Breca Wanaka 2017
Race Day Tips, March 31, 2017
Breca hosted its first SwimRun event in New Zealand last weekend in Wanaka. Essentially it is a long-distance swim-run event, where teams of two swim and run around the lower section of Lake Wanaka. In total, it involved 8km of swimming, and 42km of trail running. So, how was it?
There is a lot I could discuss here, but I won’t go too much in the details, I will just focus on what worked and how we got on during the race. For me, it was intriguing from the start. As soon as I saw it advertised I was hooked on it: the concept, the scenery, and the new challenge. Rebecca Clarke agreed to join me for this crazy, unknown race. We had no idea what we were doing, how to prepare for such a race, or what equipment to buy / make. In the end, I ended up testing a number of combinations in order to make the swims in run gear and the runs in swim gear faster. For this race, participants are allowed to swim with whatever gear they want, as long as they run with it. Watching all the videos on YouTube, it seemed like everyone was using paddles on the swims to counter for the drag by the shoes in the water, so that seemed like the obvious move. Then the question remained; what to do with the shoes?
After some testing, I decided to go with a dry-bag tied around my hip with the below options:
- Under 200m swim – dry-bag between the legs, use as pull-buoy
- Over 200m swim – put shoes in the dry-bag, and attach it at the hip, providing some buoyancy during the swim.
This seemed like the winning combination. The race started with a 2.6km run. Obviously we felt good here, we knew there was a 200m swim coming, so the plan was just to stay with the front pack. The 200m swim was followed by a 3km run, and this is where we started to think how to transition for the next swim stage, which was an 800m swim. The testing showed that ‘shoes in the dry-bag’ was the fastest way of swimming, but we’d never done a race simulation so we didn’t know whether it would actually work. When we got to the water, we watched everyone else jumping in and swimming away from us as we took our shoes off and put them in the dry-bag. We were the 6th team getting in the water for the 800m section, but we pretty much caught 2 teams around 200m into the swim. We ended up coming out of the water first, and at this stage I knew I made the right decision by putting the shoes in the dry-bag. We put the shoes back on, and we were back in the race.
The swims went on similarly, but then we hit the big one; the 2.5km swim section that led into a 14km run. I was really looking forward to this section, as I thought we could really put the hammer down on the swim here. But this is where the problems started to emerge. First, the water temperature at this section was absolutely ice-cold, which meant that I started to shiver and the cramping started with my toes from around 1000m into the swim. Then the bungee tied to my hip with the dry-bag came loose, so I had to stop half way into the swim and try to tie it up again with my frozen fingers, which took some time.
Then the ice-cold water caused my toes and later my quads to cramp up when I tried to get out of the water on the other side, and I was shivering so hard I could hardly put my shoes back on to start the 14km run. This became an issue from here on as I started to cramp up in the cold water, which made the transitions a real struggle. We were still fast on the swims, but we lost most of the time we gained by really slow transitions and then onto the slow(ish), shivering runs.
However, there was no question we’d finish the race, until the last 800m swim section off Ruby Island. To get to Ruby Island, we had to swim a 1000m section, which made me freeze up again. Normally, a swim would be followed by a decent run, but we ran across the 400m stretch of Ruby Island so quickly that I simply couldn’t warm up. I was still shivering when we got to the last swim section, 800m off Ruby Island. I told Rebecca I simply couldn’t take my shoes off anymore, so we just walked straight in the water. Everything in my body cramped up as I immerged in the ice-cold water for the last time. I was genuinely worried I couldn’t finish that swim. It was an ugly swim to say the least as my legs, and arms felt like pieces of wood, but we somehow managed to get to the other side, where we only had another 800m run to the finish line. We ultimately finished 8th team across the line, and 2nd in the Mixed Category.
Overall, we had a good race, it was a learning experience, which is exactly what a challenge should be about. It was a well-run event without all the marketing and sponsorship ‘fluff’ many other large events have these days, which was refreshing. It was all about the adventure, and about providing an amazing experience to the competitors, which I think they definitely succeeded in. This sport will catch on, and more races similar to this will emerge in the coming years without a doubt.
Thanks to Rebecca for pushing (pulling) me through some really rough times, hopefully we can team up again for another race in the future (maybe a warmer one would suit me better). Also, a huge thanks to Steve for making me test different equipment setups leading into the race.