Sean reflects on swimrunning tethered to Andy for 5:14:47...
However, before I kick off with the match report I just want to highlight two things...
First, the location. The Isles of Scilly. What a magnificent place that is. Not only is it a completely natural place for an ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series event, but it's also a beautiful place to visit. If you ever get the chance to go there, take it. Great food, great beer, lovely people, incredible scenery and totally chilled. I’m going back on vacation for sure.
And secondly, people. And by that I mean the PH family. Andy has built a fantastic culture at Precision Hydration. We’re only a small group but whenever we’re together it’s a fun, dynamic, supportive, positive, happy place to be. I always look forward to getting together with the team and this time was no different.
At this event we were joined in our house by one of Andy’s co-hosts on The Brick Session podcast, 7 time World Champ Richard Stannard and his racing partner from popular youtube show Global Triathlon Network, Mark Threlfall. They're a pair with pedigree and were in it to win it. They're also lined up to race the World Championship event in the Stockholm Archipelago in September alongside Andy and his partner Paul Newsome of Swim Smooth. That's going to be a great race.
Ok, let's get on with my thoughts on the race...
As those of you who have followed my little story over the past few months will know, this was my first Swimrun event and I had that natural fear + excitement quotient.
There were some impressive human specimens on the start line and it’s an intimidating place to be. When you look at the people around you, you know you’re in for a significant day out. But before we go there, a little preamble.
You’ll remember from the last blog post that I had decided to switch wetsuits to the ARK suit. Well that very nearly didn’t happen. Some shipping delays meant that I didn’t get my hands on it until I was at Exeter airport, literally 30 minutess before I flew off to the Scilly Isles!
You’ll also remember that Andy and I had, up until this point, never done a specific Swimrun training session together. So on the Friday morning — two days before the race — all that got tested. On went the suit and all the other kit I would be using and Andy, Jonny and myself headed off on a recce.
Of course, the default wisdom is never leave anything like this too close to race day but I’m happy to say it went off without a hitch. We swam, we ran, we communicated, it worked. I’d like to extend this bit and tell you of our drama but there just wasn’t any.
On the Saturday Andy and Jonny raced the "Sprint" event, 12.5km of running and 3km of swimming. They nailed it, coming in third overall and as second Men's team. They were beaten to second place by a Canadian team no less, better still they were from my home town of Vancouver. I need to give them a shoutout and many kudos. They had literally arrived on the Friday night and - jet-lagged - they decided to throw their hat in the ring and go for the double, sprint event and the big job on the Sunday.
On to the big day. The forecast was for cloud, mist and 14C (57F). We wake up to a glorious sunny day with temperature forecasts in the low 20s C. I shouldn't need to point out that this isn’t actually great weather for running 30km in a wetsuit...
Nutrition in (and in my case, that'll be the subject of another blog post in a week or so), properly preloaded with PH 1500, Andy and I jogged the 2km down to the start line.
On the start line, the usual nerves kicked in. We’ve got a plan though. We're going to remain tethered throughout (yes, tied together for a 5+ hour endurance event).
Nice and steady off the start and nothing dramatic at all during the race. Just keep it steady and no spiking into the red zone at any point.
The gun goes and off we go.
Of course it’s a fair clip, but we’re comfortable and start moving through the pack very slowly, then there’s a nasty hill which we pace almost perfectly. Eventually we hit the trail that takes us down to the shoreline and we follow the people in front of us and go down the wrong trail. In the 60 seconds or so it takes us to backtrack we lose all the position we have gained. However, this is when I knew it was going to be a good day, we both shrugged it off immediately, put it behind us and got back in the zone...
Into the water for the first swim, 2km over to Tresco Island. For me, that swim was the most difficult section of the whole day. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm during the swim and at about the two-thirds point, the pack we were in (about 30 people) all hit a massive bank of seaweed. We all ground to a halt, it was like swimming through mud.
We eventually reach shore, then it’s a short run before we're back in the water for another 1.5km swim. This was a much better swim for me, but by the time I got out I was ready to be done with swimming for a while. At this point, I think we were sitting around 30th overall.
Then we’re really into it. Running, swimming, running, etc. You know how it is in these kinds of endurance events. As soon as you’re in it, you’re focused and literally just dealing with that particular moment.
We just kept it going and slowly started moving through the pack. However, sitting at the back of our minds — and I’m sure everyone else’s — was the obstacle of the last swim. A 2.5km stretch in cold water with 4 hours of fatigue already locked in...
The lead into that last swim was a beautiful trail run around the back of St. Martin’s Island and we were both checking off pairs of runners all the way along the course. The downside of that was we were starting to overheat in our kit, so by the time we entered the water for that final swim, we were actually happy to be there.
I’d been thinking about that final swim for weeks. I was actually quite scared of it. On the day though, by chance, I never managed to clear my goggles. They were steamed up to the max, so for 2.5km I could barely see 3 feet in front of me. I just followed the tether that was attached to Andy and plugged away.
I figured that when he stopped swimming we would be there so I just plodded on. I definitely began to fade at the end of the swim and that’s where the tether came in, Andy could take up the slack and instead of me slowing down significantly we just slowed down a little. It turns out that this swim sector was our fastest swim of the day. Bonus!
Out of the water to meet a hot cup of sweet tea. Oh joy!
Then, off we went on the final 7.5km run. For the past hour we'd been quietly battling with a Swedish team and a French team, both of them faster than us on the swim but then we would peg them back on the run. They had a minute or two on us, so we went on the hunt...
We caught both teams in the first 2km but the Swedish team was persistent, we passed them but they just sat on. And herein lies another advantage of being tethered...
Andy is a superb runner, so up the little hills he would crank it and I would be pulled over the top and snap back to him! Each time we would put a few seconds into our chasing pair and eventually we opened out a solid gap.
We were strong on that final run. We passed the Team Precision Hydration UK Mixed Team of Rhian and Ben Martin (who came 2nd in their category despite an injury-plagued start to the year!) with about 1km to go and cruised it into the finish line.
When I started training for this back in February I would've just been happy to finish, even happier to finish around 5:30. As it turns out, we came in as 10th male pair, 13th Overall in a time of 5:14:47!
Then I drank a lot of beer.
Thanks to Andy for pulling me around, the PH team for the great times and incredible support, my wife Carole for putting up with all the training, and my main kit providers: Ark for the suit and Inov-8 for some awesome, super-grippy trail running shoes in the X Talon 210s.
And finally, thanks to you, our customers and athletes, thanks for reading and thanks for your support on social media. Good luck with whatever you’re training for this year. I hope you have as much fun achieving your goals as I’ve had...