I had been desperate to try a swimrun since I heard of it three years ago when the first Inch by Inch took place in Loch Lomond. But for one reason or another it never happened for me. So, when Ali suggested that we do the Breca Coniston I was quickly on board. Sure, it was in October, but if she was willing to get in the water, I could not seem like a wimp. We agreed that as a season ending race, one that neither of us had specifically trained for, the focus should be on having fun and not pushing hard.
We got a look at our fellow competitors during the kit check and the race briefing the night before. Like on so many occasions, I felt intimidated by other athletes, everyone looked so professional. There were even sponsored teams with matching kit! I don’t know what Ali felt, but all this seemed to bring out some inner racing beast in her. In a very excited tone she pondered on our chances: “Look at that team with the Orca kit, I wonder if they are fast? Those people seem fit! I wonder how many swimruns have they done? I wonder if we could beat them?” Then she started talking about where we would make our move, “The last 6km run, that’s when we push hard! Or the last two shorter runs?” Ali was getting her game face on and I was getting worried. I suggested we’d leave the decision on any sprint finish for the race day, at the same time thinking worriedly that my casual day on the hills was suddenly becoming a full-on race.
In the morning Ali revealed she had dreamed about getting a superman tattoo across her chest. I’m not familiar with psychoanalysis, but surely it was her subconscious saying she had a superwoman inside of her who was about to come out. And I? Well, I still felt like I was going for a bit of a fun in the hills. Finally, as we were driven to the start by the organized bus, I felt some pre-race butterflies. Maybe I was ready for this after all.
We spent about 15 minutes running, squatting, stretching and generally moving about the assembly area. The race basically started with a swim and we needed to be sweating before getting in the water. We were in the middle of a big group for the first swim. I must have swum most of it with my head above the water to not lose sight of Ali. We did a good job staying together and being equally matched was a big part of it. I had volunteered for swimrun Inch by Inch a month ago and that really was an eye opener in terms of finding a partner. Swimrun is a team event and it does not matter how good you are if your partner is not with you.
The field became quite spread out within the first 40 minutes and for a while we did not see too many teams. We knew there were some teams ahead of us, but were not sure if they were mixed, men’s or women’s. Before the longest 15km run we got word from marshals that we were the first female team. Nice! We were now over two hours in, but I had hardly noticed the time passing. We kept to a steady pace, making sure we could easily talk.
The hours of moving started to hit home a few kilometres into the longest and also the hilliest run. We were now close to half way in. Many of the trails were quite technical, needing more effort and focus. We managed to catch a few teams but I hit a low and was finding it a bit difficult to keep up with Ali. Fortunately, the final kilometres of the long run section and the promise of some swimming did wonders for my mood and I was able to overcome the tiredness.
We were catching teams again and for a while I felt we could move up a few more places. But frequent switches between shorter swim and run legs were not in our favour. During the transitions and the aid stations the difference between us and more experienced swimrunners became quite obvious. We were taking much more time getting ourselves together and organized. The gels I had stuffed down my neck were now swimming around somewhere in my wetsuit and I could not reach them. The elastic on the pull buoy was too loose for the run legs. The list of little things that slowed us down was long and there was a lot to learn. But we continued on in good spirits, checking our watches suggested we were going at a sub 6h pace, our best-case scenario time estimate. I was relaxed and it seemed like a simple trek left to the finish.
Then we arrived at the last swim and immediately I was taken aback. The water was very choppy and a strong head wind was blowing across the surface of the water. We hesitantly got in and started swimming. A couple of strokes in I looked back and saw Ali holding on to the kayak. Oh no! Ali assured me and the kayaker she was OK and had just swallowed some water. We continued on with the kayaker following us most of the way. When I turned my head to breathe I could see a rainbow stretched across the sky. Over there, just a few hundred meters away on the shore, it was a beautiful autumn day, but in the water, it was so hostile. It must have been the most difficult 800 meters of swimming I have ever done. When we were out of water we cheered, and hugged. There was still about 1.5km of road running left, but that did not concern us. In the last kilometre we found strength to sprint past another team and plunged towards the finish line smiling and happy. Swimrun had lived up to the expectations – it was the most fun I have had racing!
posted by Mirjam Allik on