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Photo Credit: Wildman Media

How does it feel to do your first swimrun challenge a year after having a baby? From buggy training to running in a wetsuit, former Team GB age group triathlete, duathlete and aquathlete, Sami Anderson, talks us through her experience of doing the brilliantly challenging Breca Buttermere Swimrun last year.

Triathlon, duathlon… swimrun?
I’m always looking for new challenges and something different. I think I first saw a post about the Breca Buttermere swimrun on Facebook. It was so far out of my comfort zone so I was almost hoping it would shock me back into action as I’d had a year off training to have my son.

There was just something so unknown about swimrun that, for me, it was far more exciting than any other endurance events I’ve done. The event totalled 6km of swimming and a marathon of running, and would take place in July, a year away, in the Lake District.

With the terrain being so extreme, the lakes so vast, the added element of having a partner, the aspect of swimming in trainers and running in your wetsuit; it all made it so new and different! Would we enjoy it? Would we finish it? How would we train for it? I saw it almost as a little project and factored in ‘research’ time as part of my training to read kit reviews and so on, so that I could be as prepared as possible. With other events, training reflected what I was capable of, and I could race to an effort or power level, but that wasn’t true of the swimrun. It was more about me and my partner, Sophie, against the elements… a battle of the wills!

October: Beginning swimrun training… and buggy comes too
My swimrun training was very different to my competitors’. I’d just had my son, Bobby, when I entered the event and I’d given myself 12 months to get fit enough for it. This may sound like ample time, but I couldn’t run for the first 3 months after his birth. So when I was back running (9 months to race day!) I walked/jogged my first 5km in 42 minutes and remember feeling so overwhelmed by the task ahead.

So I stripped away all outcome-based goals and instead decided to start enjoying the journey. I did so much buggy running and walking that in hindsight it was a wonderful part of my training. Especially pushing Bobby up the hills of Wyre Forest, as it was simply ‘time on my feet’. I also started to instruct on Buggyfit classes – perhaps not your typical swimrun training session, but it helped me to tone up and get strong again. Some of the mums and I would meet separate to that, and park our buggies together and take it in turns to do interval training. As we wanted to maximise the most of our time, we incorporated a lot of hills to ensure we got out of breath very quickly!

December: increasing my running distance
By December I was up to running 10 miles and ran an off-road trail run in Brecon Beacon with my partner Sophie and another friend Jess, and then by March I’d got my 5km time back to 20 minutes (20:35 to be exact). At that point, I decided to start swimming again (with a baby, I’d only had enough brain capacity to focus on one sport at a time!). So March saw a few pool swims and then two months later I was back in the open-water.

It wasn’t until May that the real swimrun training started. Given that the event was on 2nd July, this didn’t give me much time to put it all together. I’d been running to and from the indoor pool, which I then translated to running to and from the lake. I also started to swim and run much shorter distances as the event approached I.e. a mile run straight into a 500m swim and repeat; this was brilliant training and allowed me to get used to the transition between the two.

As my partner Sophie lived over an hour away we never trained together and when comparing notes on WhatsApp our training was very different! There’s no one size fits all; it’s whatever is right for you.

Breca Buttermere swimrun: The big day arrives!
When the day of the swimrun came, I remember everyone else being so nervous but I was just so excited to give it a go and put it all together. The furthest I’d run in training was 11 miles so there was something exciting about race day to see if we could pull it off – the running totalled a marathon distance!


Photo Credit: Wildman Media

The event itself, in the Lake District, was brilliantly organised. I loved how it wasn’t commercialised or spoilt with big signs or buoys – there was just some sawdust arrows on the floor every 200m that you had to spot, and other than that it was just you and your partner with a compass, whistle and an awful lot of hope! I liked the simplicity of the event as there were no triathlon-style transitions or faffing. Being out in the wilderness was also fabulous; at times you felt like you were the only person in the Lake District. It was amazing!

Open-water swim struggles
Sophie and I had said we’d be happy if we could make it to half-way round (we didn’t expect to finish). By the time we got to the second lake (early on, with probably another 6 hours to go) the marshals told us we were the second ladies team. That was it, my competitive side came out. It was no longer a mindset of We’ll just try to get to half-way, it was now We’re coming second and that’s where we’re going to stay! Sophie and I still laugh about that, as anything could have happened over the next 6 hours.


Photo Credit: Wildman Media

As the weather was so bad (typical for July in the UK!) it made for some really choppy swims. Sophie and I had a tow-rope that we used for the first time on the first swim, but I found my watch and arm kept getting tangled up in it (Sophie was leading the swim out). I figured I’d be able to sit on Sophie’s feet without the tow-rope so we decided not to use it for swim two. Worst decision ever! Sophie’s feet (trainers) just disappeared and the choppiness of the lake from the bad weather made it incredibly hard.

I struggled just to tread water as I tried to sight Sophie and shout her back. It was like that moment in Cast Away when Tom Hanks loses Wilson! As the other swimmers swam past us, Sophie tried for ages to reconnect us with the tow-rope so she could literally pull me to shore. It was only after that swim that I appreciated how hard she was working and that she was literally dragging me along! We hugged it out on shore, vowing to always stay connected with the tow-rope – and then quickly remembered we were in second place and got going again.

A podium finish!
In the end we did it – we were the second ladies team to cross the line! It took us 8 hours and 22 minutes and we managed to finish over 20-minutes ahead of third place, which was incredible.


Photo Credit: Wildman Media

The Breca Buttermere swimrun was absolutely amazing. Without a shadow of a doubt it’s the best event I have ever done. That night after the race, when all my friends were struggling to walk, I was on Google looking for the next swimrun event and seeing if we could realistically get flights to Ireland a month later to take part in another Breca swimrun event out there. As it transpired, we couldn’t squeeze it in so I haven’t entered another swimrun event since then. I absolutely want to do one, but the Breca experience was also so magical I want to make sure that whatever we enter next can match and live up to that dream!

Swimrun after a baby
I hope that I’ve demonstrated that I wasn’t this uber athlete that just bounced back after having a baby. It took a lot of time; both training time and recovery time to get fit, making sure I listened to my body. I focussed purely on the run first – park runs, buggy runs, social runs with friends to help build up the distance before then focussing on the swimming, but that’s only because I was short of time. If you’re able to swim now, get in the pool and start enjoying your training. Now the summer months are coming, why not run to and from the pool? I have no doubt that people would enjoy the swimrun challenge; it gives you a real sense of achievement and a buzz! Choose a friend you can enjoy the experience with and see the training as part of the challenge. Be innovative and creative. There’s no right or wrong way to train for these things.

SAMI’S SWIMRUN TIPS

TRAINING IN YOUR GEAR
Swimming in trainers was really weird at first, but it didn’t take long to get used to it. Running in the wetsuit I found really difficult in training because I hadn’t cut it at that stage (with swimrun wetsuits it’s up to you to cut the arms/legs to suit you). I was so scared about cutting away hundreds of pounds worth of wetsuit that I waited until the night before the event!

This might have actually been a good tactic as on race day it felt much easier! However, I don’t recommend it. I also unzipped mine a little at the front on every run, just so my chest wasn’t restricted. If you’re going to really invest in a good bit of kit, I’d recommend that you get the right swimrun wetsuit for you. Also, we kept it simple and didn’t go for hand paddles or pullbuoys – but whatever you decide to use, make sure you train with it first and get confident in your equipment.

OUR SWIMRUN KIT
Sophie and I both had a HUUB amphibia wetsuit which was brilliant. We didn’t try any others but from our research this one came well recommended. In terms of trainers I researched so many swimrun specific trainers but I just couldn’t find any that felt comfortable enough. I decided comfort was key so just bought a normal pair of Asics trainers for £25 in the sale! Everything else we kept really simple (another thing I loved about how we raced the event). Unlike other pairs we didn’t go for pullbuoys, or hand paddles, or hydration packs or anything else. The only thing extra to the essential kit was our tow-rope (thank God!).


Photo Credit: Wildman Media

COMPETING WITH A PARTNER
I partnered with my friend Sophie. We both ride for Team Jewson-M.I racing (cycling being my strength didn’t help too much in this event!) and we’ve known each other for over 10 years. What we did have in common at the time of training was that we were both super busy – I was a new mum and Sophie was in her first year of teaching – so I loved how neither of us had put any pressure or expectation on the other. We were just grateful for each other’s support and the opportunity to race together. I’m a fairly strong swimmer but Sophie is stronger than me, and I’m stronger than her on the run, and this worked really well.

TIPS FOR SWIMRUN FIRST-TIMERS

Familiarise yourself with open-water swimming
Open-water swimming is a different kettle of fish to pool swimming. Although I was training for this race from a place of no baseline fitness, it’s important to note that I did have years of open-water swimming under my belt and am confident in the open-water. Once you’re confident with this, and you’re confident with your running, then consider entering a swimrun event. The process and the journey of training for the event should feel fun and exciting, it shouldn’t become a stress or a chore so break it down into stages.


Photo Credit: Wildman Media

Don’t do anything new on race day
Having only cut my wetsuit the night before, I realised part-way thought the event that I’d cut it way too short (think tank top and hotpants) and this made for uncomfortable running and chaffage! I’d also say don’t be daunted by the distance or the endurance element… there’s plenty of time to stop at feed stations and refuel so I personally think it’s more important to just get confident between the constant change of swim to run and vice versa.

Choose a partner you can be honest with
If you’re struggling, you need to tell them. It’s important to feel confident within your team and feel valued – Sophie and I gave each other so much encouragement, even when we were on our hands and knees crawling up Honistor Pass in a blizzard we were telling each other we were legends! It’s all about positivity!

You can follow Sami on Instagram at www.instagram.com/sama481 and on Twitter via www.twitter.com/samianderson85 or visit Sami’s website at www.tri-energy.co.uk

For more information about Breca Buttermere swimrun visit www.brecaswimrun.com

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