SwimRun Holy Island 2021
Updated: Nov 24
Race Report – September 2021
Anglesey is an island just off the mainland North West coast of Wales easily accessible by car over a short toll free bridge. It’s beautiful, rugged coastline, full of little coves and sandy beaches lends itself perfectly to be the home of an annual swim run event called “Love SwimRun Holy Island”.
You can enter the event as an individual or a team of two. We entered as a team, choosing the longer of the two distances on offer. The full distance route begins at Southstack Lighthouse and you basically run and swim your way all the way down the coast to Rhoscolyn. It involves seven runs and six swims, with the longest run just under 6k and the longest swim around 800m, you cover a total of 23k. This distance is very achievable for a first timer and challenging enough for those experienced to push themselves to race for a decent time. The shorter distance has less swims and run transitions but joins a similar route to the full distance just starting a bit further down the coast and cutting a bit off the end while still allowing all the competitors to finish at the same end point. It is a great format, and it works having the two distances running together.
While Adrian had completed SwimRun events before I hadn’t, but I really fancied having a go and so we signed up without giving it too much thought. I suppose as a team we are not well matched as Adrian runs considerably faster than me and swims a bit quicker. However, I knew I could keep up in the swim and Adrian was happy to run at my pace and just enjoy taking part.
We originally signed up for the 2020 event but then covid hit which meant a delay for us to 2021. Covid restrictions also meant our regular swim training went out of the window too and it was only really a few months before the event that we started swimming again in our local Lake to get some sort of swim fitness back. We are really luck to live so close to a lake that offers swimming and one that has a natural run route around, this is perfect for practicing swim run transitions and testing out our swimrun wetsuit.
On the morning of the event parked up and ready to go!
In terms of specific kit we purchased for this event, we bought a swim run shortie wetsuit but made do with old trainers, which we just about got away with on the day. The trainers were okay for running in but a little slippery as the grip on the tread was fairly gone, however, swim run shoes are a bit expensive and we did not feel the need to make the investment. The swim run specific Zone 3 wetsuit was a good purchase (we bought the entry level ones and got them on sale for a good price), although we did cut the legs up a bit as we both felt our knees being covered was restrictive to run in and after we cut them up they were great. We also bought a couple of soft bottles which are easy to stash in our wetsuits and fill up on route and a whistle, which is a mandatory kit requirement.
The LoveSwimRun event organisers are big on being environmentally friendly which we loved. This means you take your own cup or soft bottle with you as no single use cups are available at feed stations and you have to make sure your kit is spotlessly clean before you take part (shoes need to be scrubbed and wetsuits rinsed) this helps to protect the natural environment and lessens the overall impact of the event. Kudos to the event organisers for this important attention to detail.
Group shot at the start of the race!
As we were entered as a team the rules state you must stay within 100 metres of each other on land and 10 meters or so of each other in the sea. Lots of competitors tether together to help with this rule and we thought we would practice swimming with a tether however, after a few attempts which saw us get horribly tangled up in it (and I almost drowned Adrian) we abandoned the idea. We also decided not to bother with hand paddles or swim buoys as it just felt too much of a faff for us to carry them and we did not regret any of these decisions on the day.
On the morning of the race, we parked up near the Village Hall in Rhoscolyn which is both the finish for the event and Race HQ. All competitors are transported up to the start line by coach, this was no mean feat for the drivers as those tight country lanes were difficult enough to drive a car up but for us competitors it was good to sit back, relax and actually a nice, chilled way to get to the start the event.
We got off the coach just before the Lighthouse and walked a few meters up the hill to the start line. It was breezy but sunny and the weather forecast was looking okay too, everyone seemed to be in good spirits and smiling. There were lots of people competing as a team and plenty first timers too. There was a group photo, a final race brief and we were off.
The race starts with a steep, fast downhill followed by a lovely open coastal 5k trail run to the first swim entry point.
Steep downhill from the start, lovely view of the route ahead we are about to swim and run around
I was feeling a bit warm in my wetsuit (I had put a tri suit underneath which in hindsight might have been a bit too much clothing) and glad to get into the first swim. Before the event began I had been nervous about the first two swims as they go out around a headland point and then back in. I am a confident swimmer, but the open sea is something that I am always cautious of however, I need not have been worried as the sea state was calm and the swims are short relative to what we are used to doing. Adrian was leading and I was on his heels (literally touching his trainers!). We had agreed I would swim on his right since he only breathes out of his right side and it meant he could easily keep an eye on me. We swam really well together and seemed to power round that first swim getting to the beach with no issues. Our plan was to keep going as soon as we hit the shore, get running quick and not hang around to avoid getting cold. It worked well, we found our run legs quickly and were off.
Exiting from a swim
The next swim had a bit of a clamber down a steep cliff edge before entering a cove but lots of Marshals were on hand to help. There was a photographer at the water’s edge here, and we stopped for a quick pose before setting off again.
Posing for pictures!
I was really enjoying the swim now. Adrian was doing a great job of sighting and I was keeping up well. We hit the next beach much sooner than I expected and again straight out and off and running again.
The next few swims were across bays with a few rocky entry points all helpfully marked out by marshals. We found we were getting into our groove well and really enjoying the swims and transitions.
Me belly flopping into the swim and Adrian patiently waiting for me to get in!
The coastal landscape does take your breath away and the running sections are definitely made easier by the beauty of the surroundings. I started to lead some of the swims with Adrian leading the run. There was one final longish run before the last swim and at that point I did think to myself I am feeling a bit tired now, so we both sucked down a gel to give us a wee bit of caffeinated energy before the last push home.
The sun had been shining for most of the race and doing a good job of keeping us warm, although by the last swim it was noticeably clouding over, and I could see Adrian was getting a bit cold. Once out of the last swim our final run took us away from the coast back inland, skirting around a forest through a farm finishing with a short downhill road run back to the Village hall. We pushed on as best we could with the run to the end, I was working hard to keep up with Adrian who was like a puppy on a leash trying to get away and over the finish line.
A very, warm welcome awaited us, with plenty of drinks and food on hand to help us all get some much-needed calories back in quickly. By 2pm most of the competitors were finished and the award ceremony commenced. We enjoyed sitting in the sun clapping the podium winners. There were some lovely raffle prizes for everyone on offer too.
During the event, we overtook quite a few people in the swims and the runs, which we always find quite motivating and even although we had absolutely zero expectations about our placing for the event, we were pleasantly surprised to finish 5th in the mixed team category.
Overall, I would highly recommend this race. It is a small, friendly, well organised, with good pre-race briefings, very well marshalled and we found plenty of cheers from the locals along the route on the day too. Importantly we felt very safe in the swims, there were plenty safety boats and people on paddleboards looking out for you.
I have already mentioned the environmental aspect of this race and that was seen right through to the lovely wooden finisher medals we all received. I think we may return to do this one again.
All pictures of the race were supplied free courtesy of the event organisers.