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Splashing out of Lockdown, by Mind Over Mountains trustee Ali Smith

Splashing out of Lockdown, by Mind Over Mountains trustee Ali Smith

During July, Breca Swimrun launched a series of virtual swimrun challenges for their community, with participants as far as New Zealand taking part. We’re delighted that they chose to support Mind Over Mountains, and raised over £4,000 to help us deliver our Reconnection Rambles.

Our trustee and GB age group triathlete Alison Smith took the plunge and kindly shared her experience below:

When I heard that Breca Swimrun were launching a lockdown virtual challenge in aid of Mind Over Mountains I didn’t have to think long about whether to sign up.  Swimrun is exactly what it says, a combination of swimming and running, in some of the world’s most picturesque outdoor spaces, where competitors switch between land and water multiple times during the race, running in their wetsuits and swimming in their trainers, often completing a point to point journey.  I love running (most of the time), I love outdoor swimming, and I certainly love a challenge, so it had to be the Beowulf, which was the longest of the challenge options: 10 run legs and 9 swim legs, totalling 100 km across land and water. I’ve seen the stunning Breca events before but never built up the courage to do one. I loved the imagery of the Beowulf route and the very specific distances which gave me something extra to think about in the challenge.  The virtual challenge was slightly different to a normal swimrun in that the legs did not have to be completed consecutively, so I was very thankful not to be running in my wetsuit!

Lockdown had been a bit of a mixture for me, I’d enjoyed running on trails from my front door that I had never explored previously and also enjoyed the break from racing and just running for the love of it again.  I’d also enjoyed getting out on traffic free roads on my bike, and generally feeling as though I had more time for these activities, particularly once restrictions started to ease.  I was still working, but from home, and, without the commute, I found I had extra flexibility to either get out in the mornings before work, or in the early evening.  However, I had missed focussed training both running and swimming (although swimming is definitely not my strength I do love getting out into the open water), so the virtual swimrun seemed like a perfect opportunity – multiple distances to complete at times to suit me – and the objective of trying to go quickly if I could. 

swimmer adjusting goggles in river with trees and blue sky beyond

I must confess, I did somewhat underestimate the Beowulf. Thinking I had loads of time I suddenly realised I was 2 weeks in and had only done about 3 of the 10 runs and 2 of 9 swims.  The weather had swung wildly from scorching hot to driving rain and back again.  The driving rain had meant my local river (the Wharfe in Otley in my home county of Yorkshire, pictured above) was unswimmable so that had definitely curtailed my swimming, and the scorching sunshine had meant my runs were scheduled for early mornings, which is not a time that my legs like to move rapidly (unless it is to the kettle)!

I managed a couple of swims in the river and in a nearby lake but I was lucky enough once the lockdown eased to get away to the Lake District for a few days.  Swimming in Loughrigg Tarn is the most beautiful experience, surrounded by the fells you feel as though you are miles from everywhere and everything, the distances were a pleasure to complete (although due to my slightly relaxed attitude earlier in the event I did have to squeeze in the last 2 shorter distances back to back on the last day of the challenge)!  I also learnt that it is not easy to measure a precise distance when open water swimming, the swans must have wondered what I was doing as I stopped, looked at my watch, splashed a few more metres, looked at my watch again… I’m surprised no-one jumped in to rescue me"!

Somehow the running felt tougher, I think it was because I had not focussed on moving quickly since lockdown (and possibly also due to the additional baking I had been doing).  Plus, finding a flat(ish) route in Yorkshire is not easy, even routes I thought were flat were surprisingly hilly.  I’m a bit of a diesel engine where running is concerned, with only one pace, so I loved the mix of distances.  I particularly loved the 2km run – I would never normally run such a short distance.  There were some particularly bemused walkers as I jogged up one of the hills in the Langdale Valley, admiring the views, until the road levelled out, and then turned and pelted back past them full gas.

I have to say that this challenge was just about perfect for me – enough of a challenge to make it tough, enough time to make it stress-free, and an encouragement to get out and (in the case of running) try to speed up and (in the case of swimming) just get back out there again and into the water.  An added and unexpected bonus for me was finishing 6th female overall, which is now motivating me to keep up with the training.  The Breca team were an absolute pleasure to deal with – thanks to Anna for answering my countless questions. As someone that experiences and values the positive impact of being in the outdoors on physical and mental well-being (be it running, walking, cycling or swimming), I feel pleased and proud to be able to help others do the same. 

Now, the only choice for the next challenge is… Beowulf’s Revenge or the Amazon challenge?!

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