Review by Elise Downing.
Having done one swimrun before and absolutely loved it, I leapt at the chance when Chris, my brother, suggested we team up for the St Ives event, hosted by As Keen As Mustard. Swimrun is a great sport. It’s exciting and different and you get to have a laugh with your teammate. There’s just one problem with it for me: it involves swimming. The race day in-water sections are fine – they’re good fun, you’re outdoors and you’re actually getting somewhere. It’s all the swim training, or lack thereof, that is my issue.
I spent the weeks leading up to the race messaging Chris about how nervous I was that I hadn’t been swimming for about three months. He said not to worry – his training had consisted of a few lengths of the 7 meter pool while on holiday. This actually did nothing to reassure me. I had been relying on him taking the front spot of the tether and pulling me along. Suddenly the very generous cut off times started to seem less generous…
We arrived at the Pike and Eel pub where registration was being held about an hour before race start. Registration was super quick, always a big plus point of taking part in smaller events, and soon we had our bibs and hats in hand and headed back to the the car to get ready. I attempted to squeeze into my wetsuit behind the car door without losing too much dignity, but largely failed. Hey ho. We put our swim caps on for a quick selfie (how do other people manage to look good in them?!) and then headed to the briefing.
We had opted for the longer 21km race, which was two laps of the shorter course, and consisted of a total of 12 swims and 13 runs. The swims were all on the River Great Oust, some upstream and some downstream. The runs took place on the surrounding fields and river trails, with a section around the RSPB Fen Drayton Nature Reserve. At just after 08.30am we were set off.
There was a 2km run to start, and then we were into the first swim of 400m upstream. We had chosen not to tether together for this first swim, as we weren’t sure who would be faster. Well, Chris wasn’t sure. I was fairly confident it would be him. I was right. Within about 20 metres I knew that I wasn’t imagining how rubbish I was at swimming and those few hundred metres felt like a marathon. Turns out swimming upstream really adds an extra challenge too. It was like going through treacle. Chris kept shooting off ahead, struggling to stay within the allotted 10m of my snails pace, and I felt fairly demoralised. It was going to be a long morning.
Finally, after what felt like a long, soggy eternity, I saw the yellow flag that indicated swim exit. Hallelujah! Back on dry land and the next run was just over a kilometre around some fields. This was fun: I remembered that I actually like running and we managed to do to a bit of overtaking. Soon we were back in the water for another upstream section, but this time we were tethered together, which was a vast improvement. I felt much happier. What’s the point of having a brother if they aren’t going to tow you along?
Next was the longest run section of the day, nearly 3km around the nature reserve. This was fine and we did a bit more overtaking of people who had zoomed past us on the swims – we ended up leapfrogging with the same people for most of the morning. The next swim section was the longest of the day at 640m, but also downstream. It was incredible. What kind of sadist makes you swim upstream anyway!? We raced through that leg and were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves as we climbed up the river banks and out of the water at the end of it.
We weren’t quite there yet though. There was still another downstream swim and two short river crossings to go on our first lap, plus the runs in between them. We plodded our way through them, continuing to leapfrog other competitors, and eventually we reached the point where short course racers headed to the finish line, and us long course racers set out on another lap. I’d had a nice morning up until this point but I have to admit the thought of doing it all again wasn’t filling me with a huge amount of joy. Chris isn’t one for giving up though and I didn’t think there was any chance we’d be allowed to stop early. I tried to push thoughts of warm jumpers and a hot drink to the back of my mind.
Then came the magical moment. Chris turned to me and said, “are we finishing here then?” The best words he’s ever spoken in my 27 years of knowing him. Turns out his shoulder was hurting (probably from towing me along like dead weight… sorry about that) and with the OCR world champs coming up, he didn’t want to do any lasting damage. We’d already seen the whole course and very much taken on board the lesson that we need to do some more swimming training. There was nothing left to prove. We very happily ran to the finish line, handed in our race bibs and collected our 10km course medals.
The St Ives swimrun was a great, friendly way to spend a Sunday morning. With its flat runs and not-too-long swims, it would be a great introduction to anybody wanting to give there first swimrun a go, especially as there’s the option to race as an individual, unlike many swim runs where it’s mandatory to be in a pair. And if you’re a fan of condiments and in possession of more swimrun prowess than us, then I’d definitely recommend entering as the winners’ trophy is a fairly dazzling perspex-enclosed jar of Coleman’s Mustard.
All 6 of their events for 2020 have already been announced. Check them out here: http://www.akamustard.events