Enduroman Arch to Arc Triathlon
I have done sports my whole life at various levels, but in the summer of 2006 I was spending more time in the pub socializing than being active or having a goal. So I decided to swim the English Channel. The following September I was standing on Shakespeare Beach ready to go. I hadn’t prepared too well, I didn’t really know what I was in for, but that day I swam to France, and my sporting path changed.
Soon a triathlon, swim race, bike race, run race, adventure race or game of waterpolo was no longer enough, so I started looking for bigger and better events to enter. In the next 4 years I swam the length of Lake Zurich, ran my first marathon, my first multi-day marathon event, my first Ultra and then completed in the 2011Marathon des Sables.
The day before Brighton Marathon in April 2010, I entered the Enduroman Arch to Arc triathlon. I was bored of the normal bucket list type races and not very motivated for the marathon the next day. This decision paved the next two and a half years of my life.
I was already training for the Lake Zurich marathon swim and building up my run training for the Marathon des Sables [where he met our editor, Tobias Mews] in 2011, so all I had to do was introduce weight training and add in some miles on the bike. The strength training would help ensure that I had few physical weaknesses. My strength has always been to mentally switch off during long events and so, for me, I just had to concentrate on being physically strong and unbreakable.
Training for an Arch to Arc triathlon world record
The world record on paper was well within reach and I already knew that it would all rest on the swim. If I could swim at the speed I felt I could without getting tired, I would be able to get straight on to the bike and get myself to Paris to beat the record. In training, I slowed my stoke rate down and increased my strength so that swimming became comparable to walking. I have swum my whole life and would consider it my strongest discipline so my fitness there returned with relatively little work.
I didn’t want to train too much as the priority was to be on the start line fit and healthy. I would make my big training sessions but if I felt I was over doing it or that I was at risk of injuring myself I would skip the smaller sessions.
Growing through failures as I trained for the Enduroman Arch to Arc
I set myself reasonably big targets along the way to see how training was going and the most important were the events I failed. I cannot stress how necessary failure was in order to succeed. You can’t fully learn about yourself or your body until you push it to its limits.
September 2010: I pulled out of the London to Brighton run (56 miles) after 10 hours and 42 miles.
August 2011: I pulled out of the Ridgeway run (85 miles) after 14 hours 18 minutes and 61.5 miles.
April 2012: I pulled out of the ONER (78.6 miles) after 17 hours 50 minutes and 58.7 miles.
One particular training weekend stands out for its ups and downs: I finished work at 6 p.m. on Friday night and started running. I got home 10 hours later at 4 a. m. Sunday I should have swum for 6 hours in Dover harbor but got out after just 3 hours as I just couldn’t motivate myself. Monday I went out for 100 miles on the bike and felt great. This again was a lesson that however bad I felt one day had no bearing on how I would feel the following day, and compartmentalizing the disciplines ensured a successful weekend of training.
Running from the Arch
At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday September 5, I was standing under Marble Arch. As I ran through Hyde Park the relief hit me as I hoped it would. The hardest part for me was getting to the start line fit and healthy, the easy bit would be getting to the finish line. I knew I would see the Arc de Triomphe soon!
I’m 205lbs, so running isn’t the easiest, but all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other and I couldn’t go too wrong. I was hoping the run section would take around 24 hours but I wasn’t worried. I just wanted to get to Dover without feeling tired. I got there in 26 hours 20 minutes 37seconds with very sore feet and quads, but I didn’t feel tired. I was very happy as feet and quads aren’t necessary for swimming.
In order to finish the run fairly fresh, the trick was to move as slowly as possible and eat and drink as much as possible. I ate a mixture of rice cakes with strawberry jam, plain bagels with honey, malt loaf with butter and cereal bars. All I drank was water. It was important to me to think of the event as another normal day at the office – no need for fancy gear and nutrition, just simple hard work. At about 37 miles I had a decent dinner which was brought out to me by a friend. I had 2 baked potatoes with cheese and tuna, washed down with coffee. I had found it tough for an hour or so up to this point. The hot food and the sit down kept me going right into the night.
The run wasn’t too bad, I enjoyed running out through London and watching the postcodes go by. The first major landmark was the M25, it was great to arrive there and know that I was well on my way. Maidstone was also good as I was very nearly half way. A little after Maidstone the running got harder and I was walking a lot. But I was happy enough as I knew getting to Dover was the priority, not the time I got there.
My quads and feet were getting sore but that was the only real issue. I had two 15 minute sleeps during the run which were a big help. The sun came up as I was coming up to Folkestone Race Course where I stopped for a bacon and egg roll and a cup of tea. I had a radio interview with BBC London 94.9 about 9 a.m. The next couple of hours were OK, but as I got to the top of the hill outside Dover my feet were in a lot of pain and the last seven miles took a while. I got to Dover and immediately started the recovery process as I crossed the line about lunch time. I was asleep by 3 p.m. and back up again at 9 p.m. I had breakfast of Shredded Wheat, bananas and crumpets.
Swimming for France
At 2:15 a.m. on Friday, I was getting on the boat Anastasia in Dover Marina and motored round to Shakespeare beach. I jumped off the back of the boat and swam to the beach where my wife and Dad were waiting. I said my goodbyes and starting swimming in to the night. The swim was very uneventful, but I enjoyed every second of it and was given an energy drink and a bit of chocolate or banana every 45 minutes.
I think my ability to switch my mind off during a long swim means that I don’t feel the loneliness or negative thoughts that many Channel swimmers suffer with. Eleven hours and 48 minutes later I was being greeted by a French restaurant owner as I was swimming up to his beach side restaurant at Cap Gris Nez. He gave me a glass of champagne which I drank quickly before swimming back to my boat. I had to be motored up to Calais to start my bike leg, this took an hour and it was great opportunity for a little sleep.
In Calais, I had mussels and chips with a can of coke in a local restaurant and got changed in to my bike gear. Between finishing my swim and starting my bike was only 3 hours 22 minutes.
Biking for the Arc – the final leg of my triathlon
The start of the bike in the Arch to Arc was great. I knew I was on the homeward stretch. It was still a long way to go – 181 miles – but I was very comfortable on the bike and very happy with everything. Before long it was getting dark and I started feeling hungry again. We stumbled across a roadside diner and I had a cheeseburger and a coffee which got me going again. During the rest of the bike I didn’t eat much but bars of chocolate, cereal bars and bananas.
As I got to about 2 a.m. (about 8 hours into the ride), I started to get very tired. I stopped for two, 30 minute sleeps not far apart from each other and they didn’t refresh me at all. At about 4 a.m., I stopped for an hour and a half, which was the best thing I could have done because when I woke up there was only about an hour until sunrise and as soon as the sun came up I was like a different person. There were still about 6 hours to go, but I felt great.
I stopped for breakfast at about 9 a.m. the final morning in a baker’s shop (after 15 hours on the bike), I enjoyed this and we may have stayed there a bit too long! From then on in I was so close to Paris that nothing could stop me. For about the last 10 miles there was a lot of traffic and I had to stay at the speed of the support car, but this was fine as I was in no rush. Before long I was in the center of Paris and very soon turning on to the Champs Elysees. The feeling was amazing and I was so happy. As I got closer to the Arc de Triomphe I could see my lovely wife waiting for me. The bike leg took 18 hours 9 minutes, and the overall time from the Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe – including all rest stops etc – was 73 hours 39 minutes 12 seconds, a new World Record.
Without meaning to sound arrogant, I had the self-belief and confidence that I could achieve not only completion of the Enduroman Arch to Arc triathalon, but the World Record too. This belief ensured me I was ready to knock down any stumbling blocks along the way and that I ultimately achieved my goal.