7:14:36 – 17th overall. 36.5k running, 6.1k swim
Andy and I walked down to Crow Park at 7:15am with Heather and Hannah to drop a bag and get on the busses to the start. At the briefing we’d been asked to get on the buses in plenty of time as they’d leave on time. “There’ll be no roll call”. So when we saw three buses in the car park we headed over and I asked the driver if he was for the swim run event. Dead pan he said “No. I’m heading to Blackpool”. As all the other competitors were hanging out nowhere near these coaches I didn’t spot he was joking. I walked away, looking back to see him waving that he was joking. He’d got me! A good start.
We got the back seats with plenty of leg room then spent the journey chatting with Chris Wilson (an old friend from Tri London). The weather looked pretty bleak and when the buses arrived 30 minutes before the start we all piled out and slowly got cold on the open hillside. Andy and I even did a run to try and warm up.
A drone went up and bang on time we were off. We headed towards Loweswater on a very undulating four wheel drive track. The profile of the course didn’t give any indication of the amount of ascent on this section as it was dwarfed by the climb, later on, up to Dale Head. We’ve got pretty good at not going off too fast. We hit the first couple of KM at just under 6 min per KM. Given the terrain this was probably still a little too quick. We walked the next rise and got a “walking already” from Heather and Hannah as they passed.
We got to Loweswater for the first swim (500m) and soon started passing loads of people. Throughout the day we’d keep seeing the same people as we passed them on the swims then they’d pass us on the run. It meant we kept bumping in to Chris. We ran on pretty flat terrain to Crummock water where we had one of the longest swims of about 1km. It was really blowing a gale and as we entered we could see how everyone was pushed right in a big arc by the wind. The exit flag was right at the bottom of a dry stone wall running up the hill side which made it quite visible. We swam on our own as everyone else continued to be way off right. At one point I second guessed myself wondering whether what I thought was a red car was in fact a flag. I stopped to look and found it was a car. [Strava flyby
showed how bad the drifting was] It was very tough swimming as there were white tops and the chop was pretty random. At one point the wind ripped my left paddle off my hand. We exited and ran along the south side of Crummock water – about halfway along we had the most technical entry on a small headland and swam across to exit up a very slippy scramble.
Once out we had the first major climb up on to Rannerdale Knots – this involved a 4km gradual climb followed by a 1km very steep descent. Andy had already demonstrated how quick he is running downhill. The descent from this confirmed how mismatched we are on this terrain. I’m pretty sure if he’d been on his own he’d have been the best part 30 minutes quicker than me across the whole course just because of the descents.
At the bottom of this descent it was back across Crummock water before running down to Buttermere which we crossed three times before the start of the major fell section of the course. There was a aid station so I had a few cups of drink (this is a no cup race so we all carried little plastic foldable cups) and half a banana. I wanted a few more jelly babies but the final few looked less than appetising gently dissolving in a pool of slightly salty water. I grabbed a gel and a bar for this next section – 14.5k up over Dale Head to Derwent water.
The first section is straight up from Hassness toward Robinson pretty much following the fence line which provided welcome leverage on certain sections. At one point my watch beeped and I announced “A 28 min KM”. Looking at my splits I have a KM that has 332m of ascent. It was very hard going. This section further demonstrated another major mismatch: I’m a lot quicker uphill. Like Andy on the descents I find it better to go at my own pace and then stop every so often. I’d keep going till I found a nice rock to sit on. Whilst sat on one such rock Andy announced he was a stone heavier than last year and that he was getting pretty worried about the “UTMR” – a 4 day 100 mile running race in the Alps he’s doing with Lotte in September. I reckon on my own I would have covered the route the best part of 30 minutes quicker. I didn’t mind – the rest was nice and it’s all about the adventure and thats far more fun with someone you get on very well with. Perhaps one day Andy will work on his uphills and I’ll somehow develop some speed down hill.
We hit the ridge just short of Robinson and then followed it towards Hindscarth turning on to Hindscarth Ridge and then Dale head. We’d been in amongst the lead ladies pairs all day and here the second team came whizzing by me on a downhill. They were very good fell runnners. On the next ascent we walked together and chatted. It turned out they’d finished behind Mel and Naomi at Scilly Isles and had taken the Otillo World Champs spot that they’d turned down.
Coming down off Dale Head a lot of it is on prepared path (i.e. big boulders placed to form rough steps) – I’m quicker on this than on grassy banks. This meant Andy didn’t dropped me for quite so much time! It was still a fair gap. As we did the river crossing and turned north for the ascent of “High Spy” Andy gave a bit of a disappointed exclamation to which I apologised saying I assumed he knew there was more ascending.
We could see Chris and his partner closing in on us again but they never quite made it on the ascent. They must have been suffering too. At the summit we found Lotte. She’d been out running in the hills planning to meet up with us. It was good to see her. She joined us for the descent down to Manesty. The section across to Maiden Moor and then down to the saddle just north of Cat Bells is the sort of terrain I’m pretty good on – fairly rough path and a gentle descent. It was fun as we were all running together and I didn’t feel I was holding Andy up. Then we descended east in to the valley and it got a lot steeper. Lotte headed off but Andy didn’t get too far ahead. He was clearly going easy for some reason.
At Manesty we grabbed something to eat and got going. The next flat 2k were very hard. We were near the end and the brief stop hadn’t helped. There was a lot of swimming in this last section – 3 runs totalling only 3k and two swims totalling about 1.6k. We knew that no one behind us would pass.
The first swim was to an island. We passed one pair and I thought that would be that for passing. The island was a rough 300m run – it took us 4 minutes !! As we approached the next swim I was surprised to see a pair not far ahead. It was clear we’d catch them. I was hoping that would be it and I’d be able to swim easy but as we entered Andy said “We’re going to pass 4 pairs here”. Oh no! I was going to have to work. This 1k swim was very hard. It was very rough and the exit flag was hard to see because the wind was blowing it so you only saw the leading edge. As the wind was coming from our backs we kept getting the waves but when you’re leading with a tow rope it’s rather annoying because when I caught the wave Andy wouldn’t so I’d be held back. When he caught a wave I wouldn’t and he’d hit my feet. We passed another pair about halfway and I was hoping that was it as I didn’t want to race the last 800m run and I certainly didn’t want to lose a place.
Then about 200m from the exit I passed another swimmer. Was a little gutted. We got out started running, could see we had a 100m or so on them. We then ran pretty hard and agreed we were at a pace that they’d deserve the place if they caught us. They didn’t and we crossed the line in 17th place. After chatting with Ben (the race director) and getting our medals we sat down and I couldn’t help to just lay down. It’s a long time since I’ve felt that exhausted. This is one tough race. The only tougher SwimRun we’ve done was our first – the original one in Sweden.