Breca Swim Run 10th July 2021 (Hester & Helen, Manu & Stuart)

Swim Run – 21km, (18km run (6 run legs), 3km swim (5 swim legs))

Ladies team (Hester & Helen), Mens team (Manu & Stuart)

How hard can it be?, the question we asked ourselves as we sat in bed having a cup of tea on ‘race day’.

Hester and I have raced consistently at European/World Triathlon Championships since 2007/8, we were used to putting ourselves on the line – right?

Friday had seen us study the course on google maps and get our kit ready, of which there is a lot: swimrun wetsuit, pool bouy, paddles, swimrun shoes, swimrun socks (who knew they were a thing!), hat, goggles, whistle, collapsible re-usable cup – why do we choose a sport with lots of kit? And on that note, to made the most of our visit to the Lake District, off we went mountain biking – yet another set of kit!

A leisurely start (the coaches were not leaving the village hall in Grasmere until 10am to bus all of the competitors to the far end of Lake Windemere) and we set off to walk down into Grasmere village in full swimrun gear, waterproofs and an umbrella, which prompted many quizzical looks – we were going to get wet, so why the umbrella? The umbrella turned out to be a godsend post-race.

As this was our first swimrun event, we gathered tips from obvious seasoned swim runners in the bag drop que (in addition to Manu and Stu who were also racing and had walked down ahead of us to register and present their kit for checking); the results seems to be that at least we should have practiced in our kit. Great we thought as we looked pleased with ourselves, several sessions at Bicester lake would see us right!

As we got closer to being dropped off at the end of Lake Windermere (we would swim in lakes Windemere, Rydal Water and Grasmere), the conversations on the coach turned to: ‘this is a long way from Grasmere’ – indeed it was, over an hour by road and on some of the roads that Hester and I have crossed over whilst mountain biking on the day before. Once all of the competitors were assembled the atmosphere was full of anticipation and very soon we were away, across the road and immediately uphill. This was the theme throughout the race, uphill, downhill, swim, repeat.

At the start

In between….

Very quickly we realised that the run sections were testing: rocky, ankle turning, steep gradients and fast downhills – nothing particular like we had trained on and I had to work hard to keep up with Hester, who’s childhood training terrain was the Scottish Boarders.  We had practiced our swim strategy and put this into action, moving up the field quite easily, then trying to hold our position on the run legs. Aid stations consisted of grabbing handfuls of jelly babies or Jaffa cakes, filling our water cups that we were carrying and off we went, again, we could make up time and positions through these.

Although we had studied the course, the organisers threw in a late amendment to the course with a climb over a crag which if you have seen Septembers edition of Triathlon 220 magazine, you will realise just how steep this was, scrambling up a rock face. Not one for heights or sheer drops, this nearly proved my undoing, but my trusty partner grabbed my hand and shouted, ‘no going back, only forward’ and over the top we went.  A long technical descent down to the shore, for another swim leg and off we went again, making up places and time.

The last swim leg was from one side of the lake to the other, and back into our formation. The swim legs had provided time to recover and relax from the run legs. Out of the swim and the finish line was just over a mile away, this time all on road and gently downhill, after the initial uphill run from the lake.

We pushed on, dug deep and ran into Grasmere, rounded the corner into the pub garden and the finish line. Our first swimrun event was completed. Manu and Stu were waiting for us as we crossed the line. They were changed and looking relaxed, along with a guy Harry who we had got chatting to at the village hall in the morning, a solo competitor, who was an ex county swimming.

Medal and t-shirt in hand, we grabbed our bags and sat down almost where we had come to a stop, absolutely buzzing from the experience, but at the same time, glad to sit down. All the food and drink in our bags was consumed in no particular order and then the stories began, exchanging tales of the days’ race. What an amazing day it had been, one of the hardest things I have done but one of the best things I have done.

At the finish

We gathered our belongings and moved into the pub garden. Umbrella retrieved from its secret hiding place (we have always employed this strategy for things such as recovery drinks, clothes at races) and found a table and ordered drinks. The weather had stayed fine all day and now as the clouds darkened the rain came – the unberella came into its own and all five of us sheltered underneath it. The pub garden quickly cleared of competitors and the general public, only a very few sat it out, determined to enjoy themselves. At the end of the day, we had all got wet, dried off – we didn’t really want to get wet again! However, this proved hard as we said our goodbyes to Harry and Manu, Stu, Hester and I set off to walk back to the hotel – we arrived soaking wet, but happy.

Enjoying the after-race drink and bants (in the rain)!

Manu and Stu finished sixth in the men’s pair – a fantastic result, Hester & I had a top ten finish in the ladies team event – our first swimrun event, next time a top five finish or even a podium – because at the end of the day, how hard can it be? (sufficiently hard to have DOMS for a couple of days and having to walk down the stairs backwards for a day!).

A huge thank you to the Brecca team and all of the volunteers for putting on a great race with such a friendly atmosphere and we all can’t wait to do the next swimrun event.