The seas are too rough, the local ferry won’t run this morning. Yet there we were, dozens of swimrunners lining up in the historic and charming town of Charlestown preparing to go where a ferry dare not: into the wild seas and the unknown. A sense of great excitement was building from a truly international field of swimrunners, along with the usual pre-race rituals, including a final hasty trip to the toilet and checking everything was zipped up. Although windy, glorious sunshine beamed down on us from the heavens above.
The Hokey Cokey Swimrun by Mad Hatter Sports is now in its 6th year and the UK’s longest standing swimrun, an iconic classic along the beautiful verdant green south coast of Cornwall. Little inlets, curved beaches, stony shores and wildflower meadows are the essence of shaking it all about along this picturesque and rugged coastline.
The Hokey Cokey offers two distances, a short course (10km) and a strong course (19km). The long course is technically in the ‘Sprint’ distance category of swimrun, but with almost 30% sea swimming is arguably the world’s toughest sprint course. Such is the joy of swimrun, that distance means nothing on an adventure race dictated by the landscape. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Race Report: Swimrunning In An Ocean Of Solitude
The first swim was a baptism of fire, a short 500m blast out around a buoy and back into the harbour. We burst through the swell, arms rotating furiously. I cursed what I assumed were triathletes who cut my line and swam over me. Then again, this was a race after all and I should probably get faster. This swim did a great job of spreading the field and our run back around Charlestown a chance to settle into a rhythm and think about the race ahead.
The beauty of the swimrun is its point to point nature, travelling where others can’t, swimming far along the coastline and away from safety of land. And this was exemplified by the first big swim, a 1km linear swim across a bay and around another headland. It was invigorating and although not always a great idea, I followed the vivid bright orange swim caps ahead of me and hoped that my fellow swimrunners knew where they were going.
As the race progressed, the field spread and those helpful bright orange swim caps all but disappeared. For most of the final 1700m swim, I could see nothing apart from the grey sea rolling around me and gazing down into the deep. It is a humbling feeling, where you feel small and the world feels big.
The coastal trails were surprisingly hard, steep climbs up where you build plenty of lactic followed by sharp descents. Everyone was blowing. There are a few moments where you are high above the bay and see little ant-sized swimrunners making progress along an impossibly big landscape. Up and down we went, with scrambles across jagged rocks and poundding our way along the soft sands of beaches. The variety was breathtaking, along with the effort required to keep moving forward.
Race Director John Yelland (our interview with him here) was there at the end for the trademark ‘high five’ although he managed to avoid getting a wet swimrun bear hug. We asked what John’s highlight was…he laughed ‘getting through the day!’.
For John, it is so rewarding seeing people who have never done something like this before get to the end. The look of delight on their faces is such a small gesture but the reason he loves doing it. The front teams are impressive, but for him, seeing the last team in who have battled all day to cross the finish line means everything. Despite John’s tough Cornish exterior, it’s clear that gets quite emotional and he cares deeply about the participants.
This is certainly a course for swimmers with long ocean swims and the trails are slow and steady. But actually if you are a weaker swimmer, you will enjoy the adventure of swimming around headlands and across bays along with decent run lengths to recover from the ordeal of sometimes tricky swims. Water safety was solid without feeling overbearing. The whole Mad Hatter team did a tremendous job with a nice relaxed family-friendly vibe and one thing is clear, that Cornwall is a brilliant place for swimrun. Not easy, but will give you an unforgettable experience.
Mad Hatter returns for Roseland, the UK’s only ÖTILLÖ merit race which is ‘twice as hard’ as the Hokey Cokey in July and with a new event around the picturesque Fowey and the Gribbin Head in September.