Rough seas made for tough swimming conditions at this year's sprint distance edition of Breca Gower in southwest Wales. Simon Griffiths reports
Apart from the race briefing by Zoom and the compulsory use of face coverings on the bus to the start, the 2021 Breca Gower Swimrun was a welcome return to normality. The main difference for participants to previous years was that only the so-called “sprint” distance of 20km was on offer. This meant that some of the stronger teams, who might have preferred the full 43km distance, took part in the sprint, making for a competitive race at the front of the field.
Starting on the sweeping Oxwich Bay beach, participants set off along the only flat section of the course at a gallop. One of the front runners later reported the pace was a swift 3:30 per kilometre over this 2.9km stretch of beach. The field was therefore widely spread when we hit the first swim section at Great Tor, a 700m battle through rough seas around the headland. This took us 18 minutes to complete, and we were among the stronger swimmers on the day. Luckily, this was probably the toughest swim of the race. It was, however, followed by the toughest run section – 7.8km starting with a brutal climb up the sand dunes.
Still, the climb was worth it as we were rewarded with glorious views of the south Gower coastline. The route followed the coast path reaching a maximum elevation of 94m. The trail was easy to follow and mostly sure underfoot. However, it did include a couple of steep technical descents that required your full concentration to stay upright.
We were blessed with perfect weather conditions for racing, with light cloud cover and a gentle breeze. Nevertheless, I was beginning to overheat towards the end of the long run and was grateful to sink back into the ocean for the second swim, a 600m section along the rugged cliffs between Brandy Cove and Caswell Bay. With the waves bouncing back from the rocks, this was another challenging swim in choppy water followed by a graceless exit as we were tumbled onto the sand by the surf. All part of the fun.
The bulk of the race was now behind us, the next two run sections were only 2.1 and 2.3km on good paths without the big climbs of the first section. The 600m swim across Langland Bay was my favourite part of the race, and the final 200m into Bracelet Bay was a nice opportunity to cool off again, although some care was needed to avoid the rocks. But, this being a swimrun, there had to be a sting in the tail. The final run included a steep 75m ascent through Mumbles Hill Nature Reserve, a pleasant descent that lulled us into thinking the rest was downhill, another sharp and painful climb and a bonus lap of the rugby field in Underhill Park that wasn’t shown on the course map.
The nature of swimrun creates interesting racing dynamics. As better swimmers than runners, we fell behind on the runs and caught up on the swims, and changed positions with the same teams several times. The addition of solo participants added a new dynamic too. As they had to use tow floats, they were easy to spot and follow in the swims, which helped navigation. The Breca team are fantastic and gave every finisher a warm and enthusiastic welcome to the finish line, holding up the finishing tape and cheering in every team and solo participant from first to last.
Next year should see the return of the full distance event starting on the fabulous Rhossili beach with a swim to Worm’s Head, and a higher proportion of swimming (15%) compared to the sprint distance (12.5%). It’s definitely one to look out for.
IMAGE: BRECA SWIMRUN