It’s taken me over a week to get around to writing this update after my first but not last Fan Dance Endurance event.
After 9 months of training, starting non-load bearing and running 3 miles on flat, the day itself finally came to run the 15 miles over Pen Y Fan in the Brecons on Saturday 20th July 2013, so I’ll start at the beginning.
It was a long build up week due to the tragic events of the Soldiers dying whilst completing the formal selection process the Saturday before. The Directing Staff (DS) team at Avalanche Endurance Events were extremely busy re-assessing the safety requirements for all of us competing and sending out regular briefings and information about nutrition, hydration requirements and preparing for another record temperature weekend. The event was thankfully maintained and the challenge was not lost on anyone but all felt the need to compete and complete this out of a mark of respect for the SAS tradition and for the tragedy of the week previous.
So the day finally came, alarm clock buzzing noisily in my ear at 04:30 ready for some fuelling breakfast and the continuation of my hydration plan.
Car all loaded up, Bergen checked for weight, equipment, food, energy gel’s and water and then head off for the drive over to the Storey Arms ready for the 06:30 registration and 8am start.
The DS had been set up ready for check weighing the load bearers Bergens and random water checks.
As with everything its our responsibility to ensure we have everything we were told to bring and not the DS role to baby sit. Everyone was handing over an additional 2 litres of water for the half way Rendezvous (RV) point, designed to ensure no-one ditched their water part of the way around just to lighten their load. So Bergen checked and registration complete together with receiving the route map which was clearly marked with all the RV points. The RV points that we all had to pass through and undergo simple checks to ensure we were fit to continue. Time to double-check the load balance in the Bergen, keep sipping the electrolytes and chewing on some banana’s until 15 minutes before the event start.
The weather was a nice cloudless, sunny morning at the start and I was certainly expecting a hot day until around 07:30 when the cloud rolled in over the course and thankfully reduced the temperature. At this time everyone was pretty much doing the same thing, a little banter here and there but generally getting their stuff together ready to head of to the start line.
08:00 came and the race briefing started. Ken recounted a little of the history of selection, the mental and physical challenge posed and the need for everyone here to dig deep and push themselves but more importantly, to look out for each other on the mountain to ensure everyone got back having enjoyed the event.
Then we were off, load bearers before the clean fatigue runners on the 15 mile journey. The start of the climb is arduous, within a couple of minutes the heart rate has increased significantly and the breathing deep and heavy. Head down arse up, get into the zone and sight someone ahead of you to keep with or move past and repeat all the way around.
This section of the course is 2.1 miles from the red telephone box upto the cairn at the top of Pen-Y-Fan and its ALL uphill. No rest at all for the body to recover. The only choice is to go slower and recover but even that is hard going. After 20 minutes everyone is starting to thin out a little. A few have already left me for dead, I might as well be crawling and felt I was falling behind my own pace until I was spured on after looking behind and seeing a strong steady stream of people behind me.
The ascent up the Corn-Du is as ever, the final gut wrenching climb after the previous mile and a half. Still in the mist I was maintaining a decent body temperature, sweating like crazy but only feeling warm. The legs were starting to burn and the lower back starting to ache from need to maintain a bent posture to balance the bergen and maintain a decent climbing pace.
The last few big blocks of stone and I’m up and onto Corn-Du. The top is nice and flat for about 50 yds before descending down the other side and then start the ascent to Pen-Y-Fan. The national trust is maintaining the walking paths and some of the stone is very mobile still and very uneven making it tricky underfoot, but my target of 4 minutes from the top of Corn-Du to the top of Pen-Y-Fan was achieved.
Blowing like an old steam engine, I was somewhat relieved to see a queue of 6 guys in front of me at RV1. Perfect opportunity for a decent drink of water, take on some energy gel and check the boot laces are still secure. Cleared to go by the RV1 DS I head down the right down Jacobs ladder.
Stepping off the top of Pen-Y-Fan and down onto Jacobs ladder is the start of the next 5 miles and I’m starting it still in the mist. Running off the track for a few hundred meters or so to maintain a fast TAB and avoid the really uneven stone underfoot I was picking up the pace. 49 minutes to the top of Pen-Y-Fan was 2 minutes faster than I’ve done on any of the training runs. My average pace was checking in at around 24 minutes a mile but my best after 12.5 miles on the training sessions was 18m38 per mile and I wanted to achieve that or better it at the end of 15 miles.
With my head down I pushed on. Maybe a little too hard because I know the track forks at the base with the left side heading to the Crybin and the right goes around the base of the Crybin which is where I needed to be. After a few minutes I noticed the stone track took on a slightly more blocked track with tarmac and realised this was where the stream crossed before ascending the Crybin. I’d taken the left hand bloody fork and needed to literally get back on track and fast.
Realising where I was I decided to cut back diagonally across the heath area, minding the gullies on the ground that could easily snap an ankle if I didn’t spot them, to get back onto the right trail. As I turned, I realised there were a number of guys following me and quickly shouted to them to cut back to get onto the right trail. As the mist was clearing I looked back and saw a few people were heading up the Crybin on the wrong path. A quick smile to myself and thinking , thank god I came here to train the two month prior to the event and realised I’d gone wrong. I certainly wouldn’t have fancied going up the Crybin on a timed event when I didn’t need to.
After about an mile and a half I reached RV2 where we needed to drop off another 2 litres of water for the return leg. The temperature on the day was much cooler than expected and I’m sure the DS were left with a truck full of water that wasn’t needed in the end, BUT if we hadn’t taken it and the temperatures soared we would have been in trouble. Again a good decision by the DS for our safety.
The next 4 miles is down along the Roman road. Generally down hill with a few patches of incline. The biggest obstacle to speed is the track. Very stony and easy to turn your foot or catch a toe and stumble which a few of us did.
A quick scramble past the stream again slippery underfoot and into the forest for the last few miles to midpoint RV. At this stage I’m feeling fairly good, blowing well but no worse than on any of the training runs. Looking ahead though about a half a mile away from the RV and I can see runners heading back. I’m not worried because I’m sure these are the clean-fatigue runners but my hopes are dashed when I see the Bergen on their back, and then a few more continue to pass by me. time to push on I say to myself. I finally get to the turn around point. I search amongst the hundred or so water bottles and identify my water that I dropped off at the start point and refill the camel-back and munch on a cereal bar to get some food into me before turning around and heading back.
I checked my watch and see I’m pacing at around 17m30 a mile, slightly concerned that I’m going to burn out I start off at a fast walking pace. My breathing and heart rate felt OK so after half a mile I decide to start to run / walk, counting out a hundred steps of running and a hundred steps of fast walking. If nothing else it keeps my mind occupied during the next 5 miles of uphill tabbing. As they say, what comes down must go up but it always feels shit on the way back.
I manage to keep this pace up to RV4 at the start of the Roman road and take on the final fill of water that I need and head on around the base of the Crybin and to the base of Jacobs ladder. The top is still in cloud but that appears to be breaking now. Temperature is rising and the sweat is increasing but still on for a good time. If I can get to the base of Jacobs ladder on an average pace of 17m30 then I should finished at the storey arms at the same average pace. I usually loose 3 minutes a mile average going up and then recover that on the decent.
I push the climb as hard as I can, conscious that I cant stop for a breather. That will come at the top at the final RV point. It doesn’t matter how many times I climb this side of Pen-Y-Fan it still bloody kills me. Its a steep climb and just as you feel you’ve reached the crest you see that you’ve another 100 yds to go to get to the true base of the main climb up Jacob’s and the boulders that only a giant would find easy. At 5’7″ these are like taking 4 stairs at a time with a weight on your back.
Its a bloody hard slog, lungs bursting and heart pointing through your chest. Legs are screaming at you to stop. This is the hardest part, the physical is nearly over but the mental part is getting tougher. My all time fastest time is on the cards and I have to keep pushing on, finally cresting the top I head off towards the final RV check point hoping now I don’t need to stop. My fastest time extrapolated from the 12.5 miler would have been 5hrs for today and I recon I can take 45 minutes off this.
I run at the DS, shout out my race number and name and hope he doesn’t ask me to stop. He looks hard at me and lets me go to finish the next 2 miles downhill. All my previous training has taken me down the Brecon way side of Corn-Du and to the main car park where I TAB back to the storey arms. Todays run will take me straight down the other side.
The going under foot is intense. The steep downhill sections now starting to push on my toe nails ( which I cut this morning to avoid issues). I can feel the blisters in-between the toes and the ball of the feet and its bloody painful now but its not long to get to the finish line.
Strangely I find the last 800 yds or so a distant memory. I remember not really being in full control of the descent. I’m physically exhausted and thankful thats its downhill. By now I’m only concerned with not falling. I’ve got no strength left in the legs and little control as I drive on towards the rapidly approaching finish line and I feel like hurling. I finally get there and stop to be met by Ken Jones the race organiser. He kindly offers is hand to shake and is only met by me taking a firm and steadying grip on his hand trying not to throw up over him. In hind sight I do remember the DS stating that anyone caught throwing up on camera would receive a special prize. Wonder what I’d have got if that included doing over Ken’s boots.
Thankfully I didn’t and the heart rate came down quickly enough for me to smile as if it was nothing but a walk in the park for my picture receiving the patch I had trained for over the last 9 months.
Now time to get the Bergen off and enjoy the Fan Dance Ale and Hog roast after a throughly knackering day. I will be back for the Winter edition and hope that I can match my 4h19 official time ( 4h13 – minus stops for the RV points)
Fantastic day, great atmosphere and great organisation by the events team. ( http://www.thefandancerace.com )