'Long, hilly, packed with cold swims, coastal climbs and even a friendly seal, this swimrun kept on asking of us right to the very end' – Jude Palmer reports on Swimrun Roseland
Billed as the only long course swimrun in the UK this year and as a long-term fan of The Hokey Cokey, we were definitely going to be on the start line of the inaugural Mad Hatters, Roseland Swimrun in Cornwall. We knew it would be an adventure of epic proportions but even with many years of swimrun between us, the ups and downs of the south west coastal path, the unusually cold, water temperatures, jellyfish stings and the big swell pushed us hard. Yet seasickness, broken paddles and tired shoulders paled into nothing compared with the absolute joy of descending cliff faces with ropes, clambering out of the water along knife edges, swimming in crystal clear seas and that feeling of being spine tingly alive doing what we love.
Race Director, John Yelland could barely contain himself the night before when he told us to expect plenty of fun, pain, nettles stings and oh, don’t cross the harbour or you will die. I tend to greet every swimrun with the attitude that we will get to the finish line but even I started to sweat a little and reach for the antihistamines. Pat in the meantime was wishing she has packed her thermal vest.
The course would take us on 38 demanding kilometres from Portscatho northwards up the coastline and end in the beautiful fishing village of Mevagissy. 11 runs and 10 swims in total with the longest swim (2km) and the longest run (8km) being put mischievously at the back end of the course.
As we clipped ourselves together and entered the rain chilled water for the first time at Portscatho and looked across to what seemed to be a sheer cliff face on the other side of the bay, I wondered how we would get out, let alone get on in the race.
Turns out that first scramble up barnacled rock, laughing together as the breaking waves tried to suck us back into the swell set the tone for the whole race. This wasn’t going to be a quick dash across the landscape, this was going to leave an indelible mark on both of us and it was going to be a whole lot of fun.
The running was never flat. It was sandy, pebbly, over rocks slick with seaweed, through dense, head high bracken, along the muddy coastal path where one small lapse in concentration could lead to a trip over the cliff edge. We ran through open fields full of wildflowers, down into secret coves with white sand and past small children slurping on ice cream. If it hadn’t been raining and we weren’t wearing rubber suits and running, it could have been the dream tourist advert for Cornwall.
At Gorran Haven, we emerged as if creatures from the deep, smeared in vibrant green seaweed to the amusement of the early season tourists. I felt pretty queasy at this point and mighty glad to see the stand out blue T - shirt of a marshall and a checkpoint stacked with food. We knew the going was hard but it was here that we saw that others had been finding it harder. Several teams were wrapped in foil blankets having made the smart decision to pull out before the penultimate 2km swim from Colona Beach to Port Mellon.
Running into Mevagissy, we spotted the yellow flag on the opposite side of the harbour and realised the hardest part of the race was coming up. Negotiating our way through the crowed village streets and bemused tourists. From there it was one more swim and, of course it had to be, an uphill run to the finish line.
There is something special about a long course swimrun. I love it for how the teams spread out and you feel left to your own devices, alone except for your partner in the wilderness. I love that you are properly immersed in a landscape, finding the tipping point between enjoying and surviving. Sure, it’s about fitness, strength, how good your running and swimming is, but when you go long it is so much more. Tactics, fuelling, experience, teamwork, staying present, being resourceful, knowing yourself and looking out for others, all play a part.
Roseland Swimrun was a bold swimrun course, set by experienced local swimrunners and Race Directors. It used the landscape to create an exciting, challenging race. This sort of swimrun is what the sport was founded on. Whatever training you have to do, however long it takes you to get there, put one on your list.
As the Cornish would say – Roseland Swimrun – Proper job!
Main image: James street
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.