The Return Of The Swimmer: The First UK Swimrun Event Of The Year

The Swimmer is the UK’s original swimrun event with participants running a relaxed half marathon with four dips or so across London.

Paul Mackenzie reports on ‘the cold one’, the first Swimmer of the year. Paul is enthusiastic open water swimmer and accomplished swimrunner who runs guided open water swimming trips with adventure swims.

The Swimmer should be on every swimrun enthusiasts bucket list, it is gloriously minimalist and great fun. Established in 2012 between Outdoor Swimmer’s Jonny Cowie and Will Wyatt (Mr Ruckraft) it has developed a cult-like following.

Paul’s Race Report

Back to ‘the cold one’, being in early January, we knew to expect a chilly day, however as the day unfolded it was rainy as well as cold. That didn’t dampen spirits though, with almost a full field of competitors checked in by 0700 on Saturday 8th January. The regulatory event swim hats were distributed, and waivers signed – no bibs or numbers – this is a fun event and social. Since its an urban route, tethering was not to be
recommended, swimrun suits might have been a good idea, however everyone chose to dip in swimming costumes and a quick change for the runs.

We soon amassed at the back of the support van for the event briefing from Race Director Will. London was still in darkness, most people still asleep and the road was only dimly lit by the yellow glow of the street lighting and a few lingering Christmas lights. The route and rules were explained, ‘look both ways when crossing the road and leave no-one behind’, and with a bang of the rear doors we were off into the darkness, along the alleyway, and into Hampstead Heath.

The route was pretty close to a straight vertical line across London from North to South. The first run segment was to Hampstead Ponds, we arrived just as the first light was breaking, the 3km went quickly and if that hadn’t woken you up, then the 6-degree pond was certain to. The men used the Men’s Pond, the ladies using the Ladies Pond. Usually, everyone is allowed in the men’s pond – but not today, so plans had to change a little. For most it was a quick in and out and then run down to Parliament Hill Fields Lido to regroup.

Sadly, the faff of re-directing the ladies to their pond caused a slight delay for the girls. This allowed several to grab an extra ‘bonus’ dip into Parliament Hill Lido.

The sun was up and the lido’s stainless-steel floor glistened – it was 5 degrees so just 1 or 2 lengths was sufficient.

With everyone amassed in the car park once more, we were soon heading off to The Serpentine, via Primrose Hill. This is such an amazing vantage point and view across London, so we had to have a group photo here. We ran, skidded and slipped down the slope and into the urban jungle. The field of about 50 people had naturally split into a faster, medium and more sedate pace groups which all wiggled and wound their way through the streets, over the Regent’s Canal and eventually into Hyde Park.

The Serpentine welcomed us with its 6 degrees. I should perhaps point out there are no swim distances required, its whatever takes your fancy. Once again changed in the open air and off to the car park to re-group. This time strangely to undertake a ritual of the run, the ‘coincidence’, let by the theological advisor Rev Buckley.

As at every stop, the support van had snack bars and bananas on offer before we started the final 10km dash to Brockwell Park Lido. This took us through Sloane Square and past many designer shops, Gucci, Prada and so many more – no time for window shopping though. We skirted Brixton and before too long we arrived into Brockwell Park and into the Lido. Collecting our dry cloths and fluffy towels from the van meant that after just a couple of lengths we could be into a warm shower and dry cloths once again.

Prize giving was across the road in a private room of a pub, no medals as such, but everyone got a bacon and egg butty or similar equivalent.


This event is neither a true swimrun, nor a race, but it’s a cracking and sociable way to join a bunch of friendly folk wind their way across London. With events in February and March, organised by Above Below and ticketed by EventBrite I would recommend you add it to your calendar!

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