In this episode Oli Russell-Cowan chats to Neil Rutter, the fastest man in the bog. Neil is a swimmer, track cyclist and art teacher from Swindon, UK. When Bob and the Bog committee contacted him earlier this year to invite him back along for the World Bog Snorkelling Championships he accepted. This strange competition is held every year in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales.
In their conversation Neil dives deep on his experience snorkeling through murky water, how he trains, different techniques and kit. After winning 3 times Neil gets into the limelight of the press. Can he lower the world record? By 1, 5, 10 seconds? Who knows.
The main takeaway of the chat was that we shouldn’t take things to seriously. Bog Snorkeling is an eccentric English experience. For Neil it’s meant to be a laugh.
“It’s the most popular sport, surely.”
Neil: Well, surely everyone knows.
It’s the most popular sport, surely. Bog snorkeling is this bizarre sport was created back in 1985, I think. In a little pub in Wales called the Neward Arms. A group sat together and they’re like, well, how do we raise a bit of charity money. They came up with the idea of digging a trench in their local bog in Llanwrtyd Wells and timing people to swim up and down it.
1985 happened and a few people turned up. By the time we got to last year, the 34th annual edition and you’ve got hundreds of people. About 180 people turned up last year, lining these two bog trenches of people swimming up and down a muddy, cold dank bog using conventional swimming strokes to try and record the fastest time or just to have a great laugh dressed fancy dress.
Neil: About 15 years ago, in fact. I was back at university.
My friends and I saw it. I can’t remember exactly what news outlet it came on. But it was one of those final stories that you get on the news. And finally sort of stories. We saw the stupid thing happening with people swimming up and down a bog and not people in fancy dresses I described.
“We looked at each other and said we are totally doing that, got to do that. Should we do it? ”
Yeah. 100% we’ll do it this summer, it will be amazing. That summer came and went then the following summer came and went, About 13 years later, it was one of their birthdays. And we called each other. What are we going to do to celebrate your birthday? We just decided why don’t we go to that bog thing that we never got around to doing. So a good posse of us went on down and camped.
It was an absolutely glorious weekend. We just turned up and at the end of the day, we all had our go. We’re typically late, we’re always late for everything. We signed on, we swam up and down and it just so happened that my time at the end of the day it looked like it was going to stand as the quickest. Suddenly it became a little bit more serious.
We starting looking at each other one after the next until the final competitors went. I think I might win this and finally I did.
That was it, I was hooked. The next year I was thinking much more seriously I might be able to break a world record so to speak.
Neil: Yeah glorious weather as well. Absolutely stunning warm hot summer day, just the perfect weather for it. So a bit of a system shock the following year when we turned up and it was peeing it down with rain. It was horrendous. But it kind of inspired you to get in and out even quicker.
Neil: Don’t swim into the walls.
Don’t get deterred by the creepy crawlies. The various fauna swimming around in there that you share the bog with.
I remember back in 2017 we were sitting around the campfire the night before. So we started with researching what a non-conventional swimming stroke is. We worked out what a non-conventional swing stroke is and that you had to do some sort of either doggy paddle with your arms or your arms weren’t allowed to come over the surface of the water. You have to wear flippers and you have to wear a snorkel. You have to be looking in the mud, which isn’t much point as you can’t see anything and swim two lengths of this thing.
It works out at 110 meters.
Neil: Definitely, honestly, everyone goes off way too hard and blows up at the distance. So, certainly, whatever technique you choose pace yourself. It’s a leg sport more than anything. Whatever technique you decide to use, it’s about using your legs.
The arms being flopping in viscous mud create quite a lot of resistance. So relying on them isn’t gonna be anywhere near as powerful as getting your legs involved. So just rely on your kick. Whatever sort of kick you go for, that’s what’s gonna get you from a to b.
I have some theories. I’ve been thinking about it. Yeah, I’m not sure. The butterfly kick I went with necessarily quicker. I’d like to have a look for next year in 2021.
Neil: Yeah, I’m intending to. So Bob and the Bog committee went and contacted me earlier in the year. They very kindly invited me back along. And to be honest, because I won the thing three times and got that world record I just kind of felt like I’d done it. And I was planning on popping back with my mates again and probably donning some sort of fancy dress thing. And just enjoying it.
Last year suddenly became a bit serious. I never envisioned sitting on the side of a bog, getting in the zone, whatever that is.
Neil: It was absolutely terrifying. I never intended it to be like that. So I was quite keen at the end of that. I can’t do that again. It’s only ever meant to be a laugh. It feels far too serious. And then Bob got in contact with me by email and he said, Well, we’d like to invite you back. And I thought about it for a bit and a few months have passed. I thought if I do go to try some things out.
They may think I’m some sort of expert but actually I have no real clue what I’m doing. I’ve swum up and down a bog about three times. So is it the fastest? What I chose on the first attempt seemed to work so I stuck with it.
I could turn up and do a little time trial and find out no, there’s much quicker ways of getting from A to B here. I could try out some different kit. I’ve been looking at more aerodynamic kit options. Apparently a hand me down, ripped up old wetsuit I’ve been using might not be the quickest. Maybe there are kit gains to be had. So if I’m gonna do it, let’s do it, do it properly and geek out on it a little bit.
See if I can lower that world record by 1, 5, 10 seconds who knows. with a bit of training, who knows how much you can lower it?
Neil: The thing I trained for is track cycling. If I look at the number of times I go around the velodrome, I’ve probably been around the velodrome 50,000 times in my life. I pretty much know how to go around the velodrome. So as I well maybe I should go and go to a lake or something and see if I can close my eyes and swim in a straight line for a start. I looked at the video of me from 2017 I must have swum 10 meters further than I needed to. Sort of go off like a train. You can see me absolutely nailing it for the first 50 meters and then I stick my head up looking all shocked and I walloped myself into the wall.
So getting yourself swimming in a straight line and remembering to take a look occasionally that really helped so much.
I went down to the local lake and just started closing my eyes and trying to aim for a buoy in the distance for one of my mates. The first time I tried it, I thought I’m not going to look at all I’m gonna swim 50 kicks and I’m gonna open my eyes and see where I am. I swam this giant arc and I was like where’s the buoy gone? Ah the buoys over there.
So yeah, learning the formula straight line.
In terms of actual hours, not not a great deal of time we’ve put into it. It was more a case of can I swim in a straight line and maintain my leg strength. So weights and cycling which I was naturally doing for track anyway.
Neil: You did a really good time actually if I remember. Wasn’t it something around 1 min 45 sec?
Oli: Yeah, I was happy with it was the first time so I didn’t know what to expect. I went in. I thought, Okay, well, you know, if I go in as an international, I’ve got an Australian passport. So yeah, maybe I can make podium internationally. That didn’t happen. I think I was like, a minute before Bog announced the results and it got taken off, anyway.
It was super fun. We were thinking about whether we could come again this year, but it’s not to be so hopefully next year.
Neil: British lockdown has been a strange thing. In typical British fashion, nothing is completely hard and fast. You look at the rules that we’re supposed to be following or we’re supposed to be following. It’s all changed as of Wednesday, and now nobody knows what they’re doing. But up till Wednesday when it was a bit clearer, there was still so much ambiguity. We were allowed out for exercise once per day. So, I was out every day riding my bike and just staying a little bit more local than I normally would.
There was a sudden rush on home gym equipment, and I managed to get an order in for some home gym equipment just before it went mad. So I’ve got myself a barbell and some bits and bobs. So I’ve been doing sort of garden gym, but I looked afterward and you can’t get weights for love nor money. People are selling lumps of concrete on weightlifting sale sites. It’s all gone a bit a bit crazy.
I’ve been able to get my training in which has kept me sane. And I’m just working from home as everyone has been. Just locked in answering endless emails it’s been very, very strange.
Neil: The quirky stuff, going back to the bog was definitely on the agenda, I was looking forward to that. I have. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the Tenburry Wells Hill Stack race? It would be well up your street.
In the second May bank holiday in England, obviously canceled this year, Tenburry Wells which is a local town to me, has another one of these obscure race come festivals. They’ve got this steep hill and everyone that kicks bags of 25-kilo wool onto their backs, and they sprint up this hill side by side and it’s sort of mano a mano fashion to sprint for victory. Some of the guys that are just phenomenal. I got roped into doing it a few years ago and I was definitely up for having another crack at that because that’s another one of those all the townspeople all the way down the side of it cheering. It’s great fun, good commentary, festival atmosphere. So that’s up my street again for a good fun thing to go and do.
2021 maybe the Wolf Stack maybe and definitely the bog again.
Neil: Well all of all my holiday this year along with everybody has been canceled. Looking for heading to Mallorca to ride some hills around there.
Croatia. I’ve never been there. I’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful. We were looking at for the summer but got put on ice. I was keen to go back to Amsterdam.
I studied art at university. I teach art. There’s so much fantastic stuff in Amsterdam. I was dead keen to go and have a look at again. Amsterdam is not going anywhere. I can head back there. So maybe all of those can happen in 2021.
Neil: It’d be awesome. If you can come along again. It’d be good fun.
Last updated on May 20, 2020
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