It was an extraordinary experience to stand on the finish line of the Breca Bay of Islands swimrun and share the excitement and elation of the athletes racing at the inaugural Breca Swimrun National Championships. The Bay of Islands could have been made for swimrun – turquoise waters littered with islands boasting varying degrees of “runnableness”, from maintained tracks to shoreline scrambles and off-trail climbs. Reaching Urupukapuka, the final island on the course, and the sanctuary of the finish line at Otehei Bay was the product of a months of planning, passion and sheer grit on behalf of the teams taking part.
The Sprint National Championships course is 17.2km of swimming and running over five of the Bay’s islands. The race appropriately began in the middle of the ocean with 74 teams launching into the first swim from an Explore Group ferry. The brilliant sunshine and calm waters near Motorua Island belied the difficult conditions on the course, and as the afternoon wore on the building wind increasingly whipped up the water in the later swims, punishing the back end of the field. Remarkably, the Men’s, Women’s and Mixed Sprint National Champions all finished within 10 minutes of each other, a testament to the competitiveness of this distance and the exciting racing opportunities it affords.
Calmer waters and equally blue skies greeted the 105 teams assembled in Waitangi for the Full Distance National Championship. As night gave way to dawn and the sun gradually rose over the treaty grounds, we were honoured to be welcomed with a traditional pōwhiri, accepted on behalf of Breca by last year’s winning Men’s team: Gravelo - Stephen Hurdley and Matt Earley. Following the ceremony, a blast from the conch signified the start of the race; ahead was 27km of running and 10km of swimming over 24 transitions.
This year’s courses were particularly challenging in spite of the good weather. The high tides in the later stages provided fewer opportunities for scrambling across Motukiekie, and nesting dotterels necessitated changing the run on Okahu to a cursory hop. Despite this, there were extraordinary performances throughout the field. Swim 360, Matt Stanford (NZ) and Carl O’Donnell (NZ), built on their two consecutive golds at the Breca Wanaka Sprint to win the Men’s National Championship in a time of 6:00:55, leaving no doubt as to their ability to keep up the speed over longer distances. Team Fastlane, Russell Smith (NZ) and Victoria Wiltshire (GB) were the Mixed National Champions, a feat made all the more impressive by Russell’s third place in the Sprint Mixed category the previous day. The aptly named Can’t Die Won’t Die, Brent Tucker and Vicki Woolley were our final team, receiving the biggest welcome of the day crossing the line in the deepening gloaming after a truly awe-inspiring 11 hours and 21 minutes out on the ground.
Looking back over Breca Bay of Islands I was particularly struck by the depth and quality of the field, and the passion on display throughout the weekend. It attests to the explosive growth swimrun has undergone in New Zealand: from 160 athletes in 2017 to the 480 we have racing today. Equally remarkable was the gender split: 45% of the athletes racing were women. Gender equality is one of Breca’s core values, and it’s thrilling to see it reflected on our start lines.
It’s been an amazing journey to get to where we are today and I’m so grateful to all of you who have joined us thus far. I can’t wait to see what the future brings but, whatever it holds, I hope to see you all again for more wild adventures in these wonderful, rugged places we’re so privileged to race in.
Thanks to our friends from Explore Group for their generous support. Thank you too to the volunteers, medics and water safety crews that kept our athletes safe and supported, you were all amazing!
All the best,
New Zealand National Champions – Sprint Distance
Men’s – Pepper Williams, Hamish Pepper (NZ) and Mark Williams (NZ), 3:16:40
Women’s – Worst Game of Hide and Seek Ever, Kiera Batten (AU) and Emma Starritt (AU), 3:26:24
Mixed – International Misfits, Lesley Turner Hall (NZ) and Henry Barfoot (NZ), 3:25:05
New Zealand National Champions – Full Distance
Men’s – Swim 360, Matt Stanford (NZ) and Carl O’Donnell (NZ), 6:00:55
Women’s – Kiwi and Haggis, Rebecca Swainson (NZ) and Kirsty Wood (GB), 6:58:48
Mixed – Team Fastlane, Russell Smith (NZ) and Victoria Wiltshire (GB), 6:48:54