In swimming races, I’m used to people pushing and shoving to secure their space in the front row for the start. At Love Swimrun’s beautiful Llanberis Swimrun this year, we experienced almost the opposite. Hardly anyone wanted to be at the front of the pack on the start line. It was clear that most participants were treating this as an adventure challenge rather than a race. And no wonder.
While this is far from being the toughest or longest swimrun out there – it’s actually relatively short – it includes a couple of steep climbs and descents, including one into the old slate quarries that tower above the Llyn Padarn, the lake where all the swims take place, and the neighbouring Llyn Peris. It was a hot day and the track through the quarries is steep, unshaded and unforgiving – but it compensates with spectacular views. As this comes in the second half, it pays to hold back at the start.
The first run is a flat, easy 2.3km, heading northwest along the lake shore. You then enter the water at the lake’s northern end for a 480m swim parallel to the shore, roughly heading back in the direction from which you’ve just come. Apart from one large partially submerged rock you need to swim around, everything is straightforward to this point.
Run two is shorter than the first but includes the first climb of the day, taking you almost 100m above the lake. It starts with a scramble through some woods and continues on a quiet road. You then descend sharply, first on road and then a trail back to the lake for swim two, a direct crossing of the lake. Or so we thought. If we had paid attention to the pre-race instructions we would have noticed the swim passes through a narrow gap between an island and the mainland and then turns left into a channel before ending near the start and finish point.
But this wasn’t even half way. The course follows a rough figure of eight route, and the bottom loop is significantly bigger than the top.
Run three is only 300m long but helpfully passes the first aid station. There’s a long swim ahead and an even longer run, so grab something here. You’ll then almost immediately be back in the water for a 1.1km swim to the southernmost end of the lake. Again, time spent studying the route map would have helped here as initially I was unable to see the buoy that marked the route and started heading into the wrong bay. Aiming for Dobadarn Castle would have been the smarter thing to do. Never mind. Little harm was done.
While I hadn’t studied the route map as well as I could have
done, I had paid enough attention to know the final run was the make or break
part of this event. And not just because it’s 8.3km long. The first part is
straightforward, along a pavement with views onto Llyn Peris, but with the
quarries behind looming and threatening. The race briefing description is
correct but deceptive: “turn left at end of lake for long climb into quarry on
wide gravel track.” The path zigzags upwards, climbing some 200m through a
brutal landscape of abandoned slate workings. It’s dusty, exposed and
relentless – but it does eventually end. And as noted above, you get a great
view. The descent is fun, fast and potentially treacherous, especially if wet,
so take care.
Swimmers will be happy to know that all the running is now over – but there is still a kilometre to swim, firstly along the shore and then back across the lake. We had calm conditions but it’s been known to be rough here so prepare yourself for a final challenge. On the other hand, if you have conditions like ours, relax and try to breathe both sides to take in the scenery. Emerge from the water grinning and stroll across the finish line.
It's worth hanging around for prize giving, even if you are not a podium finisher, as a good number of prizes were given out with winners chosen at random by their entry numbers. A coffee van and wood-fired pizza van were on site this year to ensure we didn’t go hungry or thirsty while waiting.
With an overall distance of around 16km, the full event is shorter than many so-called sprint swimruns, but that undersells the challenge. This is a tougher event than the distances suggest, providing a test for more experienced swimrunners, but still achievable for those starting out. However, if you have doubts, there is also the 6km sprint course, which follows the same top loop as the longer one but drops the 8.3km run through the quarries. Solo participants and teams can take part in both distances. The event is also unusually welcoming for children who, from age 10, can take part in the sprint challenge as long as they are accompanied throughout by a paying adult.
Find out more: https://loveswimrun.co.uk/
(Review by Simon Griffiths, images supplied by Love Swimrun)
Do the double
In 2023, Love SwimRun Llanberis took place on Saturday 17 June. The following day, WeSwimRun hosted their Tal-Y-Llyn Swimrun. This is a slightly shorter but equally beautiful event less than an hour away from Llanberis. If the dates align in future, it’s perfectly feasible to do both. In fact, several people did and I’d recommend it.