HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

SwimRun is the must-do for 2017

Trail Running (UK) - - Contents -

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?

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