Breca Jersey National Swimrun Championship race report

Jetting off to sunny Jersey for the much-anticipated national swimrun championships, 220’s Kate Milsom takes part in the sixth annual Breca Jersey Swimrun along rugged coastline and untouched white sandy beaches.

Competitors trackle undulating coastal trails / Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca

Jersey is part of the British Channel Islands and has the third highest tidal range in the world, meaning at low tide, the island nearly doubles in size and can often boast strong swells and monster waves. So it makes perfect sense to stage a swimrun there, right? 

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The 2021 Breca Jersey went ahead as a sprint-distance event only thanks to a Covid-interrupted year, but an eager 170 participants, made up of 42 soloists and 64 teams, still gathered at Mont Orgueil Castle for a spectacular start. Breca had allocated Jersey as the UK championship race for 2021, so the majority of those competing would be previous top five finishers.

The course

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One of the more trecherous swim entries provided a challenge for racers (Credit: Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca)

The sprint-distance event covers 20km of stunning coastline, travelling anticlockwise along the northeast to the northern side of the island. Hugging the coastline, the route takes in 15.5km of hilly, clifftop trails with 791m of elevation and sections of chunky roots, rocks and many steep climbs up wooden steps.

Not to be scoffed at, a whopping 4.5km of choppy sea swims around headlands and across bays make up for a quarter of the overall race distance. Particular to Jersey’s rocky coastline, many of the swim entrances are slippy and rugged affairs, forcing racers to slow down and prioritise safety over speed.

Breca’s Managing Director, Fred Newton, describes the course: “The UK swimrun championship certainly lived up to expectations, with teams fighting tooth and nail on an uncompromising course around Jersey’s shores. The course is deceptively challenging, with fast descents, gruelling ascents, blind swims and longer swims sitting towards the back-end of the course. It’s designed to really test your mental fortitude, when lactic is pumping through your arms and you still have a long way to swim.”

Race day

Winner and now national champion of the female team event, Emily Walton shares her race day experience at this year’s championship, including finish-line highs and vomit-inducing sea swim lows…

After having a blast at the previous Breca Coniston Swimrun event, my swimrun partner and I had been eyeing up our next challenge. So when the opportunity came up to race the national champs event in Jersey, we jumped at it!

The course started at Mont Orgueil Castle on the north-east of the island and we were eased in with a 900m downhill jaunt along closed roads taking us to a relatively tame beach swim entrance for the first 900m swim leg.

But this swim wasn’t for the faint hearted. All 170 participants battled through waves and navigated around tow ropes and hand paddles, often crashing into each other as elbows went flying.

Emily and Kate strap on their gear for a choppy sea swim / Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca
Emily and Kate strap on their gear for a choppy sea swim (Credit: Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca)

As we clambered out for the second 1.6km run, some steep narrow climbs allowed the field to spread out and we begin to relax into our own pace and enjoy the stunning coastal paths, dodging amused walkers and mountain bikers along the route.

At the end of run three, we stumbled across a yellow Breca flag at the top of the cliff at Le Couperon. Confused and knowing that yellow flags indicate swim entrances, we peered over the cliff edge and spied a steep and rocky path snaking almost vertically downwards to the crashing waves below.

We battled through waves and navigated around tow ropes and hand paddles, often crashing into each other as elbows went flying

This could only mean one thing. Using our hands to grasp hold of scree and our neoprene bums to make use of the naturally yet lethally smooth seaweed-clad rocks, we made our careful way downwards. The course turned into a canyoning slide and we whooshed down the rocks to the water’s edge, laughing with some surrounding teams.

Swimrunners clamber down rocks and mud to reach the swim entrance / Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca
Competitors clamber down rocks and mud to reach the swim entrance (Credit: Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca)

After finishing that swim, we were onto the longest run of the event, a modest five-kilometre jaunt which provided a great chance for us to make up some places and give our arms a much-needed break ahead of the final two long swims.

We peered over the cliff edge and spied a steep and rocky path snaking almost vertically downwards

For me, the fourth and longest swim leg of 1.5km was a low point. A well-meaning update from passing volunteers on-course made us aware that we were in first place among the women’s teams.

Wholly surprised by the news, this put the pressure on a bit as we stumbled along the pebbly beach into the water. Ten minutes in and disaster struck – a sudden wave of sea sickness caught me by surprise and saw my breakfast sink to the bottom of the ocean. Brilliant.

I was very grateful to be out of the water at the end of that, although the thought of a final swim wasn’t too appealing. Despite this, the last one-kilometre swim leg was uneventful and we were thankfully onto the final run towards the finish.

Emily and Kate / Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca
Emily and Kate push themselves to the limits on the run (Credit: Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca)

And what a run! Regular glimpses of the finish line were interspersed with switchbacks and steps that took us up and down the coastal path. Finally, the teasing stopped and the finish line appeared, a grassy straight requiring one final kick to reach that finishers tape on the dazzling cliff top near La Perruque.

A sudden wave of sea sickness caught me by surprise and saw my breakfast sink to the bottom of the ocean

After losing ground in the long swim, we were convinced that another team must have overtaken us, but were delighted and surprised to hear that we had kept our lead, and by 17 minutes at that. We were the 2021 UK National Breca Swimrun Champions! Not bad for just a couple of triathletes.

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The top three womens’ teams mount the podium (Credit: Andy Le Gresley Photography for Breca)

Finally, the sun came out and we had a few hours to catch up with new friends we’d made along the way and cheer in the remaining competitors. Every competitor gets the chance to break their own finish line and as the day went on the crowds grew, with everyone out to support each other. That’s what Breca’s all about.

Breca 2021 National Champions

Congratulations to overall course winner and men’s solo winner, Hugo Mota, who completed the 20km course in a staggering time of 2:45:59. In hot pursuit was the men’s team winners, JJ Gallichan and Isaac Dodds in a cool 2:49:26. Coming in just five minutes later and looking strong was mixed team winners ‘FastWetsuits’, comprising of Richard Stannard and Sarah Richardson, in 2:55:59.

A strong women’s field saw soloist Melissa Messervy take the tape in a time of 3:09:38, with the women’s team winners 220‘s own Kate Milsom and Emily Walton coming in at 3:19:05.

Breca Managing Director, Fred Newton, said: “With over half the field coming in from outside of Jersey and winners from three different countries, this really had an international feel to it and a sense that sport and travel is back. Hundreds of competitors charged off the start line, with most finishing the race.

“All participants embraced the challenge of the race and there were many emotional finishers. Special mentions to our podium winners and also to team 104 of Steve and Charmian, the last team in, who gamely battled their way through the course in isolation, 35 minutes behind the penultimate finishers and champions in their own right.”

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What is Breca Swimrun?

The Breca Swimrun events team are a dedicated group of individuals who organise and host challenging adventure races in breathtakingly beautiful and wild locations in the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. Breca was founded by Ben de Rivaz in 2015, who had the simple dream to bring the excitement of the Swedish Otillo races to the UK and, in doing so, celebrate the beauty of the British countryside, lakes and coastline. Sustainability is a core focus for Breca, which has been cup-free since 2017 (swimrunners have to carry plastic cups if they want a drink when racing) and provides a plant-a-tree finisher’s option and sustainable wooden medals.