The Enduroman Arch 2 Arc challenge is a journey that connects two of the world’s most beautiful cities by running, swimming and cycling. It’s the world’s longest point to point triathlon. The clock begins ticking when the athlete sets off from Marble Arch in London and doesn’t stop until they reach the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The 140 kilometre run route takes challengers through the busy streets of central London and out through the suburbs into Kent and to eastern coast. Ninety nine percent of the run is on pavement and tarmac. The run finishes at the beach front in Dover. The run must start no longer than 48 hours from the athlete being notified about the swim start. For example if the athlete finishes the run stage in 20 hours, the swim must start within next 28 hours. This applies to solo attempts. There are different rules for relay teams. The English Channel is one of the toughest long distance swims in the world because of the water temperature and tides. That’s why its called the Everest of swimming. Arch 2 Arc challengers can choose to wear a wetsuit for this leg. The shortest distance between the English and French coasts is 21 miles but the effects of the tides mean that swim tracks will be longer than this. The Dover Strait is the busiest shipping channel in the world. Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation provides escort pilots that assist the swimmer to navigate through the swim. Contract is signed with the escort Pilot who calls the shots for the swim date, start time and swim track. Irrespective of the conditions, once the Pilot gives the swim time and date the swim must start. After a successful swim arrival at Calais on French Coast, the bike ride is the final push to Paris. The bike ride must start within 12 hours of arrival in Calais. From Calais the route follows the rolling coast road before turning inland until the finish at the Arc de Triomphe.
First successful attempt was made by Edgar Ette in 2001. Since then only 45 athletes have successfully completed the challenge solo. I am the 44th athlete.
My Experience at Arch 2 Arc
I had relayed the event in 2018 with a very good friend. We ran the distance as tandem solos, tag relayed the swim and rode a tandem bike to Paris. Having done it as a relay I felt confident I could do it alone. My wife, Theresa, who crewed me during the relay, was firmly supporting my decision for a solo attempt. Crewing an athlete is more tiring than attempting the challenge. This is unlike an Ironman event with aid stations and cheering crowds at every mile. It’s a fully self supported event. A crew safety car accompanies the athlete on the run and bike legs. The crew and an official observer from Enduroman Events are in this car leapfrogging.
I completed the 140 kilometre run in 16 hours and 35 minutes. Took a 5 hour and 12 minute break before starting the swim in Dover. I swam the English Channel in 12 hours and 48 minutes. My watch showed I had swum 42.5 kilometres. On finishing the swim at Cap Gris-Nez my swim partner from Hong Kong who was crewing me on the swim had a message from Theresa (who was waiting for me in Calais) that the bike is ready and I should get ready as well. This meant that we were not going to break in Calais and head out straight on bike to Paris. The boat ride from Cap Gris-Nez to Calais is 2 hours. With 20 minutes to prepare in Calais we were off to Paris on the bike. The bike leg started at 2155 hours so I had to ride for almost eight hours in pitch dark French countryside roads before sunrise. This was the toughest part because I was so tired from the run and swim and going without sleep for so long before bike start. The bike leg was completed in 13 hours and 29 minutes. This gave me a total time of 50 hours and 24 minutes setting a new men’s world record. The last record was held by a Belgian athlete in 52 hours 30 minutes.
How did I Train Despite a Full Blown Family Life and a Demanding Job as an In-House IP Counsel?
I have two boys aged eight and four. My family has been very supportive. For me health comes first. Then family. And finally work. It doesn’t mean that I don’t prioritise my job. I take my work very seriously. But triathlon or even sports is seen as leisure activity by many and often I am asked if I had a job because all I was seen doing was training. What people don’t see is behind the scenes. I am always working and responding to emails and phone calls - during weekends and holidays too. I work closely with Law Enforcement agencies across Asia and that requires me to be available round the clock. I focus on my work when I am in office. I don’t take long coffee or lunch breaks. I don’t participate in gossip sessions. I try to be efficient at work and I encourage my teams to also be efficient. I travel a lot due to work and train during my business trips. I try to find a hotel that has a swimming pool. If the trip is long I take my bike with me. My wife and I have almost zero-social life. If I am not working or training I am with my family. I have to admit that my friends circle is very limited and consists of likeminded people only. I meet most of my friend at 4am or on weekends for long swims or runs. We get less invites for parties and if we are ever invited, we are the first to arrive and first to leave. My wife loves running. She doesn’t drink any alcohol and has a very healthy lifestyle. Our boys love sports. So as a family we enjoy sports together. Eating and sleeping well makes a big impact to our lives.
I trained for almost nine months leading up to the race. My focus was the run and the swim. I knew I could handle the bike part without much training. A 140 kilometre run followed by a swim across the English Channel sends shivers in the spines of most athletes. So I did lots of long distance running. I joined a few 100miler and 100 kilometre running races. I also did 10 hour runs in the heat. I did most of my training alone because I was going to be alone on this course and there was hardly anyone who wanted to train with me because of the distances. In the swims I was very lucky to have a few friends in Hong Kong who enjoy long distance open water swimming. So together with these friends I did upto 13 hour open water swims and 28 kilometre swims. I also tried to keep my bike fitness. The hardest part was keeping up with the intense training but at the same time not to lose any weight. In fact my target was to gain a few kilos going into the race. During the run and swim legs of the race most athletes would lose upto five to six kilograms. So I had to be fit, not overweight but at the same time not too light. When I started training I was weighing 73 kilograms and my target was to bring my weight upto 77 kilograms on race eve. But this was very hard due to 25 to 28 hours of training I was doing in a week. Any weight I would gain would be lost the next day during trainings. This was the hardest part of the training. Another hard part of the training was waking up at 3am during weekdays, getting a three hour training set before dropping the kids to school bus and then heading to work. I admit that I had some very tough afternoons staying awake after such intense mornings. Often I fit in a swim set during lunch breaks.
Good sleep is an important recovery tool for me. I try to sleep well so that I am ready for next day. I have a coach that manages my training sets. He calibrates the intensity depending on my fitness and exhaustion.
What Kept me Motivated During Arch 2 Arc?
Solid training. I believe in “train hard, race easy”. Train so hard that you’re thankful its race day. I had trained for the distance. I was mentally and physically ready for the onslaught. I knew how I will feel and I was ready for that. I had trained to manage the pain. I knew I can go sleepless for 40 hours. I knew I can handle the exhaustion. Theresa had a nutrition plan for 60 hours. It was flawless. We were fully equipped with all that we needed. I don’t remember being so prepared. So in the end I will say I was prepared. And that feeling of being prepared gave me the confidence to complete and stay motivated.
Do I Have a Triathlon, Swimming, Biking Background?
Five years ago I didn’t know what a TT bike was. I was once sitting with a biking group who were discussing time-trial seating position. I asked what they meant by “arrow” position. I was corrected. It was “aero” and not “arrow”. As a child I was taught swimming so that I don’t drown. And I couldn’t swim in a 50 metre pool without stopping a few times. I dreaded open water. But as a child I was taught adaptation and managing challenges all through my childhood. I had a very interesting childhood. I had to move between 13 schools in 12 years. I even moved between three universities studying arts and law. There was a lesson there on surviving change, being open to learning new things, meeting new cultures and living in diversity. I am still learning. This has helped me a lot in my work place.
How Does Endurance Training and Sport Help me Live a Better Life?
I am eating and living healthy. Nutrition is balanced. Focus is on sleep and recovery. I feel I am a better decision maker than few years ago. I do a lot of thinking and problem solving during long training sets. I feel I am better wired and more efficient since taking up endurance sports. I am able to manage time, my most valuable asset, efficiently. I am fitting in more quality in the same time capsule compared to before. My social relationships are deep and meaningful. I am way more balanced in managing work egos and office network.