An extraordinary race at the foot of the 7th Natural Wonder of the World
Torpedo SwimRun Cape Town
Race Report by Andrew Maclean
Sunday 17th November with temperatures dipping below zero in SwimRun’s homeland of Sweden – it was time to head south to try my first ever race in the Southern hemisphere. Torpedo SwimRun is the largest SwimRun organization in Africa and was also hosting its 3rd edition of their Cape Town race, proudly announced as “an extraordinary race at the foot of the 7th Natural Wonder of the World, a bucket list experience”. And in fact, it lived up to the hype; fully delivering an amazing day to end my winter vacation to South Africa.
I did not have the normal preparation going into a race; 5-star safari fully catered with 3-course meals cooked by our own chefs, freshly baked muffins on 5am game drives, and lazing around the pool drinking beers in the hope of spotting a curious lion or leopard during the days. This was followed by 3 days in the beautiful Franschhoek Wineland region where we toured the countless wine estates by bike and sampled some amazing bottles for about 5sek per glass!
Race weekend. We hired a beach apartment overlooking the stunning Camps Bay which was actually on the route of the Torpedo SwimRun and met my younger brother, Rob, deciding it was about time to try out our race equipment. I have been competing in SwimRun for 4 years now but this was to be my brother’s first ever SwimRun experience, so the equipment was all new to him. Without easy access to decent SwimRun equipment locally in South Africa, where it is still not yet a well-established sport, I took the risk of bringing all of it over with me from Sweden and winging it on the sizes. Thanks so much once again to Wolff Wear store and Ville for assisting on this, especially since I did it all last minute, visiting the store just the night before our flight. Fortunately, the Orca wetsuit and Salming trail shoes seemed to fit my brother very well. It took some trials and practice in major waves and cold ocean to get the pull cord at the right length. In fact, when we just about thought it was all working perfectly, we swam in on a big wave and my brother caught it and body surfed right past me, stretching the cord about 15m so it snapped and we were back at starting point! This sort of thing has never happened to me before in Sweden; it was to be one of several new dynamics to the race I was about to experience.
Our awesome preparations continued on the Saturday night before the race. Start time was 7am on Sunday with bus transfers to the start at 6am. However, Scotland happened to be playing South Africa in rugby the night before so it was, of course, obligatory to watch the match in a loud busy beach bar with the locals over a few pints of beer. We did manage to resist the tequila shots offered to us by friendly locals when they saw our sad faces at the end of the game. Scotland lost. There were also by now 40km winds blowing outside.
Race Day. The storm had died off and it was a beautiful morning as we started the racing; first up was a wild sprint downhill amongst some sand dunes and then in for the first cold swim. We soon noticed that we were one of the only teams with short light swimrun suits on and most had full-length wetsuits. I reassured my brother we would be OK and just have to swim fast and warm up on the hot runs. I also noticed that we were the only team using a pull cord between us. This is very common amongst teams in Europe. The course was truly beautiful and to be honest I enjoyed every single minute of this race. It was around 12 degrees in the water but we both managed to stay comfortable with a nice pace and then pushing on the runs. One of the unique concepts with Torpedo SwimRun was that unlike in all other races I have done, the slower or less experienced teams went first, followed by an intermediate group after 20 minutes (that we started in) and finally a fast/elite start group 10 minutes after us. I really enjoyed this concept and it was fun working to catch the 1st group and trying to prevent as many of the fast group as possible passing us. It also kept us all together more and most likely made a better spectacle for the bystanders watching. The 3rd run included a long high ascent up through the town of Llandudno and there we saw the first elite men’s teams catching up. These guys were seriously impressive; some very strong, young elite triathletes and super fit lifesaving teams. The winning men’s team in the race broke the course record, finishing in under 2 hours. I would confidently state that they would give the absolute top teams in Sweden a good fight – you guy’s should come over for ÖtillÖ in September! The longest swim was up next; 1300m with the famous 12 Apostles to help navigate on our right. The latter part of this swim was interesting as there was a short cut in between some shallow rocks that could cut about 200m from the swim if the tide was high enough. We went for it as most of the teams seemed to be but it didn’t go that well and I felt we lost some time here. The kelp was so thick at this point and we really got stuck in it with our pull cable and also paddles. For any Europeans who have not heard of kelp before, it is a large brown algae seaweed that is very thick and hard to swim through. So as well as navigating our swims above the water level, I also had to get used to navigating constantly for the best line to swim between the moving kelp forests. It was fun. Most of the time 😉
The stunning scenery continued as we had 2 longer hot runs and approached some of the famous beaches of Cape town; 1st Camps Bay and then towards the finish on Clifton Bay. The wind had picked up by now and was really blowing on the last swims but we kept a good pace and by now were the lead team from our middle start group and I believe we finished ahead of them all. We came 12th in the overall race which was a great surprise considering our lack of preparations as a team and being my brother’s first ever swim run experience! It was really cool to see a wild seal at the end of the last swim when approaching the finish line. Less cool was my brother’s fraternal competitiveness kicking in as we raced the final 20 meters up the beach. After pulling him for 16km, he decided to shout; “race you” at me as he sprinted past up the beach! I had plans for the normal friendly team finish, hand in hand crossing the line. But instead, the race commentator could be heard saying: “Team 342 is now finishing fast, a real sprint finish, hang on wait – it looks like they are racing each other!”
Overall, an awesome race experience that lived up to and surpassed my expectations. Very well organized and friendly people behind it. It was also fun to be interviewed by Eye Witness News on the beach at the finish line. SwimRun is still fairly new in South Africa but it is a growing sport and fast becoming more established. But I was one of the few foreigners (perhaps only?) to be competing. With its strong triathlon culture, in South Africa, we can see many strong triathletes crossing over to try it out and likely become hooked. My brother Rob seems to be one of those and commented on how interesting the SwimRun concept is as you never get bored or stuck on a segment for too long. There was a decent cash prize pool also for the race of R100,000 which added a nice competitive element.
I would love Torpedo Cape SwimRun to be the first African race to get into the ÖtillÖ merit system and would definitely say they are ready. Will I be back to race again? I certainly hope so. However, my next race planned in South Africa is the Robben Island to Cape Town open water swim race as it has also been too long on my bucket list. But Swedes; give this one consideration and add it to your 2019 race planning together with a lovely winter break in the sun.