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The Mighty Arch-2-Arc: Intro to One of the Hardest Ultra-Endurance Triathlons

By Jonathan Bouchard (Polska à vélo)

This 3-part series is an account of Perrine Fages’ attempt to complete the Arch-2-Arc challenge. In this ultra-triathlon, solo athletes are expected to link the London’s Marble Arch and Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. The race starts with an 140-kilometre run to Dover on the Kent coast, then the athlete has to do a cross-Channel swim (shortest possible distance is 33,8 km) to the French coast, and then the challenge is finished with a 289,7-kilometre bike ride from Calais to Paris. Over the course of this series, we’ll find out what it takes to prepare for such event and experience it first hand through the eyes of Perrine Fages and her team. In this part, however, we’ll talk to Edward W. Ette, the man who came up with the idea for the Arch-2-Arc in the first place.

What was the idea behind creating this over-the-top event?

“I got involved in Triathlon during the early-to-mid 80’s. At the time, it was new and exciting and after a while, like many others, I found that standard distance commercial events were becoming tedious and becoming less of a challenge and more of an exercise of going through the motions.


I missed the excitement of the early days. I also felt that once you have peaked in terms of speed, the only improvement that you can make as you get older is to extend your endurance.

I’d had an idea of a journey – an adventure: London to Paris by muscle power. So I coined the phrase “Go further – you will find your way.” That’s how the event started.

What defines the Arch-2-Arc at its core? 

In essence, the “Enduroman Arch-2-Arc” is like those 1980’s American Road trip movies where an underdog – an unlikely adventurer – overcomes hostile environments, unforeseen circumstances and triumphs against seemingly impossible odds.

New friends are made along the way and, at the end, the athletes become part of the Enduroman family, an ethos which extends throughout all our events.

Our triathlon isn’t about swimming over the competition and barging others out of the way to gain a second. It’s about building yourself into your best possible version.

You’ll need help. Strong support teams are often best friends who have shared some of the journey.  There will be moments when the enormity of what lies ahead seems too much to contemplate.

In fact, the completion of the event is to overcome the odds: everyone who makes it changes deeply, I think. There is confidence, an inner warmth that pours out forever after. Enduroman is more than an event – it’s a powerful concept on many levels.

When compared to events like classical forms of triathlons like the Kona one, where does the Arch-2-Arch fits in term of sheer athletic feat?

It’s the lack of free passes! You see, traditional triathlons of all distances predominately favour the cyclist or runner depending on the course. Cyclists can freewheel or dismount if there is a problem.  The same, runners on ultra-distance events can stop and change shoes, apply chafing cream, eat, sleep, etc.

But Channel swimmers must continue onward as every second not going forwards is drifting and it is never in the right direction. I do believe that it is possible to be a relatively poor swimmer and complete high-level triathlon events with a high standard of cycling and/or running.

June storms lash the south coast of the UK, English channel, © Profimedia, Alamy

The English Channel is the Pinnacle of open-water swimming. There are stretches of water that are colder, longer and with more hostile conditions but the combination of the competing weather systems in the busiest shipping lanes in the World makes the challenge most unpredictable.

Simply said, it is this unpredictability where in the middle of the triathlon, where water movements can quickly change your race, which makes the Arch-2-Arc such a feat of endurance, I think.

How do you conquer the English Chanel as an Arch-2-Arc challenger?

Good question. Most sensible Channel swimmers will have performed their last big efforts four to six weeks prior to their attempt and eat extensively in the meantime, some of them putting on a good few kilos of insulation and buoyancy to help them on their way.

So, the challenge is also a mental one of high proportions, as well as a physical challenge of the highest calibre.

In order to provide some perspective to Perrine’s attempt to the Arch-2-Arc, we turn to Christoph Strasser, arguably one of the foremost Ultimate Ultra-Distance cyclists. (Who just happened to have won the RAAM for the 5th time a few weeks ago.)

As a multiple Champion of the RAAM and as an expert of what it means to perform for an extended period of time both physically and mentally, how do you see Perrine’s Arch-2-Arc Ultra triathlon event?

If you ask me what I think of such event, it is really hard for me to imagine to compare how a person can swim for such a long time.  Because when you ride a bike for a long time and you have a bad time, you can just let it roll and hang on and let it be for a while.

‘I can’t swim and I Can’t run, but I’ll gladly answer your questions,” Strasser wrote to us when we contacted him. © Alexander Karelly

But when you run or swim, you just cannot do this, you have to stay fit and strong every second!   You cannot allow yourself one single minute of weakness. Your legs will be weakened. But you cannot stop! With ultra biking events, you always have the choice to stop pedalling. Not here. And for me, this is what is incredible.

I think that you cannot compare these two kinds of sports. Because you have two different stress factors to your body. Both running and swimming are more complicated for your body, also in terms of coordination.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the training Perrine had to undertake to take on the Arch-2-Arc challenge. You’ll find the whole series in the links below.

Next up in The Mighty Arch-2-Arc series