Event Review: Hokey Cokey 2024

Alex Newman-Burke got shaken all about on the long-course version of this scenic event in Cornwall.

It had been nearly 30 years since my last visit to Cornwall. I was tempted back by the Hokey Cokey Swimrun, which offered challenging terrain, south-facing sea, rolling hills and views across picturesque bays.

Set in the historical but small harbour of Charleston, just south of St. Austell, the event used the local rowing gig shed as the race headquarters. Registration was on the Friday evening and at a sensible time, with the race on Saturday morning. Two race distances were on offer: 10km and 20km, with the latter being split between 5km of swimming and 15km of running.

Having competed in Swimrun Wales last summer I was looking forward to taking on what was always going to be a very challenging east and west, out and back, course with the Charleston Harbour at the centre.

Both distances started at the same time with a gently sloping run down to the beach for the first of five swims. Even before hitting the water, we could all see it was going to be tough getting through the rolling waves to the 200m buoy and back. And the sea state was expected to deteriorate throughout the morning.  I met a women’s team from Brighton who told me they had dropped down to the short course due to good intelligence on the weather forecast.

Coming back into the slippery harbour steps of Charlestown, you had to time your exit with the waves washing you up and away from the start of the next run leg. The second run was up the hill away from the harbour, around the town and back to the beach. This gave me a good sense of whether my run legs had come with me from London. While my training had been consistent, it hadn’t been a big focus and I was worried about the distance and climbs to come.


The second swim (1.1km) required navigating away from a submerged rock and around the headland to the sandy Porthpean Beach before an exit, feed station and run (or mostly walk) up a very steep and long climb before levelling off through 4.8k of lanes and undulating coastal paths. This was the sunniest and warmest part of the race.  

Coming back into Porthpean we faced what would be the last swim of the day for the short-course athletes back to Charlestown Beach. But for those of us on the long course, this was not even halfway. I was beginning to feel seasick from the constant and increasing sea swell. Not shown here there is a picture of me looking the same colour as my swim hat, which is probably why the paramedic asked me if I was ok. I wasn’t. But I decided to run it off.

The next 4.5km run took us up again through the harbour and east along coastal paths, edges of golf courses, and the five-star hotels along Polgaver Beach. Descending over rocks and waves for swim number four, it was obvious the weather had really deteriorated. I lost my footing and fell into thistles on the descent to the penultimate swim start, but this was nothing compared to the exit over razor-sharp barnacles attached to jagged rocks 1km later.

By this time, the sea state was akin to a washing machine on rinse mode. Landing on my hands and knees on the rocks, lacerated and bleeding, I felt stranded. Eventually, I managed to find a way off and wade into shore. We now faced a tough soft-sand beach run of 2.2km back to Carlyon Bay and then the final swim. I knew, given how seasick I had been, this was going to be one of my mentally and physically toughest swims ever.  

At this point, I had long dropped my ego over a top-ten finish and was in full survival and just-finish mode. I had lost several places on the previous run as my legs had gone into Ironman shuffle mode. Not good. I remember thinking to myself, “just keep swimming”. If I did, I would finish. At 500m in I started to count my strokes, which I found reduced the nausea.

When I came around the headland, I saw what was either a bail-out or exit point. Thankfully, it was the harbour and therefore the latter. In slightly calmer water, I managed to swim into shore but was incapable of standing. I fell over again and took more skin off my knees and palms. I had to be helped to stand before what was only a short distance run, but up more steps.

I don’t remember much of a celebration as I staggered over the finish line but it seems I was smiling. I grabbed my medal and headed straight to the first aid zone to deal with my cuts. At this stage, I was grateful just to finish as it had been one hell of an adventure.

Post-race reflections

Cornwall is a fabulous place and the coast is ideal for beautiful and challenging swimruns. It is worth the extra effort to get down there. Be kind to yourself and make a long weekend of it. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of being in nature, away from crowds, pollution and flight paths. Charleston itself is a pleasant spot with plenty of good restaurants and pubs to unwind and relax after the event.

The entire host team for the Hokey Cokey at Mad Hatters Events are incredibly welcoming. It’s clear they have swum and run the route and know the area well. This a super relaxed event in beautiful land and seascapes. However, even if you are an experienced sea swimmer, be prepared to be severely mentally and physically challenged as this is not a course for the faint-hearted. Make sure you enjoy the entire day, not just the finishing!  

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Alex smiling at the finish (note the blood on his thumb). 

About Alex

Alex is a lapsed triathlete focused on improving his open water and endurance swimming.

All images (c) Mad Hatter Events. Check out their other swimruns and challenges here.