If you’re a strong swimmer and want to give swimrun a try, then this could be your perfect event. By Simon Griffiths
I was supposed to Breca Swimrun Jersey with Helen Webster, editor of 220 Triathlon. Two days before the event, she sent me a very apologetic email. She’d picked up a nasty infection and wouldn’t be able to race.
And that was a problem because you need to race with a partner in Breca swimrun events.
The frantic search for a substitute commenced, and in a short space of time unearthed Ian Jones, a Jersey-based Channel swimmer and triathlete. The race was back on.
I met Ian for the first time at the compulsory race briefing on the Friday evening before the race. Like me, he hadn’t done swimrun before but, as a local, he was at least familiar with the route. I went back to my hotel to check my kit for a final time and we met again the next morning on the start line.
All day Friday, Jersey had been
battered by force 5 to 6 winds and
non-stop rain. The forecast for race
day was little better but luckily proved
pessimistic. The wind was still brisk and
the temperature fresh but the sky was
blue and spirits were high. We gathered
in front of the imposing Mont Orgueil
Castle at Gory for the start. Ian and
I placed ourselves a few rows back
from the front and, when the
signal sounded, set off running at
a steady pace.
The first section was only 1.3km, but we soon found ourselves several hundred metres behind the leaders. I was worried that we might get held up at the first transition but Ian, with his local knowledge, was confident there would be plenty of space as it was a beach entry, and he was right. As neither of us were using paddles or a pull buoy, all we had to do was wade in and swim. The water, at 18 degrees, was comfortable, and swimming with shoes on wasn’t as bad as I’d feared it would be. We quickly found ourselves catching up and then overtaking most of the teams ahead of us. As we were on the lee side of the island, the sea at this point was still relatively calm.
Challenges and joys
One of the challenges, and joys, of swimrun is that you have to deal with the course as you find it. If the rocks are slippery, take care. Lightweight and grippy trail shoes, such as the Inov-8 X-Talon 225s I wore, are essential. If the only way into the water is to slide down a bank on your backside, just get on with it. It’s up to you and your race partner to support each other.
As we moved around to the north of the island, the runs became hillier, the sea rougher and the transitions more difficult. At one point, going around a headland, the current was so strong we could barely make headway. A 1500m swim, instead of taking around 25 minutes, took us nearly an hour. At each exit point you had to time your lunge for a handhold on the rocks with an incoming wave and then hang on tightly as the sea tried to suck you out again. We had to climb up a narrow, almost vertical stream and scramble over barnacle encrusted boulders. I loved it!
The ‘sprint’ version was ‘only’ 14.6km of running and 4.6km of swimming, compared to the full distance of 49km running plus 7.7km swimming. ‘Sprint’ is perhaps not the right name for a challenge that took us the best part of four hours, but for people with a swimming background, this is a good event for a first swimrun as the proportion of swimming is high. I was a little worried about the run distance as the most I’d done in training was 11km but it wasn’t a problem. Breaking it into shorter sections (the longest was 4.9km) and having a little swim in between where I could rest my legs made it much more manageable. Additionally, some of the sections were so steep that walking was the only option.
For someone who had done no preparation and only signed up the day before, Ian was fantastic. His biggest problem became one of overheating and the physical effort of running in a full wetsuit. I don’t think I’d be speaking out of turn to say he wouldn’t recommend this. Much better to compete in a swimrun-specific wetsuit, such as the Orca SwimRun Core that I wore. In any case, we crossed the finish line in second place, so no complaints about the outcome.
I went back to my hotel, showered, ate and slept and still made it to the finish line to watch the long-distance racers finish. I don’t know why, but seeing them, totally exhausted but elated, has got me wondering if I could have a go at the full distance next year!
- Two jellyfish stings, one on each arm
- Several minor cuts and grazes from scrambling over rocks
- One sore neck from wetsuit chafing
- One bruised knee from stumbling when entering water
Name: Breca Swimrun Jersey
Total distances (sprint):
Run: 14.2km; Swim: 4.6km
Total distances (full): Run: 47km; Swim: 6.5km Water temperature: around 18 degrees
More details: brecaswimrun.com/