Updated: Sep 25
They say it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part – but winning is a sweet victory…
Wytham Woods, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, belong to the University of Oxford and are one of the most researched pieces of woodland in the world. The most ancient parts date back to the last Ice Age. This ancient wood is protected and accessed only with a pass – or, just once each year, with neoprene.
Every September since 2017, Swim Oxford has had permission to use this magical location for its swim-run event. I’ve entered this stunningly beautiful competition twice now and, employing quite different strategies, I have won both times. Read on to discover the winning technique…
Pre-swim there is kit envy; a swim-run suit is an appealing extra to add to my bulging kit bag. And there’s also a degree of kit ridicule: the full-stumpers are kitted out like transformers; robots with blades and buoys, parts to pull down and swing round… But that is what they are: transformers, changing from swimmer to runner and back again. I am just a humble half-stumper; a mere mortal.
One by one, mortals and transformers leap into the river, find their spaces, and the race begins. The swim, downstream and beside riverbanks tangled with weeds and wildflowers, is always a joy. I look up to see one pod ahead of me and check back to see another pod stringing out in a long line behind – then suddenly, a kayaker is directing me to the exit point. Friendly arms help me out, encouraging words are given, and I amble over to swap my wetsuit for running shoes – cleverly, my kit bag arrived here before I did. I pull on a T-shirt and peer back over to the swim exit, to see if my friends are out yet; it was nice doing the woods section of the swim-run with them last year. There is no sign of them and I decide to head off alone.
The swim-run takes place early on a Sunday morning early in the Autumn when Wytham woods are cool and extraordinarily peaceful. There is just me and the trees – and an occasional marshal to direct me on my way. Up the hill, the trees on my right clear and I pause to take in the view. Waking from under a light sheet of mist, Oxford stretches up its spires and yawns. And that is when I realise: I am already on the winners’ podium. Laughing to myself, I set off again. The trees stretch a victory arch above me as I trot on, glorying in every moment of my triumph. A couple of men speed past me and I try to share my good news with them. Heads down, they just grunt a response and disappear off into the distance. My winning pace never falters. I lumber up the hills where I am passed by more runners, and I am overtaken by another as I stumble down the other side. But mostly, I am on my own. It’s incredibly still under the tress. Incredibly quiet; there is just the sound of my steps on the damp leaves and mud, the occasional snap of a twig. And my breath, taking in the scent of the changing season – although with ribbons of sunlight that break through the foliage, summer lays claim to this day. Victorious, I complete my circuits of the woods and claim my prize.
The winners of Swim Oxford events are given a piece of cake. These are not just any cakes. These are cakes planned and baked by psychologists so that the winner in each category gets exactly the right one. The medals, mugs and caps are grand but they’re just generic; the same for everyone. It’s the cake that’s the prize.
In the swim-run half stump of 2019, I came first in my category (middle-aged non-competitive swimmer with size six feet and a red car). Prize – a flapjack; perfect. My friends each won their categories and were duly awarded with chocolate cake, chocolate flapjack and lemon drizzle cake. The perfect prize for each competitor. It’s absolute genius and I don’t know how they do it.
I also won my category in 2018, although I walked most of the run because of a sore ankle. Coffee and walnut cake that year. To take part in this event is to win and I can’t wait for my next sweet victory.
Sunday 20th September 2020
Half stump: 1.2k swim, 7k run
Full stump: 1.2k swim, 7k run, 1.6k swim, 400m dash, 1k swim, 7k run
See www.swimoxford.co.uk/event-swimrun-2020.php for details.
Notes from Swim Oxford
The Lock 2 Lock SwimRun is set in the organic pastures on the banks of the river Thames. The Oxford university farm land and woodlands are an inspirational backdrop to be in whilst participating in this exciting no fuss event.
Nestled in the west Oxfordshire landscape, starting at the medieval village of Eynsham. The route follows the river from Eynsham Lock downstream to Kings Lock and the last river swim exit point is upstream of Godstow Lock.
The swim sections follow the meandering downstream flow of the Thames, a natural open water swimming area and birth place of the Lock 2 Lock 4K open water swim series.
The Full Stump SwimRun has 3.8K of swimming distance to cover in three sections:
1.2K, 1.6K, 1K and the Full Stump run is a total of 14.4K . This is mostly completed in the Great woods of Wytham.
Some run sections are in between swim sections on open fields & grasslands. Breakdown are as: 1.2K swim, 7K run, 1.6K swim, 400m dash, 1K swim, 7K run. Finish…
Total swim distance 1.2K , transition area for run sections, change into running gear, and off to Wytham woods run course of 7K. The woods run course is described as undulating!
We have designed the run route to include uphill sections, longest uphill is 1.5K. Flat run sections through open pastures, and downhill woodland trails. The Half Stump is an excellent way to try a swim and run event before going straight for a full on SwimRun.
In both categories; Full/Half Stump, you can use swim paddle, pull buoys, tow floats, you can be in pairs or as a solo participant.
Past participants say;
“The best event I have done, Incredible”
“Brilliant organisation again, from Swim Oxford”.
“The last hill nearly killed me, thank you all for the amazing support”
“I don’t like swimming and I don’t like cross country running, but I loved this!”
“Fantastic course, the woods are spectacular, Recommended.”