Event Review: Great North Swimrun 2023

Simon Griffiths shares his experience and top tips for one of the UK’s best swimrun events

Wow! That was hot.

I’ve been at the Great North Swim in previous years where it rained for most of the day and the water in Windermere was 13 degrees Celsius. Not in 2023. The Lake District, like most of the UK that weekend, enjoyed non-stop sunshine and water at 20 degrees.

I was there early on Saturday morning for the middle distance swimrun, which combines the joys of swimming in England’s largest lake – and one of its most scenic – with trail running along the shoreline and into the fells on its western side.

My favourite feature of this event is that it starts with a swim directly across the lake from Brockhole to Wray Castle. In rough conditions, this is challenging. In fact, one year, to my disappointment, the organisers cancelled the first swim on safety grounds and took us across the water by boat. In 2023, the only ripples on the lake’s surface were created by swimmers and the safety kayaks. We were able to cruise across comfortably, conserving energy for the running challenges ahead.

After exiting the water, there’s a sharp but short climb to the castle followed by a descent back to the river path. Don’t hammer this ascent as there is plenty of running ahead – around 18km of it – along with some tougher climbs. The first run section continues along the lake side on an easy path. It is tempting to push the pace on this first 5km as running in such amazing scenery inspires you to go fast. Hold back if you can.

The heat was already building by the time we reached the second swim, even though it was only around 9:30 in the morning. The 300m splash was a welcome relief – but too short! The first feed station is shortly after the exit and we drank some much-needed water before setting off and what, for me, is the toughest section of this event. It’s almost 12km long and includes nearly all the climbs. Out in the open fields on the fells, we were exposed to the full heat of the sun. At this point, I was relieved we hadn’t signed up to the full distance event, which has an additional 11km or so of running (but also some regrets too as the full distance event includes swims in Grasmere and Rydal Water). Returning to the lake for swim number three was a massive relief as I knew most of the hard work was done.

The final portion of the middle event favours swimmers with three swim sections totalling just over 2km and only two short and mostly flat runs. If you discount the 10m run up the finishing ramp, this event also ends with a swim, which is another point in favour of you stronger swimmers out there. There is ample scope to claw back time and overhaul some of the fleet-footed runners, and we made the most of it.

On the penultimate swim, you need to take care with navigation as the route takes you through the boats moored around Waterhead. It’s hard to see the exit but there are safety kayakers to guide you if you are unsure. It’s worth taking a moment to double-check your route. On the final swim and coming under the finishing arch, you will merge with people doing the Great Swim. Do take care and be considerate as it’s likely you will cross paths with swimmers both faster and slower than you, including some who will be experiencing open water swimming for the first time. Help them to want to come back as much as you will.

The Great North Swimrun – Top Tips

·       For the middle and endurance events, you need to race with a partner. Choose wisely. This is a team event and if you work as a team rather than two individuals side-by-side you will have a much better experience. The short event can be tackled solo.

·       Make sure you have everything on the compulsory kit list and read the event briefing pack in plenty of time.

·       Leave plenty of time to get to the start, especially if you haven’t booked parking at the event village.

·       Be prepared to race under a range of weather conditions and check the weather forecast frequently.

·       Pace yourself! The first 8km or so in the middle distance and endurance events are deceptively easy. Don’t get carried away. (Short distance participants launch straight into the hills).

·       Plan your nutrition and make use of the feed stations. Carry more than you need, just in case.

·       Smile at the cameras and be polite to the marshals and volunteers – they are there to help you stay safe and have fun.


The Great North Swimruns – distances

Short – 12.6km total with 2.09km of swimming (16.6%)

Middle – 23.9km total with 3.59km of swimming (15%)

Endurance – 38.8km total with 4.31km of swimming (11.1%)

Next event: 8 June 2024
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Image: Start of the short distance Great North Swimrun 2023 (c) Great Swim