The Arch To Arc Triathlon is considered one of the ultimate tests of endurance. Athletes travel from London's Marble Arch to Paris' Arc De Triomphe by running, swimming, and cycling almost 250 miles. This race is not for the faint hearted!
The race starts with an 87-mile run from London's Marble Arch in the west end to Dover in Kent. From there it's a brutal 22-mile swim in the 15-degree waters of the English Channel. Upon arriving in France, it's then a 180-mile cycle through the French countryside to the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. Only 42 athletes have ever completed this challenge.
The A2A race is organised by Enduroman Events. This organisation organises events such as the Triple Enduroman which is a 7.2-mile swim, 336-mile bike, and 78-mile run. It is the same as doing 3 full Ironman races back to back! They also organise various ultra-marathons and extreme swim competitions.
Read our interview with Arch To Arc finisher Paul Parrish for a true idea of what this event is like.
Arch To Arc Triathlon Records (information correct as of 2018)
TIME Run Split 18:35:00 Wait in Dover 06.21:00 Swim Split 14:47:00 Wait in Calais 06:25:00 Bike Split 13:48:00 Overall Time 59:56:00
Run Split 19:52:00 Wait in Dover 16:47:00 Swim Split 15:40:00 Wait in Calais 09:06:00 Bike Split 17:14:00 Overall Time 78:39:00
For quite a few years a group of us have been taking on somewhat 'out there' challenges for charity. They are usually Royal Mail-themed due to the majority of us being postmen and women. From carrying the mail barrows to each of the 3 peaks (Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike) to cycling various distances on the 3-speed Pashley post bikes, we have almost exhausted every sensible idea.
With that in mind, this year we decided to push the boundaries - surely we're the first to conquer Alp d'Huez on 25kg bicycles built for delivering post? The idea had been put forward and without a lot of thought, four of us had the “you only live once” moment and agreed that this was the event for the year.
I think between us we all had doubts about the suitability of the bikes and whether our legs would be able to turn the smallest of the 3 internal hub gears up the unforgiving gradient of Alp d'Huez. However, we all kept our doubts to ourselves in fear of being the party pooper of the group. Fundraising started slowly but as the trip approached and we began to post pictures of our bikes deconstructed to fit onto the roof of the car, people saw that we were both serious and stupid meaning support poured in.
Our journey to the Alps in Southern France was a lot more enjoyable as every email notification was another GoFundMe message of generosity and encouragement. The last 12 kilometres to our hotel, however, sent us all cold and silent as we climbed what lay ahead of us the following day. From the car, we witnessed a climb which never seemed to let off and with every hairpin seemed instantly steeper as you exited the turn in the road. Winding up the mountain to the ski lodge at the top we slowly broke our collective silence about our lack of faith in the bikes and our legs. A quick pint and a pizza were probably not Geraint Thomas's recipe for success but these five days were before his victory so we knew who not to email for advice.
Thanks to the timing of our trip coinciding with the Tour de France (albeit missing the stage by a week), we were delighted to see fans in mobile homes readily plotted well in advance to secure prime viewing as the pros struggled on one of the race's most infamous summit finishes. As we rolled down the mountain the following morning - breaks firmly gripped throughout - we were greeted with looks of bafflement and amusement from Dutch, Belgian and other cycling enthusiasts alike. Being passed by slender Frenchmen on life savings' worth of carbon fibre gave us no confidence as we continued down to the start for what seemed like an eternity.
Gathered at the bottom at around 9 in the morning, the sun was already making itself known and we quickly decided to crack on before we got too comfortable. All the nerves and doubts were there right up to around the second hairpin out of twenty one. I settled into a rhythm and realised quite early that the bike's gearing was fantastically suited and that despite its continuous climbing with no flattening at any point, the smallest gear in which I stayed for its entirety was up to the challenge. The climb in places reached 12% gradient and didn't dip under 8% from start to finish, however knowing that the bike was up to the challenge I had the comfort of knowing it was all down to our fitness. We have all competed in multiple triathlons ranging from sprint distance to Ironman, meaning that the base fitness was there but had we worked hard enough? And how was our hill climbing?
Around 8km up we hit what is known as Dutch corner where mobs of Tour De France fans swarm the riders in their patriotic orange garments. Despite the pros not arriving for another week, camper vans were already parked and music was pumping from a tangerine gazebo. This was our only break to quickly regroup, refill our drink bottles, and take an energy gel. The last push was noticeably hotter as altitude meant less tree shade and long drags of raising tarmac lay ahead.
As we hit the summit, the winter ski resort became a Lycra-clad paradise with cafes and cycling boutiques. Fortunately, the bars remain bars and we re-hydrated alongside a French Harley Davidson festival. Ideas for our next challenge have already been bounced around but we are always open to input.
About the author: Luke Elgar is a full-time postman, triathlete, and Sundried ambassador.
The Essex 100 Bike Ride is organised by Action Medical Research and is one in a series of bike rides put on to raise money for this charity. The Essex 100 starts and finishes in Central Park in Chelmsford and takes in the beautiful scenery and quiet country lanes of rural north Essex.
There are three distances to choose from - 101 miles, 60 miles, or 40 miles - and all participants receive a finisher's medal. I decided to sign up for the 60-mile ride as part of my preparation for next year's Prudential RideLondon event which is 100 miles. I decided that if I could survive 60 miles in the saddle and finish with a smile on my face, I could survive 100 miles.
From start to finish, this event was incredibly well organised. The pre-event race information emailed to each competitor contained all information needed and there was free event parking which was a nice touch. The registration process was very smooth and so quick that before I knew it, I was listening to the race brief and heading out onto the road.
The route was excellently executed and planned very well. Signage was very clear and at no point did I worry that I'd gone the wrong way, even without other cyclists around to assure me. Most of the roads were traffic-free as they were such small and unused country lanes and this made for some very effortless cycling and gave me the opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
There were a few hairy moments, such as a long stretch of road with loose gravel and some sharp bends and steep descents, but for most cyclists this would be standard practice. Even coming back into busy central Chelmsford was fairly uneventful, despite the traffic.
I'd also say this ride was quite 'easy' (as easy as spending 4 hours on a bike can be) due to the gentle elevation profile. There weren't any big climbs but I would definitely say the route is undulating - I was shifting gears every few minutes to accommodate for the continuous ups and downs. I'd certainly say that this route is beginner-friendly and any cyclist would be able to complete it.
The only thing I would say about this ride compared to the other sportives I've done is that because there weren't that many participants, it got a little lonely out there! I spent most of the course by myself whereas in other rides I've had a constant stream of other cyclists around me. This wasn't something I minded though.
This ride was hugely enjoyable and from start to finish it was very obvious how well organised and friendly it was. The feed zones/rest stops were very well placed and there was ample opportunity to sit down, rest, use the facilities, and fill up water bottles and refuel. Everyone taking part was in very good spirits and I would definitely recommend this event to others.
My first Ironman.
3.8km Swim, 180km Bike, 42.4km Run
The build-up to my first Ironman was a mixture of emotions from nerves to excitement and a constant mind full of questions whirring round in my head. The last few weeks training before the taper were the toughest and as my children broke up for the summer holidays, the routine became more difficult to manage. Nevertheless, I made it to the start line having clocked up thousands of miles in training.
My husband and I arrived in Switzerland on the Thursday and already there was an Ironman atmosphere. Zurich was beautiful but extremely hot. On the Friday, we walked down to the event village to register. I suddenly felt in awe by the whole experience. Registration was easy enough and so was spending money in the expo shop. I picked up my bike which had been shipped over by Ship My Tri Bike – a very convenient option and I took it for a pre-race test ride. The roads were amazing but my legs felt like jelly, however, everything with my Argon was in working order which was a relief. Following the ride, I somehow managed a big rookie error turning up to the French rather than English Race Brief – this didn’t help with pre-race jitters. In an attempt to manage my nerves I decided to go for a swim recce of Lake Zurich. The lake, although beautiful, was vast and much choppier than it looked – very different to the lake back home.
Saturday was a fairly chilled morning pottering around Zurich, trying to keep off the feet as much as possible. The afternoon was spent back the event village racking my bike and hanging my red and blue bags in transition ready for race day. Ironman events have a very different way of doing thigs with the various bags. This requires some careful planning and consideration, but works very well on the day. I took pictures in transition to help visualise the entries and exits, and also took note of landmarks to help find my bike – transition was enormous with bikes packed very tightly and close to one another. Next time I was going to be in transition it would be race day – finally time to take on the challenge that had consumed so much time and emotion in the prior months.
After some sleep and a lot of awake, the alarm went off at 4am. There was a nervous atmosphere at the hotel during breakfast. Lots of acknowledging each other but very little conversation. After coffee and some food, we walked the 30 minutes to transition. I couldn’t believe I had made it to race day. Walking down was eerie and the streets were a mixture of Lycra clad triathletes and the last of the revellers from the night before.
Arriving at transition, I quickly heard that it had been confirmed as non-wetsuit. The size of the challenge ahead suddenly became very real and it took all my efforts to control my emotions at this time. My husband and I walked to the swim start where the atmosphere was surreal. One thing that was very noticeable was the ratio of men to women – I suddenly felt very small. I seeded myself towards the back of the normal swim pen, adding an extra 10 mins to my expected time to reflect the non-wet suit swim. My goal for this event was to complete (not compete); and being non-wetsuit I wanted to find my own space. The race quickly started as the athletes were allowed in the water 8 at a time at 5-second intervals. Off I went into the water. I broke the swim down into the individual marker buoys and soon I settled into a rhythm. It was a one lap course and the back straight seemed to go on forever. As I made the final turn I have never felt more relieved – I had almost made it out of the water!
3.8km swim time: 01:31:43
As I exited the water, I ran into T1, changed into my bike stuff, found my bike, oh dear the chain was hanging off…. It had obviously been knocked as someone had taken their bike. I managed to get it back on and off I went. I had been looking forward to the bike the most in the build-up. The course was 2 laps and started off flat before taking on some climbs in some of the most stunning and picturesque scenery I have seen.
Unfortunately for me, I just couldn’t settle into my usual zone and I quickly became very uncomfortable. I was struggling to stay aero as my chest felt restricted and my neck was very tense. This wasn’t going to plan. The support on the course was fantastic – especially on Heartbreak Hill which was like cycling through a section of the Tour de France. It was also where my hubby was giving me a much needed boost.
As I entered onto the second lap, the temperature was rising (35 degrees); and it became more of a mental battle than physical. I felt nauseous and was having to force nutrition down to try and stick to the plan. The next couple of hours were brutal and after 6 hours and 18 minutes on the bike I made it back to T2 feeling pretty awful.
180km bike time: 06:19:46
I am not 100% sure what took so long but after 8 minutes in T2 I set off for the marathon. Up until recently, the run has always been my favourite and strongest discipline. This was not the case on race day. Every time I ran I felt sick, not helped at all by the heat. The support at the aid stations was superb and they were 100% geared up for the blistering temperatures, giving out ice and cold sponges. Despite this, my body had different ideas and I was sick every few minutes making it very difficult to settle into any rhythm.
I knew now it was going to be a very long afternoon, but there was no way I was giving up – I needed to revert to a different strategy. Walking in a race was alien to me but I knew that I had to find some strategy to get me round, so I settled into running for as long as could and then walking for 3 minutes (whilst throwing up)!
Eventually I made it round the first of the 4 laps which rather cruelly takes you past the red carpet and the finish line. Seeing that and the atmosphere at the end gave me the motivation to keep going. My husband was incredible on the run and kept surprising me by appearing in places which kept me going.
Finally, after a very long and painful few hours, I made it to lap 4 and the end was in sight.. Off I set for my final lap of Zurich… the last couple of kms felt like they took forever but in the distance I could hear the finish line music and being able to collect my fourth band was an amazing feeling. I managed to run the last few kilometres and as I entered into the finish shoot the emotions came flooding in. I saw my hubby in the crowd and heard those famous words – Leanne James – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.
42.4km run time: 05:26:42
I had made it, finishing in 13:32:46. It was a long way from where I had hoped to finish but I didn’t care. I burst into tears as I met hubby while the events of the day sank in. We then enjoyed the finish line party and it was extremely emotional watching everyone finish their race… all with their own stories and experiences.
A couple of weeks on and it has been great spending time with family and friends with only light training before starting the next block in the build up to IM Weymouth 70.3 and also the ETU Duathlon Championships in Ibiza.
Would I do another Ironman? Absolutely. I learned so much from this race, especially as I am still relatively new to the sport, but for now I will stick to the 70.3s.
Sunday 29th July 2018 was the day of the annual Prudential Ride London - Surrey 100 mile sportive. I had entered it months ago and was adamant I would still take part even though I was due to go into hospital the following day for a procedure.
An early start time of 7am meant I had to be in Stratford at the start by 6:15am. Leading up to this day, the weather was scorching hot with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, however race morning saw the most rainfall the country had had in months!
Minutes before my wave started, the heavens opened. I was cold and miserable before I even started! Thankfully, once we started the camaraderie amongst the riders and the shouts from the very committed supporters really got me in a positive mood. I actually started to really enjoy myself and was pushing an easy, steady rhythm at 19/20mph. I made a decision early on that I would try not to stop due to the weather. I knew fuel-wise I was okay, but water-wise I may not be, I would just have to see how things went.
Leading up towards the hills of Surrey, I started cycling with a lad from Leeds who was holding a similar pace to me. This really helped as we could work together to hold onto the back of packs of other riders. Before I knew it, we had cruised through the 50-mile mark at an average speed of 19.5mph.
Then we started hitting the hills! Leith Hill was first and by far the hardest. There were a few nasty accidents and as we heard in the press later, a fatality at Leith Hill. It was easy to see how and why accidents happen: the roads were wet, gritty, slippy due to the lack of rain and there were 100s of cyclists - some more experienced and patient than others - all trying to get from point A to B in the quickest time. They say it’s not a race, but every cyclist out there had their own target, so it becomes a race against the clock or your own goals in some respect.
Descending down from Leith Hill I lost my ride partner as I was more comfortable descending at speed than he was, so I held on to a few new riders as we approached Box Hill, the last of the big climbs in the Surrey countryside.
Although my legs were hurting, I was loving it! My love for cycling has really come out over the winter when I started cycling with the lads from Essex Roads CC. They really push me over 3-4 hour rides and I literally get home and fall into a heap exhausted but the fitness improvements have been huge from this weekly ride!
Coming back into London, the rain was still falling and the roads were starting to get busier as we approached the meeting point on the course for the merging of the 19, 46, and 100-mile courses. There were lots of stop/starting at this point and lots of nasty accidents where people had cycled into bollards or curb-sides etc. The rhythm started to get interrupted a bit at this point and the legs were starting to feel heavy! The last few miles went past in a daze and before I knew it, I could see the finishing arch on the Mall. I pushed on and found I finished in a time of 5 hours 34 minutes, which smashed my own target of 6 hours! I was so chuffed but now I suddenly realised I had to cycle back to the car in Stratford...those 7 miles really hurt!
About the author: Louise Douglass is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.