How do I describe today’s 21km SwimRun around Grafham Water?
Channel your 1990’s Friends memories for a moment. Specifically, your best Janice impression... ready?
Oh My Gawwwd
Yea, that summed it up pretty well.
Now let me rewind to 24 hours before the race started to set the scene a little bit more.
We were on a weekend away with our famalams, all based around doing this race. Arriving Friday night at some awesome lodges next to Grafham Water, of course meant that we had to find a parkrun for Saturday morning. And we lucked out.
I could probably write a whole piece on how great Huntingdon parkrun was, but I’ll keep it to a few words. Epic, one lap, beautiful, mixed terrain, cheeriest volunteers, amazing runner support (clearing paths for us in the double buggy) and loads of chatter after the run with the other finishers. Couldn’t recommend this one enough! It’s possible I found some rivals to our RunPals in cheering at the end... well done #TeamBeX
Back to the swimrun.
Actually, before I get started... do you know what swimrun event even is? It’s pretty simple... you run/swim/run/swim/run/swim lots of times, depending on your distance chosen. You take all of your kit with you, so you are swimming in your shoes and running in your wetsuit. It’s tough, but it’s an awesome new way to see the world! You can explore new places and see the same places from new angles. As the organiser said at the startC this is not triathlon. She couldn’t be more correct.
So, back to Saturday afternoon, we strolled down to one of the exit/entry points that we identified where the families could watch us in and out a few times, and Jon captured the moment perfectly.
I was stood over the kids, looking out at the third biggest lake in England, and it hit me. Damn, this is a big ass lake, and we’ve got to swim and run all around it... it looked a long way!
It’s rare that you can see an entire course in one go and the truth is, we couldn’t see ALL of it, but what we could see, was a very long distance away. I had doubts in my mind.
Still, we just have to get it done right? As with all challenges before me, I kind of throw myself into them - this time once got Jon helping me round too. We’d be fine!
The alarm clocks sounded at 5.30 and the race morning routine began. Meeting Jon and Andrew at 6.30, we set off for the start line.
I realise, I neglected to mention that as I was getting ready, I lost my wedding ring somewhere in our chalet. This is NOT the sort of thing you want to do before a race (or ever really) but I guess it distracted me from the ore race nerves, or, it made them worse, I’m not really sure. Still didn’t find it. I kept calm. I’d find it later.
Arriving at the start line, all checked in, I think Andrew felt the same... Blimey, it’s a long way round! This is where I was a little jealous of his 10k distance!
Suited and booted, we set off. 21km to go.
The first run took us around the edge of the lake and down a path to a rocky entry, suddenly a kilometre later we were swimming. My happy place. Out we clamber after a few hundred metres and then repeated this for the next 21 kilometres. Runs of varying distances from 5.5km to 250m and swims from 600m to 200. It’s such a great way to break up a long distance run! It really was a playground of opportunity.
All of the training I’d done up to this point, included a lot of time in getting ready for the swims... but it all went to pot on the first half of the course. It should go a little like this... zip suit up, hat on, goggles on forehead, earplugs in, paddles on, enter water, rinse goggles and swim. We had it down to a fine art.
What actually happened I couldn’t really tell, but we lost some serious time at every entry because I faffed. I’m going to put it down to race nerves as that was the bit we had perfected before. It improved as the race went on, but when we were smashing every swim, overtaking anyone that overtook us on the run, I realise after, if I had that bit dialled a bit better, we’d be even closer to that number 1 spot.
However, it wasn’t a race.
It was an adventure of epic proportions, running through forest and then a jungle section with reeds taller than my head (poor Jon was lost they were so big ;) Through and over all sorts of terrain, you couldn’t call this a race, it was definitely an adventure. I was retelling myself the “we’re going on a bear hunt” Michael Rosen’s kids tale, as I thought “I’ll write a blog in the same style to recount how epic this adventure was.
We see the families at the crossover point and give them all wet hugs and kisses before another kilometre or so of running. A few people took us on the run (they didn’t stop for hugs) but back in the water, we cruised past them all. We played a game of yo-yo with two chaps in particular throughout the course. We’d take them on the swim, they’d have us on the run.
We kiss the families again, loving their cheering at this point. It always make me feel so proud to see my babies in a race. To hear their cheers, see their smiles and the face of pride that is glowing from them
Is epic. To see it on my good pals kids is the same. What wonderful families we have, enabling us to go and have fun on a course like this for a few hours.
And, this is SO much better than triathlon. You wouldn’t stop to bend down and kiss your kids on the bike leg. With triathlon, you’re encouraged to do everything fast. Save a second. Save a minute. Get aero. Smash it.
Nope, not today. This was for fun!
My good man Jon is a faster athlete than I. He could have smashed this course in good time, but, he slowed down. He helped me around. He was enjoying the spirit of fun that is akin to swimrun. He was a legend.
Fun, games, hugs and kisses aside, the middle section Run was hard for me.
Nearly 6km in the end, a run I can do with my eyes closed normally, I struggled. I blamed the heat. It had my heart rate rocketing and my breathing resembled that of a herd of cattle all suffering wjth hay fever. I struggled to get it under control and we ran one of the slowest race runs I’ve done in time (since Sweden actually!). Jon was doing everything he could to keep me going. Few words left my mouth in that section, but his consistent chatter kept me pushing. I had to catch my breath and slow down a few times, but I was counting down the distance to the next swim. I wanted to get into my happy place. Jon helped get me there.
Discussing afterwards, I think I need to work on my V02 levels... Well save that for another story!
We arrived at the check point. My mind was playing games, but smashed a drink, stole some gummy bears and on our way. I make it sound like that was a fast transition... it was not. I swear Jon was waiting for me in the water for a few minutes as I am led down the lakeside bank.
As I enter the water, a number of teams had all caught up in the break.
We started to swim, and we started to overtake them again.
There was another 2.5k Run section here. This bit was hard. My legs were tired (or is that my brain?). I slipped in a few rabbit holes. I wondered if my legs would cope. I’ve been here before though, the brain is tried and what normally you would run through with no problem, meant I was tripping a lot. Wondering if my ankles would make it.
I stopped for a walk. Jon was pushing me. I walked 10feet and we ran again. Then, then we saw how far we’d come.
We could see the starting point on the other side of the lake. Wow. Just wow! It felt amazing and refreshed the mind. This was EPIC.
We knew there was another big swim coming up and I couldn’t wait. I definitely had the half way “I’m not sure I can do this” message in my brain, though it wasn’t just the other side of my brain trying to shut the bad thoughts away, it was also Jon. He’s a legend of positivity and I needed it.
We got to the big swim and realised the big group that got past us, we were slowly ticking them off one by one through the swim. We had a rhythm, we had a reasonable pace. We were getting through it.
I didn’t look back as we exited the swim, that’s what Jon was there for. He said we needed to move, to keep the lead we just made. I tried with all my effort to set a steady pace. We did. We got to the next swim, with no overtakes as Jon’s said, if we can smash this, we could beat them all.
My “adventure” mindset changed to a race frame of mind. We could do this I thought.
The swim entry was our quickest yet, flat diving into a muddy bottomed, reed filled lake, we skim the surface as I hear Jon shouting, just before I hit the water... go go go. I tried to respond with “I’m gone” as the water hit my face and we cracked on.
We exit the swim, I still don’t look back, but as we turn the corner, I can see the pack that had run past us before weren’t even in the water of this swim section yet. I felt amazing. Jon was pushing. We were doing well.
But, now we had nearly 4km of running to go, before a final swim and then dash to the finish. We had to make it around the lakes damn wall, on tarmac. After the beautiful terrain we’d traversed up to this point, this was hard. Hard on the feet. Hot in their wetsuit with the sun beaming down on us, warming us up. It felt a never ending route towards the finish.
This is where Jon came into his own. I wouldn’t look back, but knew the group was closing on us. If they passed us early, they may get enough of a head start in the swim to pip us to the finish. If we got to the swim before them, there’s no way they’d get past us.
The race was on.
But also the mind was up to its trickery... “walk Coyne”, “don’t listen to this guy, take a break” It wanted me to stop. Jon wanted me to keep going.
I will never forget that run for a long time. It was hard for me, but Jon’s positivity kept me going. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to beat the chasing pack. He wanted me to beat them.
We got to the waters edge, a little slower of an entry than I wanted, but, we were swimming. We’d done it. We still had some 500m left to swim, but we were swimming strong. We were in front of them.
We exited the water, could see the families running down to the finish and we crossed the line. We’d done it.
If there weren’t so many people around, I’d be a totes emosh wreck about now. This legend helped me through a hell of a course. Every state of mind encountered en route, he helped me challenge myself and get through the other side. I learned a lot today.
To see our famalams at the end and receive big hugs and kisses from them all, is and always will be better than any finishing medal I could receive.
I wouldn’t be able to do any of these events if it wasn’t for their amazing support. Myself, Jon and Andrew agreed, we have a pretty epic race support crew!
Being the first time we saw Andrew since we set off, we learned he had placed 13th overall in the singles 10k race too - he was over the moon as were we! We came here without any real expectation of how we’d perform, but we all smashed it.
To top it off, not really having any idea where we had finished, we discovered we had made it over the line as second place male pair and third place overall pair across the half marathon distance. AMAZING! People that I thought had past us earlier on, were still coming over the line - obviously our swim was on point today!
We went to look for the finish times overall and discovered that the first pair, was only 8 minutes in front! So if I can sort my faffing at the next one... we could be challenging even more at the front. Ok so skill will always improve and more people will always take part, but it’s a pretty good feeling to end the race with!
We must say a MASSIVE hats off to the organisers As Keen As Mustard. The ladies have created a truly playful course. They understand all there is to know about swimrun - make it fun and make it an adventure. Thank you ladies, we’ll definitely be back!
Swimrun - an epic adventure!