Ending up on the start line...
I had kept my eye on Breca SwimRun since I read a blog about it last year, but hadn't really considered entering it.... until Natalie Lawrence messaged out of the blue asking if I wanted to race with her after her partner had dropped out. Sounded good to me, I agreed. Then in an unfortunate turn of events Natalie had to pull out also. So with just 5 weeks to go I somehow managed to convince Dave Glossy to do it with me (thanks Dave!!). Suddenly we were sat wondering how we had both ended up in a race neither of us had signed up for and we were slightly (err very!) unprepared for. Time for some panic training.
SO what is Breca Swimrun?
The blurb from Breca's wesbite explains their Buttermere race it far better than I can...
''Breca Buttermere is a swimrun race across some of the UK’s most stunning and rugged wilderness – the Western Fells of the Lake District. Over 17 consecutive legs, teams of two will complete a total of 6km of lake swimming and 38km of trail running, including 1,900m of vertical ascent and the infamous Honister Pass''
It looks like this...
Run 5.7km (Up seriously big hill!)
Run 12.8km (Very hilly!)
Run (lol) 10.1km (Up Dale Head / Honister Pass)
Add in the fact you have to stay together as a pair and are swimming in your trainers and running in your wetsuit... you have one seriously epic challenge!
With about 4-5 weeks to train for the event we focused on 2 things. Slowly and safely building up some run volume and testing kit to find what worked best for us! Although the 'running' totals 38k on the event, the fact it was going to be broken up and involve some (lots of) walking made it difficult to figure exactly how far we needed to build up to in training. Dave's longest run was 30km and mine was 20km - and this seemed to do us just fine! We got down to Box End Lake and practiced plenty of running in our wetsuits and swimming in our trainers. We experimented with lots of different kit, the rules of swimrun are fairly relaxed. Hand paddles, pull buoys and fins are all allowed! People's swimming technique can be very individual and what works for one swimmer isn't always great for another. For example Dave is much quicker with a pull buoy and paddles, but both slow me down considerably! For the testing we simply swam a lap around Box End in various combinations of kit, and then tried to factor how much of a pain they would be putting on and off... and also carrying up a mountain! Turns our fins not the best option for this event, but pull buoy and paddles were for Dave!
A few of the more random things we tried...
On top of the mandatory equipment (compass, whistle, map, bandage) we also carried plenty of gels, some painkillers, a camera, blister plasters and spare lube(38k in a wetsuit)!
Here is what kit both ended up using...
Keep your eyes peeled on the GreenlightPT website for some articles coming soon about SwimRun training, kit and events...!
After a 5 hour drive up late on Friday night we arrived in Buttermere early on Saturday morning ready to race! The race briefing was good with a clear run through the course, route markings and safety procedures. It was such a laid back friendly atmosphere before the race. Nobody was quite sure if they had the right kit, everyone nervous and apprehensive about what we were about to embark on. There was a real sense of adventure and camaraderie in the air.
We had a pretty simple race plan that we hoped would serve us well...
Leg 1: Run (0.6km)
1 minute before the race my swim cap ripped in half! Not ideal. Replacement found within about 30 seconds and all of a sudden we were off! Clearly a bit too much excitement in the air as everyone seemed to set off at a pace that is usually only seen in the first 500m of your local parkrun. Me and Dave chilled near the back and let everyone do their own thing. We probably got to the water in about 30-40th position (95 teams in the race).
Leg 2: Swim (600m)
Only a short swim but long enough for us to start overtaking some of the weaker swimmers who had just set off like loonies. Water temperature was around 15 degrees, a bit chilly getting in but absolutely fine once you got going - crystal clear too! What a privilege to race in this area!
Leg 3: Run (1.9km)
Again lots of people came bombing passed us running at what looked like their 5/10k pace, we let them go, gave them a wave and hoped we'd see them again later on in the day.
Leg 4: Swim (600m)
We made a few places back on the swim and Dave took a turn on the front to share some of the work. You do have the option to bungee yourselves together in swimrun but I think you'd need to be seriously different abilities to require this! We just took turns at drafting each other.
Leg 5: Run (5.7km)
This started with a really long steep climb (about 300m accent - same as Slateman hill if anyone has done that). We walked up at what felt like a steady pace and let a few people power on passed us. Right on the top of the ridge there was a bit of confusion about the route (wouldn't be the last time!) and we seemed to have a lot of people following us - possibly the wrong way. After a few minutes and lots of shouting (mostly in Scandinavian!) the bunch of ten of us seemed to get back on the right track. Again lots of people flew passed us on this leg and a volunteer at the check point informed us we were probably about 20-25th.
Leg 6: Swim (1000m)
A chance to play to our strengths here with a big swim. We starting slowly moving through the field with me starting on the front then Dave taking a turn. About half way I spotted some swimmers over taking us off to the right (with us both coming from a swimming background this was quite a surprise!), so I forced Dave over towards them and jumped on their feet. They were seriously quick and helped us move up to about 13th/14th position.
Leg 7: Run (12.9km)
The longest run in terms of distance (the 10km up the mountain later on would take longer!) and we were overtaken by a bunch of 3 teams early on, we ended up running together with a few teams for most of this leg and had some good chat and laughs as we went along. Having our drinks bottles to hand really paid off on this section. We were busy fueling and hydrating while everyone else was waiting 90 minutes for the aid station. Interesting on this section to see who had taken their wetsuits down to the waist and removed swim caps - a lesson I learnt the hard way in Llanberis the week before. Its so easy to not realise just quite how much you are sweating in all that kit, especially in the wet weather. When we hit the check point at the end of this leg me and Dave filled up our drinks and headed off, while the other teams spent a while trying to get as much food and drink in as they could. We were up into about 10th/11th spot now...! Slow and steady plan working out nicely. Dave got a bit of toe pain but a quick paracetamol stop and all was under control (until it wore off some 4 hours later!).
Legs 8-14: A series of reasonable short swims and runs!
Probably the most enjoyable section and a real feel for what swimrun is all about. We worked our way across the wilderness transferring seamlessly between crystal clear lakes and rugged mountain trails. The swims were epic with high rising mountains to the sides and the runs were a varied mix of rocky paths, muddy trails and soggy bogs! We spent these sections going back and forth with a team of strong runners who we would pass on each swim only for them to come passed us every time there was a run section! The final 1000m was long enough for us to create a decent gap that would see us hold them off for the rest of the day! The only other point of note on this section was I fell down a hip deep muddy puddle with one leg, but somehow managed not to break, scratch or twist anything! Unfortunately no volunteers around to inform them of this freak hole in the ground - hopefully nobody else fell down it too!
Leg 15: Run (10.1km) (Honister pass)
First part of this run was checkpoint 4 where the lovely volunteer told us we were the only people so far that seemed to be having fun - a good sign the teams in front might be struggling!
We then hit THE climb. Words simply can't describe how steep this was and how long it went on for. We tried all sorts of techniques from crawling on our hands and knees to using our hands on the fence to help pull ourselves up! We both seemed to go through a few bad patches (including lots of cramp!) but kept each other pushing on and resisted the urge to stop for a break. The long steep climb made the teams in front a bit more visible and we did a few time checks to try and figure if we were gaining on them... the time gap seemed to be closing ever so slightly. We were fairly sure we were in the top 10 (maybe 7th or 8th), so aimed to hold position. It was probably about 40-50 minutes of going up! Once we hit the top of the ridge it was crazy windy and we started the steep descent. We had about 2km downhill on mountain trails which was really hard work on the quads but we could see the 3km downhill stretch of road coming up that would take us back to the lake, and it couldn't come soon enough! What we thought was going to be glorious downhill tarmac turned out to just give us cramp from the impact! We pushed on down the hill knowing the finish was now within reach!
Legs 16-17: Final swim and run!
One final swim across the lake (think we may have picked off another team here!) and then we hit the final 2km run section to the finish, we both seemed to have just same amount of effort left in the tank and pushed on fast through the final section. I was gobsmacked that after 38km of mountain running we were both still able to push the pace - a sign we nailed the pacing and fueling plan really well.
A few little uphills and we had crossed the finish line - finishing in 6 hours 43 and in a solid 8th place!
Such a buzz to finish the event and amazing to complete it as a team and go through it all together (without falling out!). Finishing that far up the field was far beyond our expectations and we were surprised how little seemed to go wrong along the way!
An absolutely amazing event, completely stunning scenery and a refreshing challenge!
The final icing on the cake and an even prouder moment was GreenlightPT athletes Jimmy and Niki getting over the finish line! I'll be honest when I was going up those final hills I was slightly concerned for you both! Epic achievement to have ticked off. Glad to have been a part of it with you!
Job done. All that was left was a 5 hour drive home...
Initial Thoughts on swimrun
What a refreshing change.
Camaraderie. Team work. Adventure.
No fancy nutrition event sponsors... just some simple food and drink around the course.
No chip timing... a few guys with pen and paper.
No big signage spoiling the landscape... just a few wood-chip arrows to spot and follow.
No 'generic distances'... just whatever the landscape happens to throw at you along the way.
All in an absolutely inspiring setting.
Where do we sign up for another one...?!