Swim, Run, Repeat. A beginner’s Breca Swimrun Buttermere

Breca Swimrun

“Brutal and amazing in equal measure”

Swimrun virgin Andy Tomlinson found himself in the Lake District National Park last weekend for the Breca Buttermere Swimrun.

Standing in as a last-minute replacement to complete a team wasn’t ideal preparation for such a challenge, and he was “humbled by the Lakes” and, alas, didn’t make it to the finish. That said, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience and has vowed to return to complete his mission.


As a quick introduction courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Swimrun is a multiple-stage competition which involves participants running and swimming over a cross-country race course that involves many transitions between the swim and run stages of the race.”

With many sports there was a moment when the idea was born. Swimrun dates back 15 years with its roots in Sweden. Starting out as a challenge among friends swimming between islands and a bit of “fun” the sport has grown and now has many race events around the globe, typically raced in pairs and with limited rules on equipment bar some limits to the size of kit you can carry.

I first came across the sport about two years ago and it has taken that long for me to get involved and by getting involved I mean being signed up as a last minute replacement to complete a team. What could possibly go wrong?!

As a rough guide to compete in swimrun, you will need:

Swimrun wetsuit which typically will have cut off legs and possibly short sleeves and a zip at the front and sometimes one at the back! The zip at the front allows cooling during the run stages and differing thickness neoprene panels to help with flexibility whilst out of the water. These are now available from most of the big brands and feature some added elements such as pockets for nutrition, a whistle for emergencies.

Suitable footwear, probably trail running shoes will be best and these are worn during the swim too so ones with less padding will probably shed water better and help you perform better in and out of the water.

A pull buoy or similar which competitors attach via an elastic cord to their upper leg to help with buoyancy in the swim stages. This could be replaced by neoprene calf guards to help keep you horizontal in the water.

Breca Swimrun

Open water goggles with a wide open view will be beneficial and aid sighting for the beginner but this is more user choice. Any goggle you would do a triathlon in will be perfect.

There are other items that some races stipulate such as a bandage or other safety kit, but in my case it was pretty simple and all I needed was a plastic cup to help reduce the chance of litter on the course at the feed stations.

The Great Outdoors

Swimrun is an outdoor sport and the more outdoors the better it seems. Having evolved from Swedish island hopping and sea swims, event organisers seek out truly amazing natural locations to offer the best challenge to competitors. In my case we were heading to The Lake District and race HQ in Keswick. The race itself was taking place around Crummock Water, Buttermere and Derwent Water. The two race distances winding their way through woodland, streams, rocky outcrops and of course numerous lake swims. The Sprint distance weighed in at 18.5.km and the full distance about 45km.

There were many first timers taking part in both distances, but quite possibly most of them were not looking at the event through my rose tinted swim goggles… and probably came into the events with a bit more training in their swimrun wetsuits! Needless to say, I was not prepared for the beast that lay ahead and no matter what mental resolve I had, it was the physical battering that called me out. My partner in the race was pulling out some amazing psychological magic to get me round, but on this day, it was not to be!

As a first timer I have to convey the magnitude of this event. The beauty of the surroundings is soon forgotten as the environment starts to take its toll. On this occasion I was beaten by the event, a first ever DNF and no medal. We got through the big swims, the high mountain climbs but the remaining swims and runs were on this outing, a few steps and strokes too far.

Like triathletes, the swimrun participants were all really welcoming towards newcomers. Helpful advice and support at the Youth Hostel beforehand was most welcome. It was at this point that the overwhelming respect for the event was evident. Swimrun is not a jolly in the hills. It is a full on test of spirit and fitness. I encourage you to try one out… but treat it with respect or it could bite!

The event itself was brutal and amazing in equal measure. The team and volunteers were superb throughout the weekend and the respect they had for the environment was notable. I was humbled by the Lakes, they punished me but I have vowed to return and collect my medal!

You can find out more HERE