Event Review: The Studland Swimrun 2024

All the ingredients for a perfect swimrun, except the weather (which didn’t turn out too bad after all).

The weather gods kept us on high alert in the week leading up to the 2024 Studland Swimrun. At first, the forecast looked promising but deteriorated as event day approached. Then came news that other events were being cancelled. A storm was blowing through. Should we prepare for swimrun or make new plans? To add to the fun, we had decided to camp. It was cold, wet and windy while we were putting up the tents on the Friday evening. The prospect of good racing conditions the next morning seemed remote. Sleep was out of the question.

The main problem for swimrun is not the rain – after all, you run in a wetsuit – it’s the wind and what it does to the water. Strong winds churn up the sea. Wind direction is important too. One beach can be mirror calm while the next one around the headland is being pummelled.

Throughout the week leading up to the race, the organisers did a great job of keeping us informed. We received a detailed racebook with all the information needed. There was also an opportunity to join a training session. Despite the weather threat, the organisers remained optimistic they could stage the event. However, this required some modifications, including the removal of part of the swimming. As a swimmer, I’m always disappointed when this happens. But I also value the efforts organisers make to make last minute changes and keep events going.

The wind and rain kept me awake all night and only started to ease off at around 7:30, which was registration time. We collected our race bibs, changed and headed to the start line. Standing in the rain, with the prospect of getting cold in the near future, can dampen the spirits. But we were entertained by an enthusiastic drumming band, which lifted the spirits (and our heart rates) and lent the event a carnival feel.

The race started with a 900m run over sand dunes. We then had two swims through Studland Bay separated by a short beach run. The water, at 14.5 degrees, felt cold but the bay was sheltered and calm, and the swims were straightforward.

From there on, it went uphill fast.

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Mentally I had broken this event down into a warm up (the first two swims and short runs), three main runs (of 7.5k, 7.5k and 5k, with recovery swims in between), a final swim and sprint finish.

The first of the longer runs took us up a long steady climb to Ballard Down, overlooking Old Harry Rocks, with views onto the Isle of Wight. From here, we looped around and dropped into Swanage for the first feed station and a swim across the town bay. We next made our way up to Durlston Castle. The original plan was to have another swim in this section. However, looking at the waves smashing into the rocks, it was clear that the organiser's decision to cancel this swim was right. Shortly after, we reached the turnaround at Anvil Point Lighthouse, which meant we'd passed halfway. In my mind, this was the hardest run, and I thought the rest would be plain sailing.

Never, ever, think that in a swimrun!

Although the course is essentially out-and-back to Knoll Beach, it's cleverly designed so you rarely use the same paths twice. Back in Swanage, instead of swimming past the town, we ran along the promenade, dodging bemused locals and visitors (we’d been warned not to knock over the waiters serving coffee), before a long swim along the eastern end of Swanage Bay. From here, it was 'just' a 5km run and an easy swim to the end.

But be warned: this 5km run takes you back across Ballard Down. And second time around, you take the more direct but steeper route. It's a lung-burning climb followed by a thigh-busting descent. If you do this event, hold something back for this run. And practice running up and down hills.

It's then back to Knoll Beach for the final swim and a quick dash across the dunes to the finish. I've done many swimruns that finish at the top of a hill. This one avoided the trauma of a final climb but I don't know what they did to the sand while we were racing. On fresh legs, running across the dunes was easy. Coming back, I struggled to stay on my feet.

David Trehane, the organiser, clearly knows the area well. He regularly runs these trails and does the swims, and that local knowledge showed. He’s also a swimrun enthusiast, has done many events himself, and knows what participants look for. Even though there were last-minute changes due to the weather, you wouldn’t have known it if you hadn’t seen the original plans. The route had everything you want for a great event: a variety of terrain, safe and easy-to-navigate swims, and amazing views. The organisation was slick. I liked that we had the race briefing online a couple of days early, which eased the logistics. It started at a civilised time of day and parking was easy (and free for National Trust members). There were four feed stations, all well-stocked with Precision Fuel and Hydration energy products plus bananas, millionaire shortbread bites, Jaffa Cakes and other goodies. The marshals were friendly, encouraging and helpful and there's a cafe nearby for refuelling at the end.

We did the long course, which totalled almost 25km. There was also a 10.6km middle distance and 8.5km short distance event.

Another nice touch was the option to meet at a local pub for pizza on Saturday evening, where we dissected the race with fellow participants while enjoying sunset views over Bournemouth Bay.

The organisers did well to hold their faith in the weather and enable to event to go ahead with only minor changes. We heard afterwards that some participants pulled out because of uncertainty about the conditions. In the end, they were better than predicted and I’ve raced in far worse. They missed out on an amazing day.

If you want to do this event next year, be ready to sign up when it opens as it sold out fast. It’s a challenging course for experienced swimrunners while still being accessible to first timers. On the short course event, around two thirds of participants were first timers. On the long course race, more than a third were doing their first swimrun.

Find out more

Event website: https://iswimrun.com/

2024 Results

Short - https://iswimrun.com/short-course-results/

Middle - https://iswimrun.com/middle-course-results/

Long - https://iswimrun.com/long-course-results/

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Images thanks to @ryanshelleyphotography and @mr.mister_photography