SwimQuest guide Rachel Hill is training for Enduroman A2A. Arguably the toughest triathlon in the world. so what does it take?
In July 2016 I’m taking on Enduroman Arch 2 Arc, once described as the toughest triathlon in the world. It’s a solo journey that involves running from London to Dover, swimming the Channel (non-wetsuit in my case) and then cycling from Calais to Paris. This seems impossible and most people are naturally curious about my preparation when they hear what I’m doing. So what does it take?
“I don’t really know” is the only honest answer at this point in time. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of good advice from my coach, channel swimmers, athletes who have completed the challenge and Eddie Ette, the man who devised it and Enduroman number 1, but I’m also learning so much as I go.
But something I firmly believe is that the mental side is just as important as the physical training. On the day, as long as I’ve done the training, if my mind is strong my body will follow. And I have learnt some key things in my mental preparation so far:
To surround myself with people who believe it’s possible
Right from the start, I’ve listened to those who have encouraged me, learning as much as I could, and ignored the naysayers. I’ve surrounded myself with people who understand the demands of A2A, who are positive and whose advice I can trust. In turn I have started to believe it could be possible for me.
To cope with feeling unprepared
This sounds really bizarre as I love planning and meticulous attention to detail. But shifting my attitude has been key in surviving the build up to A2A without a mental breakdown. The preparation is unlike that for any triathlon I have done in the past as I will not cover any of the distances in training, nowhere near. I won’t know what it’s like to cover 140km on my feet until I arrive at Dover after the run from Marble Arch. I won’t know what it’s like to swim the Channel until I touch France. And I won’t know what it’s like to cycle 300km after such a demanding run and swim until I reach the Arc de Triomphe. This is scary for someone with my mindset.
So my coach has had me go into some big sessions feeling unprepared. I went for a run/walk (well mostly walk!) of nearly double the distance of anything I’ve done before and survived to see in the New Year. I also surprised myself by surviving a monster swim week that included swims of 3, 5, 6 and 8 hour sea swims (non-wetsuit) towards the end of January, despite my longest swim by far in the preceding 7 months being only 3 hours in the pool.
Going so far outside of my comfort zone like this has massively increased my confidence and I’ve learnt to trust my training. Now I can just plunge in, knowing I’ll be able to adapt as I go.
I’m not a particularly patient person so this is a big one for me. I’m learning to accept that doing my best in training for A2A does not mean going for a PB in every session. A2A is really all about the Channel swim. I have to arrive in Dover fresh and ready to go after covering 140km in the run down from Marble Arch, especially as I’m swimming the Channel without a wetsuit and so will also be dealing with the effects of the cold on top of everything else. So part of my run training has been learning to hold back. It feels wrong to walk large chunks of my long “run” so I now go out without my Garmin. Like that I don’t stress about my slow pace, instead learning to tune into my body. My goal for long runs is purely to get time on my feet and finish as fresh as I can.
Ignore the devil and the angel on my shoulder
During the long, hard sessions I have to deal with the devil on my shoulder who says “this is too hard” and “why not just quit, you’ve already done enough”. I can’t block it out completely but I can see it for the negative self-talk that it is and let it go. I also let go of the voice that says “you’re on for a PB, keep this pace up”. I don’t want to waste energy getting either overexcited about my amazing progress or stressing about the lack of it. Instead I try to stay in the moment without judging. I focus on the physical sensations of running or swimming.
For long swims in cold water especially I try to separate feeling scared or overwhelmed from the reality of what’s happening – bad feelings are expected and they don’t mean that things are going wrong. They’re just feelings and, like cold patches of water, they can be swum through. If focusing on my catch doesn’t work I’ll distract myself by singing songs in my head or counting to 6 over and over until the bad patch passes. I try to forget the big picture completely as that could overwhelm me.
So far I’ve found I can always pull one more stroke or run one more step. And if I keep doing that I will finish.
UltimateIy, I believe I will do this. I’m not in it to just “have a go”. It’s not arrogance, it’s a mindset I’ve chosen to adopt to get me through. I will find a way to keep moving forward, during my training and the challenge itself.
But also I’m aware that in the Channel events could move out of my control easily. There are so many variables, such as the weather and tides, and I know I could be told to get out for safety reasons, swim aborted. Sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned. I’d hope that in the same way that I learnt to walk by falling over I would get back up and try again, a little wiser for the experience. Succeed or fail in my attempt in July, this journey has already enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined 2 years ago when A2A was just a dream.
So bring it on!
Rachel – we think you’re incredible. You go girl! Rachel is raising money for the Stroke Association. Click here to sponsor Rachel through Just Giving.
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