Event Review: Bewl Water Swimrun 2023

As Keen As Mustard offer several Swimrun events in and around reservoirs the UK (check out Nene Park, Peterborough and Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire for 2024). These events all offer mixed terrain running in picturesque places with plenty of fun and challenge along the way. In September, I was lucky enough to take part in the Bewl Water Swimrun, near Tunbridge wells in Kent. With three distances to choose from (the 6K 'Intro Mustard', 10K 'Mild Mustard' and 21K 'Middling Mustard') it really is an event to suit all. This year, the shorter distances were for solo entries only, but you could choose to race as a team in the 21K and for those that did, it was double the fun.

While it’s often the case that the balance of swimming to running in swimrun seems to favour stronger runners over swimmers, the Middling Mustard includes 4.5K of swimming (including a 1000m section) and there are 9 swims in total. This gives plenty of opportunity to plunge into this lovely reservoir. And with so many transitions, it is also surprising how much fortunes (and conditions) can change.

Last year, the start was delayed by thick fog, so it almost came as a shock to be haring down the sandy bank towards the lake, which we could see in all its splendour, and launch into our first swim. As it turned out, I wasn't yet fully awake as I failed to notice an innocuous looking hole in the sand and took a tumble. I started my first swim looking like a sand monster having dented my knee and my pride with a spectacular series of commando rolls. I suspect the other teams were glad at that moment that they hadn't chosen to tether with their teammate - mine did well to stay on his feet! There wasn't much time to dwell on it though as the leaders were already powering away from us and we wanted to keep them in sight for as long as we could.

The early swims were nice and calm, and the short distances meant you could easily sight your exit point. The water was muddy at the edges where we were churning it up, but clear in the middle and the temperature was pleasant. Some competitors chose to wear tri suits rather than wetsuits this year. I was glad of my wetsuit though, not least because of the handy pockets for my snacks, gels and collapsible cup – I needed these later when my energy levels started to dip.

For those competitors doing the shorter distances, the course hugs the edge of the reservoir with swims cutting across the fingers of this pretty body of water. The course also keeps mainly to one side of the reservoir. The 21K starts in the same way but the route then leads you right around the reservoir and run number seven takes you away from the water's edge onto a gruelling 7200m stretch of country road. On paper, it doesn't sound that imposing but don't underestimate the climb and avoid indulging in premature celebration as this climb just keeps on giving. It's here that the hardened runners pick off their prey but don’t give up if you are a stronger swimmer than runner. Swims 7 and 9 are long enough for the swimmers in the field to claw it back so this is an event where fortunes can shift, right to the bitter end. To add to the finishing excitement, the weather closed in this year, so the later swims were surprisingly choppy. This turned out to be an opportunity for those who swim well in tough conditions to gain more time on the runners in the field.

The medal ceremonies took place in the rain, but the atmosphere wasn't dampened by that. For me, this was the perfect event to finish off the season. Not as gruelling as some events but great fun and definitely competitive. We raced it hard, and my legs certainly complained the next day, but not everyone approached it like that. For some, it was a first try at a new sport and for others, it was an opportunity to test their fitness as they were returning from injury. Swimrun certainly tests your all-round fitness as you fluidly move from water to land and a course which offers a point-to-point circuit always gives you a great sense of achievement, especially when you get around to reading the race information and studying the map in more detail. I should have done this before the event of course, but only got around to it on the way home.

All images (c) SBD Photography (www.sbdphotography.co.uk)

For other events by As Keen As Mustard, see: https://www.akamustard.events/

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