What is the Arch to Arc?

The Arch to Arc is a mega-triathlon from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It involves an 87 mile ultra-marathon run from London to Dover, a 21mile swim across the English Channel and then a 181mile bike ride from Calais to Paris. When it is raced in a relay format it is classically done by 6 individuals doing an hour of exercise and then 5 hours off. Vickie and I will be the first 2 person team to attempt the Arch to Arc and we intend to break the 40hour barrier which will challenge some of the fastest 6-person relay teams. To make it even more unique Vickie will do the entire 87mile run, I will do the Channel swim and we will relay the bike ride (got to play to our strengths, plus I don't like running).

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Enduroman Arch to Arc - The Run Leg

The final preparations for our Arch to Arc Challenge took place at whirlwind speed as we were called up to start our Challenge before our date window!  We had been given the dates of 8th-13th August for the swim window (the neap tide), and the earliest I therefore expected to start running was on the Friday.  However, due to the possibility of poor weather over the weekend we were encouraged by Enduroman to aim for a early Friday morning swim, therefore the official run start time was set for 9am on Thursday 6th August at Marble Arch.  I spent the day on Wednesday whizzing about; tidying up from the fundraising party we held on the previous night, driving up to BodyKraft to collect the support van, doing a shop for food supplies, a final kit check and packing.  Not much time for putting my feet up and resting bearing in mind I had an 87 mile run to get through the following day, but at least this meant the day went by really quickly and I didn't spend too much time worrying about what lay ahead!

An early 5am start from Cheltenham with my fantastic run crew (Paul Willis and Kim Boon) meant we beat the rush hour traffic into London; we were at Marble Arch with plenty of time to spare and there was time to pose for a few fun photos before we met Dan (our Enduroman official) for the event briefing.
At Marble Arch with Paul, Kim and the lucky 'never ever give up' mascot!
Just before 9am Rach and Mike Beecham also appeared on their bikes, which was brilliant - it ended up being quite a send off!  9am struck and we were off with Dan cycling beside me showing me the route.  Through Hyde Park, past the walls of Buckingham Palace, over Vauxhall Bridge and past the MI5 building, weaving through all of the commuters, past a rather scary arrest involving at least 8 policemen and two police vans in Peckham, then on to the A20 at New Cross, before heading towards Lewisham, Sidcup and Swanley.  The weather conditions were perfect, there were plenty of sights to look at and it was great having Rach and Mike with me on their bikes, providing plenty of banter to help pass the time!  We were without the support vehicle until the 3 hour point as Paul and Kim had a really tough time getting out of the city in the rush hour traffic, but Rach plied me with the extra sports drinks I needed in the meantime, I had a supply of gels, and we met the vehicle just in time for the first feed - great timing!
Out of London in to Kent!
I was feeling pretty comfortable jogging steadily along at my planned 10 min/mile pace and ate my cheese roll and some jelly snakes power walking up a hill at about the 20 mile point.  This was when I first started to feel uncomfortable; the roll didn't go down at all well and I got stitch followed by a horrid tummy ache which lasted for a couple of hours.  During this time I also developed a really painful blister on the ball of my right foot (oh why so early!?!) and it was time to implement my plan of 'how to get through the bad times'.

Operation 'Blister'!
My run/walk strategy was not allowed to come in to play yet - it was too early on and the discomfort was not bad enough.  I made myself smile and say cheerful and positive things whenever I saw my support crew - a rule Ollie taught me; if you don't verbalise any of the negative thoughts that are in your head you are not really feeling them.  I kept smiling.  I just took on electrolyte fluids until my tummy felt better, no more carbs for a while - something I learnt the hard way in Hawaii.  I kept smiling - no sadness allowed.  I had a great cheer squad around me at that point - thank you Lucinda Bayliss, Ollie and Simon popped up for a while on their way to Dover, and mum and dad also arrived.  They all helped me to keep the positive thoughts at the forefront of my mind more than they could imagine.  I kept smiling.  I thought about all of our friends and neighbours who had given us such a great send off at our fund raising party and how they were all tracking me and I couldn't let them down.  And I kept smiling - stay happy, enjoy the occasion, 'you are never going to do anything like this again' I told myself.

Number 1 rule - keep smiling!
It was brilliant to have such a great team of supporters on the road, it honestly made the long journey fun and, as I saw everyone on such a regular basis, I was never short of cheers of encouragement - I was honestly having a great time, 'I love running' I kept saying inside my head - my mantra - always stay positive!

Fun along the way!
The crew - (L to R) Paul, Dad, Kim, Mum, me, Ollie, Simon
It was excellent seeing Nicky 'Noodle' Anderson and Caroline (friends from Uni days who live near Maidstone).  Once I had adjusted my feeding regime (just cafe latte GU gels, orange High5 electrolyte drink, cookies and cream Power Bars and Salt Sticks - no more cheese rolls!) I didn't have any more tummy problems, my hip was not playing up, I had a great play list on my ipod and I was visited by the Enduroman 'Ultra-Stalker (!?!).  As the miles flicked by I was still feeling good and still having fun!  Before I knew it Rach and Mike were also back on the roadside, I had a good 55 mile massage and stretch by Kim Boon (who is also a great swim coach by the way!) and Paul was like clockwork and really keeping me 'on track' with my feeds.

Run Butler Paul - in charge of nutrition!
Run Butler Kim - in charge of stretches and massage!
Before I knew it it was getting dark, I was donning my fluro vest, shortly followed by the lights, and there was just a marathon to go!  I hadn't needed to use my run/walk strategy, I had kept my pace going really well, better than I had probably imagined I would, so I started to ask Paul about the record.  I knew it was just under 16 hours and I was feeling like I could up my pace a bit and push on to try and break this.  The advice that came back to me was not to push the pace too soon, the record was breakable if I could just maintain the pace I was holding, but I felt good and knew I could up the intensity.  I held back for another 10k and then gave it every last bit of effort that I had left for the last 20 miles.  My legs were strong, they didn't let me down, and they were really helped by a couple of standing assisted stretches with Kim.  A fast power walk up the long 1.5 mile hill up to Capel-Le-Ferne with Kim and Rach and a short off-road run section with Kim and all of the hard work was done, it was just the run in to Dover to do!  I couldn't believe it, I had been running for just under 14 hours at this point, I couldn't possibly almost be there!  But I was!  Kim popped up again and she had been directed by Dan as to how to get me to the finish.  Dan had gone ahead so he could accurately time the finish and Kim guided me through the town (via a subway!) to the harbour.

The final run in
There ahead of me were the stone pillars that marked the finish line and, as I ran between them, I felt overcome with emotion.  I had made it and there were so many people there congratulating me - Ollie, mum and dad, Kim, Paul, Rach and Mike, Dan, Dave Granger (who was about to start his team Channel crossing), Rob, Finn and Simon (Ollie's swim crew), I chatted to Tim on the phone, it was brilliant - and it was a record time of 14:14:55!  I was thrilled and I wanted to lie down and sleep, and cry, and laugh, and do it all again all at the same time!  It was so exciting!  I kept saying to myself 'this is why I do it, this is why I make all of the sacrifices that training hard necessitates!'  Thank you so much to everyone who supported me and helped to make this possible - I'll never forget it.

The finish!
Look out for the next instalment coming soon - The Swim Leg!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

We made it!!

Vickie ran for 14hrs and 14minutes from London to Dover, we had a nearly 5hour delay waiting for the tides to catch us up and then I swam for 9hours and 8minutes across the English Channel. Our boat then took the best part of two and a half hours to get up to Calais where Vickie started cycling and we rotated roughly every hour until we arrived in Paris 12 hours and a half hours later for  total time of 43 hours 18minutes. We'll do a proper write up shortly but here are a few pictures in the meantime:

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

We are set to go!

Tomorrow at approximately 9am Vickie will head off from Marble Arch for the start of the 87mile run to Dover. She will hopefully arrive in Dover in the very early hours of Friday morning. The projected swim start is 3am Friday morning and all being well I will be finished, 21 miles later, by around midday or soon after. We will then start the 181mile bike ride into Paris. If we can maintain a half decent bike time we should be cycling into the Arc de Triomphe before sunrise on Saturday morning. You can follow our entire journey on this GPS link.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

2 weeks to go………………..

The start of the Arch to Arc is just over 2 weeks to go now. I have spoken to Mike Oram (boat pilot) and Edgar Ette (the official from Enduroman). Mike was his usual dour self, he forecast a 15-16 hour swim based on his experience of Arch to Arc swimmers. When I suggested I might be quicker given my swimming background and world record around Manhattan he was quick to suggest this would be a poor reflection on how I would swim the channel. He even suggested the wetsuit might slow me down which seemed a little odd. I'm hoping I can prove him substantially wrong. He is the authority on piloting channel swimmers and has seen record breakers and spectacular failures but I'm going to take his comments with a grain of salt. Edgar Ette was also a little sceptical on Vickie's hopes of running sub 16hrs for the 87 miles. It will be our aim to not only complete this challenge but do so in a time that will be difficult for the next two person team (if there ever is one) to beat. My hope is that we will go under 40 hours which will be a great achievement given most 6 person relay teams struggle to go that fast and some have taken in excess of 60 hours.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Race to the Stones - 11th/12th July

I had initially looked at this event as my final ultra marathon in my preparation for the Arch to Arc run because the dates and distance fitted in really well with my training programme.  When I then visited the Threshold Sports website and read their write up about the challenge and the route I was sold:

“Breathtaking scenery, millennia of history, teamwork and determination. The Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones is a celebration of all that makes Britain great.  At Threshold we love Britain.  It has some of the most incredible scenery in the world and humans have been criss-crossing the hills and valleys of this island for thousands of years before anyone reading this was born. We wanted a challenge that went back to basics.  This is a breathtakingly beautiful challenge through 5,000 years of history along The Ridgeway, which is recognised as the oldest path in the UK.  Along its length you will find traces of generations stretching back over 5,000 years.  It is lined with Bronze Age hill forts, neolithic burial chambers, Roman river crossings and culminates in the largest neolithic stone circle complex in Europe at Avebury.  When you travel its length you can understand why people have trodden this path for so long. It is truly beautiful.  The route passes up and along the high ground South West from Lewknor in Oxfordshire to the Thames crossing at Goring.  From this point the route rises up onto the North Wessex Downs passing golden fields of wheat before the iconic finish where you will walk between the towering standing stones of Avebury.  It is also one of the most accessible long distance routes as it is just over an hour outside London and so the challenge you can focus on is the 100km, not a 9-hour drive to the middle of nowhere to get there!”

Upon arriving at the race start on Saturday morning I was not disappointed.  The sun was shining, we were in a field in the middle of beautiful Oxfordshire countryside and, after the first week of school summer holiday, I was feeling a bit less tired than I have lately and raring to go.  As the largest ultra marathon in Britain this race had more of a ‘big race’ feel about it than some of the other ultras I have done (not that I've done many!).  The people were friendly, the registration was really well-organised and the music was pumping!  There was a big inflatable starting gantry with a Volvo car parked underneath it – the bonnet of which the race briefing was conducted from! – before the Volvo reversed out of the way, the claxon sounded and we were off.

The other attractive feature of this event was that you could opt for the hardcore version – 100k in one day on the Saturday, or 50k over two days (Saturday and Sunday), camping and transfers either included or not.  I had entered for the 100k race but, due to an ongoing niggle in my right hip, been advised to break up the race into two 50k days to avoid injury late on in my preparation.  I was therefore keen to go out running strongly as, after all, I would only be running 31 miles that day, whilst others would be running 62!  I started well and was feeling really good as the first hour whizzed by.  I was pleased to be up near the front and found myself in the company of some very accomplished female ultra runners – Sarah Morwood and Sorrell Walsh, both of who were doing the 100k in one go.  Respect to both of these girls as Sarah went on to win, placing 5th overall, in a time of 9:14 and Sorrell was 2nd in a time of 10:20. 

Unfortunately, it was a different story for me.  I went through pit stop 1 and pit stop 2 feeling good and running strongly but, on a short road section in the town of Goring, my right hip started to play up again and by the time I was approaching the third pit stop I was in real pain with the whole of my hamstring cramping up.  No amount of stopping and stretching and running more slowly seemed to relieve the pain and discomfort and I was seriously worried about injuring myself badly this close to my main event.  I had completed 20miles, but to push on for another 10miles seemed foolish and I made the disappointing decision to retire from the race.  I received some very kind roadside assistance from a man called John (and his lovely lab puppy) who was cheering his team fund raising for Hibbs Lupas Trust.  He lent me his mobile phone and this time I did call Ollie for a pick-up!  John’s charity is an organisation that supports lupus patients and works hard to raise awareness of the condition – follow the charity on Twitter @HibbsLupasTrust.

I was very sore the following day and didn’t run again until Wednesday, having been given the all-clear by Georgina Taft, my physio.  I’ve just got a chronically tight hip and I’m now on a weekly physio and twice weekly massage routine up until the A2A.  I’m not going to stress about my last long weekend run that is coming up and I’m going to start my taper a bit early to make sure I get to the start line in one piece.  Most of the hard work has been done.  Mentally it would have been nice to have got one final long run in the bank, but some things just are not meant to be.  And at least it meant that I made it back to my parent’s house in Kinver in time for dad’s end of chemo celebration BBQ!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

A Successful Race and an Unsuccessful Training Run - or was it?

This morning I ran leg 1 of the Cotswold Way Relay, which is a 19k leg from Chipping Campden to Stanway, as part of the Cheltenham Harriers mixed team.  I was feeling a little apprehensive about this race given that it has only been 6 days since the 50mile Cheltenham Challenge Ultra.  The club had a pretty strong team out and I didn’t want to let the side down but I was worried my legs might not be up to the job!  Fortunately, they held up and I completed my leg in 1:40 – exactly the same time as I ran when I did the first leg in 2013.  I was not able to push hard on the hills but, all things considered, I was pretty pleased.

I had then planned to run the 15 miles home from Stanway, as my long run for the day was 4 hours.  After a quick re-fuel at the finish on a bar, gels and water I set off, but after about an hour I was feeling decidedly rough.  My right hip was tight, both hamstrings hurt and I had two big, sore blisters on the balls of my feet.  I took a 10 minute break just outside Greet to stretch off and this helped a little.  Once I got going again it was not long before the cramping in my legs returned and I know if I'd had my phone with me I would have certainly called Ollie for a pick-up!  However, there was no point in even trying to fine a phone as Ollie had dropped me off in Chipping Campden and then gone to work so was not available for a collection, and I had to make it back ASAP as I was due at work myself by midday!  This was turning out to be a most unpleasant and unsuccessful training run – or was it? 

I decided that the best way to keep a consistent pace going was to adapt a run/walk strategy.  I started each mile with a 2 minute walk.  After 2 minutes were up I had to start running again (God – those 2 minutes went fast!) and I had to keep running until my Garmin bleeped again to say I had completed the mile.  I was then allowed another 2 minute walk break………..and so on………..all the way home.

And this is why it was perhaps not a completely unsuccessful training session.  I have gained some more mental toughness from having to keep going when I wanted to quit really badly.  I managed to organise myself using a strategy that worked and I know I will be able to implement again if and when the wheels fall off during the 87mile Marble Arch to Dover run.  The miles that I had to run/walk took 12 minutes (instead of the 10 minute target pace that I am aiming to run for the main event).  Therefore I have gained some more information in my preparation regarding my pacing of the miles in the latter stages of the run.  However, my top tip would be don’t expect to be able smash yourself over a 12mile hilly off-road route 6 days after a 50mile ultra, and then expect to be able run on another 15miles without feeling some pain and suffering!!!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Cheltenham Challenge 50m Ultra Marathon

Organised by Cheltenham Community Projects (CCP) the Cheltenham Challenge was a great fun race all around my home training ground of Cheltenham Racecourse and the surrounding fields and up over Cleeve Hill.  It was made even better because of the support I had on the day.  I ran the first 14 miles with Rach and we stuck to the pace plan perfectly.  I saw Ollie, mum, dad, Tim, Amanda and Hector as I crossed the Burgage in Prestbury towards the end of each lap (thanks for making it out of the Royal Oak to cheer Tim!) and I ran the last 9 miles with Nicki and her encouragement and pacing was awesome when my tired legs really wanted to stop for a rest!  I’m thrilled to have been able to keep my target pace going for 50miles, which gave me a time of 8:14hours and 5th overall.  It was not too tricky to scoop the 1st lady prize as it seems there was only one female in Cheltenham daft enough to enter!  This was a brilliant community event to have been a part of and I would recommend it to runners of all abilities.  Have a look at the report from the Gloucestershire Echo for details of results, charities and all of the different distances that are available.