Event Review: Bewl Water Swimrun 2022 by As Keen As Mustard

Simon Griffiths took part in the Middling Mustard: 21km as ~4.2km of swimming and 17.2km of running with 9 swims and 10 runs

Bewl Water was created in the 1970s by damming the River Bewl and flooding its valley to create the largest inland body of water in south east England. The reservoir’s various arms extend into the surrounding landscape like spider fingers. On a map, it resembles an inkblot from a Rorschach test.

However, on the morning of 11 September 2022, none of that was visible as the lake and surrounding areas were covered in a blanket of fog. And that meant the race couldn’t start as we couldn’t see far enough across the water. The organisers first delayed by 15 minutes, and then 30, as the sun fought to break through. Eventually, after an hour, they announced that the entire lake was clear of fog except for the section above the dam, where the first swim was to take place. But, they told us, “we have a plan, and it’s a good one.”

Rather than start the race with a 350m run, as originally envisaged, we were led through the fog to the water’s edge. While we couldn’t see the swim exit, we could see the safety kayakers. We were pointed in the right direction and told to follow the paddlers. The starter’s horn sounded and off we went.

It was a surreal swim, and I loved it. The water was as flat and smooth as ironed silk while the kayakers formed a protective shield around us. Structures in the reservoir emerged from the mist like mysterious shipwrecks. As the visibility improved, we could see competitors from the shorter events running in single file along the top of the dam, silhouetted against the hazy skyline. I was enjoying the swim so much that I was disappointed to reach the end of it.

According to Southern Water, Bewl Reservoir, which supplies Thanet and Hastings, was only 53% full at the time of the event, and this was evident on all the swim entries and exits. On the first one, we stumbled over jagged rocks, while on later ones we had to wade through mud. The water level has been low for so long that grass and flowers were growing on ground that is usually underwater.

Most of the transitions in this event are packed into the first half. Until you reach run number seven, just one run is longer than a kilometre, and that is only 2km. After the first 850m swim, we ran just 900m along a wooded path to swim number two, but as promised, there was no fog, and sunlight glittered across the water. We crossed the water, ran another 500m and crossed back again. The frequent changes from swimming to running and back again kept both arms and legs feeling fresh. The water was calm and the trails gentle. This was going well.

Then we came to run number seven. We’d been warned there would be some hills, but how hilly could it be around a lake on the Kent/Sussex border? Quite a lot, it turns out. We moved off trails onto a single-track road that took us away from the water, and a climb that went on for more than a kilometre. We then continued descending and climbing again for a further 6km, while the sky was now cloud-free and the sun blazing. This event had suddenly got tough and it was a long way to the next water station.

But luckily, that was the hardest section. It was a relief to sink back into the water for a cooling 1km swim before the final long run of the course, another 4km. However, this was on wood-shaded trails and relatively flat, and with just two short swims and runs to complete, this now felt like the finishing stages. Not long after, we arrived back at our starting point with an 800m uphill run.

Overall, while this event matched neither the breathtaking beauty nor the brutality of some equivalent-distance coastal events I’ve done, it exceeded my expectations in other ways. Swimming in a sheltered lake is significantly easier than battling through waves in the sea. Sighting and navigation was easy, allowing the swims to be a chance to cool down, relax and recover. The running trails were pleasant to run on and well signposted. Apart from a few tree roots to watch out for, and a couple of fallen trees to step over, the running was straightforward. And while the swim exits and entries required a bit of caution to avoid slipping or stumbling, there were no barnacle-encrusted cliffs to climb while being battered by surf. It was challenging but not gruelling. I liked that the race was a journey around the lake and the views over the water weren’t bad. Logistically, Bewl Water is easy to reach from London and the south east, there is easy parking near the event village, and a waterside café to refuel afterwards. It's a great event for solo participants as well as teams, and it’s achievable for first time swimrunners while offering enough of a test for more experienced participants. It’s a race I would happily do again.

Find out more:

As Keen As Mustard

Other event distances: 6km, 10km

Format: solo for 6km and 10km, solo and teams for 21km.

Bewl podium4jpg

Winners of the mixed team event

Event tips

·       Carry a small water bottle and refill it at the first water station. You may need it on run number seven.

·       If it’s been dry, then the trails can easily be navigated in regular training shoes. However, trail shoes will offer more grip on some of the muddy swim entries and exits.

·       Plan your nutrition. While there are sweets and energy drink at the water stations, you may need more.

·       The 7km run section is the hardest part of the course, so make sure you pace yourself appropriately.