In only its second year, the Breca Buttermere SwimRun around the Lake District of northwest England was a sell-out. Only 17 teams took part in last year's inaugural race, but this year 93 adventure-seeking endurance twosomes took on 17 alternating legs of swimming and running. The course is demanding and harsh, but journeys through a picturesque chunk of county Cumbria. The race organization chartered the entire Buttermere Youth Hostel to house most of the participants, and the pre-race vibe was hectic but social. One competitor jokingly noted that, “This place looks like there is a convention of some weird cult going on!”
Although England is comprised largely of flat terrain, that is not true of Buttermere. It is an entirely English landmass, located 910 meters above sea level in the craggy Lakeland National Park. This place is a perfect playground for SwimRun racers, combining distinctive green hills with numerous lakes of varying sizes. Even though the sport of fell (trail) running is gaining popularity in this area, duos jogging around the remote country roads with wetsuits and flotation devices are still a rare sight.
As usual for this part of the world, the weather was miserable, both leading up to race day and on the day of the race. As the wind picked up, teams lined up in front of the hostel and were directed to the first swim section across Buttermere Lake. Sporadic spells of sunlight permitted quick views of the splendid Fleetwith and Haystacks summits on the south side of the lake. The field spread out straight away, and last year's winning team Clapham Bruderwunderz was first out of the water after the icy 600-meter opening swim.
During the first trail and off-trail segments, it became apparent that the racers would get wet feet even on land. Strong winds and rain showers also made for choppy and difficult-to-navigate swim segments. Swim distances ranged from 400 and 1,000 meters. Run segments on timeworn country roads and craggy footpaths treated runners to sheep and cow gates to be hurdled over or scrambled under.
After 30 kilometers of swimming and running, the first three teams were within 15 minutes of each other as they approached the highlight of the course, the ill-famed Honister Pass. Over a distance of about 1 kilometer, competitors faced 576 meters of elevation gain and grades up to 25%. The stunning views on top of the pass were almost completely obscured by the severe weather conditions, which continued to worsen throughout the day. Running across the ridge towards Dale Head, teams faced hefty winds, hail and rain. “Weather wise that was a pretty miserable day. The good thing is that you are out there with a friend. It is easier to suffer when you are with someone. You just don’t want to let your friend down,” said Alan Scott (half of the winning team Clapham Bruderwunderz) as he took a big sip of beer at the finish line. Scott and his teammate Hamish Cropper won this event for the second year in a row and set new course record of 05:41:20.
After 6km of swimming and 38km of trail running, combined with 1,900 meters of vertical ascent, the SwimRun teams crossed finish line at the Buttermere Youth Hostel where race director Ben De Rivaz greeted each participant with a cold can of beer. Knut Baadshaug of the third placed team The German Sparkle Party summed it up: “You know you are in for a hard day's work when you sign up for this race. But it is impossible not to enjoy this expedition through the fells!”
Athletes face striking but icy 6 km of lake swimming.
At all times it is worth to share smiles and positive energy. A cheerful Alan Scott faces rain and wind with smiles!
That was a tough but beautiful day!
The finish line beers taste even better when you are first across the line. The victorious Clapham Bruderwunderz re-hydrate in style.
What a gorgeous SwimRun playground.
The German Sparkle Party en route to the next swim segment.
The terrain offered many challenging sections.
Scrambling up a section with a positive attitude.
Racers from all over Europe assembled in front of the Buttermere Youth Hostel.
No words needed.
After a longer swim a racer looks forward to get some running in, or is simply happy to be closer to the finish.
And when the running gets boring… Well, you know that there will be another swim section anytime soon.
Breca Buttermere 2016 Results
1. Clapham Bruderwunderz (Hamish Cropper & Alan Scott) 5:41:20
2. British Military Fitness Race Team (Ross Macdonald & Rob Smyth) 6:00:00
3. The German Sparkle Party (Markus Rössel & Knut Baadshaug) 6:10:20
1. Team Axolotl (Abey Lawrence & Robyn Hawxby) 7:11:50
2. Jewson Jewels (Samantha Anderson & Sophie Edge) 08:22:38
3. D&G (Chrysothemi Spiliopoulou & Grace McGlen) 08:45:37
1. Ben&fliss (Benjamin Bussman & Felicity Hannon) 6:47:20
2. Team Tallås (James Pratt & Helene Pratt) 07:03:45
3. NOTIMETOLOUS (Louis Wyness & Louise Hanley) 07:13:40
All pictures: wildmanmitchell.com