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Swimrun Coniston Race Report: A Journey Through Lake, Fell & Forest

Mist hangs over the mountains in a foreboding way as the darkness of the night lingers on an early morning in September. There is a quiet babble of chatter and nervous energy in the air, as dozens await the start of the Swimrun Coniston Full Course; a linear 45km route which includes 6.5km swimming in four different lakes and over 1000 metres of climbing. 

Set in the beating heart of the UK’s Lake District, Swimrun Coniston is under the new management of Gritty Rascals Events, who along with the Full Course, offer a Sprint Course (21.1km) and a Short Course (12.3km). 

Gary Pavitt, Director of Gritty Rascals Events reflects on the day ‘We went in at the deep end and Swimrun Coniston was a seriously challenging event to organise – with three concurrent races on an A to B route covering nearly 50kms. I really wanted to speak to all the finishers at the end having been in contact with so many people ahead of the race and I was genuinely excited to finally meet them in person and celebrate with them, sadly it just wasn’t possible to greet everyone but know that we are all delighted with your efforts

Crossing Coniston Water

Back to the start of the Full Course and a 40m dash from the start and we are off into the first swim. The water feels cold as our bodies adjust the temperature of Coniston Water. A relatively deep lake in places and made famous by Donald Campbell’s ill-fated last attempt to set the water-speed record. Little blobs or orange from tow floats dot the water ahead and occasional dark shapes of swimmers appear to the side and disappear just as quickly. The world condenses into a few metres around you of green coloured but clear water. 

And we settle into a rhythm of the early part of the race which crosses Coniston Water, three times over. Crossing a body of water is a wonderful yet exposed feeling, you are a small speck in a massive place. The lake feels eerie this morning, as if the ghost of Campbell’s past is watching over us where the spirit of adventure is required by all of us making these crossings. Coniston Water is a joy, and the course keeps getting better and better as we make our way along this five mile lake. 

Grizzly Grizedale Forest

What follows can only be described as a slog. ÖTILLÖ Swimrun has Ornö, Swimrun Coniston has Grizedale Forest. The forest is massive but without much charm, managed by Forestry England who describe the ‘endless forest trails’. It certainly feels long and as with most commercial forests, plenty of pine trees and forest tracks. We eventually pass through the forest which opens up into stunning lower Lakeland countryside. Passing just  a stone’s throw away from Hill Farm, once home of author Beatrix Potter. The terrain becomes more undulating as we reach the nominal halfway point, running through a pretty village and up stony tracks in rolling countryside. 

Swimrunning In England’s Largest Lake 

Glimpses of water bodies appear through the trees and the character of the course changes once more as we journey up Windermere, England’s largest lake. After our time in Grizedale, it is a relief to enter the sanctuary of the water once again. The trails along Windermere’s western shoreline are compact and easy to run on. And two of the best swims of the day await, a relatively short 250m swim under the high buttress of Wray Castle and a longer 700m crossing over to the Brathay Estate. The latter swim certainly feels good, charting a way across the water which would take hours to walk around. 

The Climb Over Loughrigg Fell

So far we have experienced glorious lakes, a turgid forest and pretty lower lakeland countryside. Yet more awaits as we start our climb and ascent over Loughrigg Fell, which is a large hill (or small mountain depending on your perspective).

Tired legs roar in rebellion yet progress is key. The top of the fell is mesmerizingly beautiful,  it has an immeasurable calmness to it as you run past little tarns and ponds. The trails coming off the fell are extremely technical and caution is required over slippery rocks. 

The Journey Back To Grasmere 

We are on the home straight and into the final two swims across Rydal Water and Grasmere. The final swim is freezing and the wind has whipped up, making it a little more challenging. ‘Aim at the boathouse!’ shouts a marshal. The last 800m feels longer as fatigue sets into tired arms. A final dash and we finish at the countryside pub of Tweedies for a warm and enthusiastic welcome from the organising team. 

The Verdict 

Point to point swimrun races are becoming an increasingly rare thing and Swimrun Coniston is surely one of the most challenging full distance courses in the UK. It is a tough course and a long day out which takes in some of the best of the Lake District scenery. 

For Gary Pavitt ‘We’ve had some amazing feedback from people who loved the beauty and the challenge of the course, the friendliness of the event staff, the pictures and the event overall

The course throws up plenty of unique challenges with long runs, climbing over fells and lake crossings. It is a swimrun course with its own character, with big long swims the flavour of the day rather than lots of ins and outs. Transitions are relatively straightforward with gradual entries and exits from the lakes. 

The friendly marshal team were truly exceptional, carefully monitoring swimrunners in and out of the water and the enthusiastic finish line crew greeting us with warm smiles. The course was thoughtfully marked and a titanic effort from the organising team to coordinate a complex set of logistics to deliver this mighty event. In short, it is an epic event and a must-do for all swimrunners.

What Does The Future Hold?

Watch this space, as the iconic Gower Swimrun course might be making a comeback! Swimrun Coniston will return in 2024, for more information visit the website here.

Fred Newton

Fred is the Editor and co-founder of swimrun.com. He has actively been involved with the sport of swimrun as an enthusiastic participant, race director, volunteer and journalist.

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