I was here for the Fan Dance. A brutal race inspired by SAS training across the Brecon Beacons. I’d caught the racing bug after my experience in Spain at the BUFF Epic trail race the previous weekend and simply wanted to relive the experience. Going from Spain to Wales is quite a jump, and the two races couldn’t have been more different…
It was useless. There was no way I could get away from this rain. I hid under my hood and tried to focus on the race announcements. It was impossible to hear them over the rain hitting my jacket and so I just shuffled forward with the mass of people around me until the shuffle became more of a march. We were off, I guess.
Wanting to see what the fuss was about I’d signed up for the Fan Dance only a few days before the start. Based on SAS training the race was touted as being a tough one but, having walked in the Beacons for years, I wasn’t all together sure what all the fuss was about. Maybe I am being rather blasé here as I know it can not be military training ground for nothing but there was this little voice nagging at the back of my mind, even so. The only peak that the route went over was Pen-Y-Fan, which seemed odd to me. Surely, that took away from the challenge of it?
I did my best to weave in and out of the other competitors but this wasn’t the easiest of tasks; most of the racers had large 50lb bergens on their backs and the path was not that wide. I lost a lot of time in trying to get through. It didn’t matter, though. I was there for the experience; I didn’t know how to race and so I was there to learn. I fell in behind two other Clean Fatiguers and decided to keep pace with them and keep it slow. As the path flattened out after the first rise, my legs naturally took me past them and I quietly made my way onwards until the upward slope slowed me to a walk once again. Uphill: I was good at walking uphill. Mostly. Head down against the wind and rain that continued to assault the mountain I pushed my way onwards until I reached the contour that would lead me around Corn Du to the top of the Pont ar Daf path. By this point I could see nobody for the weather until I heard a shout from my left. My hood was blinding me but as I looked around I saw two race staff safely tucked away in their bivy bags. It was a comical sight and cheered me up as I forced my legs onwards towards the summit of Pen-Y-Fan.
What was I doing running this race? I know I’d run 21k in the Pyrenees the weekend before but now I’d jumped straight into running 24k through the Brecon Beacons.
The summit of Pen-Y-Fan is a wide expanse of rock and grass tufts, which is a lovely place to be on a fine day but cliffs dropped off sharply most of the way around, making it a potentially deadly place to be if you didn’t know where the path led. The course was marked but the weather was bad. Really bad. Having walked this part of the route more times than I can count since my first ascent at the age of 12 I made for the corner of the plateau that I knew led down Jacob’s Ladder.
Jogging down and being sure to lift my feet so as not to catch my feet on the rock lined path and trip, I started to gain on a few other competitors in the cloud. Instead of continuing on to Cribyn the route swerved around to take another contour line, cutting the peak out. Initially, I was disappointed to find this out as Cribyn is such a lovely mountain. It’s sharp but short and the views, not that we would have had any at that time, are usually wonderful. The path, as it turns out, was wonderful. Albeit, wet and boggy it was piled with stones to hop over, leap and jump and let the legs go as they please. As I ran along I remembered again what made me sign up to run this race in the first place; it was pure peace and fun.
I made the half way point in 1 hour and 40 minutes, which I was rather pleased with. The second half of the race was the same as the first half, just in reverse. You’d have thought that it would be boring running back the same way but it was actually hugely refreshing. On the return run you could enjoy the views that you didn’t get on the way. However, despite the views while I had enjoyed the run down to the half way check point, the run back was not so fun.
My legs were empty, as I hadn’t yet learned to fuel myself properly.
I’d had to borrow a bag to fit all of my supposed essential gear in and so did not have the pockets for food storage on my shoulder straps. I had known that I needed food after the first hour but hadn’t wanted to stop and lose time. My body was now severely paying for that choice as energy drained out of me at a rate that shocked me. I should have stopped. I should have eaten. Lesson learnt – this was certainly an experience in the importance of getting it right; I was rather clueless it appeared when it came to prepping my kit and formulating a good race plan.
The sun had come out by the time I was skirting Cribyn again, just in time for making my climb of Jacob’s ladder even tougher as my exhausted body struggled to cope with my rapidly rising body temperature. On the brighter side, it was beautiful up there and at least I could drink some of my excessive water supply that ‘d been required to carry.
As I clambered over the edge and onto the summit, I was encountered a mass of tourists blocking my way to the check-point. The top of Pen-Y-Fan is one of my favourite places to be – just not in the middle of the day. There are just too many people. Checking in, I all but sprinted away in my attempt to get away from the crowds. Instead of escape I all but dove into another wave of people, followed by another. Waves of people poured up the pathway, not feeling the need to make the path a two way road. It sounds crude of me to think that I have priority over them on the path – that’s not what I mean. However, it would have been really great if they’d have allowed some space for me to come through – the path was wide enough. Instead they stared open mouthed at me as I dashed past, jumping off the path to be able to get by.
To get to the end of this race was a huge relief, finishing with a time of 3 hours and 32 minutes. I’d honestly thought I’d known what I was letting myself in for but I really really didn’t. It was tough. It gave me my first real inkling of why the ground is used to SAS training. I felt really good to have managed to complete it and one day I would like to do it again – on fresher legs.
Three weekends, three half marathons
This was race two. Click on the pictures to
read race one and race three below.
It’s not a hat trick I will be pulling off again (as you can tell from race three, Snowdonia)
This is a report from 2015 that I’ve just found on my computer, so please excuse the very late upload, but I wanted it as context for ‘three weekends, three half marathons’.