Simon Griffiths traveled to Jersey for the UK National Swimrun Championship

(This article was previously published in Outdoor Swimmer magazine)

Billed as the UK National Swimrun Championship, Breca Swimrun Jersey was the organiser’s final event of 2021 and the fourth in their UK series. The top five finishers from each category at their other UK races (Coniston, Gower and Loch Lomond) were all offered free places in Jersey. While not everyone was able to take up the offer, enough did to ensure a high standard of racing. The event was also open to other competitors. In line with their other UK races this season, Breca only put on the so-called ‘sprint’ distance, which features 4.5km of swimming and 15.5km of running. (The full distance, when it returns in 2022, covers 6km of swimming and 47km of running).

From the green in front of Gorey Castle, the race starts with a 0.9km seductively easy descent along the road to Anne Port. The course continues in an anti-clockwise direction around the north-east coast of the island alternating challenging sea swims and a mixture of tracks, paths and narrow trails. Apart from a short flat section along the sea wall from L’Archirondel to Belval Beach, the course is almost exclusively hilly. The total elevation gain is nearly 800m. Many of the paths are steep. If you plan to do this event, practice running up and down hills, and steps. Garmin estimated that I climbed the equivalent of 205 flights of stairs. The reward for all this climbing is a series of spectacular views over bays that are just inviting you to swim across, which of course you do.

The event is smoothly organised with pre-race pick-ups from St Brelade, St Aubin and St Helier to the race start and a post-race shuttle back to St Helier. You can bring a small bag to the start that will be returned to you at the finish. The course is well marked and primarily follows the coastal path, so there is little opportunity to get lost. Nutrition stations are well stocked with water, electrolyte, energy gels, Jaffa Cakes, jelly babies and salted Jersey potatoes. There’s great support along the way, with spectators shouting encouragement for everyone, not just their friends, and a fantastic atmosphere at the finish line. Early finishers hang around to chat and cheer those coming in later, and the commentator ensures everyone gets a rousing welcome and a name check.

As with any swimrun, the transitions are ‘natural’ meaning you have to scramble into and out of the water as best you can over whatever rocks or boulders are in your way. It’s part of the challenge and the fun. You need to watch your footing on the paths in places too. A few participants picked up grazes and bruises following stumbles (as I did when I previously did this event in 2017). Oh, and I spotted a few jellyfish.

When I did this event previously, the tide was higher, the waves were bigger and the current provided less assistance. It made a difference of more than 30 minutes. This year, we swam between rocks we had previously swum over and clambered up rocks to reach stairs that had been underwater. Jersey is well known for its huge tidal range and it was interesting to experience this from the water.

With the highest proportion of swimming of all of Breca’s swimruns, this is the event to do if you are more comfortable swimming than running. If you go, make sure you book at least couple of nights and allow yourself time to explore the island. While you get to see a spectacular part of Jersey during the event, you will miss a lot if you only go for the race.

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I raced in Jersey in the mixed teams category with a friend from Teddington Masters Swimming Club. We had surprised ourselves with a 5th place finish at Breca Gower in our first swimrun as a team, and in a race with a relatively small proportion of swimming. As swimmers more than runners, we hoped we might do better in Jersey.

As usual, the race started fast and the leaders were soon out of sight. We had decided to start at a more measured pace. We entered the water for the first swim a short distance behind the main pack and began picking our way through the field. As all teams wear the same colour hats at Breca events, it was impossible to tell who our direct competitors were, but it didn’t matter at this stage as we wanted to focus on our own race and pace. I know we overtook a few mixed teams in the water as they came past us again on the second run.

As the race progressed, the pattern of passing people in the swim and being overtaken on the run repeated itself several times. We started to recognise people and share banter but didn’t have any sense of direct competition at this stage. We were doing our thing at our pace and they were doing theirs.

That all changed at the final swim exit where we realised we had come out of the water at the same time as two other mixed teams and there were podium places still up for grabs. Ahead of us was a 2.2km run to the finish, with more than 100m of climbing. My legs were in pieces and we knew the other teams were stronger runners, so we expected them to run ahead. But we were all shattered and wound up walking up the hill together. This was now definitely a race but a strange one as everyone was so clearly at their limit. Every now and then someone tried to run but faltered after a few steps. As the slope levelled we started running again but the track was too narrow for overtaking, even if we’d have had the energy. Finally the path opened up and we saw the finish. I did my best to sprint as, I’m sure, did all the others. After more than three hours or racing, we finished within 12 seconds of each other, taking second, third and fourth places. We were delighted to claim the final podium spot, knowing that we’d put everything into it and worked as a team to get there.

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There are multiple flights to Jersey from airports around the UK, making it quick and easy to reach. There is also a 4-hour ferry from Poole, which would be a good option if you wanted to take a bike.
Accommodation in Jersey can be pricey so it pays to look around. While it would be possible to do this event flying in on Friday and leaving on Saturday evening, I’d recommend booking at least two or three nights. Arriving in advance would give you an opportunity to check out parts of the course too.
There’s no need to hire a car to do the event as there are buses to the main south coast towns. A taxi from the airport to St Helier costs around £18 to £25.

Kit used

Shoes: Vivo Barefoot Primus Lite
Socks: Gococo Trail Running
Wetsuit: Zone 3 Evolution Wetsuit
Googles: Zoggs Predator Flex
Paddles: None

Images: (c) Breca Swimrun