Last week we caught up with Rachael Cadman – the first woman to compete the Enduroman Arch to Arc challenge on August 23.
The brave 30-year-old travelled from London’s Marble Arch to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. She ticked off a remorseless 87-mile run from London to Dover, a 22-mile swim across the English Channel and a 181-mile cycle from Calais to the Paris finish line - in an astonishing time of four days, one hour and 42 minute.
Cadman made endurance racing history, while still finding time to train alongside her work as an RAF officer. We caught up with the triathletesworld.co.uk forumite to find out about her racing highs and she reveals her next endurance event - getting married.
What made you take on the challenge in the first place?
It really appealed to me to be the first woman to do it - that seemed very exciting [only six men had completed the event previously]. I already had a background in endurance sport and I’d always wanted to swim the Channel with my swimming background. My aim was to take on the Channel and to incorporate that into a wider triathlon challenge. I’d already done the Double Ironman and I wanted to see what else I could achieve. It was wonderful that I managed to complete it and raised money for all the charities I was supporting as well.
What does it mean to be the first woman to have completed the Enduroman Arch to Arc Challenge?
It’s always really nice to be able to say you were the first person who managed to do something. It’s still a small group who’ve completed the Arch to Arc challenge, so it felt like a unique challenge. I was supported by Herbalife, the charities themselves and the RAF, so it was great to tell all of those people I’d completed it and to thank them for having faith in me.
How did you fit training around your job as an RAF officer? What did the average training week look like?
Obviously it was a big challenge. The RAF was brilliant and they supported me with the RAF Triathlon Association and they have twice-yearly training camps, which I went on for really focused training. One was in Lanzarote and the other in Cyprus, it was brilliant to be able to get away and completely forget about everything. Day to day I still had to fit training around work. I would try to do some of the shorter sessions, for example strength training or a tempo run, during the week. The RAF were very supportive and I could sometimes take a couple of hours for lunch, so I could fit in a half-marathon, as you do.
Weekends were always really full on. The year before I’d completed the Double Ironman, so I had a really good cycling base and I didn’t have to focus on that. During my second buildup year, I did lots of running in the winter, then when the open water season started in April pretty much every weekend was spent in the sea going up and down to try to make up the hours. I think the longest swim we did in training was 10 hours long.
What was your most useful training session?
Specifically for this event, it was the long distance swim. It’s the only time you feel your confidence growing and you think, “I really can do this.” You do need to get those long sessions in so you know you’ll be okay and for reassurance that you won’t actually freeze to death – it gets pretty chilly out there in the water.
Whatever your goal, those longer sessions are important confidence boosters. Before a marathon you’ll have a breakthrough run – you might complete a 20-mile run and suddenly you know you can do it, or before a 10K run you might have a great interval session.
What was the toughest moment during the actual Arch to Arc challenge?
Physically the run, mentally the swim. I’m built like a swimmer and that’s my background, so I’m quite different to most people who attempt this event who come from an ultra running background. They have a much smaller body composition which makes it much easier to do the run, whereas I think my build would always make the running side a little more difficult. After approximately 70 miles my feet really started to hurt. I was really lucky I didn’t get any injuries but the soles of my feet were really painful. People reassured me by saying, “Don’t worry, tomorrow you get to swim the Channel - all the cold water will help flush everything out.” It sounded like a wonderful incentive!
The swim was definitely the toughest part mentally. Not in terms of thinking I couldn’t do it, but because we had such poor weather conditions. There were a number of occasions when the pilot said, “I don’t think it’s safe for you to continue and I’m considering pulling you out of the water.” When you’re trying to focus on swimming for 10, 12 or 16 hours - which is what it took in the end - somebody being able to take it out of your control and stop it became really challenging. After around ten hours I just said, “Decide now or don’t tell me any more about it, because I can’t find the mental strength if you’re going to keep pulling me around everywhere.”
Were there any points over the whole distance when you thought, “I might not be able to finish this”?
No, I don’t think so. When you’re racing, you feel mentally prepared. There were times during the training when I really didn’t want to have to swim for eight hours. There were certainly moments in training when I thought, “I just can’t do it this weekend, I can’t find the mental focus for that training session.” However, once I started the challenge, that was it, I wouldn’t give up. Of course, there were difficult points. At 4am when I was still running I did shed a few tears and I thought, “What on earth am I doing?” But there was never a moment when I questioned if I could physically complete the challenge.
What mental tactics did you use in those low moments, either in training or racing?
There were two main strategies. Firstly, there was the charity side of things, which really helped. You remember how you’re raising money for great causes and for people who really need that support. That always helps you to keep going and you realise how the training isn’t really that bad.
I also felt like it was a huge privilege. Not many people are able to do this kind of event and few people are as fully supported by sponsors and the RAF. To be granted the opportunity to go out and live your dream makes you a very lucky person. So you just have to go out there and get on with it. I had a great support crew with me for the moments when it gets difficult to do things on your own. They said, “Come on, now’s the time to dig in” and it was always really helpful.
On the next page: Rachael's long-distance tips, the Arch to Arc photo gallery and find out how to get involved.