If you don’t know what Swimrun is, it’s a pretty simple concept although probably should be Runswim.
Run to water, swim across a bay, get out run to the next bay and so on…for just over a marathon distance of running and four miles of swimming. Did I mention that you run in your wetsuit and swim in your trainers?
Oh and you also swim with a pull buoy between your legs and hand paddles which you also have to carry on your runs. Oh and if you want a water bottle or food, you’ll need to find somewhere in your wetsuit to carry that during your swims. Oh and you also need to stay within 10m of your partner or you get disqualified.
Simple innit. Warning – there are no pictures in this blog because I haven’t worked out how to carry a camera on my runs!
Right – to begin with my running is copious but slow. My swimming is sparse and slow. So the obvious choice for my partner is Simon “Finchy” Finch who has a sub-3 marathon to his name and has just completed a half ironman in under five hours. I barely move out of second gear while Finchy runs like a man who might have left the gas on.
Our first training outing was not my finest moment. Starting from St Ouens with Mike Norbury (also completed ironmans) and Dan Garrido (all round fitness guru), I was immediately the slowest in the pack and struggling to get used to the wetsuit and various bits and pieces jangling off me as I ran. The pull buoy wouldn’t stay put, my paddles clacked around my belt and my legs already felt like they were overheating as we ran the best part of 5k round to Beauport.
Here things got really interesting. And by that I mean horrible. My open water swims have been limited to triathlons which mean full body wetsuits and maximum buoyancy. They did not involve literally being tied to a guy in front. They also didn’t involve trying to keep a piece of foam between your thighs while my goggles filled up with stinging sea water and my cheap paddles borrowed at the last minute fell off my hands at every possible opportunity. The choppy water also meant breathing on either side resulted either lack of breathing or a mouth full of salt water. It was a hot day in Jersey so I staggered on to the sandy shore of St Brelades among bemused beach-goers, I was on wobbly legs, cramping calves and mental battered by the experience.
Running should’ve been the respite but instead I was haunted by the swim and worried by my fitness as I again dropped behind the other three on the way to Portelet. Here I decided to take the victory of my first proper Breca swim and run round to meet them rather than getting back into the water and I met them just next to Portelet Bay Cafe which (as I do on most training runs) made me wonder why I wasn’t in there drinking rose and eating pizza rather than getting battered by waves and trails.
Anyway, we made it back to the car and I wasn’t too unhappy in the end. I’d learnt a lot and realised I had plenty more to do. My one saving grace is that I was used to the longer stuff so I was hoping the hare and tortoise fable would come true. Things like walking the uphills save valuable energy over 10 hours but on a training run the temptation is to power up them.
The next outing was almost the exact opposite – an early start on a beautiful, sunny day with flat seas and the feeling that I might actually be able to do Breca without dying on the way round. I was still a bit slower than the other guys, Mike kept coming running back and forwards like the Duracell bunny while he waited for me to walk, I mean power hike, the hills. The swims were shallow and smooth, allowing me to find a rhythm and actually enjoy the swims for once. Breca is basically an excuse to explore new parts of the island jump in the water like kids albeit with safety crews watching on but you get the picture. There was a moment before our last swim across Rozel bay, after scrambling down cliffs and over seaweed covered rocks, while we watching the waves crash in and trying to time our jumps into the water when we all looked at each other with grins on our faces – this is a lot of fun.
In between the big weekend efforts, I’d mainly been ticking over in the running and not really doing much swimming. My technique and fitness is good enough that I think it will be able to get me through that side of things and I should have enough miles in my legs from the beginning of the year to trundle through the run. If I could just lose a bit of my post-season paunch then I’d be cooking.
So to yesterday.
I’d been out the night before and though not feeling 100%, I was keen to get out and shake off the cobwebs. The plan was Les Platons to Le Braye – nearly half a marathon of running with two bay swims in between. The weather was a strange mixture of warmth and wind which meant within a few hundred metres I was sweating Pouilly-Fuisse but this was only the descent to the entry point below so I would soon be cooled off in the swirling sea. I was trying out some new shoes – Hoka One One Mafate Speed 2 (catchy name I know) which have a huge wedge of cushioning so I was floating on air on the trails and as I entered the water, I even wondered whether I could do without the pull buoy they felt so light.
One of the things about swimming behind with a connecting rope is that you don’t really have to navigate, just follow the green line below you. This has proved especially handy as none of the goggles I gave tried so far seem to like open water swims and almost straightaway I’ve been looking through blurred stinging eyes. The swell around Giffard Bay was pretty bad, probably the highest I’ve swum in but it is all good training and I was feeling strong as we slowly rounded Le Crete fort and headed towards Bonne Nuit.
It was around here that I began to feel a bit sea sick. I don’t even get sea sick on boats so this came as a bit of surprise. Still, we were going well and I could see the cliffs on my left going past slowly. Then with a slight over-rotation caused by going down the other side of a swell, I thought “oh my god I’m going to be sick”. How do you throw up while swimming???? The answer is pretty ungainly. You kind of heave underwater then try to stick your head out of the water in time to blow chunks before catching your breath and continuing to take a stroke. This happened for four or five repitions until I managed to do it the wrong order and ended up trying to tread water while choking on a combination of my breakfast and the English Channel. All the while, Finchy continued swimming, dragging me along with not a clue as to the disaster unfolding behind him.
But as magically as the nausea had arrived, one final present to the fishes and I felt fine again. In fact stronger. Like a passing storm had cleared. And what do know about storms children? They have a calm eye in the middle which gives you a false sense of security.
And so it happened that with a short distance from fisherman and pier jumpers at Bonne Nuit, between boats I went again, hard. So much so that the back of my throat stung and I wasn’t even worried about the fact I was swimming through my own bodily fluids, I just wanted to stop. As we passed the pier, the swells subsided and we went into calm water and I tried to regain my composure. I felt shakey but wanted to carry on. I just knew that we had two big runs and another swim to go whereas Bonne Nuit was only a mile or so from the car. I felt bad but knew it was the right decision to bail. I held on to the door handle for dear life as Finchy drove back to my car where we should have finished. As I got out, I was immediately sick again and felt slightly vindicated for having stopped. For good measure I was also sick again once I got back home so the idea of running a half marathon while spewing every few miles was a bullet well dodged.
Ready for Breca?
Despite the unexpected chunder yesterday, I actually felt good on the swim. It was about 1000 metres in conditions that are probably the worse end of what we can expect on September 7. I trust my legs to get me round on the day even if I won’t be breaking any records in terms of time. It’s going to be a challenge, but then what’s the point of doing these things if it isn’t tough? My new favourite quote from Alex Honnold sums it up pretty well – “Nobody achieves anything great in the world by being happy and cosy”. It certainly isn’t going to be that.