Local runners David Gething and Mayank Vaid tell Carolynne Dear how they’re hoping to run, swim and cycle 288 miles from London to Paris, raising money for ethnic minority children in Hong Kong along the way
The last time I caught up with David Gething was in 2015 shortly after he’d won the World Marathon Challenge title – seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents. It’s the stuff of legend. Since then he has gone on to complete a number of equally gruelling events – ‘highlights’ include marathons in North Korea and swimming alligator-infested waters in Florida. His most recent challenge was running four marathons back-to-back on the Indian/Pakistani border (“we were approached late at night by fully armed border patrol guards wanting to know if we were smuggling drugs – fortunately my run buddy speaks Hindi”).
But Gething and run partner Mayank Vaid are now heading towards what Gething describes as potentially their toughest gig to date – the ‘Arch to Arc’, an event that involves running, swimming and cycling 288 miles from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. This is the first time the event has been undertaken by Hong Kongers.
Buoyed by the reception he received for past events, Gething figured this time he could use the publicity to raise awareness – and cash – for two local charities, Outward Bound Hong Kong and The Zubin Foundation.
“The media coverage I received after completing the World Marathon Challenge was fantastic, and flattering as it was to have lots written about me, this time I’d like to try and channel some of that goodwill towards these two worthy causes.”
The Zubin Foundation is a social policy think tank and charity supporting ethnic minority welfare in Hong Kong. Ethnic minorities, excluding domestic helpers, make up 3% of Hong Kong’s population, yet face considerable barriers. Ethnic minority children are among the most marginalised groups in the SAR, with a third in poverty. And non-Chinese speaking ethnic minorities with special education needs (SEN) form a minority group within a minority group. They have historically been ignored by the Hong Kong education system and consequently a massive 57% drop out of school between primary and secondary. It is this group that Gething and Vaid are particularly trying to support.
Outward Bound Hong Kong is committed to developing Hong Kongers through learning experiences in the outdoors. Their programmes are open to all, without regard to race, social class, occupation, gender or nationality, and Gething and Vaid are hoping that the money they raise will enable disadvantaged SEN ethnic minorities to access an Outward Bound personal development programme.
“It’s tough enough when a child is diagnosed with something like ADHD,” says Gething’s wife, Trilby, who is project managing the challenge as well as the fundraising. “But now imagine you have no money and your family doesn’t speak the language of instruction at your child’s school. It’s an astonishingly impossible situation. We’re hoping that being able to access an Outward Bound programme will give these children a sense of confidence and a real boost. We’re trying to reach $1million and we’re hoping to sponsor a child a mile, or 288 children in total. A number of corporates (including Ellalan Law Firm, AllianceBernstein HK and Kraft Heinz) we’ve approached have already been very generous and we have a donation page for individual donations at simplygiving.com/every-mile-matters-288 – $3,000 will sponsor one child, or one mile. Epix Gear have also generously donated kit.”
Training is continuing apace, with the pair clocking up around 150kms of running and 200kms of cycling a week, mostly through Sai Kung Country Park, around Tseung Kwan O and over and around Fei Nga Shan, as well as three to four hours of open-water swimming. And it’s the swim that has Gething most worried.
“Actually, I’m pretty terrified,” he admits as we meet for coffee at Clearwater Bay’s St Barts restaurant post-training. “It’s not my strongest discipline and I’m frankly very concerned. We’ll be swimming in the summer but we have been told to expect temperatures of around 12 degrees, which is colder than the ocean here in winter.”
The pair has been training at Clearwater Bay Beach 2, completing laps of the bay, but notching up the hours has been tough given that both have full-time jobs.
“The trouble is at this time of year it gets light so late,” explains Gething. “If I’m running, sure, I can set off at 4am with a headlamp, no problem. But there’s something about plunging into pitch black water – I can’t do it!”
The pair will attempt the 21 mile sea crossing in wetsuits, starting between Dover and Folkstone on England’s south coast and finishing near Cap Griz Nez between Calais and Boulogne. The Channel is considered by many to be the ultimate long distance swim challenge. Weather conditions are variable and can include winds of up to force six and waves up to two metres. And with a strong tide, most crossings are considerably longer than 21kms. Added to that, it’s one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with over 600 tankers and up to 200 ferries ploughing the waters daily. And then there are the jellyfish. “Maybe they’ll be out of season when we swim?” Gething suggests hopefully.
Gething and Vaid will be attempting the swim as a relay, each of them swimming for around half-an-hour before switching into the boat. All Channel swims must be accompanied by a safety vessel and pilot.
“Having done a lot of research, it seems that most competitors in this particular challenge seem to hit problems transitioning from the run to the swim,” says Gething. “Having completed over 130kms it’s a lot to ask your body to suddenly be dealing with a tough swim in cold temperatures. This is not a race or a time challenge, we just want to complete, so we’ll be staying overnight in Dover after the run to recuperate and give ourselves the best chance.”
Once they’ve hit land in France, the pair will switch straight to bikes for the final 300km.
“I’m much more comfortable on a bike and I’m looking forward to seeing the countryside, it’s an area of the world I’m not familiar with,” says Australian-born Gething. “We’re also hoping to celebrate with a week in the south of France afterwards.”
And what do Gething’s own children think about the challenge? “Oh, they’re pretty blase,” laughs Gething. “When I complete an event they mostly want to know if I’ve won, and when I say well no, actually it was more the taking part, they sort of lose interest and say, oh well, better luck next time, dad!”
Meanwhile Trilby has possibly the toughest challenge, managing the entire event and maintaining spirits along the way.
“At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to pick-up a car in France. I really want to accompany the team in the safety boat, which means I can’t transport a vehicle across on a car ferry, so I’m trying to work out the mechanics of picking up a hire car in Calais and racing back before they start the cycle ride.”
Trilby is supported by event management on the UK-side but the nuts and bolts, such as organising pitt-stops and refreshments, are down to her. “I’ll have a mixture of gels, salty and sweet snacks, energy drinks and water on hand at pre-agreed points on the route,” she says.
But for now it’s up to Gething and Vaid to get the training miles under their belts, not to mention conquering that jellyfish fear.
The Arch to Arc challenge starts on June 12. Donations can be made at simplygiving.com/every-mile-matters-288.