I suppose those who sprinted at the start knew, either from prior experience or because they’d done their research. The rest of us, who started at a pace more appropriate to the challenge ahead of us, found out soon enough. There was a narrow gate to leave the car park and join the coast path along which we descended to Portscatho, and it created a bottleneck as we filed through.
Given what happened later in the event, it made little difference to me that the leaders were able to race ahead while the rest of us waited in line. However, if you want to race at the sharp end of this event, be prepared for a fast start. Once through the gate, we descended through the village to Portscatho Harbour for our first swim, 600m across the bay. Although we’d only run around 800m, the race leaders looked as though they were already halfway across by the time we got there. It was the last we’d see of them until the finish.
The organisers at Madhatter have fully embraced the adventure challenge aspect of swimrun, and this was apparent from the first swim entry, which required scrabbling over barnacle-encrusted rocks to slide into the sea. In comparison to the heat on land, the water felt chilly, but at around 17 degrees was comfortable enough once we got moving. It was also flat calm, not even hinting at the conditions that we’d have to deal with later in the event.
We did, however, see our first of many jellyfish. Luckily, they were compass and moon jellyfish, whose stings are minor. I collected one on my wrist but it didn’t trouble me and I didn’t hear reports of anyone getting badly stung. Still, their presence in the water is always unnerving. I was glad to be wearing neoprene arm sleeves for extra protection.
Leaving the water and climbing back up to the cliff path
required using all four limbs. Swimrunners sometimes use the word
‘technical’ to describe these kinds of swim exit. It means difficult, with a
chance you may slip and fall or, as in my case, cut your hand on a rock. But
it’s also fun. For me, these challenging sections are part of the draw and
attraction of swimrun.
The race continued in a northeast direction along the Roseland Peninsula coastal path, which provided the expected combination of leg-burning climbs and descents with sweeping views and, in 2022, bright sunshine and heat. But while we were dreaming of cooling off a problem was arising with the swims. Each one became a little more challenging as the wind picked up until we were battling through white-capped waves and struggling to spot the exit points. The safety team therefore made the decision to cut some of the later swims.
As someone who swims better than runs and relies on the swim sections to catch up with people who have raced ahead on the run, it’s always disappointing when swims are removed from events. While it’s hard work swimming through waves, I like the challenge of it, as well as the knowledge that runners who fly passed me on the hills will be struggling more than me. However, there are limits and it was apparent conditions were becoming too dangerous both for participants and the water safety team. You have to accept these things and move on. I think we lost around 3km of swimming, which we had to run instead.
Swimrun organisers seem to enjoy putting a sting into the tail end of their events. Arriving in Mevagissey, we were allowed back in the water for a final swim, a bouncy 500m from the harbour wall to Polstreath Beach, where I would have happily collapsed in the sand and finished. But no. The beach is accessed by a long set of steel stairs. How much more fun would it be to make us climb up those on tired legs? So that’s what we did.
This is an event I’d love to do again – albeit preferably with the full complement of swims. It’s friendly, well organised and fun (sort of). But it’s not an event to take lightly. The distances are long and the terrain will test your fitness and agility. Expect to come away with aching legs and shoulders, a few cuts and bruises, maybe a jellyfish sting or two, odd suntan lines, and a big smile.
Find out more: www.madhattersportsevents.co.uk
Images by James Street and Daniel Evans - used with permission from Madhatter Events