So here we were. Coniston Water. With 38km of running and 5km of swimming to come on a cool and Autumnal Lake District day it was time to take on the first ever BRECA Coniston race.
The day before I had managed a quick look at the entry list and saw a couple of strong players in the mixed category, not least the swimrun legends, and World Champions, Daniel Hansson and Kristin Larsson. Every single OtillO race I have ever been to they have always been on the podium. I tried to explain to my sister (Helen) how awesome these guys were, she glazed over and thought of bed-time.
Race morning came: grey, cool and moody. Neither of us had run 38km for a very long time, and in the last year Helen could count on her fingers the number of times she'd been swimming. We both agreed we just wanted to complete the course.
The first swim was fast and furious. For some reason the main pack were aiming left of were we should be swimming to, I spotted this early on, cut behind and set a course for the exit. I love confusion in the water, it is so engaging. What was really helpful for sighting this exit was the bright light that someone was shining, so much more effective than flags. Well done to whoever thought of that.
Three more fast runs and swims followed in and around Coniston Water, as we got out of the final swim (of Coniston) there was only one mixed team ahead of us, the Swedish legends. A true honour! Next followed a grueling 12.5km run that took us from the north end of Coniston water to Windermere. Lots of ups, downs, forests and gates. We had known this was going to be tough and we'd be looking forward to getting it done. We were moving well, I was impressed with Helen's pace knowing that her training had been seriously hit by her one year old. At some point during the 12.5km run Team Rick & Rice overtook us pushing us into 3rd place. I knew Rice had strong swimrun pedigree as I'd seen her perform well on the OtillO circuit.
At some point during this run we came across a descent on the most slippery rocks I have ever run on, so slippery that we un-tethered. It was truly remarkable how slippy they were, we embraced it as an agility test - thankfully we both passed.
The next two swims and runs in/around Windermere passed quickly. We faced a 6.5km technical and undulating run to Rydal water. We were starting to slow, I had a particularly bad slow down around about the 5 hour mark... but I picked up again. Helen remained steady throughout which is testament to her stamina, maybe motherhood enhances this quality.
Rydal water. It was great to be swimming again. Unfortunately just before this penultimate swim a mixed team passed us which nudged us off the podium places. A short run after Rydal to the final swim at Grasmere. This was the longest swim (800m); the coolest and the most effected by wind. But when compared to some of the sea-swims of 2017 it was very straight forward. We gained slightly on the 3rd position team but couldn't quite catch them.
It was great to finish with some lovely home-made soup, tea and a heated tent that was like a sauna. With the longest swim being last, and only a short run before the finish line, there were quite a few cold folks so the heated tent was appreciated. This showed a considerate and thoughtful approach to Race Directing by Ben, a good shout.
In the end we came 4th in the mixed category and 9th overall (out of 55 teams).
A superb event and a very welcome addition to the swimrun calendar. Well done to all who took it on and to all the BRECA team for making it happen.
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.