700 swimrunners on a large sandy beach. 700m to run, and a buoy 500 further away. Guaranteed melee. Add to that waves and strong tide current, and you’re in for a tough first swim.
Centred around Berck-sur-mer in the North of France, 1h drive from Calais, the Authieman is unique as it passes through the sea, a river, a lake … and a tiny swimming pool at the very end. It’s also a festival atmosphere with 4 distances on offer, a kids swimrun the day before (hence the swimming pool), and a very strong ethos of support of charity and in particular disabled children. Most of the course goes through natural reserves and it is usually forbidden to swim in these pristine areas. It’s a nightmare for the organisers, but a delight for the competitors.
The expected sea chaos didn’t disappoint. Most people drifted right with the tide coming in, and it was very hard to swim back against the current to pass the buoy. Tether were rightly so forbidden for the first swim, and weakest swimmer had a tough time. As soon as we come back with Delphine to the beach that we discover two main components of the day: sand and wind. The beaches are beautiful, soft white sand. Perfect for building sand castles and lay down. Not quite perfect for running! But it’s the same for everybody, and we get on with it.
A front-loaded swim race
The first quarter of the race is heavily swim-orientated, and the rough sea conditions made these long (1km) swims difficult. In particular we arrive to the crossing of a bay, and the current going three quarters front-right is clear to see. The bay is flat with few distinctive features makes it hard to navigate. The jet ski tells us to keep as right as possible. But as much as we soldier on, the tide is pushing use to the left. I can feel that Delphine is not having a great time, but there is no option: if we stop swimming, we go backward. After what seemed an eternity, we landed. I turn around and ask Delphine if she is OK. The answer was as brief ‘No’, followed by a ‘stomach emptying’. A mixture of sea water and seasickness made a tough swim even tougher on poor Delphine. But as a real trooper she is soon ready to move on.
Another tough sea swim after (and another stomach emptying) we arrive to the first feed station. It looks like a military hospital with already tired bodies sitting down, asking anxiously if we had finished with the sea swims. It’s time to regroup, spend, or rather invest, a little bit of time to settle her stomach and get ready for a 8.7km run, largely in dunes and sand. Slowly Delphine is showing that she is feeling stronger and warm up, when on the contrary I falter, overeating and probably paying for a series of big pulls in the swims.
Eventually we reach another long swim, but this time along a river. The tide can play many tricks on this course, and the organisers have to deal with it. Depending on the year, sometimes you swim upstream pushed by the tide, sometimes it’s the other way around. Lucky for us we had a nice current pushing us downstream.
A last long run
We both feel better and we are catching up people on the series of short swims and short runs through and around a lake, the third type of environment. But this pleasant section passes too quickly, and we are back running for the longest and final 12.3 km run. I took to remove the top of my wetsuit and feel much better. Delphine is starting to pay for her gastric issues and it’s my turn to push the pace.
More dunes, more sand and we finally see the finish … just in time as I start cramping in both legs! The dive in the swimming pool is the last straw and I finishing leaping. We did it, we managed our respective bad patches, and we do in swimrun, helping each other, stronger as a team than individually.
Note that the swimming pool is not a gimmick. It’s used for a kids swimrun, including the participation of disable children, the charity cause supported by this race.
Will I go back to this race? Definitely. It’s a great location, a course that could be real challenging in spite of its lack of elevation. And where can you swim in 4 different types of water?