Event Review: Swimrun Gower 2024

The revival of Swimrun Gower was a success. It’s a challenging but achievable event in a stunning location.

I was excited to return to Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula for the revived Gower Swimrun. We previously did this event in 2021, when it was organised by Breca Swimrun. I was relatively new to swimrun then, and we mismanaged both our pacing and nutrition. It was also the first time I raced with Lucy, who has since become a regular swimrun race partner.

Could we do better with more experience or would 3 more years of aging slow us down?

If you love wide open beaches, rugged coastal paths and spectacular views, you will love the Gower Peninsula. The Gower Swimrun takes full advantage of the area’s natural beauty, starting with a beach run along the expansive Oxwich Bay.

This is the only flat run section in the event, and it would be easy to get carried away. We ran too fast here first time and so deliberately held back, although it's hard watching people you think you can beat racing away from you, hoping it's them who have misjudged the pace.

This run contains a couple of surprises too. About halfway along, you need to wade through the stream coming out of Oxwich Marsh so you can forget about trying to keep your trainers dry until the first swim. Second, and this is tide dependent, we needed to wade around the rocks at Little Tor, which you can run around when the tide is out. I thought momentarily we'd lost our first swim, but I needn't have worried. That came shortly after and took us around the headland at Great Tor and along the cliffs to Three Cliffs Bay.

This was the longest swim on the course and the most challenging. It's more exposed than the other swims, seems to take forever until you see the exit point, and takes you across a shallow reef. Well, it took us across a shallow reef as we swam between the large rock that marks the entrance to the bay rather than around it like we were supposed to!

Despite the challenge of this swim, try to relax and conserve energy for what comes next. After exiting the water, keep your goggles handy. The route card suggests a 7.8km run but omits to mention you need to cross Pennard Pill, a stream running across the beach. I don't remember this from last time, so it may depend on recent rainfall, but the stream was deep enough to give us a bonus swim, although it was less than 10m across.

Now you get to the start of the big run, which begins with a 70m near vertical ascent through deep sand to the cliff path. This will make your legs and lungs burn. But when you get to the top the views ahead and behind are amazing. I know it's a race but take a moment to appreciate this.

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For me, this was the hardest section of the course, with multiple descents and climbs and a range of terrain. Don't expect to cover this in anything like the time you need for the same distance on the flat. It went on forever. But when you reach swim number two, at least you know you've done more than half the running.

This second swim also takes you around a headland, from Brandy Cove to Caswell Bay Beach. After overheating on the run, it was a massive relief to re-enter the water. The sea was still rough, but calmer than on the first swim. Caswell Bay Beach was busy with families. I tried to imagine what they made of us odd-looking swimrunners emerging from the waves and heading straight for the coastal path without pause or hesitation.

We now had a straightforward run along a concreted, undulating coastal path. It ended, however, with a scramble over rocks down to the water for a 'technical' swim entry. In swimrun, be prepared to use your hands on land as well as in the water.

grittyrascals -2641jpgSwim three is a good one. It's a straight line across Langland Bay, which was sheltered and calm. The exit is easy to sight on and aim for, although I somehow managed to swim into the cliffs rather than the bay – a reminder not to get overconfident in my navigation skills. Run four is also straightforward along the coastal path until the final section as you approach Mumbles. Here, you need to stay alert for the arrows pointing you towards the cliffs and another technical swim entry. We caught up with some athletes from the short course here and one of them said:

"This is quite hardcore, isn't it!"

There was everything in that comment from disbelief and nerves to courage and pride.

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After leaping off barnacle-encrusted rocks we swam the short distance across Bracelet Bay and steeled ourselves for the final run. This was where, last time, I almost had a breakdown. From the beach, there's a steep climb taking you to almost 80m above sea level onto Mumbles Hill and nature reserve. Once you're through the park, you wind your way through the streets and alleyways of Mumbles, up and down another couple of surprisingly steep hills until finally emerging in Underhill Park for the finish.

Despite being relatively short, and with a high proportion of running, this is a challenging course. The organiser warns it is of medium difficulty and requires a high level of adventure. You may end up with some cuts and grazes and you need to stay focused on the technical descents and transitions. One nice touch retained from the Breca Days was the enthusiastic welcome for participants at the finish line. The organisers rang cowbells and cheered everyone over the line.

If you’re more of a swimmer than a runner, do not discount this event because of the relatively low proportion of swimming. The first two swims in particular are tough. While this is hard for everyone, as a strong swimmer you will have an advantage and emerge from the water less exhausted. Also, most of the swimming is at the back end of the race, which gives you a chance to catch up with the runners who may have left you behind earlier. There were two generously stocked feed stations along the route, which we made good use of. It’s also worth carrying additional gels or snacks.

My one disappointment was that very few teams took part. Although this guaranteed us a podium finish, I’d have preferred more competition. It seems increasingly people are opting to race swimrun as individuals. I know it can be hard to find the right race partner, but racing as a team adds a new dimension. Sharing the challenge makes the hard bits easier and the fun bits more fun. I recommend it.

Did those three years since 2021 slow us down? Our time was slower, but the course and conditions were slightly different, so that's not conclusive. Overall, we managed our nutrition and pacing much better, and arrived at the finish tired but not broken. Those final climbs were not the unrelenting torture I remembered them and we didn't get overtaken like we did first time. We’ve also improved at racing together as a team. For example, we now race throughout with a tether, which provides instant feedback on how your race partner is doing. Experience works in your favour on swimrun even if passing years chip away at your fitness.

Event info

Swimrun Gower offered 2 distances in 2024:

The Gritty (equivalent to the old Breca Sprint): Run 17.9km, Swim 2.2 km (5 runs, 4 swims)

Sprint: Run 10 km, Swim 1.5km (4 runs, 3 swims)

The Sprint course starts in Bishopston and joins the long course route at Pwll Du Beach, towards the end of the long run section.

Find out more: www.swimrungower.com 

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