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Jude and Paul take on The World’s Toughest Swimrun Race: Rockman

Paul and Jude at 4am about to get on the ferry to the start - jumping off the ferry!

In August 2023 both Jude and Paul travelled out to Norway to take part in what has been described as 'the world's toughest Swimrun course'.  Both completed in the full course pairs, with different partners.  Paul was partnered with Fred Newton, editor of who wrote the account below of his experience on the course.  Full article is on here

Rockman Swimrun: The World’s Toughest Swimrun Race

Clouds shroud mountain tops and the wind blows so hard that small rocks fly around you. One kilometre of distance running takes over an hour to complete and the water from high mountain lakes is cold and stings your face as you gasp for breath. On.On.On. The only way is forward, sometimes the terrain becomes so steep that on all fours is the only way to progress. Our journey is glacial but momentum is key. For we are following the path of ancient folklore and the legend of Rockman.

This is Rockman Swimrun. An iconic race in its eighth year, set around Norway’s Lysefjord (which is a sunken high sided valley filled with water), traversing through the surrounding mountain ranges and high lakes. The race has the most vertical ascent of any in the world, at 2600m. And while subjective, the battered and bruised souls who cross the finish line will say there is nothing harder*. It is also indescribably beautiful. You are a mere speck in a gigantic rocky landscape where the mountains tower above you and the Fjord seems huge.

Dawn and race start

Mother Nature Roars

After a calm few days, the wind was building in a crescendo which would reach full force in the afternoon. The organising team were stoic in their approach, dancing on a knife edge of whether conditions that were acceptable for swimrun. Gossip spread around the 5am ferry from Stavanger to the race start, would the race or swims be cancelled? Even the most seasoned athletes admitted some nerves before jumping off the front of the ferry for a short 400m swim to the shoreline.

One last breath and we were in the water, arms rotating furiously and palatable relief at starting our journey. Conditions despite the forecast were calm as we completed a relatively short and sheltered swim which would take us to the shore.

The 4444 stairs at Florli.

I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto The Hills

The race course evolves into mountain terrain, white specs pepper the cliffs above us – apparently deposits from the last glacier to come through. The terrain for the remaining 25km or so of the race is barely runnable and turns into a fast or slow hike through boulder fields and switchbacks. We are either climbing or descending and the 2600m of ascent takes a toll as tired legs are willed on by strong minds

The views are simply jaw-dropping. With each climb, a new panorama opens up below us. The slow nature of our running which at this point had become a walk allows us to take in this natural environment around us. It is a privilege to be here. In a place of such unspoilt beauty. Towering vertical cliffs rear above us on swim legs as waterfalls cascade into the fjord. There are mountains everywhere, small edible blueberries carpet the forest floor and we drink from ice cold streams. The sense of time, all but evaporates.

The 1.7km crossing. Photo credit: Escobedoheart.

Discovering The True Joy Of Pulpit Rock

Pulpit rock is one of the most famous natural landmarks in Norway, a table shaped rock which juts out far out into the Fjord. The race route is an out and back, 1km up and 1km down. It is of course stunning, but the number of visitors detract from it feeling like the rest of the rugged Rockman course and mark a stark contrast to the rest of our day.

The true joy of Pulpit Rock is revealed as we receive a high-five from a fellow swimrunner. What follows are high fives, fist bumps and encouragement shouted out in many different languages. It is an incredible feeling of camaraderie and bond between the other athletes. Our turn comes as we descend, yelling encouragement back. It is a genuine and warm feeling of human connection and was a special moment, rarely experienced in races.

Jude and teammate Pat on Pulpit rock - not for the faint hearted

The Journey Home

Each year of the Rockman race has a new chapter, as a story book winds its way towards a conclusion. This year was titled ‘The Journey Home’. And for the last hour we wound our way towards the finish line, making short two swims before a twisting trail run to the finish at Preikestolen Base Camp. Our journey was complete as we finished a truly challenging course through mountains, lakes and Fjord.

The Verdict

Rockman is swimrun at its most wild, raw and adventurous. It is you and your partner against the elements. It is not for the faint hearted. And while it might be the ‘World’s Toughest Swimrun Race’ it is also set in a beautiful, serene and awe-inspiring natural glacial landscape formed many life times ago and will outlast us all. And that is a humbling thought.  

Paul and teammate Fred Newton

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