HOW HARD CAN IT BE?
SwimRun is the must-do for 2017
Silence rings loud in the absence of the hustle and bustle. It’s 2am and the only sound is the dull thunk of the Moot Hall door as you push off, and the tap tap tap of your trail shoes finding their rhythm on the hard-paved surface. Focusing on the spotlight at your feet, you find your pace, pack firmly strapped to your back as you steadily make your way towards the mighty Skiddaw. There’s a long way to go; pace is key. Skiddaw comes and goes; you don’t stop. It’s your first summit of the day and you’re feeling strong. Down, down, down until you pass Bassenthwaite Church and arrive at the edge of the lake. Water’s lapping at your toes and you know you must get in. Swim from Church Bay to Beck Wythop and that’s Leg One complete.
Let us introduce you to the mindboggling challenge known as the Frog Graham Round (FGR). Inspired by the rather more solid fell-running challenge, the Bob Graham Round, the FGR adds a splash of excitement by not only offering over 40 miles of Lakeland fell-running, but swims across four of its lakes: Bassenthwaite Lake, Crummock Water, Buttermere, and Derwent Water. The only rule is that you must reach 25 checkpoints along the way, such as fell-tops or islands in the lakes.
Having completed the Bob Graham Round in his youth, founder Peter Hayes was looking for a new challenge – one where he could really test himself – and so the Frog Graham Round was born. He
‘Derwent Water is a mile across, and although there are three islands along the way, it’s still a mile after 57km of hills.’
admits to thinking of his foray into open-water swimming as a child ‘as an act of bravado’ rather than a proper sport or pastime worth pursuing. Then a few years later he was persuaded to swim in the North Sea by a friend. This was a turning point for Peter; “Instead of puffing and splashing and making a fuss, my friend just calmly swam around smiling and chatting. What a revelation; swimming in cold water could be fun.” Naturally, this meant that swimming would be included in his new challenge, but it made for tough planning: “I wanted the lake crossings to make sense, to feel like part of a natural route rather than an artificial diversion.” This meant more pouring over maps and going through it in great detail, but it certainly helped that he was already familiar with good places for crossing, having swum across each at least three times before linking them all together.
Look before you leap
The concept of the SwimRun is not a new one but has grown hugely in popularity, with more and more races popping up each year. Peter was certainly ahead of the times, and did his first FGR in 2005, one year before what’s seen as the original SwimRun, the Ötillö, was co-founded in Sweden and turned into a commercial race by Michael Lemmel in 2006. The FGR runs on a much lower level, with participants taking part merely to be out in the Lake District and enjoy the experience for itself. Unlike any other SwimRun, and unlike the Bob Graham Round, there is no time limit. It’s not an organised event, and you’re on your own out there.
This means you’re going to need to have a good level of fitness to be able to be safe enough to see the challenge through. Tim Mosedale, a six-time Everest summiteer, recommends that before you attempt your FGR you familiarise yourself thoroughly with the route. You’ll also need to be a good swimmer: “Derwent Water is a mile across, and although you have three islands to stop at along the way, it’s still a mile having done 57km of hills.” Hayes himself said he’d swum each section three times before his own attempt at the FGR.
Jump into the blue
Having completed the FGR twice, Tim explains how he came to hear of it: “I’d started open-water swimming in Keswick and, through this, heard about the FGR. I’d returned to The Lakes in 2014 following an aborted Everest expedition – there was a serac fall [where a large block of overhanging ice breaks off], and 16 sherpas had lost their lives. No two ways about it, the mountain was closed. We all came back empty handed, but I was full of energy, and full of fitness, and I wanted to get my teeth into something, you know? So, I thought, I’ll have a go at this Frog Graham Round I’ve heard about.”
Tim completed his FGR in 15hr 59min – not a bad effort. For his second attempt he changed a couple of things up: the direction he did it in, now running it anti-clockwise, and he chose not to wear a wetsuit. His time increased to 17hr and 43min. The time difference implies the need for a lot of preparation, as even the direction you choose to attempt it will impact on your effort. ‘It’s not about the time,” says Tim. “It’s about doing the event, enjoying it, being selfsupported and having fun in the Lakes.”
Although undoubtedly a tough challenge, this opens the Frog Graham up to many more people, inviting them to go and do it for the sheer enjoyment
‘Exposing yourself to the elements of mountain and water, you’re reliant on adapting to your surroundings.’
of pushing themselves in nature with a tough new challenge. Exposing yourself to the elements of mountain and water, you’re completely reliant on adapting to your surroundings and how kind our temperamental British weather chooses to be. Tim does impress on us that “You also need to be reasonably good with your navigation, and have a bit of mental tenacity and fitness.” So, if you’re not sure how to take a compass bearing, then this is something to work on before you head to the fells.
It pays to be prepared
The importance of needing to recce and plan your FGR becomes evident when starting to consider gear. How do you cross the lakes with all your running gear? Peter admits that this caused some issues for him initially, with his clothes getting stolen when he was in the water, driving him to come up with a solution. His came in the form of his Swimsac, a waterproof pack that he carries in the water. There are now a few options for waterproof packs, which also help to provide visibility when in the water. What works for one person, may not for another, however, and so testing the sections of the route is very important. Peter explains that, as he did it in his early forties, he already had a wellestablished rule to err on the side of caution; “It’s better to take too many clothes than too few.”
The spirit of the challenge is to do it in a self-supported manner, adding a certain excitement to the event. Tim sums it up nicely by saying, “It’s a big day out, but the fact you’re selfsupported, going up mountains, across lakes, is fantastic. It’s really good fun.” We’ll be peeling on our wetsuits and jumping in to this challenge. Will you?