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Sunday, 28 November 2021

Breca Loch Lomond SwimRun - Sheep Chases & a Unique Event

Race Report for Breca Loch Lomond Swimrun - 7th August 2021

As a Breca Ambassador for 2021 I was lucky enough to be gifted this event. 


Some events are all about times, speed and going faster. The wind in your face and the ground under your shoes. And then there are the other ones. The ones where you remember snapshots of windswept hills, of bare rock and scrambling over stones, of ponies silhouetted against the sky. This event was one of the latter. 

This was my very first visit to Scotland and what better way to celebrate visiting a new country than to swim your very furthest distance as part of a 21km swimrun event? Isn’t this what everyone does when they visit somewhere new? Try and die in a new and interesting way?


Well no spoilers, but clearly I survived. I like to believe that trying the Scottish traditional food and drink beforehand helped … haggis washed down with copious amount of Scottish Whiskey.  Granted, this wasn’t IMMEDIATELY before. I do have a small amount of sense. Occasionally. 

I'd remembered to put the distances on in permanent marker this time!

The Loch Lomond swim run is a pretty epic event. It starts at Balloch Castle and then the participants swim to the first island in the loch, run across the island, swim to the next, run across this island and so on until they finish at Luss which is very pretty, fairytale looking village on the far side of the Loch, just across the border in the Scottish Highlands.
What an adventure.


This is not an event if you are focused on time or pace. This is an event for you if you want memorable experiences, to be able to run ‘in the moment’ and to do something that you know you will remember.

Even the start was very special and very unique. As the swim runners stood on the rabbit-nibbled grass, a piper played melodies which echoed between the trees and the stony walls of Balloch Castle. The sky was grey and overcast and it seemed that the storm that was threatened might come in early. 


We were kept updated by Jake on the PA system and the water safety crews had been sent out to the islands but the rougher water conditions had delayed them so the start was later than expected. I didn’t mind this as it meant more time speaking to the new friends I’d made and catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen for a while. 


The event started in a park, but almost immediately turned into beautiful winding trails. I was watching every step as the trails were rocky but the surroundings were gorgeous. Each tree had a moss covering and it felt as though I was about to step into a fairytale. 


Soon, I was at the shores of the Loch, wading into the tea coloured waters and pulling my swim cap on. Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Great Britain at 22 kilometres long and 8 kilometres wide and is known for being quite chilly, but I was pleasantly surprised as the water felt quite warm. I splashed in and started my first swim across to the first island on the course which was Inchmurrin.


Inchmurrin was the site of a 7th century monastery with a chapel dedicated to Saint Mirrin after whom the island was named. It is full of history having been a deer park, has the ruins of a castle, raided by Rob Roy and was also a mental asylum and a place unmarried pregnant women were sent to give birth. It was also the site where the haggis hurling world record was broken. Quite a history for an island which isn’t even a mile square! 

There were 9 swim sections in this 21km event ranging from a distance of 1.4km to s short as 0.1 kilometres. The swim sections were all very different. Some were from mainland shore to island, from island to island, across a cove or in the case of the final one, a wade up a stream bed! I was surprised also at how different the water temperatures felt too as the loch wasn’t one temperature throughout. The run sections also all had their individual charms. Some sections were scrambles, some were feet-picking careful treading between pebbles and some were simply not for running. This is not an event if you are tied to minute/miles and new Personal Bests. This is an event for memories and adventures. 


The second island was Craobh-Innis which means tree island and we skirted the boundary of this one, run-walking on pebbles and stones on the beach. This one felt quite wild and remote and I couldn’t see another soul for a long time which made it feel quite special. The sky was dark and lowered which made it feel quite atmospheric. 

It is a great event for staying in the moment as there is no opportunity to get complacent. I had no chance to think about chores, about plans, about anything other than the section I was swimming or the part of the course I was running.


There are 10 runs and 9 swims, the run totalling 15km and the swim was a distance of 6km. This would be my longest ever swim distance, although it was to be broken up by the island and shoreline runs. I didn’t doubt that I could do it, just aware that as one of the slower swimmers, I was going to be out there a long time. Particularly as I was swimming while wearing trainers!

I did consider carrying my trainers and putting them on after the swims, but the Breca events are deliberately not polished and not everything packaged up for you. They are deliberately wild and rugged and aim to show you the unspoilt parts of the area. As a result, the transitions - the part where the water meets land - is quite difficult terrain. Often cliffs or pebbles or stones. They’re not designed to be easy. They are meant to be natural and wild and exactly how they should be. As such, it’s not practical to have no shoes or feet coverings. The rocks are often sharp.


The swim from Craobh-Innis to Inchcailloch bypasses Torrinch island entirely and this is one of the longest swim sections because of looping around Torrinch. The swim curves around the island, missing it out due to nesting birds and wildlife, and continues onto Inchailloch island.


This swim was quite choppy and as the wind was coming from the East, every time I breathed to the right side, I’d see the water being skimmed off the wave tops by the wind making it look as though it was heavily raining and stormy in this direction. But breathing to the left, the water and conditions seemed calm. It was almost like a film effect, storms and rain one side, calm and serene the other. As a result every time I saw Torrinch island, it appeared stormy and rocky and menacing. 

I very much enjoyed the running sections across the islands. Each island was very unique and had its own distinct character. And each felt like nowhere I had run before. They all had a very individual beauty and each felt very remote which was helped by rarely seeing any other people. I felt as though I was running and swimming my own event and I felt very lucky to be on these beautiful islands and treading these paths.


The final island was Inchailloch which felt much less remote than the others. I passed groups of walkers on the tracks among the trees and there is a church and a graveyard on the island. There have even been white deer seen here as recently as 2003 although I did not see these. 
The event was not without its comical moments though … there were some very rocky transitions and I fell over coming out of one of the swims, straight back into the water, and having once stood upright fell over again. The photographer missed my falls but did manage to spot me chuckling at my absolute lack of balance.


Coming across one of the islands down a farm track, one of the swim runners managed to accidentally join a flock of sheep. She ran a bit quicker which meant she was now in front of the sheep and as the track narrowed, she couldn’t stop or slow down as they’d take her knees out from behind. From behind, it was hilarious, watching this poor girl get chased by the sheep. Probably not for her, but for me watching, gold. 

I was relieved it wasn’t me being chased as I would have been run down and stampeded over. I did however realise, that if the sheep could also swim faster than me (likely) then in a triathlon it would come down to the bike leg. 


It was a day of falling over. I fell over again in front of the photographer … they just missed it again - phew! Straight onto my bum on some rocks. Luckily the wetsuit and the tow float both provided some rather marvellous padding. 

And then I ran into a tree. In my defence, there were a LOT of trees in this windy section and I was looking at my feet. I kind of winded myself a bit and then shook myself and stood up and got back on with it. Tree seemed ok too. 


Having not learned my lesson after the tree, I then tripped over again and landed straight into the sand. This was after the final swim and I was now covered in sand and mud and with no more swims to wash it off. Bother.


However, there was a river wade coming into the last section just past the pretty village of Luss, and I ran and splashed my way along the river, scrambled up the bank and had a bit of a run coming into the finishing field and under the arch. 


What a lovely Scottish adventure. 6 kilometres swimming and some running along remote trails and on islands in a loch. I’d walked hills, swum in. A loch, made new friends, NOT been chased by sheep and had heard bagpipes being played in Scotland. All in a day. 
I loved the uniqueness of this event and if you want something wild and beautiful and entirely memorable, then I can’t recommend this event enough.

For more information, take a look at the event here.

Photos by Route North Photos and included as part of every entry.