The Riviera, Nice, Monaco. What do they evoke for you – sunbathing, relaxing, Formula 1, casinos, glamour? Well, now you can add swimrunning to the list :).
The first edition of the Riviera swimrun was an invitation-only affair, and I had the chance to team up with Mic O Matic from Swimrun Germany to form the team ‘Swimrun Europe’.
So there we were, early morning on a slightly windy April day. Everybody was getting ready, a bit of anxiety and nervous energy floating in the air. On the menu a point-to-point course going from Nice to Monaco, a gorgeous part of the world with beautiful villas and gardens. However, the programme was far from easy: 5.6km swimming and 20 km running. The unusual large percentage of swim will advantage the swimmers, but the running part should not be taken lightly either. The coast is rocky and steep, with villages hanging on to cliffs plunging into the sea.
Mic and I hadn’t had much chance to practice together, and as we all know, you should never try something new in a race. Well, it was a case of ‘do what I say, not what I do’…
The start took place on a small beach with a 400m swim. We had decided to use a cord to help smooth out our speed differential in swimming, and although we tried it the day before, somehow the carabiner opened during the first few metres of the first swim. By the time I realised and we sorted out the issue, the group of fast swimmers was gone and we started last. Not the ideal start, but the day is long. We discovered that the East wind was blowing in our faces and short sharp waves made progress difficult.
We reached the shore to start the first run. The course mostly followed the coastal path meandering along the jagged cost, mixing narrow rolling track, steps, rocks, beach and a road. We rapidly caught up with the backmarkers and progressed through the field.
The terrain was really varied and we alternated between rolling fast tracks and technical rocky sections with some noticeable slopes. The swims also switched between sheltered quiet bays to choppy open seas. There really is a bit of everything in this race, including energy sapping beaches, more inviting for sun bathing than running on the soft sand by the attractive terraces where a cool drink would be welcome.
With Mic, we slowly found our rhythm, showing us how useful it is to train with your team mate. Even if each one is experienced, both need to work as a unit and this only comes with practice. Our pace became more consistent throughout the race, and we found our relative strengths and weaknesses which varied with different terrains. For instance, Mic is stronger on smooth surfaces whilst I am more agile on rough rocky technical trails.
Slowly the course developed and we visited some unique places like the Bono’s villa and its little Isoletta private island. Navigation was easy: keep the stunning villas with manicured gardens on the left, blue sea on the right. Well, almost; we had to ask our way once but the local we stumbled upon was very helpful.
I mentioned that this race favours swimmers, and this is true with regards to the total distance swam, but also the positioning of some long swim sections later in the race. It is however possible to catch up with stronger swimmers in some of the most technical run sections, some of which required us to carve a path between the rocks and the water, reminiscent of the second run in OtillO. Eventually we finished the last swim section and ran the ultimate 2.8km run towards the beach in Monaco.
Shower, pizza and drinks were waiting for us and we all tucked in to replenish the energy spent in the day. And what a day it was! Memorable certainly, with some interesting lessons learned, and the discovery of a really unique race. It contains a bit of everything with enough variety to test anybody. It is very easy to find a cheap flight to Nice, and a cheeky weekend on the Rivera should appeal to everyone. The weather at this time of the year can be variable, but it is guaranteed not to be very cold. The distance is not extreme, but long enough to put new teams through their paces and practice one more time for old hands. I believe this will become an early season classic race, difficult enough to be an objective by itself, but also a perfect test before the main season starts. Next year it will take place on 30th April. I’ll be there. And you?
François-Xavier Li (AKA ‘Fix’)