The 2017 Summer Fan Dance

The first weekend of July saw us back in the Brecon Beacons for the awe inspiring challenge of the Fan Dance.

Following my escapades in January I wanted a slightly different challenge. So I’d decided to do the Black Edition in clean fatigue. That meant doing it twice. Once on Saturday night and then return for more punishment on Sunday morning.

My partner in crime John drove again and predictably we’d booked a bunk at the YHA up the road road the Storey Arms.

John was worried that he wasn’t even registered. He’d not received a single email of confirmation. At registration we hilariously found out he’d been put into the women’s race.

This time I was given green 601. We bumped into some friendly faces from January. To me it just showed the commitment and camaraderie of the event. At the YHA we found another familiar face. The ‘captain’ as John had christened him. A 59 year old ex navy legend. He was in the room opposite and this time he was doing the trident – fully loaded.

After dinner I left John at the YHA and headed for the start line.

All the signs of a difficult night were there. I couldn’t see up the hill for the mist. Then I got pulled for carrying an inadequate fleece. Ken Jones wasn’t happy with my choice. Luckily I had another in the car. I was told to hurry up. I had to run back to the car as fast as I could. By the time I got back I was already knackered. Ken still wasn’t happy. Thankfully one of the other DS had checked my bag and convinced him I had more than enough kit.

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Up there somewhere…

Seconds later, at 10pm, we were away. But I was off my stride. Likely as a result of the stress of only just making the start. After 10 minutes of ascent I felt dizzy and sick. The weather was already closing in. The headlight was useless in the mist and I just felt disorientated. I pushed on in the hope it would subside.

After turning right to go around Corn Du I started to settle down and I was finding my rhythm. By the time I’d got to the top of Pen Y Fan the weather was extremely close in. Cold, gusty winds, rain and mist and I’d already got my waterproof on. Visibility was really poor. I got to the red beacon at the summit and reported to the DS. I ran off only to hear the DS shout ‘Don’t go that way! You’ll go over the edge and f**king kill yourself!’ Embarrassingly he pointed me in the right direction.

Jacob’s was slippy and it took a lot of concentration not to tumble. I reckon my Inov-8’s saved me more than once. By the time I’d hit the Roman Road I’d started to reeling in the back of the early starters. It was clearer down in the valley and I could see the headlights of those making their way back up the opposite side.

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Life savers…

I made my own way back to the top, passing load bearers as I went, and headed back into the dodgy weather. It was past midnight. The DS at the checkpoint said we had 5km to go along the ridge. The weather got worse and worse. Gusting winds and swirling rain. If I could see 3 metres I was lucky. Less than that at some points. All the time – just to my right – was the side of the mountain and a black abyss. It seemed like one tiny slip and it would have been all over. And I saw virtually no one along that ridge. Just a handful of load bearers and a dog.

I got to a point where I needed to get something on my legs. I was wet through and the cold was setting in. I’d been putting it off but decided I just had to do it and I hadn’t really got a clue how much further it was. I took my bag off and then my shorts and rummaged around for my running tights. The tights flapped about like a wind sock, I struggled to get them on and any heat in my bottom half quickly disappeared. Standing in my wet undies at the top of the mountain was not a great idea. I pegged it as fast as I could to get some warmth back in my legs. It didn’t take long and I smashed my way down the descent.

I hit the car park at the bottom and ran past a Range Rover. All I heard was ‘Come back mate! You’ve finished!’ I had no clue to be honest but I was jubilant as Ken handed me my patch. I’d survived some pretty bleak conditions and got the job done. I’d come second in my category too in 3:14. Albeit out of only 10 competitors.

Back at the YHA I smashed my head on a low beam again. Same beam as January. Why change the habit of a lifetime? And if got two hours sleep I was lucky. Especially with the Captain knocking on our door for a time check at half 5.

The morning couldn’t have been any more different to the night before. We were going to be in for a hot one that required sun block and sunglasses.

John and I hit the start line for 8am. This time the DS gave all the clean fatigue racers a dressing down for the lack of attention to the kit list. Even threatening to pull the category if people didn’t stop cutting corners. Totally agree.

I’d already decided to try and conserve a bit of energy on the first ascent. I knew that the previous night and the lack of sleep would take its toll. But John was off like a whippet.

The transition over the summit and down Jacobs was difficult. The change in direction was jarring on the quads and knees. It bloody hurt and at that point it was clear that the rest of the race was going to be tough. And the weather was just getting hotter.

I lost my sunglasses somewhere on the Roman Road. By that point John had already made it to the RV. He was on the return journey and he was looking good.

After the RV and by about mile 9 – I was whacked. Jacobs and the summit were back in view. I still had something like 1500ft to climb. I was reduced to a stop start and my legs were hurting. I might have been suffering physically but the was no way this was going to beat me. Mentally I was strong and I knew I could see it through.

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Pen Y Fan in the distance…

I tried to save some energy but resolved to keep the average mph up as best I could. I’d hit the top and then race back down the descent. I could still get a half decent time.

Jacobs was an absolute killer. The blind summit plays havoc with your mind. And all my comrades on the hill were finding it hard. The heat was bearing down on us. The breathing was heavy, the sweat was dripping and the muscles were aching. But the summit was worth every ounce of what had come before.

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The top of Jacob’s Ladder

I reported to the DS at the top. I gave a cry of ‘let’s have it’ and the DS roared me on. I pulled it together and ran off with steely determination.

That didn’t last long and, to avoid embarrassment, I waited till I was out of sight of the DS before I pulled up. The legs were screwed, my knees were and quads were all over the place. Every foot placement was painful. I was not going to give up though.

I pushed on trying to keep the pace up as best I could. There’d have been no shame in walking – but I’d rather have crawled over the line.  My legs were jelly now but I could see the road and that just spurred me on. The old red phone box and the finish line came into view. I was greeted by cheering and encouragement.

I crossed the line in 4:17. Not what I’d really hoped for – but I’d done it. Twice in 14 hours through some horrendous conditions and with just a couple of hours kip. I was euphoric. Either that or delirious. Then it was time for the patch presentation and the gun show…

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Despite losing all the skin off his heel – which was really horrible – John had done himself proud. He’d come 7th and came in well under his 3 hour target.

The complimentary hog roast lasted about 60 seconds. I wolfed it down. Then it was the long drive back to the Midlands. Re- telling stories of what had just happened and dreaming of the Trident in Winter ’18. And trying really, really hard not to fall asleep…

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