Over the weekend of 8th September Mark Bayliss broke the record for the Arch to Arc triathlon in a total time of 73 hours and 39 minutes. The event demands participants run from Marble Arch in London to Dover, swim the Channel and cycle to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Mark was also the first person to complete the swimming portion without wearing a wetsuit.
Typically, triathletes’ physiques are very different to those of long-distance swimmers. To run well over long distances you need to be lean – think Mo Farah for example. Swimmers in contrast require powerful upper bodies, that would only weigh a runner down. Additionally, many long distance swimmers enjoy the comfort of a little extra padding to help keep out the cold.
This dichotomy is part of what makes triathlon such an interesting sport but it also raised important questions for Mark. Should he fatten up for the swim or stay lean for the run?
During his training and preparation Mark spent a considerable amount of time researching this. At one point he suspected his core body temperature would drop following the 87 mile run and that this would cause problems during the swim. However, after further research he concluded that fatigue would be the main reason for body temperature decline so as long as he completed the run in good shape he’d be fine.
He therefore decided not to attempt to manipulate is body weight or fat but to train for the challenge, eat healthily and let his weight take care of itself. It should be pointed out that Mark’s physique is more akin to a swimmer than a runner. At 5’10” he weighs around 90kg, and a lot of that is muscle around his chest and shoulders.
Mark’s training built on many years of endurance exercise and naturally included a large amount of slow paced long-distance swimming, cycling and running, including a number of ultra-marathons. He also realised that strength would be vital, particularly for the swim, and therefore enrolled with a local boxing gym – not to box, but to join their tough physical training sessions.
“It mainly consisted of good old-fashioned army type and cross-fit exercises: chest press, sit ups, farmers’ walks, core body work,” he says.
These sessions had to be fitted around a full-time job and all the time consuming endurance work, which meant plenty of 5 a.m. alarms and before-work gym sessions. But as sleep is essential for body repair and maintaining health, he’d aim to be in bed by 10 p.m. each night.
“My social life vanished,” he admits.
For the Arch to Arc challenge, the clock keeps ticking until you cross the finish line but Mark resisted the temptation to power through the run and in fact walked a good portion of it.
“I knew what time the swim was scheduled to start, and that was based on the tides so pretty much unchangeable so there was no point rushing into Dover any earlier than necessary.”
Mark’s biggest problem on the run was sore feet from the hard pavements – he’d done much of his training off-road. His quads and glutes were also hurting but this didn’t bother him too much as he didn’t need them for the swim.
“I was absolutely fine from the waist up,” he says.
At Dover Mark managed to grab a meal and a few hours sleep before boarding the boat to take him to the swim start. With the swim being the riskiest part in the event at this point Mark felt nervous but that changed as soon as he hit the water, at 2.50 in the morning.
“I loved it from the moment I jumped off the boat. I felt fantastic, just liked I’d tapered for the swim rather than having run to Dover.”
Mark has previously swum the Channel so knew what to expect, but this second crossing seemed easier.
“The first time it just felt like a long, long way: a real slog. This time my awareness levels were much higher and everything was easier. It took 16 minutes longer than my first swim but that was more because we just missed the turning of the tide rather than fatigue.”
In Calais Mark refuelled with Champagne, moules and frites before cycling to Paris. That may sound easy, but it’s 181 miles and Mark desperately wanted to sleep…
Mark’s Arch to Arc success was part of the inov-8TM Challenge Series that will see a number of committed athletes take on some of the toughest challenges in the world. Mark is hoping to raise thousands of pounds for SportsAid, a charity which helps young sportsmen and women to achieve their ambitions by supporting them during the defining early years of their careers. Sponsor Mark now athttp://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MarkBayliss.