The Fan Dance - Winter Edition

By Tompky - 11:57 AM

The Fan Dance

Feeling fresh at the start of the race
So the first challenge of 2019 was to take on the notorious Fan Dance, a 15 mile hike/run over Pen-Y-Fan, used as part of the tests SAS soldiers go through in their final weeks before they complete their training.  Ken Jones, a former SAS soldier himself, set the event up to give civillians a taste of what SAS soldiers go through.  You can do either the load bearing event, which is as authentic as it gets, carrying a 25kg weighted back pack throughout the 15 mile course, or you can do clean fatigue, which suits those more interested in trail running, where you carry only essentials.

I opted to do the load bearing option.  On registering for the event you are emailed through a kit list, which the back pack should contain.  This includes 'essential' additional kit including spare clothing, spare shoes (more on that later!!), compasses, pen knives, sleeping bags, food and drink.  

To train for the event I opted to try to get as fit as possible whilst minimising injury risk.  This meant training consisted mainly of long runs, hill running, long hikes, and some days a bit of a mix of all 3!! For the load bearing event you are told that you must wear hiking boots, however I did all of my training in regular running shoes, and without a weighted pack (to prevent any injury).  I am not sure if I would train any differently if I did the event again, but following the event my shoulders were very sore from carrying the weighted pack over the course, and it was very uncomfortable after a few miles.

On getting to the event on the Saturday morning, as you can imagine for an event ran by former SAS soldiers, it was very well organised, and registration was done very quickly and efficiently.  The load bearing event starts at 8am with the clean fatigue runners setting off an hour later at 9am.

The race starts at the famous red postbox, which is the start and finish point for the event.  In other races I have done, there is always a tendency by a lot of runners to go off too quick at the start and burn out by the finish, however there is an immediate steep incline, so the start of this race is done at a fairly slow pace.  I started towards the back of the field, but quickly started moving through people as the steady incline started to take the wind out of peoples sails!   

The first 2-3km is almost all up hill before a short decline gives you the first opportunity to try and get some speed up.  I started to jog at this point, however half way down the sole of my shoe snapped off!! This meant a quick pit-stop, rummaging through my backpack, pulling out my spare pair of running shoes, slipping them on, putting the broken hiking boots into the pack and carrying on! This had moved me back towards the back of the field, and taken away all of the momentum of one of the only downhill stretches of the first 6km!

The next few km seemed to pass without incident, and felt like a steady incline that would go on forever.  Whilst it was a reasonably warm January day, as soon as we got above 550-600 metres, it got very icy, making it very difficult to get any grip in my running shoes!

There was a checkpoint at the top of Pen-Y-Fan and then a very steep decline for the next km down the infamous Jacob's Ladder, before a steady decline over the next 5km where you can start to build a bit of speed up.  I was conscious of trying to make time up after the delay with my shoe.  4 hours is seen as the time everyone is striving to beat, and I felt at this point I was slightly behind on time.  After jogging/running the 5km steady decline, I hit the half way point in 1 hours and 50 minutes and was feeling OK, although my shoulders had started to tire.  

After a quick break at the half way check point to quickly grab something to eat and rehydrate, I set off back towards Pen-Y-Fan.  I tried to keep a steady jogging pace, however after a km-1.5km, I had soon tired and it turned into a brisk walk.  I was conscious that there would be some pretty steep bits coming up, and knew I would need as much energy as possible for that.  I continued at a brisk walk until the bottom of Jacob's Ladder.

Jacob's Ladder on the way down is tricky, clambering down over icy stones was hard work both mentally and physically, constantly checking where you were placing your feet.  Coming back up it was hell on earth.  At this point you have already struggled through 18km carrying your backpack, and just as your legs are about to give up, you are faced with climbing 250 metres over 1km and in the back of your mind you are starting to be right up against the clock.

I went very slowly, and it was a real mental battle, having regular breaks along the climb.  The encouragement received from fellow competitors, and members of the public who are out for a walk was brilliant though and really keeps you going, and it was a real relief when the summit came back into sight amongst the fog.  As I clambered up to the top, I was met with the final check point, and told I had 4km to go.  At this point I had taken 3 hours 25 minutes, so knew I had to go at a decent pace to get under 4 hours, however in my advantage was that most of the last 4km is down hill.

Starting to tire with a couple of km's to go

The last 4km was definitely a case of telling myself to just put one foot in front of the other, and take each step as it comes.  By this point, the whole of my body was aching, and I was desperate for the red phone box to come back in to view. There is a small incline with 1km left, and then a short burst before you see the finish line.  I managed to get back to where we had started in 3 hours and 57 minutes, finishing in 12th place overall.  I was met at the finish line by Ken to receive my finishers patch, and a warm, much needed sandwich.

A great, very well organised event, that I would recommend to all.

 Looking a touch worn out at the end of the race
Stood at the famous red phone box

For more photos of the event, follow my instagram - www.instagram.com/tompkyschallenges

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