With youth gradually slipping by endurance events have been a natural progression, or is that just an excuse for not having to train so fast and hard? For me taking on an event that combines endurance with adventure is the perfect blend and swimrun falls soundly into that arena. I started competing in triathlons at around 18, some 30 years ago. I came into this sport following a climbing injury which left me looking for an alternative challenge. Triathlons were in their infancy and it was an exciting sport which suited the student life where time was plentiful for training. After a period of travelling I returned home penniless and the thought of a road bike was simply out of the equation and so my love affair with running started.
Sadly, a long term back injury left me sport free for over 15 years, and finally after repeated attempts to return to running I finally managed to run pain free; the secret was long distance packed with pain relieving endorphins. This new-found freedom spurred me onto trying a marathon. It was only when reading an article about the UTMB that I realised that there was as a sport that would combine my love of the mountains with running. This discovery led me into ultra-distance running with an attempt to run around Jersey. This initial foray into the ultra led me into race directing and establishing Round The Rock Ultra, Guernsey Ultra and my most cherished event the Five Islands Ultra.
The Five Islands was a hare-brained idea that took place over three days over five Channel Islands. I initially tested the route out over three days with a friend Lee; 110 miles around Jersey (48), Guernsey (36) and day three Alderney (10), Sark (10) and Herm (3). That first pioneering run was incredible as it was self-supported and the weather was set to ruin every plan that I made. This will remain as one of my greatest runs as we simply did not know if it was feasible as a race. The logistics were immense as it involved planes, charter boats, public ferries and organising the marking of five islands. The races were small, with up to 10 runners and so the events were intimate but sadly not sustainable! The race only took place twice after my initial trial run but it has left the legacy of The Guernsey Ultra (GU36) which I have been able to hand over to my friend Peter Tiffin. Round The Rock has remained and after 7 years it has become a firm favourite with some notable runners such as Daniel Doherty and more recently Steve Way and Paul Martiletti. Paul has returned twice and each time smashes the record which he has now shaved down to under 5 hours 45 minutes, some running for 48 miles around Jersey’s challenging coast line.
I feel extremely fortunate to live on Jersey as it boasts incredible trails and the most stunning coast line for open water swimming which I have kept hanging on in there from my triathlon days. When Ben contacted me asking about setting up his inaugural Breca Swim Run in Jersey I was thrilled at the concept as it shouted out adventure! The first race I volunteered as a back marker and sported my running gear without wetsuit but on year two I had to give into race rules and buy a wetsuit; very much against my open water mentality but I will admit to enjoying the warmth and buoyancy!
I entered the 2017 race with my running partner Harry McAlinden. Harry and I have spent many an hour with each other running around the island and so we are comfortable suffering together! However, training had not gone to plan. We managed only one training swimrun, my running was decidedly sluggish and Harry not as open water confident as was needed on what proved to be a very rough day in the sea. The inevitable happened and sure enough we were timed out! Unfair, I was heard to mutter, but as a race director I of all people know that rules are there for a reason and so I was forced to retire.
2018 will be different! Twice a week swim training with Masters and a commitment from Harry to train in the open water together should stand us in good stead. My running is ramping up as I am training to return to Andorra and battle the Ronda Del Cim Ultra Trail in July. This race is my guilty pleasure and this coming year will be my revenge match. My first attempt saw me complete this incredible mountain ultra in 60 hours, whilst the second saw me dropping out after 24 hours following the descent of the legendary Bony de La Pica. This year I have been invited back as the UK emissary an honour not based on my ability, I can assure you!
Mountain running is an absolute love that I have but living in Jersey it is a once yearly adventure. Swimrun on the other hand is an adventure that sits on my door step. I love nothing more than heading off on my own for a long run and descending a remote section of coastline and hugging the shore line with my swim float gently bobbing behind. This for me is adventure and I cannot wait for the return of Breca Jersey in September 2018 for my revenge match. Secretly, I am hoping for some more rough seas to keep the adrenaline pumping! Thank you to Ben and team for bringing this exciting race format to my shores for me to enjoy.
Digby Ellis Brecknell is the Race Director of the Round the Rock Ultra in Jersey. Find out more at http://www.roundtherock.co.uk/