Overhead video from a small number of laboratory tests conducted by Kaihatu et al. at the Tsunami Wave Basin at Oregon State University shows that the breaking point of a shoaling solitary wave shifts to deeper water if random waves are present. The analysis of the laboratory data collected confirms that solitary waves indeed tend to break earlier in the presence of random wave field, and suggests that the effect is the result of the radiation stresses gradient induced by the random wave fields. A theoretical approach based on the forced KdV equation is shown to successfully predict the shoaling process of the solitary wave. An ensemble of tests simulated using a state-of-the-art nonhydrostatic model is used to test the statistical significance of the process. The results of this study point to a potentially significant oceanographic process that has so far been ignored and suggest that systematic research into the interaction between tsunami waves and the swell background could increase the accuracy of tsunami forecasting.