3:47:59 – 1st Mixed Pair, 4th overall
~ 14.5k run, 6.5k swim
Retained our title ;o)
This year the field was at least double the size of last year so instead of the start at the top of Corey Castle we started on the green just outside. We’d held back last year and then found ourselves passing loads in the swim so this time Rachel and I had decided that we would run hard to get in the swim near the front.
Yet again we ended up on the front line for the start not due to our ambition but since not many others wanted to be there. I reckon this is the quickest I’ve ever started a Swim Run race. Glancing at my watch I was seeing low 4 min per K pace. Rachel seemed pretty happy and with only 4 pairs ahead of us we were doing as planned. We’d also started with caps and everything on so as we approached the slipway we pulled goggles down and got straight on with the swim.
Being near the front meant there was far less passing as the pairs around us were closer to our speed but we were still slowly clawing them back. After a few 100m I looked back and it was clear we already had a decent gap on those behind. I don’t remember any ambiguity with this swim last year but this year as we headed round a small headland there was clearly a small water gap before the big blade of rock at the end of which there was a kayaker. I’d already suspected the tide was higher and perhaps that was why the gap appeared. The placing of the kayakers suggested you went round the end but I know if I was leading I would have seen if you could swim through the gaps ( the rules I believe are enter and exit by the flags but other than that swim where you like). With 4 pairs ahead I decided to keep a close eye on what they did and only cut through if they did. They didn’t so we went round and we continued to claw them in. Near the exit they went wide and I realised with a bit of a push we could exit first which I thought would be fun! We definitely were the first pair to stand up but were second off the beach.
As we ran up the beach I looked back and was staggered to see a huge pack of swimmers about to exit. At the time I found it confusing but later found out that pretty much everyone after us went through the gap. It sounded pretty tight as one of our friends hit a rock. Strava flyby is excellent and clearly showed how much more the front few pairs had done … looks like it was minutes more swimming which explains the lack of a gap as we exited. [in the picture, right, we’re the dark blue line, pink the lead pair, light blue, a team just behind us]
The next run was largely flat along a wall with little steps every so often. I remembered it clearly and was careful on the tricky sections as we were tethered and pushing the pace. Quite different from last year, we were racing from the start and really pushing along.
A couple of pairs went by but we were still 4th or 5th pair (out of sprint and full as we all started together) and I knew no mixed pairs were ahead. In fact Rachel was First Lady coming through. I loved it every time spectators cheered “First Lady!!!”
Next up was the swim to the St Catherine’s Breakwater. Last year this was a very difficult swim but already it was clear this year was easier. As we approached again the guys ahead seemed to veer off. It was clear now the tide was higher as we hit the slipway much closer to shore. It was still a tricky exit but unlike last year didn’t require precise timing with the waves. Looking at the photos after I reckon Rachel and I were above average on the gracefulness scale.
From here on the runs started getting hilly. After the exit there’s a long climb up. Looking back towards the sea it was clear there was a big gap behind us. We continued to push. I tried to judge my effort by the tension on the tow cord. Trying to ensure there was very little tension when running downhill and easing off each time I transition from hard to easy ground.
This run finishes with a steep descent on grass and rock to a tricky entry. The descent was far slippier than last year and it was only going to be worse for later teams. Also the swell was way bigger requiring timing your entry with the wave to safely get clear. We took a bit of time here wanting to be careful.
The next swim was quite a bit tougher. It seemed as we moved round the island we were getting more exposed to the swell. I could see the exit this year had steps on it (last year we had to climb). As I swam I thought at least this would be easy. How wrong could I be. Unfortunately the tide wasn’t high enough to swim right to the steps so you had to get up on to a rock platform before you could get the steps. This was about 1 foot deep between the waves but would wash you off in the waves. It was quite amusing as we grabbed the arm rail and hung on so as not to get swept off and then attempted to gain our footing.
We now had the longest run which we knew was pretty undulating. After an initial section up a road you end up on the fantastic coastal path. Lovely single track sometimes contouring round but then losing all the height only to need to regain it. We had it pretty much to ourselves and could really enjoy it. This is a 5k section and in the last KM finally some teams from behind caught us. Luckily they were all male teams (both sprint and full distance) though one was confusingly wearing a mixed team bib number. I studied their calves as they pulled away up the hill and was pretty certain they were male calves.
As we came down to Bouley Bay there was an aid station. I said something like “you don’t need anything do you” as I ran by with Rachel in tow. I kept running as she said something like “ I would have grabbed a little kendal mint cake if there was any” …. As we entered the water I apologised feeling rather guilty I’d run Rachel straight through both aid stations now without stopping. I have to admit I realised I was being a little stupid as although I was certain I could race that long without anything to eat or drink that perhaps Rachel couldn’t. There wasn’t much to do about it now other than apologise.
This was the long swim. The marshall told us to stay land side of the Kayaks. The sea was very rough and I certainly wouldn’t be aiming further than need be. We again started to claw in the teams ahead. They then drifted way right away from the land and outside the kayaks. Soon we were past them and I noticed a kayak heading off I guessed to bring them closer in. There were loads of big white jelly fish a couple of metres down. Initially I thought they were the bottom of a buoy but when I focussed you could see how beautiful they were. I considered stopping to point them out to Rachel but wasn’t sure how she’d react so thought better off it.
This swim goes round a headland at which point the seas got even bigger. This was very rough indeed and I tried to judge going wide enough to avoid the rocks but not so wide as to add unnecessary distance. I was wondering how the weaker swimmers were doing and was glad I knew that Rachel quite enjoyed the rough seas (we’d been out in rougher whilst training but only ever for a few minutes at a time!). I focused on relaxing and not fighting the swell. Progress seemed slow so I started picking out features on the land to ensure we were making progress. Rachel stopped at one point to ask if we were making progress. I assured her we were. It seemed pretty clear we were one of the fastest swimming pairs so if we couldn’t make progress others would be really struggling.
The exit was on a pebbly beach which in theory should be easy but with the swell and seaweed about our ankles made it tricky. I thought Rachel was up and started running. Soon there was maximum tension on the cord. I still didn’t twig. Then the marshals said “You lady has fallen over” (they’d looked on their list and seen our team is “Lord and A Lady”) – I looked round to see Rachel on the deck in a couple of inches of water almost being dragged by the cord. I seem to remember we both laughed about it.
Next up was a little scrambled up a stream then another very undulating run to the last swim – the second longest of the day and I was rather dreading it after how hard this one was. This final swim was another one round a headland and again it was very rough indeed. There was also a rock that was exposed between the swell and then had waves crashing over. I was very wary to steer far enough clear of that. Last year the sprint had finished after this swim and had gone to the left (sheltered) side of the breakwater. This year we finished to the right and then had another run to the finish. As we approached I was cursing Ben (race director) as it was tough going rather than sheltered for the last few 100m. These things make the race though. I described them as adventures and this swim certainly was. This last exit certainly was the toughest. It was a proper climb out of the sea with swell coming and going. On the high points I got a hold and hung on. It took a few goes before I could find a foot hold and get up. Luckily Rachel was tethered but she couldn’t get up where I had and was washed off. Once up I could see it was better to the right so directed Rachel there and soon enough she was out. The scramble continued and then for the final “1.1k”
It’s the longest 1.1k I’ve ever done. We climbed to the cliff top. Then dropped, then climbed. I didn’t mention to Rachel but I was convinced that I must have somehow missed the finish and was now continuing on the long course. I decided if I didn’t see the finish in the next five minutes I’d have to stop and have a think. Not sure what I thought I would do.
I then saw the flags at the finish and it still seemed a long way. The 1.1k was more like 2k and the undulations (my Garmin reckoned 120m of ascent) made it feel like a long long way. I kept trying to encourage Rachel to keep pushing as we’d worked so hard to be leading and didn’t want to risk losing it in the final km. We didn’t and crossed the line buzzing. It’s by far the hardest we’ve ever raced one of these and I was immensely proud of Rachel.
Ben put on yet another fantastic race. He manages to run the race and find time to chat with every finisher making each one feel special. I fully recommend his events. It was such a great weekend as we came out and raced with two other teams from Somerset RC Tri – it was their first Swim Run and they did so well with Suzy and Susanne First Ladies in the sprint and Andy & Frankie second mixed pair in the sprint. Then the super friendly Lyndhurst guest house we stayed at where after our success whilst waiting for a cab to the finish the landlady cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate our success !!