In 2019, Neil Rutter scooped the bog snorkelling world championship award for the third year in a row. Here he explains why he is never happier than when speeding his way through a peat bog in Llanwrtyd Wells, which has garnered a name for itself as a hotbed of wacky sports, of which snorkelling through a murky stretch of oozing bog is but one…
Bog snorkelling is a bit of a weird one… How did you first get into it?
I first heard about it around 15 years ago while at uni. I mentioned to my friends at the time that we should have a go and make a weekend of it. It looked like such a mad thing to do, it was bound to be a laugh. So we all agreed to go for it, but nothing actually happened until 2017. We went to Wales for a glorious weekend camping in August. We all had a go in the bog and it was great fun. My turn (it is run like a time trial) came quite late in the day. I set off far too fast, bounced into the walls of the bog trench and choked on boggy water, but somehow managed to flap my way to the leading time. Suddenly it all became quite serious and I was announced ‘World Champion’! I was hooked just like that.
What do you love most about throwing yourself into a cold, murky bog in Mid Wales?
There is something brilliantly bonkers about the whole experience. You can’t see anything at all in the mud. It’s cold, dark and claustrophobic – and yet somehow exhilarating. While you can’t see anything, you can certainly hear it. Large crowds gather for the spectacle and cheer enthusiastically. It’s enough to take your mind off that thing that just swam past your heel or brushed against your face. You share the bog with the local boggy fauna.
Sounds fun (well, sort of). Now tell us a bit about the rules of the game…
The event involves ‘swimming’ two lengths of a 55m boggy trench (110m total), through sloppy bog mud using a ‘non conventional’ swim stroke. Front crawl, butterfly or any strokes over the mud are not permitted. Most bog snorkellers opt for some sort of doggy paddle. You must breathe through a snorkel and wear a mask. You can look above the mud only briefly to see where you’re going.
How does one become a champion bog snorkeller? What’s your secret?
Following my first ‘victory’, I did what comes worryingly naturally to me. I began to fixate on the event. I’d think things like: if I covered the course in 1:26 and swam in a zigzag, I probably swam 10m further than I needed. So how much quicker could I go if I swam in a straight line? What if I paced it better? The World Record is 1:22… I reckon I could beat that…
It became apparent I would be going back in 2018. My friends were up for it again. We drove over from the South West on the wettest day imaginable. I changed and ran over to the bog just in time to see my 62-year-old mum have a go. She was incredible! As the day drew on, my confidence grew. No one had come within two seconds of the time I posted in 2017 and I strongly believed I was going to go faster. Eventually, my confidence was proved right. I had a storming swim and splashed my way to a 1:18 World Record! In 2019 I returned with the guys once again and won my third title.
Why is bog snorkelling a thoroughly Welsh sport?
Ultimately, the event couldn’t happen anywhere else but Llanwrtyd Wells. It’s part of the DNA of the place. The vocal and enthusiastic support, the commentary, the festival atmosphere and the warmth of everyone involved all contribute to a magnificent, hilarious event. Most competitors are far less serious than I am. It probably speaks volumes about my personality that while many are dressed as bunches of grapes, crabs and mermaids, I’m sat getting in ‘the zone’ to try and go fast! There’s no getting away from it though, it’s really tough!
Any tips for would-be bog snorkellers? Does it help to be superfit?
The advice I gave my mum just before her effort in 2018 was “don’t go out too fast!” She went off like a train and by quarter distance was certainly feeling the burn in the legs and the metallic taste in the mouth. It’s that feeling of running a 400m (for those who remember that experience at school). She paced it perfectly last year and went a minute quicker. If anything, I’m a wus for trying to get in and out so quickly. I can’t imagine trying to complete it dressed as a papier-mâché Titanic!
Over the years I’ve competed as an athlete in swimming, rowing and track cycling. I’ve had results in all of these, but they’ve all been eclipsed by the bog, which will now forever define me. Actually, I’m fine with that!