We’ve had our eyes on the Mad Hatters races after hearing great reviews and meeting the organisers at other events, so when we saw a new long course being proposed we signed up! This was so many months / years ago though that it kind of crept up on us 😮 Luckily, we had actually done some fun swimrun adventures and a local event a few weeks before to get in the mood. We also combined it with a holiday in Cornwall exploring the coastal path and attractions at a more leisurely pace to make the trip definitely worthwhile.
The course was a linear one, starting at Portscatho and winding its way 35km along to Mevagissey.
By the time we got off the coach to the start, we were already late and were ushered to the line without ceremony and waved off! Izzy was straight out of the blocks as we dodged round a few people to get to the water and start swimming. Neither of us has done ‘enough’ swim training lately – though Izzy has done more than me and has even made it to a swimming pool! The effect of this is that we are even more closely matched than usual with Izzy definitely having a faster start, so she led off.
The race route took us in and out (and shook us all about) at some ‘interesting’ spots, including places where we had to scramble up the rocks, or use a rope to get safely down the steep slope! On one swim exit we got shouted at to go around even though we were aiming for a perfectly good looking lump of rock 😉 Another entry had a stunning little exit through a rock channel before we were out into open sea.
On the first runs, Izzy was off like a hare, showing the benefits of her interval training, so I concentrated on just keeping up and heavy breathing, no ability to chat at this stage! After the first couple of swims we started alternating, just to give the other a break, though the one behind was always getting cold as much as resting. We then kept whichever order we emerged from the water in on the run as we wound our way along the cliffs through the bracken, grass and wildflowers. It felt like a race where we really worked as a team to keep us moving through at a good speed.
As we had discovered on our mini recce trip of one small part of the course, the runs were best described as ‘undulating’ … which is to say they kept going up and down a lot: I recorded 1300m in 27km of running for the day. However, none were too long and only one had us so hot when the sun peeped out that we were grateful to get back into the water, my squealing at the shock causing some consternation 😀
My watch had a meltdown after the last event, so I had taken the opportunity to upgrade and was loving the mapping feature, helping us stay vaguely on course when there was any confusion, although it did bleep a lot to tell us to take obvious path turns.
Several of the swims involved swimming out and round a point. At the briefing we had been told that the sea was going to be very calm and perfect conditions. As it was, there was quite a swell pushing and pulling us around, which had me thinking this Cornwall lot were hard as nails describing this as ‘calm’ – they did admit later the predictions had been slightly out!
At one moment, I was leading and definitely aiming for the yellow flag. I couldn’t understand why the marshal had put it on the ground and wandered off, but was trying not to faff. Eventually realised after Izzy yelled at me that I was aiming for a lovely patch of yellow lichen on a rock instead! Likewise on another swim, I had to practically tug the cord to get Izzy to pause and agree to turn left 😀
The long 2km swim at the end had the following navigation instructions: ‘Swim out to the paddle boarder, turn left, don’t go too far out because of boats, and not too far in because of rocks. Follow the coastline until you see a beach with a flag’. We were chugging along, no beach in sight, no idea what we were aiming for but keeping the coast on our left and looking for a beach … after about 1500m we found a kayaker, who proceeded to try and educate us about currents and the tide, where to aim and the fact that he ‘didn’t think us two would make it’. This had the effect of me slightly tersely asking him to just tell us where we were supposed to be going, at which point we shot off noticeably faster 😀 . Apparently, if you’re local, you just know to aim for the colourful house on the cliff when you round the corner 🤨 !
I was still shivering after this epic when we got to run through tourist throngs in Mevagissey, swim to a small beach and ascend a very long flight of steps and up a steep road to the finish line.
Delighted to finish 5th overall and first female pair behind 4 male pairs. Even more delighted to find at the end that the sun came out, stone baked pizzas and amazing brownies from the Parent-Teacher Association were on offer and we could all lounge around outside meeting old friends and making new ones (including a large white dog that took a shine to Izzy for a while!). Many thanks to the race organisers, all the marshals and safety crew and everyone else including competitors who made it such a great day.
I really recommend this race if you want stunning scenery, a challenge and a taste of an Ötillö World Series type race in terms of length and difficulty. I also recommend that you do a proper amount of swim training in preparation else, like me, you will have difficulty putting a jumper on the next day 😀
Photo credits to James Street / Mad Hatter Sports Events – or me, if marked as such!
So, we got back from Sweden, Izzy worked for two days, I put my feet up / rode my bike / washed clothes / unpacked and packed. Then it was time to go away again! This time on a small plane to Newquay, a fantastic tiny airport. We were away for the week and immediately availed ourselves of Cornish pasties, ice cream and a swim in the big waves at Porthcothan.
We slept in a tepee, drove to Penzance, had to run for the ferry and were on our way across the sea to the Isles of Scilly. I chatted with whoever I ended up next to on deck, whilst Izzy hid downstairs avoiding seasickness! We both arrived considerably less green than last year, and ambled our way over in the general direction of the B&B, thinking it was unfortunate we’d left the map in the case that was being taken by car.
It wasn’t hard to find and before we knew it, we were being greeted by Patti and Andy and being shown our delightful room with sea view. As last year, we spent a day relaxing, swimming, going for an amble, looking at a burial chamber, sunbathing (Izzy) and exploring rocks (me).
Race day was on Saturday and it was a pleasant walk over to the start line. We soon found ourselves hiding in the shade of a building and decided to dunk ourselves in the sea just before the start to get wet and cool! The first run was just under 3km. Keen not to repeat the mistakes of Borås, we set off moderately and side by side on the road. All was going well and we were soon at the first swim. I was not at all sure where to aim, the flag was invisible, so the windsock it was. We knew it was right of where we needed to go though. Suddenly part way over we ran into a group of other confused swimmers! We headed left a bit, right a bit and eventually spotted a fluorescent marshal vest and aimed for that.
And so the day continued. We were with another female pair who I thought might have set out too fast and definitely looked like they would get too hot. They were very strong swimmers but we soon caught and left them on one of the longer runs. There seemed to be less seaweed than last year – maybe we had been routed round it better, maybe we were lucky, or maybe there was just less! There were more jellyfish though – and I got stung twice! Once on the arm and once in a whip across the face. I swore underwater but not even Izzy heard me 😀
Our suits aren’t quick to ‘cab down’ and I was worried about the sun and the heat. I was drinking more than usual and squirting water over my head if I needed to. I also made attempts to ‘eat more’ but was not entirely successful – does one gel count?! (Of course, I did partake of the feed stations as well).
The stripy lighthouse came into view early and we knew this time we were headed there. It took a while to arrive but was worth it 🙂
The spectators on the course was incredible, and I found myself asking if it was even possible to have more support than last year? One fabulous group of people said we were their inspiration, and someone else yelled that we were doing greater than great! Some kids sprayed us with their water pistols … what delight 😀
Getting to the last swim was amazing, I just wanted to throw myself in the water. Did I mention it was hot? The marshal said the next female team were only just in front, but we didn’t see them as we crossed. The tide was slack and we had an easy time of it, except for the jellyfish. We both thought we could see the girls in front climbing out and taking forever over it, until we realised we were looking at an orange buoy …
It was the final run and we were nearly home. A tractor billowed dust in front of us but stopped to let us past. It might have been a distraction, because just after that, Izzy tripped over nothing much in particular and slammed into the ground. I rushed back to help her up and check she was OK and got short thrift. “What are you doing here?! You are going in the wrong direction, turn around and RUN!!” Yikes, I duly did as I was told! I think the anger and frustration spurred Izzy on, we were charging and the tow hardly tightened as we raced to the finish line.
I was confident we could break 6h, but the last run was longer than stated so my calculations were wrong! The clock stopped at 6:00:33. 4th place women’s team and close enough to 3rd to feel we had given a good race, but far enough behind (4 minutes) not to regret a slow moment somewhere. Overall 22nd. Results here.
Our placing doesn’t look much better than in Borås and we didn’t podium like last time, but the quality of the field at this race was stronger. We exceeded our target time by half an hour and were over 20 minutes faster than last year. True, the swims were much easier, but on the other hand there was an extra km of swimming to do! I was so pleased that we had a positive and strong race that did us justice 🙂
As before, everyone on the Isles of Scilly was so welcoming. Our B&B hosts had made scones and gave us juice when we got back, the other guests shared their photos of us (thanks Ken!) and all around the islands people talked to us about what we were doing and how we had got on. I can’t recommend the atmosphere and experience of this race enough.
Newquay only has one flight a week to / from Edinburgh, so post-race we had plenty of time to explore another island, eat cream teas and more ice cream, fly back to the mainland on a really tiny aeroplane (very exciting!), eventually find somewhere to stand up paddleboard and stroll the Lost Gardens of Helligan whilst melting in the heat. If you ever fly from Newquay, you should also know there is a perfectly lovely and swimmable beach / cove just 7 minutes drive away. And they serve Cornish pasties in the airport. Perfect end to the holiday before flying back … to rain!
People kept asking me what my next event was, and I would confidently reply ‘Bologna!’ (swimrun). Until Izzy reminded me that I was doing the first ever Ironman 70.3 in Edinburgh in two weeks’ time. Oh yes, that. And as it turns out, before that had even started, I’d agreed to slip in another swimrun as a replacement for an injured athlete. More on that later. Next!