Breca Loch Lomdon had it all – Bag pippers, castles, missing islands, sea eagles and jumping wallabies. Paul Mackenzie reports
It felt great to be on a mass start line again – this was racing delivered as we remembered! With Balloch castle in the background, a piper standing on the lush green slope and the pleasant and unexcepted lack of rain made for the perfect start to the first swimrun event across Loch Lomond.
The 200 or so competitors had been ferried by bus to the start in a Covid secure, socially distanced way, we had all checked into the start area and the chatter was flowing. This race had a mix of 2 person teams as usual as well as solo competitors. For approximately 50% of the field this was their first swimrun and due to the long swims and busy Loch all competitors had to have a tow float to aid swimmer visibility to other Loch users – very safety conscious. We had all had a thorough pre-race kit inspection to ensure we had the mandatory equipment and that for biosecurity reasons it had to be clean and dry. Race Director briefing had been conducted over (yet another) Zoom call so we were prepared. We were pleased to see the previously forecasted lightning was no longer on the outlook - avoiding complex race management situations or even cancellation.
With 9 swim segments, traversing across 6 (not 7) islands, the challenge of setting up the 3 checkpoints with the array of hydration and nutrition options and all the swim entry and exit marshalling was quite a logistical challenge for the organisers. This caused a short pre-start delay where many competitors compered their approach to kit with each other. Questions and discussions around whether to tether or not to tether, to use small or large hand paddles or may be none, the size of the tow float and how to carry or clip it on - one thing was clear though, it was too late to do anything about any of these conundrums! Such friendly chatter was soon silenced with the bag piper playing his final tune, Amazing Grace of course, and then we were under starters orders.
The 21km island-hoping adventure began with the first 2 runs being the longest runs on the course, 3.1 then 2.7 km respectively. These were over good forest trials and tracks. As we got further into the course trails became more technical, often shoreline boulder fields and rough routes across remote islands – it was adventure racing at its best.
The swim sections had their challenges too, many entries and exits were shallow, and boulder strewn, with 3 of the swims over 1km and the longest being 1.4 km the course favoured strong swimmers. Oh about the 7th Island….. it was cancelled! The original route did take in 7 islands, but a few months ago when a white tailed sea eagle took up residence on the island an immediate 250m exclusion zone was declared – giving us the pleasure of swimming the length of the island, rather than running across it.
The race route was terrific, the change to access and traverse these islands in this way was unique and with conscientious marshalling logging competitors through each transition point, as well as many safety boats on the water it felt very safe. The aid stations were well stocked with an array of nutrition and hydration helping everyone on their way – an unexpected exposure of the sun while I was at checkpoint 3 even started to melt the Jaffa cakes!
Shortly after the last checkpoint, in fact it might have been those melted Jaffa Cakes… but I was hallucinating…. sure it was a tough course but I was seeing Wallabies! Yes, right before my eyes… I slowed to a walk, shook my head, looked again and there was nothing – was I imagining Wallabies, of all things? A post race Google search did indeed reveal one of the islands has a wild troop of some 60 Wallabies, introduced in the 1940’s. I was not going mad afterall.
The last few swim and run segments appeared easier as we got closer to the finish-line at Luss Games Field, with plenty of supporters and finish funnel raze-a-ma-tazze the course was over. This race felt harder than others in the Breca series, but certainly, for me at least the most rewarding.
In summary this was a great and challenging swimrun course
in a beautiful location, against all the odds (and weather forecasts), we had a
largely rain and certainly lightning free day and it delivered what the 200
plus competitors surely wanted? To sign
up for next year visit brecaswimrun.com see you on the start line?
Paul Mackenzie – Paul has a passion for outdoor adventures and expedition trail blazing all over the world. He is an open water swim coach, lifeguard as well as a Ruckraft enthusiast. When not immersed in the water he is either planning new routes or mountain biking in the Surrey Hills. Paul@adventureswims.co.uk Insta: @adventureswims FB @adventureswimspaul