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).

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Might Contain Nuts Brecon Beacons 40m Ultra

I love hiking in the Welsh mountains and horseshoe shaped ridge walk encompassing the peaks of Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big is my favourite hike in Wales.  The views are spectacular, the terrain is challenging and the whole experience of being in the extreme outdoors is brilliant!  When I discovered that there was a Welsh trail running series organised by Might Contain Nuts (appropriate name!) that took place in this area of the Brecons I entered straight away.  I had initially planned to take part in the first race of the series in the Black Mountains in March but, after my injury setback, I was not back up to running 40miles at that time.  Therefore the second mountain marathon race of the series was the one for me.

I had a great support crew for the race (thank goodness) as Ollie, mum and dad had all come down to Waun Cottage for the weekend to cheer me on.  The day dawned bright and sunny which was great as I was expecting this to be about a 10 hour day out in the mountains.  We could see the peaks of the mountains looming in the distance as we left Waun.  This was also my first unsupported race, and I was running with a fully loaded kit pack for the first time. 

We had a nice gentle start running south from Talybont-on-Usk towards the reservoir.  The first climb up and over Tor y Foel was supposed to be just a little mountain(!?!) at 550ish meters to warm us up for the big ones – however, it was still pretty tough and I found the rocky descent probably harder on my legs than the climb up.  The route then went on south to Pentwyn Reservior before starting the long, gradual climb up to Corn Du at 820 meters.  This climb was much less demanding in terms of gradient than I expected as I’d not climbed up the route to the west of Taf Fechan Forest before.  However, the terrain was really tough.  There were no proper paths and for about 3 miles we had to run through seriously wet marshland.  I was getting really fed up as my feet kept disappearing in to the soggy ground and it was exhausting having to keep clambering out from knee deep marshy puddles!  However, the summit of Corn Du was soon reached and I was looking forward to the descent.  Unfortunately, again I found the descent tougher than the ascent and I took a tumble over some rocks falling heavily onto my right shoulder.  I winded myself and there were a few tears but I gave myself a bit of a talking too and after a short rest to get my breath back I was off again, feeling ok but just a bit unbalanced as I couldn’t really swing my right arm. 

Arriving at checkpoint 4 - the Storey Arms car park was great because there was Ollie, mum and dad and the dogs to cheer me on.  Ollie had a tub of long awaited for Vaseline (I think I shocked dad with my less than subtle application of said product!) and I got lots of much needed sympathy over my bruised and cut shoulder.  What I thought would be a quick loop out to Fan Frynych (629 meters) was sadly not quite so quick and I eventually returned to my support crew at the Storey Arms where I was presented with a big handful of jelly babies by dad!
Water and Jelly Babies top up!

Ollie then joined me for the yomp up to Corn Du for the second time and across to Pen y Fan (886 meters) which was brilliant, and the dogs were in their element to also be allowed to join in.

Kisses on Pen y Fan!

In fact, after Ollie left me at the end of the descent from Pen y Fan the dogs ran with me for most of the rest of the race.  By the time I had literally rock climbed the 750 odd meters up to Cribyn at 30ish miles I was exhausted and it felt great to get across to Fan y Big before beginning the long descent back down towards Talybont Reservoir.  That was a killer on the quads and it was a hobble down rather than a run!

 The final descent from the ridge!

I was joined by Ollie again who helped to cheer me along, which was fantastic, and we saw mum and dad again at the reservoir.  It was bliss to be back on the flat forest trail and towpath that took me back to Talybont Outdoor Pursuit Centre and I was chuffed to feel like I was able to run this section properly in under 10min/mile pace.  A cartwheel of happiness took me over the finish line in a time of 10hours 14minutes; 7th place out of 17 females in and another event ticked off.

Finally - the finish line!

Lots of lessons were learnt with the main one being that I can still run at my target pace after 10 hours on my feel over grueling terrain, so will that relate to 60miles on A2A day?  Who knows but maybe I’ll have a better idea about this after Race to the Stones in July.  I am as proud of this MCN finishers medals as I am of any of my Ironman medals as it was a really tough day out and, after falling and hurting my shoulder, I don’t think I could have done it on my own and without the support from mum, dad, Ollie Tassie and Bart!  Thanks everyone, including MCN for putting on a brilliant event.

Below are some photos from a winter mountain hike along the ridge:

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream - My 2015 Challenge - The Arch to Arc

This morning I led the school assembly to tell the girls I teach and my colleagues at Cheltenham Ladies’ College all about the Arch to Arc challenge that Ollie and I will be attempting later this summer.  I thought I’d post a copy of the script on to the blog as it provides an insight into why I was keen to take on this mammoth challenge!  Enjoy!

“I’ve asked Rev McClure if she will let me lead Prayers this morning to tell you all about my big personal challenge for 2015.  Now, those of you who know me well will be aware that I’m really keen on the sports of duathlon (run/bike/run) and triathlon (swim/bike/run).  The shortest triathlon event (called sprint distance) takes me about an hour to complete, the Olympic distance event takes just over 2 hours to complete, but my favourite distances – half IM and IM – take about 5 and 10 hours to complete respectively. 
Having competed at a few amateur level World Championships over varying distances in these sports at the end of last season I was on the lookout for a new challenge for 2015 – something along the lines of what I enjoy most – training in the outdoors – but with a difference.  I decided on ultra-marathon running (that is anything over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles) and my husband and I decided to team up to complete an ultra-endurance event together (as he is a really keen marathon swimmer).  We decided on signing up for an event called the Arch to Arc.  It involves me running 87 miles from Marble Arch in London to Dover.  Here I’ll team tag my husband Ollie who will swim 21 miles across the English Channel, hopefully ending up as near to Calais as possible.  From there we will cycle 181 miles to the Arc du Triomphe in Paris. So, a total of 289 miles, as fast as possible, and under 33 hours if we want to beat the 6-man team world record!
I’m well aware that some of you will think I’m totally mad for loving these sports so much and you are probably asking yourself ‘why does she do/enjoy that!?!’  Well there are two main reasons why I’ve committed myself to the months of dedicated training that is necessary to complete an event of this nature.

Firstly, I’m doing it for my dad.  He’s been fighting against Pancreatic cancer for 7 years.  Overall, only about 5% of patients with this type of cancer will be alive 5 years after the cancer is found, so my dad is really lucky.  Unfortunately, for many years, pancreatic cancer has received little research funding and attention.  Pancreatic cancer charities are determined to change this and I’m hoping that any money I raise will go towards are funding and promoting cutting edge research into early detection and more effective treatments.  We are also raising money for The Shark Trust, which is a charity working to advance the worldwide conservation of sharks.  As an open water swimmer Ollie is really keen on marine conservation.  I believe he had an ulterior motive when choosing this charity, however.  When he is completing some of his cross-channel swims in countries such as Hawaii and Australia I recon he thinks that supporting this charity might offer him some protection from what lurks beneath!  We are also supporting a local charity – The Sanford Parks Lido, the Cheltenham 50m open air pool.

Secondly, I’m doing it because I love running and cycling in the outdoors.  I love getting out into the hills and running the trails, especially with my 2 dogs.  I love the challenge of training my body, pushing myself to achieve new goals, trying to see if I can extend my limits (both physically and mentally) through my sport.  I’m a bit of a running geek I’m afraid – I really enjoy analysing my training – how fast can I do my reps? - how fast will my HR recover? – how long can I hold a set pace for?

However, training for an event of this magnitude has NOT been easy.  There has been a major setback along the way for me.  Back in December I had a nasty fall out running and split my knee open.  A bad infection and an inflammatory condition called cellulitis resulted in absolutely no running for 8 weeks – consequently I am seriously behind schedule with my training and I have missed 2 out of my 5 main preparation races.  

When tackling an event like this I know that things will go wrong.  As I run through my 87 mile journey in August it will not all be plain sailing – however hard I have worked to prepare myself.  Just like it will not all be plain sailing for you as you go on your journey through life here at College and through your teenage years.  I guess how to cope when things don’t quite go according to plan is something that is worth considering.
Here are some tips I use myself and would like to encourage you to use too:
  • Know how to adjust your goals.  Successful people don’t give up that easily.  Be adaptable, resilient and determined to go on.  Have a plan B!
  • Be a realistic optimist.  Make sure your glass is always half full – not half empty.  Be grateful for what you have already achieved and focus on your successes.
  • Learn from your failure.  The Dalai Lama said “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson”.  If successful people fail it means that they were prepared to move out of their comfort zone and take calculated risks.  There is a lesson from every failure; accept it, move on and apply the lesson to future projects.
  • Remember that failure is a prelude to success.  My coach once said to me patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success!  Remember this.
  • Ask for help and advice.  Be wise and brave enough to seek advice from friends or mentors.
  • Be persistent and courageous.  Remember that your limits are not necessarily where you think they are.
  • Know when it’s OK to slow down and take a break.  Pace yourselves.  Sometimes you need to sit back, slow down and regroup.  One thing that I will be remembering on my run is that the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.
  • Remember that life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.

I hope that by applying some of these ideas you learn you can do your best even when it's hard, even when you're tired and maybe hurting a little bit.  It feels good to show some courage.

I’d like to read you my favourite motivational poem by Rudyard Kipling.  It’s called ‘If’.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!”

Finally, I’d like to leave you all with this thought:
With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.

Please feel free to follow my progress on www.teamwilkoA2A.blogspot – I’ll be blogging and there will be an update of how my 1st preparation race “The Brecon Beacons 40m Ultra” goes at the end of this month.