Meet the only woman ever to complete the Arch to Arc Triathlon, a run, swim and bike ride from London to Paris
She’s a high-performance athlete who has competed in challenges around the globe, from marathons in London and Libya to an Ironman in Switzerland. This time last year Rachel Cadman was in heavy preparation for her biggest challenge yet; the Enduroman Arch to Arc challenge, an extreme triathlon consisting of an 87-mile run to the English coast from London’s Marble Arch, swimming 22 miles of the English Channel followed by a 181-mile bike ride to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In August 2011, Rachel Cadman at 29 years old became the first woman in the world to successfully complete the Arch to Arc Triathlon, breaking a world record!
Describing herself as a normal, everyday woman who works enjoys an active social life and raising money for charity, Rachel Cadman returns from a well-earned holiday to speak to Zest about the challenge that changed her life.
You’ve had a brilliant few years achieving success in so many challenges but what was it like taking part in the Arch to Arc Triathlon?
Amazing! It was great seeing 18 months of hard, rigid training actually paying off. Whilst the physicality of the challenge was different to the training it was so satisfying. Of course it was hard at times, mentally and physically, but knowing all of the support I had from the RAF who I work for, family, friends, charities and my sponsor, Herbalife, was so helpful. It was such a brilliant experience and a wonderful feeling.
18 months of preparatory training: that must have been tough. What does your training involve?
I obviously work full-time for the RAF so I have to fit training around work, as we all do, but as I say they are very supportive and I’m lucky in the fact that they allow me to use their facilities. I tend to use the weekdays for my short workout sessions, so go to the gym and do strength training or shorter cardio sessions focusing on running or cycling techniques. At the weekend I make time for my longer sessions. I competed in the ironman before the Arch to Arc Triathlon so I had a very good training base anyway. But once a month I would go for extremely long cycles, runs or swims, mostly from April onwards. Getting up and actually embarking on the training was the tough bit, motivation is key to success especially if you’re self-coaching as I was.
Self-coaching: wow! What powered you through your training and the actual challenge?
The possibility of being the first woman to complete the challenge was obviously a driving force throughout both my training and the challenge. I was raising money for charities too. The Help for Heroes charity as well as ShelterBox, a disaster relief charity, so keeping in mind those who were in difficulties and what I was raising money for was a huge motivation.
Did you have to alter your diet in any way?
To be honest, I eat very normally, healthily of course, so plenty of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates for energy. Herbalife, my sponsors did provide me with recovery shakes such as Formula 1 and H3O Pro which I had on top of what I was eating. Supplements like this on top of a healthy diet are probably key to refuelling when going through vigorous training and preparation.
Did you have the opportunity to treat yourself?
As my training was an 18-month process, it would’ve been very hard for me to stay focused without having a few treats along the way. Obviously you can’t help it when birthdays and weddings are scheduled, so social occasions were my opportunity to wind down and spend time with my friends and family. Every so often I’d have a take-away or go out for a meal. I’m just very sensible with it and moderate everything. The most important thing with me is not to isolate myself.
We all have moments of uncertainty with anything we undertake, was this the case for you too?
Oh definitely. I remember swimming the channel being my biggest concern. I am a strong swimmer but when you’re in the channel it’s a completely different environment and your control isn’t entirely the same. Running seemed simple, but when running uncertainty at around 70 miles did start to kick in. You only have one week to actually complete the challenge too so if after doing the run the water conditions were poor and I had to wait, there was always a chance that I would never complete it. Even in the channel, when the wind did start to arrive and I was drifting away from the boat that my crew were in, I did start worrying.
How did you get into completing a triathlon challenge as big as this?
I was a swimmer at school, started at about 8 or 9 years old and I did get into competitions. When I began work I joined a running club and they eventually began a triathlon part to the club so I was doing sprints at an Olympic-type distance as well as cycling and my swimming. Then once I entered university I really began the long distance side of things which is when I took part in my first ironman. I got talking to people from there and they were really encouraging and when they told me about the Arc to Arch challenge I did some research, talked to a few more people and then began my fundraising and of course my training.
How did you get through the pain of the challenge, physically and mentally?
The pain started to appear physically during the run. I’m built like a swimmer so I’m naturally a bit heavier on my feet than runners usually are. At the 75-mile point the soles of my feet were very painful but persistence was all I had. It was a tender point but I just focused on getting to the Channel and took pain killers. Mentally, the swim was the most difficult, especially after completing the run the day before. I remember the borders of France being visible for four or five hours; at this point I’d been swimming sixteen hours and because of the tide I just couldn’t reach it. That was painful. I did manage to work through it eventually though. The crew did tell me after reaching the shore that the tide was really pushing me out so I could have ended up swimming for another eight hours. I’m so glad they kept that to themselves, as the mental effect that could have had would’ve been painful.
What was the highlight of the Arch to Arc for you?
The highlight had to be finishing and achieving what I set out to achieve in the first place, breaking the world record too. But then again, meeting my parents at the beach after completing the swim was just such a relief. My parents don’t get to attend my challenges very often so feeling as though I’d made them proud was brilliant.
What tips would you have for Zesties who may want to take on a sporting challenge?
The biggest thing is to just go for it! Once you’ve committed to it then it’s a lot easier to focus. Do your research and speak to like-minded individuals who have either done the challenge before or know people who have. I was self-coached as I’ve said so make sure you also know what preparation you need to do. There are a lot of forums around which help with advice and motivation. Most importantly, stay healthy all the way through and stay confident. Nutrition and rest are crucial as is rewarding yourself!
What’s next in the pipeline then?
In nine weeks I’m due to get married. That will be my next and possibly most challenging endurance test! But, in all seriousness, I still train every day for an hour. I was hoping to compete in a triathlon in Spain but unfortunately this clashes with the Olympic opening ceremony which I have been asked to attend as an RAF representative, which I am very proud of. As I’m always training though, the next challenge could just be around the corner. I’m keen to do something new like hill runs or perhaps even a winter marathon.
Good luck with the marriage! I’m sure you’ll beat that challenge as you have every other. All that’s left to ask is, you work full time, hold down a stable social life and relationship with your fiancée and family as well as competing in extreme challenges and breaking world records – are you proof that Wonder Woman really does exist?
Thank you very much, but no. I’m just a normal woman who relishes a challenge and enjoys raising money for charities close to her heart. I enjoy eating healthily and training hard but there is always a balance there for me. I just hope that I am proof that if you put your mind and body to something, that you really can do it!
Rachel Cadman is sponsored by Herbalife, a performance nutrition line developed with the needs of the professional athlete in mind.
Like us on facebook
Follow us on twitter
Other Hearst Magazines UK sites