I’m about 100m into the first swim when I see them: dozens of tiny jellyfish. I’m in a cut-off wetsuit but my neoprene body armour is doing little calm my nerves. I look back to my wife, who I’m attached to via a three-metre bungee cord. “Just carry on swimming,” she shrugs.
To rewind for a second, I’m here at the Breca Gower swimrun, an event that involves – you’ve guessed it – swimming and running. Swimrun started life as a drunken bet between two Swedes, but has since grown into a global phenomenon. There are now swimrun races from Wales to Wanaka, Stockholm to the Scilly Isles. Breca are the preeminent swimrun organisation in the UK, and this is the second year they’ve staged a race at the Gower.
My wife and I are taking part in the misleadingly titled ‘Sprint’, which will take the vast majority of teams over three hours to complete. Still, it could be worse: the full distance, taking place the next day, involves 5K of swimming and 37K of running. Over either distance, participants have to compete in pairs and stay within 10m of each other at all times – hence the bungee cord – and can use swim floats and paddles to offset the challenge of swimming in shoes.
The weather is hot, which is good in one way, bad in the other. On the plus side, the sea temperature is a very bearable 18ºC. On the down side, running in a wetsuit – even one of the flashy Zone 3 suits that unzips at the front – becomes even more unpleasant than usual.
Yet one of the great things about swimrun is that there’s no pressure to push the pace. Sure, there are some teams that are here to race. But the vast majority of the field is concerned with completing rather than competing.
Emerging from the first swim, it’s time for the longest run of the day: a 7.7K over sand mountains and along coastal paths. The inclines are steep but the views at the top are utterly spectacular.
As swimrun involves multiples swims and runs, making your transitions as seamless as possible is key. We settle on an order, which I commit to memory by putting it to the tune of the ‘Macarena’. “Your hat, then your wetsuit, then your goggles, then your paddles – enter the water!” (Don’t worry: I refrain from singing this out loud.) This order is then reversed when transitioning from swimming to running.
If this all sounds like a bit of a faff, swimming and running are actually a great combination, mainly because they are so markedly different from one another. Running works the legs and makes you hot, swimming works the arms and cools you down.
Being better runners than swimmers, we’re surprised to find that we’re holding our own in the water. Much as I’d like to attribute this to my Phelps-like stroke, I believe the reason might be more prosaic: we’ve practised with paddles and we manage to swim (mainly) in a straight line.
Exiting the final swim, a 200m sprint, it’s time to head up to the finish in Mumbles. There’s a nasty little incline and some windy trails to negotiate before we enter Underhill Park for a welcome finish.
The fun continues after the race as the organiser and founder, Ben de Rivas, has made the wise decision to hire in a giant screen for the England vs Sweden football match and lay on one of the most generous (and free) barbeques in recent memory.
It’s in the queue to the barbie when I decide to share my jellyfish story with a local. “Oh,” he says, laughing. “Those ones can’t sting you; they’re harmless!” I’ll be braver when I return next year.
For more information on Breca swimrun, head to: brecaswimrun.com