Race report: It’s all uphill at As Keen as Mustard Nene Park swimrun

After a hiatus of 18 covid-bound months, we were finally heading off to a swimrun event. The shear novelty of a start, a finish line and even a finisher medal would have been enough, but as my teammate, Paul, and I pushed our tired, wet, happy bodies across the final timing mat, I knew that day was so much more than the simple nuts and bolts of swimming and running. The joy of being back in the rubber suit and trainers, being back amongst the swimrun ‘family’ old and new and being out in the great outdoors doing something we love was thrilling and gave me hope. But first we had to get to the finish.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that by heading to the flatlands of Cambridgeshire that you are in for an easy swimrun. As Keen As Mustard Nene Park delivered all you could ask of a swimrun and much more. 13 runs and 12 swims packed a punch for the 21km course and if that wasn’t for you, the 5km and 10km events also had plenty to offer with both lake and river swims.  

What a flattish course may lack in technical ascents and cliff jumps, it made up for in fast run sections and multiple transitions. And thanks to heavy rainfall on that particular day, we had a special treat in store: a river running faster than normal.

We should have known better when race director Chelsey talked of a ‘splash’ section. In my mind this was a babbling brook, shallow enough for us to gaily skip through laughing and grinning. In Peterborough, ‘splash’ is clearly local slang for a raging torrent of water strong enough to make standing upright tricky, let alone swimmable. As I gladly grabbed Paul’s hand of help to be hauled across the river, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the hilarity of it all and realised that for me this is what swimrun is all about. Being out in the great outdoors, doing things that make you smile because they seem a little bit ridiculous and sharing that with others.

There wasn’t much let up on the runs as we crisscrossed the beautiful parkland of Ferry Meadows, complete with bemused families cheering us on, while at other times it felt like we were out in the wilds as we ran alone along twisty tree lined trails by the River Nene or ran through meadows tall with grasses.

Back in the river, the fun continued with sections of swimming upstream, with many a swimmer launching themselves into the full flow of the Nene only to find themselves making no headway or worse still, going backwards. In these conditions, fitness is one thing, but sly dog judgement of the river is another. Tucking into the riverbank where the flow was least made all the difference even if it did mean the odd wrangle with a water lily. Any closer and we could have got out and walked. But it wasn’t all bad as the strong flow made for welcome swooshes on the downstream sections and both were such a contrast to lake swims when all you had to was think about swimming.

3 hours later, tired but happy, we crossed the finish line to the cheers of the crowd and as usual, I reflected on what had made this swimrun so good. Of course, a fantastic teammate, a beautiful location and a pair of race directors who know how to create an exciting course make the difference. But take a glance as I did, at the full entry list and you will see that what an extraordinary swimrun offers is greater than the sum of its parts, greater than the above. In the case of Nene Park, this was access to swimrun.

Of 134 competitors, 116 were soloists spread across the 5, 10 and 21km distances. Only 6 teams entered the 21km. Numbers like these speak volumes for the desire for solo events and shorter distances.  They make it easy for beginners to have a go, make it straightforward for people without teammates to take part, make it fun for those wanting short courses.  And whilst I personally love a long course, let me roam the fells of the Lake District attached to my partner by a length of elastic for hours, kind of swimrun, I also think for the sport to grow in the UK we need to develop our own version of the sport. Who knows what that looks like yet but I do know that events which draw people into the sport make it better for all of us. With Ötillö recently announcing its World Championship is now open to single competitors, it certainly looks like solo and short course events have their place. So, whatever your flavour of swimrun, short or long, fast or slow, flat or hilly, team or solo it is all swimrun. Get stuck in.

Jude is an England Athletics Trail Running Coach, a STA Open Water Swimming Coach and an experienced swimrunner. Put this all together and you have someone who loves coaching others to swimrun. Follow her on Instagram @Runsurreyhills or go to www.runsurreyhills.com for more info.