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.
With swimrun’s arrival in North Wales I of course had to sign up. Chloe Rafferty was race director and it was her vision to make this an accessible event offering both a solo and team entry.
Although a relatively short swimrun the amount of swimming was significant. I entered with my brother-in-law Paul, a thoroughbred and seasoned triathlete… although the last 6 months of study, marriage, impending first-born, moving house and my mum’s meals had taken it’s toll on his fitness. This race was to be a bit of a shake-down and trial of our partnership before the more brutal Brecaswimrun.
I really enjoyed it. For the first time in my swimrun race life I was running on familiar ground, this coupled with the length of the race helped us to eat up the miles, so much so that we entered the final swim in 1st position. This last swim was long enough to highlight Paul’s lack of training, especially as our tow system had snapped in the previous run. We slowed up significantly, but still came in in 2nd place. A friendly race that I am sure we will do again.
Thanks to Chloe for bringing swimrun racing to Wales!
When I heard Michael, Mats and the OTILLO team were hosting a race in the UK I immediately signed up.
After competing in the mixed category for Uto & Engadin I wanted to have a go at the male category once again. This coincided with my kayaking buddy Dave discovering a love for racing. We talked about kayaking over to Scilly and turning it into a real adventure week but in the end we opted for a more 21st century transport solution… which turns out was rather complex.
We arrived in plenty of time for registration, this is when I start to relax. We set up camp and went for a wander around the start/finish area. The isles of Scilly had a feel of Uto about it, which is such a good feel.
Michael and Mats gave a comprehensive and entertaining race brief, I signed up a couple of more people for the return journey on the charter boat (long story), we ate, kit faff, bed.
Race day. We set off near the front, Dave is a fast swimmer and we wanted to make a mark in the first 2km swim. we were well positioned in the top 10 at the start of the first swim and off we went. Within a 100m I started to catch Dave’s feet. Strange, Dave was always well ahead of me when we had trained together. I thought maybe he is having difficulty sighting. This carried on for a while. We drifted to the right. Dave was having trouble sighting…. but something else was wrong. Dave stopped, he looked awful, then violently threw-up into the Atlantic.
The chasing pack came right through us, hopefully the vomit had been suitably diluted by the ocean. We switched positions and finished the first swim. Dave looked like he’d gone a few rounds with Ivan Drago. Only 40 minutes in and I started to worry whether we would finish. I led us off not giving Dave much time to deliberate or recover, and on we went for a couple of hours running, swimming, in and out, all the while Dave looking unwell. What compounded his struggle was the fact that he didn’t feel well enough to take in fuel at the energy stations. It was in this first third of the race that Dave muttered “I’m spent”.
Somewhere just after the 3 hour mark Dave managed to take on some energy drink and I heard him say “I’m back”. We had dropped to around 30th. There followed a magical middle third of the race, the highlight for me was running through Tresco Abbey Gardens with families cheering us on.
We managed to claw ourselves back and were entering the top 20. This couple of hours of picking up the pace had been a big effort, Dave was still massively in calorie deficit after his illness, he had only taken on fluids (gutting for him as there was some fabulous cake on offer). He had started to cramp up on the longer runs. Then came the final swim.
And what a swim it was. The tide was taking us west, at times it was difficult to sight and we were starting to cool down significantly. It was meant to be around 2.5km. It felt closer to 3km. Hat’s off to Dave for leading this swim, quite an effort. Eventually we “landed” at St. Mary’s, we dragged ourselves out of the water. It felt like a very slow evolution.
Spectator’s were cheering us whilst we wrestled with seaweed, hand paddles, bungee tow and goggles. We were cold.
One of the things I love about swimrun is the fact that precisely at that time you feel cold you start to run, you warm up. It is a life-affirming motivation to run.
On we went…. finishing 21st in the male category, not too shabby for Dave's first race.
Quite a race, lovely seaweed, and a final swim we will never forget.
After enjoying Uto so much myself and Kate were hoping that are reserve place for Engadin was going to convert into an actual place… and it did.
We didn’t use hand paddles at Uto but with the longer swim sections at Engadin we decided we should. I also retired my old 1mm wetsuit as it’s holes were getting bigger and more numerous. I decided to customise an old Aquasphere Pursuit SL.
So we arrived in Silvaplana mid-way through the pasta party with 30 minutes until the race briefing. I had heard that last year the lakes had been colder than expected and lots of people were pulled out of the water in the early stages of hypothermia. It was a different story this year with blazing sunshine and warmer lakes. Race briefing done, time to set up camp.
Race day. It started with a testing, hot and slow uphill climb to 2400m before the most technical descent of the race. We weren’t on tow at this point and I was bursting at the seams to do some overtaking but Kate was being too polite to pass people, or was she just knackered? We set up the tow at the start of the first swim. The fact we hadn’t done any training with the hand paddles became apparent. The paddles enhanced my stronger left-hand pull sending us off to the right, I then over-compensated which sent us far left. We eventually got out and I began to think “this is going to be a long day”.
We were quite near the back but started to get into a nice running rhythm. The next swim saw me take us far right again, so much so that Kate was shouting at me. At one point Kate thought I was dead. What had actually happened was my left hand paddle had come off and I had stopped to re-attach it, I was surprised at how easily she thought I had died.
We caught up with another British couple who had come 5th in the mixed category last year. We briefly ran together whilst they told us what to expect ahead before they sped up and left us.
The energy stations were well provisioned and pretty pleasant with much of the food provided by winforce, there was also soup and sausage available, yes! I took on some sausage just before the start of the longest swim. I very slowly chewed it whilst swimming which was surprisingly relaxing – it was also a good way to take on some salt. By this time I had gotten used to the hand paddles and enjoyed the long swim, the cool water was like therapy for the body which is one of the things I love about swimrun.
We chugged along and found ourselves catching the British mixed team we had chatted to earlier. We entered the final swim just behind them and got out together. They set straight off for the finish whilst we decided to unzip wetsuits. At first I wondered if this was a mistake but we soon caught them and stepped up the pace to come in at 8th in the mixed category and first British mixed team. Another great race.
After loving the 2014 Uto I vowed to return. This time I had a new race partner as Janek was off chasing rainbows in Colorado (or something). Fellow Outward Bound instructor Kate Murphy didn’t vomit at the thought of entering such a race… which meant she was my new race partner.
After a few training runs and swims we found that Kate was the same speed as me in the pool but as soon as we got into open water I was faster. We were quite similar on the running but I was quicker on the hills so we decided to take the plunge and adopt a tow system.
My general philosophy for life is to keep things simple, minimal kit, minimal faff, so adding a tow system to our race was a step into the stretch zone. After some practise we realised it was actually really simple and effective and we became very comfortable with it.
We turned up in Stockholm on the Friday, 2 days before the race. This wasn’t some clever acclimatisation/familiarisation race plan, it was in fact because I thought the race was on the Saturday… it was actually on Sunday.
My friend Daniel picked us up from the airport. After a quick tour of his kayak shop (Svima Sport) we went to a great Thai restaurant in the uber-cool Stockholm. In Aberdovey if you want Thai you have to cook it yourself so this was a welcome treat.
We set off for Uto and arrived on the Island around 19:00. There’s something special about getting a ferry to an island for a race.
Having left booking accommodation to the last minute, when I did try to book there was no accommodation left on the island. Through a friendly teacher I managed to secure us accommodation in a classroom of the only school on Uto.
The Saturday saw us observing some very Welsh weather. It was cool, rained all day with very strong winds from the south west. I had kept faithful to my old 1mm Aquasphere Aquaskin and Kate was in a 3/2mm Orca. We went for a quick swim and I realised that I was taking on a lot of water. On closer inspection I noticed lots of little holes under the armpits of my wetsuit.
Race day. The sun was trying to come out and the wind was blowing hard, my favourite kind of race conditions. We started right at the back of the field and got stuck in a bottle-neck quite early on during a narrow forest trail… note to self – start nearer the front next time.
We soon hit the first swim and it was carnage. I loved it. With my automatic armpit cooling system in my wetsuit I told Kate that I was going to leg it out after every swim to try and warm up. We chugged along nicely.
A few hours later we got to the south of the island and it was truly awesome. There were steady Force 6 winds blowing which turned the sea state into a surfy mess. It was time to adopt some coasteering techniques for entry and exit to and from the swims, and use some survival swimming skills. It was wild racing, and I loved it.
We ended up coming in at 10th and the top British team in the mixed category. The whole experience hadn’t put Kate off and we both hoped to get a place in Engadin Swimrun in Switzerland.
It was a grey January in Wales. We were looking for inspiration. We found something called Uto SwimRun, this was it. We entered.
We vowed to train hard, record our progress, experiment with different combinations of gear, tow-floats, hand paddles, types of wetsuit, shoes…
…it transpired that come race day Janek was stood on the start line having swum 500m in a wetsuit he had borrowed 48 hours earlier.
The journey to Uto from Aberdovey was an adventure in itself. It involved my truck, a train, a plane, quite a lot of running through Stockholm Airport, 2 more trains, a bus, and a ferry onto the island. When we saddled up to the bar at Uto Vardshus we felt quite proud that we had made it this far. This feeling encouraged us to drink the local ales. It was one of those nights when you ignore the price of a pint and trust it will all work out in the end.
Having out-drunk our fellow competitors we left the bar feeling strong.
We hit breakfast with abundance, particularly as it was buffet style. And what a fine buffet it was with all sorts of meats, cheeses and unknowns. Such a good spread is dangerous on the morning of a race as my in-built “I’m at a buffet, must stuff myself repeatedly” gene kicks in. And indeed I was stood next to Janek on the start line, him in his peculiar wetsuit, and me with a ham and cheese roll in my mouth.
As we walked up to the start Janek asked “what’s our strategy?” this took me by surprise. My usual race strategy is “leg it and adjust”. I considered the question, these things need to be considered more when you are racing as a pair. Janek suggested that we start at the back away from the mayhem and see how we go. Agreed.
We were off. The combination of running through forest and over rocks into sea swimming was brilliant. I loved the transition between running/swimming and swimming/running, it felt primal. During the first hour of the race I experienced some abdominal discomfort due to my earlier performance at the buffet, this is not uncommon for me during a race. I normally find a rhythm after lots of burping and strange breathing patterns.
Half way in and we were feeling strong. We were overtaking people on the running sections and I noticed we were particularly quick in transitions. Two thirds of the way in at a drinks station someone shouted “you’re only 25 minutes behind the leaders”. We were shocked. We stepped it up a gear and started to overtake even more people running through the woods.
Then we started to slow. It was this point, in the last third of a race, this is the point were all that training pays off. For us there was no pay back. We weren’t in credit, in fact we were now in debt. Janek was in particular trouble, I suspent the full length 3mm neoprene on his legs took its toll. In the end we finished 38th out of 120. Satisfactory.
More importantly, despite finishing 38th, we somehow managed to be first into the post-race buffet. Impressed? I was.
This was followed by some solid camaraderie at the bar and an highly enjoyable after-party.
Uto SwimRun is my favourite race ever and I will return.