All photos by Jean Marie Gueye of Swimrun France.
The sound of a violin sang through the tropical woodland, and we stood mesmerised listening to this beautiful piece of music. And as if out of a trance, we snapped back into reality for the day was heating up and we had 42km of swimrunning to do. Music, mascots and a feel-good vibe were all central to this inspired swimrun race.
Swimrun Tâmega is now in its 3rd year. Hosted just 45 minutes from Porto Airport in Northern Portugal the race is fast becoming a ‘bucket-list’ race for the domestic and international swimrun community. The race is centred around the River Tâmega which flows through a steep sided semi-tropical valley with temperature waters, cobbled villages and calm waters.
Swimrun Tâmega offers three distances: a 16.4km Sprint, 30.4km Standard and a 42.4km Marathon distance. In its inaugural year, the marathon distance was also designated an ÖTILLÖ Merit Race which certainly lived up to and exceeded its billing as a ‘directional lighthouse in Portugal’. Swimrun.com reports on the Marathon distance race, a sensational adventure through land and water.
Race Report: An Explosion Of The Senses Up And Along The River Tâmega
The race starts around compact winding cobbled streets before athletes plunge into the longest and scariest swim of the day. The swim felt never ending as shapes moved in the water, driving forward and searching for the elusive exit. There is a rasp of breath and screaming shoulders, as a typically fast start where energy levels and excitement is high. We swim under the arches of a towering bridge and around a bend in the river, out of nowhere and with some relief, a bright orange flag appears and we are into one of the many climbs of the day.
There is no flat running. It is either up or down, a whopping 1800m vertical elevation for the Marathon distance puts Swimrun Tâmega in the leagues of great mountain races. Typically you swim, then climb high above the river to the top of the valley only to drop down sharply. Swim, climb and repeat. And a theme of the day sets in. The river represents calmness and serenity, the land a rugged challenge, with inevitable climbing and an adventure to overcome.
I am reminded of early explorers, wading down streams, climbing over fallen trees and through sometimes thick vegetation where only the narrowest of paths is visible. It is incredibly exciting and pulls you into the present moment. The worries of life all but fade into nothing as we are in the here and now.
The time passes quickly with my partner Alex Sheen, and we chat about everything and anything – at moments, we both drop our guard and discuss deeply personal things. The course had encouraged us to open up to each other and to speak with raw honesty, something which doesn’t happen often in modern life.
The early morning fog has now lifted and the day brings searing heat, exacerbated by neoprene wetsuits and baking sunshine. Once again, the river represents a sanctuary from the sometimes oppressive heat and we crave its coolness.
A particular highlight is at the top of the biggest climb of the day and a stunning church sits proud, overlooking most of the race course. At the top, we encountered music and swimrun mascots – it is hard to do anything but grin ear to ear and it was a special moment. We stayed as long as possible before continuing on.
After the church, the course gets increasingly wild and rugged. The villages all but disappear and we are on trails, beautiful swims and surrounded by nature. Small lizards dart around us across the path. The climbs seem to get steeper and more overgrown. Credit to the course marking team who keep us on-track on what looks like small animal tracks and probably unused by people.
We reach the top of the course and start to head back to the finish line which has the most technical transition of the day, a 10m scramble into the water assisted by a rope. Ready? Ready! And we both dive in swimrun style, feet first and inner thighs tightly gripping the pull buoy. I spread my arms to slow the entry in the water and prevent goggles coming off. And we are back swimming in the 16-17 degree water which is the perfect temperature for a swimrun.
After seven and a half hours, the finish line looms just after the final swim exit and we are greeted by a big round of applause and an announcement in Portuguese. Alex and I embrace and say hello to friends at the finish line. It is a feeling of pure joy.
Swimrun Tâmega is a sensational race course, which offers a challenge and excitement for all levels. But it is not just a race and also a deeply human experience driven by an army of smiling staff, local people and fellow swimrun athletes. Participants are treated like royalty and respond in kind. Everyone is pleasant and respectful, it is the Portuguese way.
The care and love poured into Swimrun Tâmega is clear. It has been one of my best experiences in the sport to-date, with a challenging and unique course which feels like an expedition or a journey. Race Director, Sergio Moreira and the event management team including Hugo Mota and Pedro Pacheco have done something special here and surely will become one of those ‘bucket list’ races for the ages.