Luke Moseley shares his experience with is long standing friend Chris. Two very experienced and successful endurance athlete but relatively new to swimrunning.
Swimrun brings together an eclectic mix of athletes; from the racing-snakes to the weekend-warriors, and the sport welcomes everyone with the promise of an adventure and a challenge. The 2018 Breca Coniston epitomised this philosophy, with a challenging and beautiful course and water temperatures that didn’t encourage hanging about. The Lake District really is a great venue for swimrun. The lakes themselves are clean and beautiful, the trails and hills are challenging and the Breca crew put on a well-organised race with well-signed routes and good water safety cover.
Since the sport of swimrun is so young we all stand on the start line with different histories and different ideas of what it means to prepare and race. I’ve been an endurance athlete since I was 10, racing mountain bikes and road bikes; completing in triathlons, running races, ultras and multisport and while I’ve loved the solo aspect that these sports give I never had the chance to discover how much fun it is to race with a team-mate… and it is fun! Despite being friends for 20 years Chris and I still had a lot to learn about each other and it seems the best way to do that is to tie yourselves together and run into a lake. When you’ve got an ice-cream headache you quickly find out if your motivation to continue is strong enough, and whether your partner shares that motivation.
The early start and the clear night gave us completely still water with a layer of fog and the short 50m first run meant the first swim was a crowded affair. The swim exit was marked with a strobe light so there was no problem navigating despite the fog and it was a beautiful swim, every stroke cutting into flat water, feeling like that first length of an empty pool when there isn’t the smallest ripple to upset your stroke. In 2017 Chris and I had a surprisingly good finish, we’d started with the expectation just to push ourselves and ended with the realisation that we could be really competitive. That meant that the lead up to the race this year felt different, both of us putting pressure on ourselves to perform as well as we knew we could, and this pressure meant we felt like we should try to control the race from the start. We exited the water 50m down on the leaders and pushed to hold them on the 2 km road linking section to the second swim. At this point things became a bit dynamic, the fog had descended further, the water safety team made the call to cancel the second swim, and the message only just made it to the transition as we arrived with the small front group. After a bit of confusion order was restored and the resulting longer 1st run put us under pressure, flat road runs don’t suit us and our desire to keep in touch with the team in 1st place meant both of us were burning matches all over the place. I was concerned that we really needed to settle down to a place where we were comfortable and could grind it out. Luckily I was racing with Chris, and he doesn’t really think like that, so we pushed harder on a steep off-road section and had a gap into the second swim.
From this point we just got on with it. There was some running and some swimming and the photos show I didn’t smile much, but it is such a brilliant feeling to be working as hard as you can, totally focused on not letting your teammate down, managing the little things like your own personal admin as well as monitoring your own energy levels and keeping an eye on your buddy and the needs of the team. We were moving well and were still able to soak up the image of the fog hanging over the lakes as we climbed up away from the water. I remember looking at my watch after two hours in total amazement, if I’d had been asked how long we’d been racing I’d have put it at about 20 minutes.
This all changed when the second place team caught us after the long run. Chris and I looked at each other and realised that we’d really need to work if we wanted to win and at that point the experience changed. Not better or worse, just different. No more looking at the view or revelling in the moment, just pure type 2 fun. Our conversations became business-like and we worked to get the best out of ourselves and each other, taking any opportunity to get out of sight of the other team and planning ahead for tethering opportunities or chances to make better time.
There’s no other way to describe the last 4 swims other than cold, our plan to wear as little neoprene as we thought we could get away with was paying dividends on the runs where our transitions were fast, but the longer swim sections were draining and as we got tired generating enough heat to keep warm became difficult. We also started to tether on the run as I started to crack Chris pulled me up the final 150m ascent and into the final couple of swims. In the final swim we decided I’d lead for the first time, give Chris a bit of recovery time and so he could tow us for the final 2 km to the finish. It didn’t go well; our tether was the right length for a 185 cm person with long arms to tow a 175cm person with short arms, not the other way round. After about 100m of Chris basically swimming on top of me we sorted ourselves out and normal service (Chris in front) ensued.
The final 2km is best described as draining, running scared as we knew we were both physically cracking but also the magnetic attraction of the finish was drawing us in, drip feeding the confidence that we could hold the pace needed to come home first. Ultimately we made it and we made it because we worked and pushed and ground it out, and in doing so winning felt different, different because it was something that neither of us could have managed by ourselves. And it felt better because of it.
Credit photo copyright Breca
Luke Moseley is co-founder of Real Endurance Coaching. ereHHe helps passionate endurance athletes achieve their dreams. He also teaches maths, eats porridge everyday and falls off his mountain bike too often. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Goodfellow is sponsored by Drag2Zero and is Director of Advent Research Materials. He also wears flip flops throughout winter, eats everything in sight everyday and falls off his road bike too often.