The Great North SwimRun

Great North Swim Run 2018 Main Image

Simon Griffiths tackles his longest swimrun to date

Gliding across Windermere for the first section of the Great North SwimRun has to rank as one of my favourite ever swimming experiences. You’d struggle to create more perfect conditions for an outdoor swim. The water temperature was a comfortable 19 degrees and the surface mirror flat. The views in all directions were spectacular. And, as this was the start of a challenging swimrun, the pace was relaxed and smooth.

The organisers of the Great North Swim introduced swimrun to the programme in 2017 with three options that they describe as “short”, “middle” and “endurance”. They proved popular enough to repeat, and it’s easy to see why. Windermere and the surrounding fells are ideal terrain for swimrun events. The Great North Swimrun uses a similar format to the original Ötillö and subsequently adopted by other organisers. You swim in your running shoes and run in your wetsuit. It’s a team event and you have to stay within 10m of your partner throughout and there are multiple transitions between swimming and running.

Stunning views

I was taking part in the middle distance, which features a total of 3.34km of swimming and 20.6km of running – my longest swimrun to date. This consisted of five swims and four runs, and it was my first swimrun event that both started and finished with a swim, which I really liked.

After crossing Windermere east to west, we exited near Wray Castle and began the first run section of 5.7km heading south along a wooded lakeside trail. Apart from an initial climb towards the castle followed by a descent back to the water, this section was largely flat. Every turn brought new and stunning views across the lake while the trees provided welcome shade from the sun.

Simon And Chris Freeman

Simon and his teammate Chris Freeman

Splash along the shore

The second swim, back in Windermere, was just a short 330m splash along the shore, but enough to cool down ahead of what I viewed as the make-or-break section of the event, an 11.1km run that took us back to Wray Castle then up into the hills around Blelham Tarn. If I could get through this, I was pretty confident I could finish. My lack of running fitness and training began to bite about half way through, especially on the climbs. Luckily, the beautiful surroundings kept my mind off the fatigue in my legs and, once we’d reached the 7km point, I knew most of the rest was downhill and I’d be rewarded with another swim.

The final part of the race consisted of three more swims and two short runs. Although the final run was mostly flat, my legs almost gave up on me and I was forced to walk in places, while anxiously looking over my shoulder. We were in second place but didn’t know how far behind the third placed team was. By this stage I was able to swim faster than I could run so I was grateful that the final stage was a 760m swim from Low Wood Bay back to race HQ at the Brockhole Lake District Visitor Centre. As soon as we were in the water I knew we’d be able to hold onto our position.

The final swim was easily the hardest, but not because of exhaustion. The wind had picked up by this stage so the water was no longer flat calm. Also, we joined a section of the Great Swim. Whereas on previous swim sections it felt like we’d had the lake to ourselves, we now had to share with hundreds of other swimmers, and this made staying within the required 10m of my race partner difficult as we wove between them. Never mind. It’s a minor complaint and barely detracted from what was a fabulous and well organised event.

Leading Out The First Swim


Name: Great North Swimrun

Venue: Brockhole Lake Visitor Centre (Windermere)

Distance options: Short – Total swim = 1840m, total run = 10.8km (3 swims, 3 runs); Mid – Total swim = 3340m, total run = 20.6km (5 swims, 4 runs) ; Endurance – Total swim = 4040m, total run = 34.77km (7 swims, 6 runs).

Water temp: 19 degrees in 2018. Has been as low as 13 degrees in previous years.

Water type: lake

Next event: June 2019

Find out more:

Picture credits: Katia Vastiau

01 Cover January 22

Issue 57 January 2022

  • Swim To Live: the new wave of men’s swim groups swimming for better mental health
  • The Ice Queen: Kate Steels’ Ice Sevens
  • Swimterview: Ella Foote swims with body positive campaigner and cold water convert Jules Von Hep
  • The Epic Eriksons: Father and son marathon swimmers Jon and Ted Erikson
  • On Test: Changing robes and skincare
  • A post-festive pool session from Dan Bullock

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