– Ticking all the boxes in terms of mental and physical preparation.
– For several months now the skippers and all their teams have been working hard to be ready for this Sunday, start day for the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest
– And as well as the technical requirements – having the boat and all components race ready – making sure the skipper himself is in the best possible physical and mental shape for this huge trial is equally important, seeking to ensure he has the very best chance to make it to the finish line in what is expected to be around 50 days time.
First and foremost the guys are sailors. But they have had to become engineers, they have progressively studied to ensure they have excellent knowledge of the oceanic weather and of course they are excellent allround athletes in their own right.
Compared with previous generations of round the world racers and adventurers, the six skippers ready to take on the Arkéa Ultim Challenge – Brest are a new, different breed. Physically most are fitter and stronger than those who preceded them. Bear in mind each manoeuvre is usually nearly 45 minutes of hard, physical work, not least requiring long periods at max effort on the pedestal winch.
The ‘coffee grinder’ is what Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI) calls “the hand bike”. The heart rate climbs, the arms, shoulders, chest and lower back are fully engaged and the beads of sweat very quickly become rivers of perspiration.
“I keep up a level of exercise so that we prepare all throughout the year, to just be able to maintain that level of sustained power output endurance and a good recovery,” says Le Cléac’h, skipper of Banque Populaire.
“It’s not really about all out power, max work rate like on an inshore grand prix boat, but it requires really excellent cardio, and core strength too.” He says
“In fact, it’s more like a trail run rather than a sprint,” adds Charles Caudrelier (Edmond de Rothschild). He ensures he does at least three physical preparation sessions per week and among them enjoys boxing, climbing, board sports, running and cycling. And in his build up Armel Le Cléac’h says he has worked out almost every day with swimming sessions, time in the weights gym or out on the bike.
Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) is mainly happy to just ensure he does a lot of water sports, regularly going kiting, winging, and surfing.
“These allow you to work your cardio, all your muscles and I like that it’s always in the same watery environment!”
At the same time everyone has also really focused on working on mental strength. “If we have to deal well with the many different types of physical challenge that this race will bring, the mental dimension is almost more important,” says Tom Laperche (SVR-Lazartigue). “We just can’t overlook the mental demands of these boats and the impact that this stress can have over time.”
“The mental aspect is undoubtedly actually more valuable than the physical tests on this race,” agrees Charles Caudrelier.
“It’s not a race, it’s an expedition” (Coville)
Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) is the skipper who has completed the most round-the-world passages on a multihull. He competed in five, completed the loop three times and was once the record holder around the world (49 days and 3 hours in 2016).
Coville says: “We need to find the right approach to sustain the right level on this unique and singular challenge. There is a very big psychological dimension. We are constantly seeking to work at or near our limits, to go beyond normal effort levels despite the accumulated lack of sleep, the risk, the frustrations, the anxiety, the ice.”
For Coville skipper of Sodebo Ultim 3, this goes far beyond the scope of a sporting competition. “I like to tell myself that we are not racing but that we are on an tough expedition.”
It’s hard to imagine how hard it is to maintain an even keel mentally and physically, not being overcome by self-doubt and gnawing fatigue.
Coville, again: “There are days when you burst into tears, days when you scream, days when you go crazy. You end up being a mix between euphoria, exhaustion and elation.”
“What I’m looking for is a good level of balance” (Le Cléac’h)
All have their own methods. Charles Caudrelier and Tom Laperche work with mental coaches. Caudrelier, the Edmond de Rothschild skipper explains:
“With my physical trainer, I am very Cartesian, very numbers driven. We talk about fatigue, recovery, nutrition. And of course there are the times when you are exhausted without realizing that you are in the red zone.”
Laperche adds: “We know that there will be moments of euphoria, moments that are really challenging on the morale, so we work out how to manage this and to smooth out these emotions as much as possible to create the best possible performance.”
There are also those who do not have a mental trainer. This is the case with Anthony Marchand and Armel Le Cléac’h. Marchand says he “doesn’t particularly want it”. “If you’re doing your second round the world you’ve seen the problems, you know what to focus on,” he adds. “Me, I’m a rookie: I go in ready to fight and obviously I ask myself a fewer questions.”
And blessed with so much experience, Armel Le Cléac’h prefers to focus on preparation. He wants to enjoy a level of confidence because he has mastered everything that makes up the pre-race preparations.
“I try to tick all the boxes before the start,” he admits. “Above all what I am looking for is a balance in physical and technical preparations, in terms of recovery as well.”
It is a puzzle to be solved, checked off box by box which he sometimes compares “to the preparation of an astronaut before the take off of a rocket”.
The challenge begins on Sunday, 7th January.