At Tri & Run we believe in really getting to know our athletes, so we can offer personalised coaching. We also truly believe in athlete-centred coaching, wherever it benefits the athlete. So, when Lindsay, one of our dedicated triathletes suggested I do a swim-run event with her (a year ago), I naively agreed as I’m always up for any endurance challenge…and I had a year to prepare and it would be a great opportunity to develop our athlete-coach relationship. So, I purchased an end of season swim-run wetsuit and thought nothing more about the event.
We were entered in the ‘longer’ LoveSwimRun event, which consisted of a run-swim several times along the west coast of Holy Island, Anglesey – 20k running and 3k swimming. Furthermore, we were entered as a team, aptly named Tri and Float (by Lindsay) which meant we were tethered for the swims. Lindsay had participated in the event before, so had the ‘kit’ and experience. We realised we would need practice so used our local supervised outdoor lake…once. As swimrun wetsuits are short (due to having to run in them), there is a lack of buoyancy for the legs, plus you have to swim in your shoes, so a pull buoy is needed – no problem there and I borrowed a strap from a friend, Rachel (who had participated in such an event), that ingeniously meant I could swim with the pull buoy and then turn it around and run with it, too. The only other kit needed was a pair of trainers – again, no problem there but they had to be light (otherwise that would counteract the pull buoy and my legs would sink when swimming) but also they needed some grip for the rocky trails, so I used an old and much loved pair of fell shoes.
With one practice, in a lovely calm lake and less than 3 mile run, I felt less prepared than normal challenges; I know how tough sea swims can be and I’m a slower swimmer and runner than Lindsay. But, this was a ‘fun’ event, a break from the norm, where we would enjoy the scenery and work together.
The event started with a coach ride to Southstack, a quick rush for the toilets, with the queue being long because it takes several minutes to get out of a swimrun wetsuit and the bib number. It was a very relaxed start, with a countdown from 5, and we were off on the first run (5.75k), which started pleasantly downhill to find the coastal path. The run seemed to fly by, we had several ‘kit’ adjustments (pull buoys misbehaving, opening of wetsuits so that we didn’t ‘boil’) but even the weather was pretty perfect, with the sun trying to break through and not too much of a wind. At the first swim, we had to descend to the shore where we met the sprint participants and we had a lovely sheltered channel before turning left to follow the coast around. We tethered ourselves, and Lindsay took the lead so wore the paddles. All well until we encountered the headland and the waves increased and for each stroke forward, we seemed to be pushed towards the rocks. Lindsay headed away and I tried to follow but a fellow competitor was in the way…ending up between us somehow! We stopped, checked we were ok and pushed on, getting into some sort of momentum and very soon we saw the beach and had completed the first 700 m swim. Getting onto the beach, Lindsay had to manage the tether, I took the paddles and we both faffed for several minutes…an area where we can definitely improve upon!
Run 2 was only 1.41 k around to Porth y Post, for another swim of 780 m. There was a beach entry and the advice was ‘look for the kayak, then turn left’, which was tricky as the waves were too high to always spot the kayak. I took the lead on this one, so popped on the paddles and off we set. It was like being in a washing machine, although we didn’t do any full spins but there were a lot of ups and downs. We found the kayak, turned left and then tried to stay away from the rocks, again getting into a sort of rhythm although we certainly weren’t getting any swim PBs, with this being our slowest swim. As we reached the shelter of the beach we swam over long fronds of seaweed and I really thought this was just so beautiful and that I was on holiday! Then, it was onto the beach, more faffing, a quick stop at the food station and then around to Trearddur Bay for swim 3. This was, as the name suggests, a sheltered bay and a mere 500m. Lindsay took the lead and we were really getting the hang of this tandem swimming and this felt so much calmer than the last swim. However, from about half way, we clearly hit some undercurrents and the last half of the swim seemed to take longer than it should have done. We then had a really short run of 410 m (which I should have known from Lindsay’s excellent idea of jotting the distances down on the paddles), where we lost a lot of time faffing. Onto swim 4, which was only 360 m but was an entry from the rocks. After a brief Team ‘meeting’ we opted to climb in, rather than jump in. Both of us were starting to get cold, but we soon got into our rhythm, and before long were on the beach.
Our next run was 5.4k, and was well timed, as we both needed to warm up. We secured our kit and off we set. The run took us along the coastal path with stunning scenery. After 5-10 minutes we had warmed up and then we had the challenge of the wetsuit rubbing against your neck. With a swimrun wetsuit you can open up the front, and whilst this gave some instant relief, it wasn’t until later, when we’d feel the extent of the damage to our necks (a lesson for the next swim run event would be to apply even more lube and vaseline!) We got to a small beach area for swim 5 and this looked extremely calm. We set off with Lindsay leading and it became quickly obvious that something wasn’t right as I was too close – the tether was still around Lindsay’s shoulder rather than her waist. In deep water, we decided to swim untethered for this swim (some swimruns would have disqualified us for this, but not this one). Swimming solo felt so ‘odd’ and I lost sight of Lindsay and when we made the beach, on what was probably the calmest swim, we both admitted that not being tethered had felt really uncomfortable…and we would not do that again.
We headed off on the penultimate run of 2k, the weather had been perfect, although our necks felt like sandpaper had been applied. Then it was the last swim across Silver Bay and onto the last run of 2.4k. I had real mixed emotions of starting to feel tired and ready to stop with wanting to continue on and for it not to be ending. Most of the last run was on road, heading slightly uphill, and as we headed around the final corner, we could hear the finish and increased our pace. We ran through the finish line, with the news that we were first female pair and overall 3rd Female, which was an added bonus, to what was a very special day.