FIRST SWIMRUN COMPETITION IN CANADA – THE AMPHIBIOUS CHALLENGE

On September the 24th, Canada saw its 1st swimrun race take place. This sprint swimrun race, The Amphibious Challenge, located at the Ottawa river in Sheenboro, Quebec, stretched 15 km long with 12 km of running and 3 km of swimming. For Michelle Clarke, an experienced athlete with over 30 years of running under her belt, this was her first swimrun and after the race she wrote this great race report, enjoy!

/The WoS Team

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Pic by Christine Donato

I was listening to the radio the other day, and a marketing group had asked a bunch of senior citizens what advice they would give to the young people. The top piece of advice was “when opportunity knocks, open the door.” That has always been the advice I’ve lived my life on. When the opportunity popped up to be one of the first people to take part in the very first SwimRun competition in Canada, I had to say yes and now I can say I’m a swimrunner.

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Pic by Christine Donato

I woke up in a farmhouse on Saturday morning, in Sheenboro, QC, not completely sure where the heck I was. I’ve been travelling so much for work and for races, I’ve been waking up a bit disoriented. I knew it was race day, and a tiny voice in my head tried to talk me out of it. Instead I grabbed my race gear and headed to the start line for breakfast. One by one, the racers showed up at the Hotel Pontiac and we had fresh Kicking Horse coffee, tea, Stoked Oats and fresh bread from Ikea waiting for us. When Simon Donato is your race director, you will have the very best experience. The Amphibious Challenge was perfectly organized from start to finish.

The number one reason I’m not a triathlete is the organization of it all. The tiny pieces that have to be planned out and organized before the race, and on the morning of the race. I’m really a roll out of bed and race kind of girl, anything that involves more than that is a deal breaker for me. Swimrun, although sounds complicated and looks complicated still fits in nicely with my roll out of bed and race strategy. The fact that I also didn’t have to worry about my morning nutrition was an added bonus to the race experience.

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Pic by Christine Donato

The morning was freezing cold, I was under prepared so I put my wetsuit on right after breakfast to keep warm. In our race kits we got a nice fleece blanket from Ikea and farm to feet wool socks. The socks went on my feet right away, and although I’d decided I would run without socks, I changed my mind. Once the socks went on my feet, they weren’t coming off and after I finished the race, I was happy I’d kept them on. Race time was scheduled for 9:20ish, but the fog was still heavy over the water. You couldn’t see across the lake to the islands so for the sake of safety, the race was slightly delayed. Back inside the hotel we went to huddle around the warm stove and do some yoga to warm up.

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Pic by Christine Donato

The town Mayor welcomed us to the race, Simon Donato had some last minute instructions and around 10 am the race started. The first leg of the race was a ~9km trail run and although my lips were turning blue at the start of the race, within 2km I was sweating buckets. I stopped for a brief moment to strip down to my sports bra, letting the wetsuit hang at my waist. The trail section was really beautiful, but as I had imagined, the running was going to be the harder part of the day. I never thought I would look forward to open water swimming as much as I did on Saturday. Once I saw the opening on the beach to enter the the first water leg, I was almost too excited and couldn’t get my wetsuit back on fast enough.

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Pic by Christine Donato

By the time we hit the water, I was in a solid third place position and was soon to take 2nd place. The first swim was ~700m and was going to be longest of the day. I didn’t push too hard, pacing myself for a long day. I expected the whole race to take approximately 2hours and 30 mins, so I was using my energy wisely. I expected to have a bit of open water anxiety, but to my surprise I was cool a cucumber swimming from island to island. I think the small amount of practice I had in Lake Ontario definitely helped ease my stress levels. Secondly, the course always had a boat on course and check points where they kept track of racers coming on and off the islands. Even when I was totally alone in the water, you could always see your next checkpoint. The course was so well marked and organized, you could just relax and race and enjoy the moment.

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Pic by Christine Donato

As you approached each island, getting up onto the rocks was probably the most challenging part. The rocks were covered in a slick moss and made getting a good grip difficult. You had to basically use simple bouldering techniques to climb the rocks and get yourself into the trails. Some of the islands were really short runs but the terrain was always different. The worst island to run across was completely rock. I had this moment where I started smiling, thinking back to my Wild Bruch Chase relay where Erin gave me a lot of rock hopping legs. I felt, somehow the universe had aligned and the relay was really just training for this swimrun event. So much of what I learned during my relay race helped me run smart on during the Amphibious Challenge.

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Pic by Christine Donato

Some swim legs were harder than others, depending on the current. The waters started calm and around halfway through the wind had picked up and soon there were whitecaps, thrashing the swimmers around. The aid station were placed in exactly the right locations, and were fully loaded with honey stingers, water, electrolyte drinks and cookies. I stuffed my face with jujubes and kept running.

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Pic by Christine Donato

For most of the race, I was battling for 2nd place position and it was getting a bit comical when the guy was literally swimming into me. I kept thinking, there is a huge a lake, why can’t he give me some space! It wasn’t entirely his fault, he was very competitive and I could tell he was not going to give up 2nd place without a fight. He was a great swimmer but not so great on the run. I would pass him on the islands, then once in the water, he would catch up to me. This made the day go by faster, having someone to push me and work with. It also took my mind off any anxiety that would sometimes creep up and try to tell me to stop doing this. I knew I was getting competitive when I would see him start to swim a little of course and I would find my next gear and swim my little heart out to get any advantage I could over this guy. If I could get out of the water before him, I would get a bigger head start and then possible, finally loose him for good. To my surprise he would not give up and he just swam faster.

We crossed 8 islands in total and the last swim leg was the one that almost did me in. ~500m left to go we had to swim back to the mainland. I thought this would be a breeze, the current would help push me back to shore. I was wrong, so wrong. The current got super choppy, whitecaps slapped me in the face, and for the most part I was literally not moving forward. The current kept pushing the swimmers backwards as our tired arms tried so hard to fight the waves. The people cheering at the shoreline, never seemed to get closer and I was starting to feel frustrated. I could see the end, but I knew the reality was it was still going to be a good ten minutes of swimming or more before I touched land.

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Pic by Christine Donato

Once I finally got to the beach, I ran as hard I could in the full wetsuit get up to the finish line. As much as I battled for 2nd place, I was happy to take 3rd place overall behind two very strong male swimmers, being the first female to cross the finish line. I honestly wasn’t sure how the day was going to pan out, so wining the race was a huge bonus. There were some very strong female swimmers in the race, and it was a course that favoured the swimmers.

When I decided to do this race, I had a few ideas and expectations. 1. have fun. 2. not die. 3. finish around 2 hours and 30 minutes. 4. finish top 5 overall. 5 win the female race. I’m happy to report I accomplished all my goals and exceeded some of the expectations, in particular the fun part. I had a blast! It’s a race designed for the adventurous soul and you really have to embrace that side of yourself. It’s more about challenging yourself personally and less about winning or losing. There are so many elements you have little or no control over, so you need to roll with the punches and take each leg in stride. I was happy I accomplished every single item on my checklist especially item number 2.

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Pic by Christine Donato

While out there racing, I kept thinking how awesome this kind of event is for people who are nervous about triathlons, particularly the swim part. It’s much less stressful than a triathlon and you get a ton of swim practice in open water in a safe open environment. There aren’t “transition” areas where you change outfits, but you get to practice your transitions, exiting the water and running for short burst. I would highly recommend it to any athlete, but for those duathletes on the fence about triathlons, I saw give swimrun a chance and you will soon be more than ready to tackle the next tri.

This sport which was born in Sweden and is gaining popularity in North America is definitely something I want to do again. Next year the Amphibious Challenge is going to happen and I recommend you sign up for it. The town of Sheenboro is not only beautiful to look at, but one of the most friendliest people I’ve met. From what I could tell, most of the town came out to support the race in some way. Like every new experience, I learned a lot about myself, about my community and got to meet some really amazing people.

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Pic by Christine Donato

Stay tune for more Amphibious Challenge updates – there was a drone on course and I can’t wait to share the video!

/Michelle Clarke

This is a re-post of the original which you can find here.

If you want more information about the race, look here.