We are still discussing (arguing) about whose idea it was to do the Breca Buttermere Swimrun. When we were blowing out of our backsides training on the North Downs, it was all my idea. When basking in the glory of surviving all that The Lakes had to throw at us (nothing short of apocalyptic), it was all Andy's. Anyhow, turns out we were inspired and it was the best adventure ever.
The sum is greater than the parts when it comes to a Swimrun team. Andy is tall, a seriously fast swimmer and pretty quick on land too. I am 5ft 4” on a good day, learnt to swim 8 years ago and steady eddy is my middle name. What do I bring to the party? I never give up.
Oh and I am the team nerd. There is nothing I like better than a good training plan and sticking to it. There is nothing Andy likes more than denial. The first few weeks of ‘training’ went a bit like this,
A - “We are well fit, we don't need to do brickwork (when you stick chunks of swim and run training together). It can't be harder than the 24hr swim!”
Ok, so he had a point. In May 2015, we had both completed solo 24 mile, 24 hour swims at Guildford Lido. The toughest thing I have done both mentally and physically and I have birthed three babies. BUT an endurance race of 38km fell running and 6k swimming as a team. This was a different game. Denial wasn't going to cut it. So I played dirty. I played to his ego. (Round 1)
J - “Lets do the G3,10k race (a notorious local trail event) in January!”
A - “Great idea.”
A month later,
J - “Oo we could do our swim session and then go do the race?”
A - “Great idea.”
A week before the trail race,
J - “I thought we could run back from the event. That would make it a half marathon.....”
A - “Alright then.”
J - [trap sprung]
So we did the swim, slid around the legendary G3 route, ankle deep in mud and then started off for home. 5k in and Andy went quiet, very quiet, oh and green. This is never a good sign from someone who won't stop talking to breath.
A - “Your right - we need a training plan.”
J - [Got ya!] “Yes.”
There is no missing someone who is training for swimrun. How many times do you see two people running down your local high street wearing wetsuits, swim hats and googles, not to mention a red floaty thing between the legs? Thankfully not often. Not even in Dorking. At Thorpe Lake we were often asked if we had forgotten to take our trainers off.
One of the great things about swimrun is that the gear is still developing and for that first race, I worked out what people were wearing and what kit they were using from the few race photos available on line. I even watched a YouTube clip on how to make holes in my pull buoy! If teams at the Otillo World Championships used a tow line, then it was good enough for me. Cue a quick trip to B&Q for elastic, electrical tape and very pretty karabiners. Andy wasn’t so sure.
J - “Lets use the tow rope.”
A - “No we don't need it. We are fast enough. We will be fine.”
Time to play to the ego. (Round 2)
J - “Just humour me - let's have a go with the tow rope. I just want to know what it's like. We don't need to use it.”
A - “Alright (yawn). We don't need it.”
Following a swim using the tow line,
A - “OMG that's brilliant - it works really well.”
J - [rolling of eyes] - ‘I know.”
The day of Breca Buttermere dawned full of mist and drizzle. Perfect Lakes weather. We knew we had a big day ahead and that it could be ALL day.
Despite assuring me he was a Scout and did geography at A level (he is great with crayons), it was clear that under know no circumstances was Andy going to carry the map. This is a man who asked me on arriving into Buttermere if it was seawater!!! No I said, head in hands weeping. So I take full responsibility and apologise to the four teams we led astray as we ran right past the 'Swim In' sign for the first swim. Thank goodness it wasn't salty....
The second swim stage was 1k in choppy, windy, rainy conditions. Think swimming in a washing machine. I was being swept from side to side and often my stroke was out of the water the chop was so much. But I trusted Andy and would not look up until the murky bottom came into view. It did but Andy scrambling around trying to gain purchase with paddled hands came with it. Something wasn't right. I stood up. We were still in the middle of the lake. Flash back to the safety briefing. Something about submerged islands. Andy seemed perplexed at finding himself aground, more interested the hole in his wetsuit backside. What was he doing,I thought, naming the island?? He looked at me. I looked at him and shouted, “Swim! Again!” in the calmest voice I could muster. And off we went.
Honister Pass. What can I say. Brutal and magnificent. Over 1000m of running uphill with hail, gusting winds and in the cloud and the setting for my darkest hour. We had done all the training, we had sorted the food, we had done crazy things before but still it got me on the day. An hour into the climb my head was numb, blank, empty. This wasn't mindfulness; this was staring at the abyss. I couldn't see a way out but I knew I needed help. It took me 30 minutes to get over my pride and ask Andy to help pull me along. But soon as he did, the lights went back on and hope was restored. The top of Honister was awash with weather and we quickly realised that any false move over the ragged loose rocks as we hurtled along would mean a very slow, cold and potentially dangerous exit. We donned our wooly hats (aka swim hats) and laughed out loud at the sheer madness of it all.
Now I don't know what it is with blokes and not being able to wee in wetsuits but really after six hours, you must need a wee. I think Andy’s decision to lose his wee virginity on the top of Honister Pass was more to do with trying to cheer me up and not the fact that his kidneys were screaming 'let it go' at him. I'm sure most teams overriding memory of that stage of the race was the jaw dropping views or extreme weather. Not mine. Mine was realising I couldn't hear the pitter patter of his gigantic feet and turning to see him atop a boulder, legs astride and pulling the groin of his wetsuit down with an enormous grin on his face. Only topped, seconds later through the howling wind, hearing him scream “Ahhhhh I've got chafe and it’s (the wee) in my shoes!” “Congratulations”, I said. “Now get on with it.”
We arrived back many hours later, battered, bruised and triumphant, to the sight of Ben from Breca handing us a pint of beer. There is nothing so addictive as those endorphins cartwheeling through your body when you overcome an almighty challenge to make you want to do it again. What a race, what a swimrun. And so a passion was born.
All round lover of wild running and wild swimming. UK Athletics Fell/Trail Running Coach, SwimRun Coach and Personal Trainer in the Surrey Hills