Interview: The Arch to Arc

So following on from our interview with an ultra marathon runner, we have decided to continue the theme. A good friend of Technique Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine, Mr Nick Yates recently completed the Arch to Arc challenge in a team of 4 people. He managed to raise a considerable amount for charity along the way as well.

We caught up with the man from Bolton on his recent triumph to find out what the event was all about.

Hi Nick, so you recently completed the Arch to Arc challenge, which involves…….

We ran from Marble Arch to Dover town centre on the first day. We are a team of four, so decided to do the run in a relay of around 30 miles each.

We split it up by running the first 5 miles together, then doing two sets of 10 mile legs each tracking the Pilgrim’s Way and the South Downs route. We finished with a 5 mile leg together into Dover. A total of 30 miles each in the day.

On the second day we were in the harbour at 8.30am to climb into our rowing boat (the same one John Bishop completed his challenge in for Sport Relief). We were a 4 man team rowing a six man boat. We rowed 22/23 miles (accounting for tides) to Sangatte Beach near Calais.

The third day we cycled 90 miles from Calais to Amiens and did the same distance on the fourth day to reach the Arc De Triomphe in Paris.

How long did you take to prepare for this event, did you follow any specific plans? I imagine there isn’t a lot of literature on how to train for this event?

I trained fairly intensively for about 3 months before the event to raise my fitness to the level I thought was required. I followed a loose plan that involved an element of all three disciplines.

My biggest concern was the rowing, because of the technique and team work required, plus the added element of rowing in open seas. We managed to get together for three 4 hour sessions with an instructor off Hayling Island near Portsmouth. The team all live in different places (one in Brussels) so it wasn’t possible to get together more than that. It gave us a good taste of rowing in the open sea and the technique of rowing a large sea boat.

On top of this I did two sessions a week on a rowing machine of about 1 hr 30 each time. The idea is to build up stamina and endurance while also working of stroke technique (keeping it long) and the very important element of controlling your breathing for long periods. You set the machine at 4/5 which is the resistance you get from water and keep it to a steady 21/22 strokes per minute. It’s all about finding a rhythm to grind out long sessions at the oars.

I did two 10 mile runs per week (often running home from work) and also did some cycling. To prepare, I entered a Cyclo Sportive in the Isle of Wight about 2 months before the event (a 110km race with some tough hilly sections) and also did an Olympic Triathlon 1 month before the event.

Swimming in Brockwell lido was also useful as a way of increasing fitness without putting undue stress on muscles and joints, which you can do when you do intensive running/rowing training.

Some gym work to strengthen legs and back was also essential, with some wide arm pull ups, Romanian dead lifts, squats and seated rows.

Sounds pretty tough to keep motivation going for that long. You did it in a team of 4 people, any interesting moments between you and your compadres?

Yeah – we were good friends so that helped, although there were a few funny moments. One of the boys, who will remain nameless, got a dodgy stomach while running through South London. He ended up crapping himself (literally) and had to leave his dirty undies under a bush in a park.

The row was also pretty tough and one of the boys decided to pass the time by constantly asking me ‘would you rather’ questions. For example would you rather be stuck on a desert island with Susan Boyle or Noel Edmonds (a tough one that I promise you). This deteriorated at a particularly low stage for me, and I threatened to throw him overboard if he opened his mouth once more before we reached France.

On the ride, one of the boys was following me up a tough incline and he suddenly decided to tell me that my rear quick release clip was loose and my back wheel was about to fall out. I was so shocked that I looked down and hit the brakes, without remembering to take my foot out of the pedal cleat. I crashed full length into the middle of the road, but fortunately the car behind was by the support car with my dad driving! It turns out the wheel wasn’t loose after all.

Riding into Paris all wearing Brad Wiggins masks was also good fun, especially the looks on the Parisienne’s faces!

In terms of nutrition how did you manage to keep on top of your fuel intake for such a long distance event?

We obviously had big breakfasts each morning and even bigger dinners in the evening. I developed a strange craving for lasagne and I used to dream of it during the last few hours of each day. I think the combination of meat, cheese and pasta must be ideal for the body burning lots of energy.

During the run day I was eating between legs – I took some organic rye bread and soaked it in honey to give me some refined and complex carbs. I also took some energy gels on to the runs with me to give me a boost during the last 5 miles.

The row took 7.5 hours and was a real grind. I had about 5 /6 litres of water and orange juice mixed with an electrolyte powder to replace salts and sugars lost to sweat. I also carried a load of organic nut bars that I found in Waitrose, they were really good for energy.

In France I discovered Strawberry Evian and an Orange Mango and Banana drink I loved for some reason – I filled both my bidons with these whenever we made a pit stop.

Were there any low points for you in the race? Similarly, what was the high, raising a decent wad of cash for charity or the feeling of crossing the finish line?

My biggest low was probably in the boat about 4 hours across the Channel. We could see the White Cliffs of Dover staring us in the face. They seemed to be mocking me and would just not disappear or get any smaller. The water got quite choppy in the middle and our pace slowed to less than 3 knots. It was also much more difficult to maintain a rhythm and we were wasting energy on poor strokes. I had also developed really bad blisters and was having to wrap more and more zinc tape around my hands – they started bleeding at one point and for an awful hour or so, I thought I would have to let the boys down and quit. Luckily I pulled through. The thought of letting my team mates down and those who had sponsored me, was a stronger motivation to keep going than the pain in my disintegrating hands….!

It also didn’t help that the guys in our support boat were stretched out on deck sunbathing while we were going through hell!

The high was definitely coming over a hill and seeing the suburbs of Paris laid out before us, then I knew we had nearly done it. Also coming on to the Avenue de la Grande Armee and seeing the Arc De Triomphe. I raced down those cobbles like Mark Cavendish, just a bit slower!

Lastly, what’s next on your list of long distance events?

I think I might be addicted to the satisfaction of completing an endurance event that you have trained hard for and that actually scares you when you think about it. The funny thing is that once you have done something you weren’t sure was possible, your horizons suddenly adjust and you think “i did that, what else can I do that’s harder.” I’m thinking of maybe going for the Marathon Des Sables. I have also recently listened to the audio book of James Cracknell and Ben Fogle’s account of rowing across the Atlantic. I quite fancy that as well, although i’ll have to seriously toughen up my hands first.

Let me know if you fancy it Mike………

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