Arching ambition to get to Paris the hard way

The Arch to Arc is a 289-mile endurance challenge, by foot, water and bike from London to Paris. And next month, journalist Julian Crabtree is attempting to become only the third person ever to do it

The Medical Director of the Ironman triathlon series, Dr P Z Pearce, once claimed that if God created marathons to keep people from doing anything more stupid, the triathlon must have taken Him completely by surprise.

What God would think of the Arch to Arc is anyone’s guess, but going through untold suffering and sacrificing any sort of normal life in the pursuit of some sort of enlightment is something that any deity would perhaps applaud.

The Arch to Arc is one of the world’s ultimate endurance challenges – a 289-mile triathlon from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris that consists of running 87 miles to the Dover coast, swimming the English Channel (22 miles) and then cycling 180 miles from Calais to Paris.

It is no wonder that only two people have successfully completed the whole challenge. In August 2007 I will be attempting to become the third.

I am not a lycra-clad pro triathlete, I do not own a heart rate monitor, shave my legs or ride a bike that looks like the latest Gillette Mach-whatever with wheels on it. Instead, I am a 39-year-old 100-kilo ex-rugby player who runs like a bull, swims like a barge and cycles like…well a donkey.

So why the hell do I think I can do this?

Because I believe I can. I have been there before.

In 2003, what started as a drunken challenge from Rugby World editor Paul Morgan to Gavin Mortimer ended with me becoming the first Brit and the third person ever to complete the Serum Run on foot.

This is a 1,100-mile run across the Alaskan wilderness usually done by dog sled. I, however, dragged all my equipment on a sled, and suffering from frostbite, I battled temperatures of -40 degrees, 70mph winds, total whiteouts, blizzards and wild animals, to compete the distance in 27 days.

Only when I finished did it emerge that I should not have started as it is an invitational race only with both organisers believing that the other had checked my racing credentials and invited me.

It was while struggling through waist-high snow unaware of the chaos I had caused, that the idea of swimming the Channel first took root.

By the time I returned to England, this had developed into a London to Paris event and after a radio interview with Danny Kelly, Eddie Ette (the first man to do the Arch to Arc) got in touch and the hard work began.

“Stop effing about and get swimming”
There is no short cuts from training. No matter how tired, cold, miserable or sore you are, you have to get the miles under your belt – the longer the better. You cannot bluff this, it will find you out and make you pay.

If I thought a shoulder operation was going to get me sympathy or time-off from training, well I was sorely mistaken.

“The key is the swim,” yells Eddie who has agreed to train me for the swim.

“There is nothing wrong with your other arm, so stop effing about and get swimming,” he says as he throws me into the sea for a four-hour one-armed swim that has me crying with frustration.

Forget about the loneliness of the long distance runner, there is nothing as solitary or remote as swimming for hours on end.

So why do I do it? Well, it goes beyond trying to grasp that desperate sporting glory that eluded me in my rugby, cricket and tennis days.

This is something that I cannot hide from and it goes much deeper than just trying to get to the finish.

It is my way of expressing myself. It’s about my growth too – pushing myself physically is the way I grow.

On one level, I started doing these challenges to look for cracks in myself; I guess I keep on doing them to see if I have done anything about them.

Am I scared? Yes. I am terrified. The fear stops me cold sometimes, but the sense of excitement, the sense of the unknown and the sense that, with a bit of luck, some good old fashioned stubbornness and a bucketful of tears, I may just do this.

Julian Crabtree’s efforts will be raising money for two charities. Wooden Spoon and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. For more detail, check out his website:

You can make a donation online by clicking through to here

First posted July 19

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