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Swimrun on the tranquil Thames

A report on the recent Swim Oxford Swimrun by Fred Newton,

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Almost hundred of us lined up on the grassy river bank of the River Thames, the second longest river in the UK. It had just gone 7am and there was a low level of chatter and a nervous anticipation hung in the air on a cool autumnal morning. For in a few moments we would be entering the Thames and starting the Lock to Lock Swimrun – a 18km Full Stump (Full Course) and a 9km Half Stump (Sprint Course).

Swimrun is a friendly sport but at the precise moment we were individuals preparing ourselves to race. Race Director, Darrin Roles began his race briefing over a megaphone, one of his first instructions was ‘say hello to someone you don’t know, embrace them and wish them well’, and like that the tension vanished. There were smiles and laughter and shoulders relaxed.

We were off and into our journey.

Moving through the lands of The Wind In the Willows

For this swimrun race, there are three swims (1.2km, 1.6km and 1km) and two runs (7km and 6km) along a meandering section of the upper part of the River Thames. This was Wind in the Willows countryside, as we traversed through river, meadows and woodlands.

A gentle current flows with you and the swims were simply magnificent. They twist and turn as the river bends making for fun and varied sections, swans woosh overhead and land in the water ahead of you. Moorhens dart across the river curious to see this lycra clad army swimming around them.

Apart from the start, the swims become quiet and peaceful as the field spreads and you enjoy your own section of river. I was impressed with the water safety who were always visible without being intrusive or spoiling the experience.

Transitions were great fun, with two jumps into the river at over head height. For those who didn’t fancy the murky plunge swimrun style (which is feet first) there is a ladder down to the swim entrances. Swim exits are by ladders and scrambles up river banks, some rope assisted and others unflattering crawling.

The castle on the hill

A race along a river has got to be flat right? Wrong, wrong and wrong. Race Director Darrin’s love of the mountains is in full evidence, with much of the running centred around a ‘castle’, an alpine wooden chalet nestled high in the woodland. The top of Wytham Hill (where the race finishes) is 165m high, we ran up it at least three times with screaming calf muscles and burning lungs.

The large wood where much of the running takes place was stunning, heavily protected and closed to the public it is a wonder that the race is allowed to operate in this SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) which are conservation sites designated extremely fragile and of natural scientific interest. There are moments to pause and look around you into this special woodland with over 500 species of plants and the chatter of birds in the trees.

Podium, what podium?

There is a refreshing disregard for celebrating podium places. And you might be disappointed if you are hoping to stand on the soap box. But actually swimrun is an experience sport first and it sort of misses the point for most people if you are just in it to win it. At the Lock to Lock Swimrun, you cross the line, get a cheer, a medal and some cake.

Did someone say cake?

Swim Oxford is fast getting the reputation for having the best finish line food with a plethora of homemade cakes and treats all lovingly made by a friendly team of ladies who encourage you to fill you boots and be greedy! I didn’t need asking twice and tucked into seconds and indeed thirds. Michelle Reed agrees ‘the best cake of any of race I’ve ever had’.

The verdict

This is quite some swimrun race. It has a unique character to it, and actually everything swimun should be: a journey through a natural environment. For the more performance focused, you can expect a challenging course with hilly trail running and long swims. The cakes at the finish line are exceptional and the welcome warm and genuine. has awarded this race a 5 star rating of excellence, more on that here. Visit Swim Oxfords website for information on the 2023 edition.

And what should you do if a swan lands on your head? Listen the post-race chat with 1st placed lady, Michelle Reed.


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