimrun is definitely better together. It almost saddens me that there is a solo category but I do understand why it exists.
It felt strange not competing on the Sunday, but it gave me the chance to support, take some photos, and treat my long-suffering fiance to a visit to Popeye Village. Looking forward to returning to the World Series in 2020, in particular Malta!
Through competing and organising I have become acutely aware of how much waste, packaging, shipping and general carbon footprint can occur in the event world. We want to reduce all of this.
We are going to have a set of swim hats for ALL our swim events. They will be high-quality, number-printed, and made in the UK. We will hand them out at registration of each event and collect them in at the end. We will be donating our remaining surplus swim hats from previous events to local swim clubs in Tywyn, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth.
We have never given out medals as we have always seen them as a waste of the earth's resources, however we have always given out a race souvenir to all participants. These have always had a use, such as our local slate coasters (made from slate quarried 15 miles away), our bottle-opener fridge magnets, our re-usable race cups, and our CADAIR X mugs. There is room for improvement here and we are working on it.
We are looking into options regarding a supplier of high-quality, organic, sustainable and ethically produced hoodies (UK based). These hoodies will be made to order. If you have a recommendation please let me know - email@example.com
There is a train station 5 minutes walk from our Aberdovey swims, which runs from Birmingham, Aberystwyth and Pwllheli; and a bus stop 30 seconds walk from our Tal Y Llyn swims & CADAIR X, which runs between Dolgellau and Tywyn. We have informally helped with car shares via our facebook page. We are now going to actively encourage, and help to facilitate this for all future events.
We are proud that all of our water safety team & marshals live within 12 miles of our events. They are experienced & qualified outdoor professionals who live and work on the coastlines, rivers & mountains of South Snowdonia, year round, all seasons, whatever the weather. Our Professional Event Photographer, Dan Wyre, also lives within this 12 mile radius.
Our nutrition partner WILD TRAIL Snacks is based just 4 miles from Aberdovey and 10 miles from Tal Y Llyn, that's pretty local. The bars are produced on site and I pick them up myself when passing through Tywyn.
We will continue to limit numbers of participants to a maximum of 200 (most of our events have a maximum of 100), we feel it's a better experience for everyone this way.
We have become a member of the SURFERS AGAINST SEWAGE 250 Club, a small donation from every entry will go to this great organisation.
We are working with our prize partners HEAD Swimming, SMOCSMOC and SELKIE Swim Co. to further reduce waste & carbon footprint. This may take time to develop but we are moving in the right direction.
Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. We are far from perfect but we have made a start, more work to be done...
Racing at Llanberis once again with Paul Skipper in what's become a very sociable event. It was a hot day so I pulled out my "hot-pants" version of the HEAD Aero.
This year we felt our swimming was fairly strong but neither of us had kicked in with our run training. Our teamwork had really developed at OTILLO Uto 2018, as had our speed in transition.
We started steady, running just behind two teams, entering the first swim in third place. First swim complete (500m), we got out of the water sharing the lead with another team (Team FFH, who I recognised from Loveswimrun Holy Island, 2017). They made a burst up hill which was fine with us. It became clear that the top two positions would most likely be us and them.
We settled into a sustainable run about 100m behind them until the steep descent where we just overtook them entering the second swim (500m), very close together. We stayed close throughout the short run and third swim (1km) - ready for what would be the shake down - the 8km run with a long steady ascent and steep technical descent.
They set off with a burst which they couldn't sustain as a team, we saw our chance and overtook just before the long ascent into the quarries. It looked like one was a stronger swimmer and the other was a significantly stronger runner. If they'd worked better as a team they would have pushed us harder.
We didn't look back and grew our lead all the way to the final 1km swim and the finish line. Great to get a Llanberis win after some mis-haps in 2016 and 2017. Having just looked back through the results I've just realised we set a course record at 2hr 11m 19s - bonus!
Well done to Chloe, Johnny and all the LoveSwimRun team. It's a shame this event doesn't get more teams entering - there seems to be less teams and more solos each year, not sure why. For me part of the joy of swimrun is shared experience.
When I saw Alan’s post on an email from Explorer’s Connect something connected. It read something like this “I’m walking from Manchester to Dingle. I somehow need to cross the Irish Sea, maybe rowing or kayaking, any help or advice appreciated”
I emailed Alan, we established he had never been in a sea kayak before, he had a life-long fear of deep water and only learned to swim in the last year. Despite all of this he wanted to journey 60 miles across the Irish sea in a kayak.
Alan was undertaking the journey in memory of his sister who had died a few years ago, in the process he was hoping to raise money for MIND Manchester and Camphill Communities - Dingle.
Alan had done some earlier research into rowing and had had a quote for a support boat of £5000. Quite a cost for a journey that was meant to be raising money not spending it. Having taken complete novices on some successful, albeit much shorter, journeys in double sea kayaks I suggested that this could be the best way to make the crossing, which he liked the sound of.
So first thing’s first we needed to meet, and get Alan in a kayak. He drove down to Aberdovey, we chatted, we had a pleasant paddle in the estuary, performed a capsize and self-rescue, chatted some more, ate, and arranged another more testing kayak training day 3 weeks down the line.
Alan was keen to work on his fitness in the meantime so I advised him to go swimming as much as possible to boost his shoulder and back muscles, and it’s also great to be as comfortable in the water as on it.
So a few weeks later Alan came down again. There was a bit more wind about, a steady force 3 gusting 4/5. We paddled from Aberdovey up to Cae Du and back and went through an impressive hail storm. We also had a chance to play around in the surf on the edge of Aberdovey bar. All went well. I felt confident, given favourable conditions, that the only thing that would stop us paddling to Ireland would be a lack of perseverance. I’d only met Alan twice but after listening to his motivation for taking on the journey I believed that he would have enough in the tank.
I got in touch with a few paddling companies - Reed ChillCheater sponsored us with super warm base layers and beanies, Stu from VE Paddles supplied two super light paddles which I highly recommend, Nigel Dennis said he would make us a new Double Sea Kayak(!) however given the time available this didn’t work out, but it was a nice thought. Thankfully The Outward Bound Trust lent us a Perception Horizon Double Sea Kayak, not normally the boat of choice for open water sea crossings, but as this was the boat we had trained in it seemed right to use it for the crossing.
I ruled out any notion of a support boat. We would either do it self-sufficiently or not at all. A support boat adds another dynamic, and cost, which we didn’t need. All we needed was light winds and the ability to keep paddling west.
So Alan started his walk from Manchester and planned to be in Holyhead 10 days later. If I had spent an extended time in Manchester I too would want to leave it any way possible. I started studying the weather 7 days in advance, 5 days, 3 days this is normally when things start to firm up 2 days…. yes it’s looking good. I confirm to Alan who was somewhere near Bangor that we should take our chance the morning after he arrives in Holyhead. Sunday 15th June - the very first day of our weather window.
We met on the Saturday evening at Anglesey Outdoors, had a good feed in the Paddler’s Return, and popped down to Porth Dafarch for Alan’s first look at where we would launch from on the Sunday. It was flat as a pancake. Encouraging.
Sunday, 15th May 2016. A couple of Alan’s friend’s met us at Porth Dafarch, they looked quite nervous. In line with my tidal planning (to get us through the Penrhyn Mawr tide race unscathed) we had a rather civilised 10:20am start. Off we went. Paddling. There was a steady Force 3 from the NW for a couple of hours, thankfully this eased by around 14:00. We paddled. Stopped every hour for a couple of minutes to eat something small, little and often was the strategy. Every now and then one of us would wee allowing the other to have a slightly extended rest.
Around about 21:00 I busted out the music system that I had made watertight in a big tupperware container. Quite surreal listening to Dwight Yoakam whilst not being able to see land in any direction. Then suddenly what I thought was a freak wave broke 3 metres to our right. It was actually a minke whale trying to catch a listen to some honky-tonk. It gave me quite a shock but was then instantly calming as we watched it swim to the south, every now and then breaching the now very calm surface of the Irish Sea.
We paddled. It got dark. We noted the massive ferries, sometimes to our north, sometimes to our south.
We started to see the glow of Dublin. The battery died on the music system.
I had a period around 02:30am when I felt incredibly committed and slightly vulnerable, which as it happens I was. Alan started singing. Then it was my turn, we alternated for around an hour which helped us to keep paddling through the darkness.
We could see lots of port lights, boat lights, most of them confusing. I started seeing strange shapes, was I hallucinating? I contacted Dublin Coastguard on the VHF radio to let them know we are big eaters.
06:00 we had been able to see Dublin for an annoying amount of time now, we were trying to pin-point Dun Laoghaire Harbour as this is where I would be getting the ferry back to Holyhead from…. or so I thought.
We paddled. The wind picked up from the West.
We spotted Dalkey Island. We went for it. We thought we saw a man standing on the sea, it was in fact a buoy. Our paddling efficiency was beginning to fail and we struggled on to the east side of Dun Laoghaire Harbour wall, we crawled onto the rocks.
Monday 16th May, 07:50am. We had made it to Ireland.
We clambered over the wall somehow and looked at a peaceful harbour that looked quite celubrious. There was a distinct lack of ferry action. We looked particularly ungraceful as the morning Dublin joggers whistled past our array of dry bags, damp kit, and general salty mess.
Alan made some phone calls to his Dublin friend. A Port Authority vehicle pulled up, for a minute I thought we were in trouble. But no it was Alan’s friend of a friend. Things were happening. A friend of the friend of a friend pulled up in a VW Transporter, we proceeded to put a double sea kayak in the back of a van… it certainly didn’t fit but it didn’t matter, we were in Ireland.
So it turns out that ferries had stopped operating out of Dun Laoghaire a couple of years ago, they all depart from Dublin Port now. Luckily I now had the VW Transporter to take me there.
All sorts of shenanigans occurred at Dublin Port including an appearance on a SKY television programme on importing drugs with a kayak, a story for another time. Big thanks to Vinnie from Stena Line for helping me make it onto the ferry with the kayak.
The crossing had taken close to 22 hours and the end seemed so rushed. I had to get back to Wales for work, and Alan had to continue on his walk to Dingle. Next time I paddle to Ireland I’ll stay there a little longer.
Many thanks to VE Paddles, Reed ChillCheater, Stena Line and The Outward Bound Trust - if you want to move very slowly but steadily across the Irish Sea then the Perception Horizon is the boat of choice.
Alan raised over £20,000 for his chosen charities - MIND Manchester & Camphill Communities - Dingle.
My new favourite BRECA race, report to follow...
It was great to be racing at the home of swimrun once again, this time with brother-in-law Paul. We placed somewhere in the top half, which was a welcome surprise given are cumulative weight.
One thing stood out this time, in 2015 it was the waves, in 2014 it was the after-party, this year it was the emphasis on environmental impact.
Have you ever been annoyed by the amount of wasted cups or plastic water bottles at marathon, triathlon or other events? Well several swimrun race directors are leading the way when it comes to cutting down on waste using a method that is becoming more common in the world of long-distance racing.
Ben at BRECA Swimrun started the re-usable cup initiative for swimrun in 2017 at the BRECA Wanaka race in New Zealand and all subsequent races. So it was great to see OtillO get wholeheartedly on-board at Uto by giving out collapsible, re-usable cups to use at this race and beyond.
There were paper cups at the first two aid stations to avoid congestion in the early stages, from then on in it was use your own. In addition there were no gels at the aid stations, the nutrition was provided in pre-cut mouth-sized chunks, so none of that wasteful individual packaging.
The collapsible cups were made of silicone, you could easily stuff them in to your wetsuit no problem. We both stuffed ours up the leg of our wetsuits and they stayed put throughout the race. I'll certainly be re-using mine on future races and on long mountain challenges such as the Welsh 3000s to fill up from streams.
Well done to BRECA, OtillO, and to LoveSwimRun who have adopted similar approaches in their races. Our own mountain race, CADAIR X, will also adopt a re-usable approach at water stations. The times they are a changing - as event participants we can influence change by embracing the reduce, re-use, recycle mantra.
If the races you enter aren't doing this then ask some questions.
Here's some video highlights of the actual race day, can you spot team 110?
Further reading... this informative article from The Guardian.
With the continued growth of swimrun races on UK shores the swimrun format is becoming recognised as the most engaging way to journey across our landscape.
There’s swimruns on dramatic coastlines (Anglesey, The Gower, Jersey, Isles of Scilly), inspiring lakes (Snowdonia, The Lake District and the Lochs of Scotland). There’s even a swimrun version of the Bob Graham Round (the Frog Graham). So with all these challenges there's lots of scope for cramp to set in...
Avoiding Leg Cramp
One simple practical measure you can take to reduce the chance of getting calf cramp is to use a pull buoy (standard practise on swimruns), or just don’t kick your legs as much.
General advice is to eat foods that contain potassium, a mineral that helps your body break down carbohydrates and build muscle. Suggestions: dried fruits; tomato juice, citrus juice, milk; melon, an orange, or a banana. Drink a lot of water too: It maintains circulation and helps flush cramp-causing waste products from your muscles. It’s definitely worth testing which foods work for you in your training schedule. Also think about which of these foods you can eat just after a 5k run and just before a 1k swim.
During races the aid stations are normally sufficiently stocked with enough of the right stuff to see you through to the end. On longer training swimruns I would carry some jelly-babies/gel, some salted nuts and an electrolyte drink.
It’s a good idea to spruce up your water bottle with some electrolyte replacement. The major electrolytes in the body include: sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate and sulfate. You can make your own or buy some dissolvable electrolyte tablets - I can recommend High 5, tube of 20 for £2.79 from wiggle.
Make Your Own
Or the simple version - mix water, sugar (or cordial) and salt in your water bottle.
Why Are Electrolytes Important?
Electrolytes are important because cells use them to transmit electrical impulses across their membranes and to other cells throughout the body. These electrical charges regulate nerve impulses, heart functions and muscle contractions.
Leg cramps can be really debilitating, follow the advice above and hopefully you'll avoid them.
So you've probably trained for a running event before, probably trained for a swimming event or a triathlon before. The key difference with swimrun racing is that you will be racing with a partner in unusual attire, in the water, out the water, repeat.
Train with your partner if you can. If you can't then not to worry, you'll just have to treat the first third of your swimrun race as training... this can go well, and it can go very wrong. It's all great learning.
The second thing to get your head around is running in your wetsuit - it's perfectly OK to cut down an old thin wetsuit and race in this. Although the first time you cut your wetsuit it feels like sacrilege, it is how many swimrunners start. You may want to invest in a swimrun specific wetsuit further down the line, among other things these have the advantage of having the zip on the front. There are many run sections that you will want to unzip your wetsuit. The easier it is to do this the faster your transition will be. We can recommend the HEAD Aero which we reviewed here.
So wetsuit sorted - put it on and go for a run!
Swimming in trainers is no drama. It's just like swimming, except you've got trainers on. Using a pull buoy to increase buoyancy helps. Check out our article on gear to see how to modify your pull buoy.
Next up is to try swimming, transitioning and running with a tow system. Coming from a kayaking and white water perspective I was initially very reluctant to tether myself to someone else in the water with lots of other potentially crazy swimmers! The old "water and ropes don't mix" adage is forever present. It's a bit of a fixed mindset adage... swimrun however is undoubtedly a growth mindset endeavour!
Firstly you won't be using a rope you'll be using a bungee. Secondly you will use a clip/karabiner that should break given significant forces. Thirdly your waist-belt will be releasable (if you use a tow-float waste belt). So in summary don't worry about being tethered at all. You won't realise how effective it is until you try it, I'll be writing an article on the benefits of towing in swimrun (and how it can be used in swim coaching) soon.
Something that might catch newcomers out is you get given a race bib to race in. This makes unzipping and peeling down your wetsuit slightly more awkward, and will add a little extra drag on your swim.
Try all of the above whilst wearing an old race t-shirt to mimic the bib.
Forgetting about the kit for a moment, remember the basics - hill training is possibly the most effective run training, so work it into your training schedule. Swimming sets of ten to twenty sets of 100m to 250m at 80% is a simple way to improve your swimming. One thing I did before Coniston was to write down the 8 swim distances and complete them in the pool (resulting in a great 5km swim session). After each swim distance I pulled myself out of the deep end had a cold shower and jumped back in, just to mark the end/start of each "transition".
If you can get some swim - run - swim - run sessions in your training then that's ideal. It might be worth a weekend in Wales/Lake District/Scotland/suitable coastline to facilitate this.
The basics - wetsuit and trainers.
Wetsuits - most swimruns require you to wear a wetsuit but there are a few in warmer climes where it is optional. You don't need to shell out on a swimrun specific wetsuit for your first race. Many just take an old triathlon wetsuit and cut at the knees and elbows (depending).
Trainers - there's a variety out there, key considerations are weight, grip and drainage. For the more mountainous races you may want to consider more support and cushioning. WESWIMRUN can recommend Inov-8.
There are few rules about what extra gear you can race with. For your first swimrun it's a very good idea to keep it simple. The more kit you have the more you have to manage. In training allow yourself time to experiment with different gear, make mistakes, learn and evolve.
Remember each swimrun is a different distance, different swim:run ratio, and a different learning experience. This is one of the reasons it is so engaging.
Increase the bouyancy of your lower half by using a pull bouy. You can also play around with ideas to increase bouyancy of lower legs, neoprene calve guards are used by some.
This is effective in the swim for keeping together and speeding up a slower swimmer. It can help on the runs too. A simple length of bungee with 2 clips attached to both partners works. Practise with your partner!
Lots on the market, different sizes, shapes, attachments - try some. Consider the length of the longest swim, transition management, and how you will store them during the runs. If you are going to use them, train with them first! Some paddle advice here.
Key things to consider when making your decisions: ratio of running to swimming; longest swim length; longest run length; water temperature; air temperature; wind. Kit management can add stress to your race if you are not used to it, so for your very first swimrun it's not a bad idea to strip back to minimal kit, especially if you haven't trained with your extra kit.
Remember every swimrun is different just like every human is different. Part of the fun is deciding what's right for you (and your partner) for a given race, on a given day.