For a start the format was different to my first two events… you had to carry everything – just like other SwimRuns… but…
This meant swimming with shoes on (or going barefoot)… with nothing to compensate for the missing kick…
The next complication was the course… first it was in a river, up and downstream, second the run segments were relatively short and mainly paved.
20m fast river crossing (More on that later!)
700m run through the old town
500m upstream swim
1500m run thought the town
700m upstream swim to the turnaround.
Then the same route home, except this time downstream!
After arriving the day before, I checked out the course and found that the flow in the river was not insignificant. Having never swam in a river before, this led to questioning the local water rescue team for tips and tricks… their advice was simple – stay left.
An internet search that night told me that the flow was normally highest in the middle and less at the outside of the river. Therefore, swim upstream at the sides, downstream in the middle.
Wanting to avoid doing too much the day before I didn’t swim the whole course, but checked out the entry/exit points… maybe a mistake.
Race day come around and after simple, socially distanced registration and a quick briefing, we gathered on the banks of the river. This was the fast-flowing section with about 20m to cross. Starts were every 10 seconds and I was 8th to go.
This looked exactly like the kind of spot, were you would not cross a river, a deep fast funnel. I estimated 1 to 2m/s flow. The tactic was to swim upstream at 45 degrees to the flow, hopefully emerging on the other side.
Lots of sturdy looking water rescue guys were around to hopefully grab anyone who didn’t make the crossing in time.
After we got started, I somehow got across the river… but any hopes of catching the first few fast swimmers feet were gone, the staggered start and a less than speedy crossing had opened up the gap.
The next section through the old town was straight forward and I managed to pass a couple of runners… moving me up a couple of places.
The next swim section was 500m upstream and meant swimming close to the bank…. I caught the 4th place guys feet… and was feeling good about my chances… then bang… because I was sighting on the river bank to my left, I never noticed the Stand-up Paddle of the water rescue guy and smacked into it head on! The few seconds of chaos was enough for me to lose the feet of the 4th place guy and find myself swimming alone.
Exiting the swim, I bombed round the 1,2k run, however I could not catch the 4th place swimmer… so was on my own in the river again for the 700m upstream / 700m downstream swim.
On the upstream swim I began to eat into the lead of what appeared to be 3rd and 4th…. and could see them 50m ahead… I then decided to really push and spotted the turnaround buoy in the middle of the river. This was immediately after a bridge held up by two pillars… effectively splitting the river into 3.
I decided to head directly to the buoy and took the path down the centre of the river. As I got under the bridge the flow got faster as it funnelled between the pillars and I was stuck in a treadmill, barely moving… I easily spent 5 minutes covering 50m.
To make things worse I watched at least 3 swimmers staying on the edge of the river swim past me and past the turning buoy, before walking to the centre in shallow water then easily surfing past the buoy… I should have checked out this section!
After eventually crashing round the buoy, I belted downstream, catching one or two of the swimmers. On the next run, I caught one more before finding myself alone for the last swim and run…
The final river crossing was hard work again and this time the water rescuers were flinging out ropes for swimmers who got swept away. Once over the line, we hung around as more people crashed in, happy to be alive!
In the end I managed a respectable 7th place and I will be back next year to go for a faster time. Still really happy at getting a good place in my first season of SwimRun.
For me the river swimming was so different to lake and sea, in particular, the effect of the current and the choice of line was massive. I loved the natural setting in the river, and the 15C temperature was relaxing after heating up on the runs. The organisers and supporters were great and the small town feel was amazing. All the bridges were lined with cheering supporters.
Strangely on this race, compared to the other events with paddles, I found that I was making more ground on the runs than the swims… maybe time to look at my technique. I was also thinking about carrying shoes inside my wetsuit or running bare foot, with 20minutes of running and 50mins of swimming.
Finally, this race really showed the adaptability of the SwimRun format. Without the need for road closures and massive event logistics, a really fun event can be made.
This really reminded more of the club running races I enjoy, with the emphasis on the sport. This is a refreshing change from the bucket list world of ironman and its cheerleaders.