I’m always on the search for a new physical challenge, I need a goal of some kind, it stops me feeling like I’m treading water and gives me an excuse for my lack of focus at work. Over the years I’ve competed in marathons, numerous triathlons including an Ironman, mud runs, obstacle races such as the Spartan amongst a variety of other meaningful or meaningless events depending on your perspective.
Trawling the internet for inspiration, I happened upon the Fan Dance Race series organized by Avalanche Events (fandancerace.com). My many weeks of Military experience over 10 years ago meant that I was familiar with the background to this challenge. The Fan Dance is the name given to the final challenge of the SAS test week, a series of ultra tough physical and mental challenges aimed at testing the resolve and mettle of those aiming to take their place amongst the most elite soldiers in the world!
This was obviously a civilian version which I guess would attract a mix of current squaddies, ex squaddies and civvies. A bergen (backpack) laden with 35kg of essential kit and sturdy boots was the unique requirement.
I will first say that the event was first class being superbly organize. Over the 3 years of its inception the guys have created an event with a great atmosphere, developing a unique camaraderie along the way echoing the ethos of ‘The Regiment’ themselves. The event harnesses what the British Army does best, immense team work, discipline, and a grit and determination to push forward, unlike a triathlon or long run where u are head down focusing on your personal motivations this really felt like a community experience.
Reading all the pre race briefings, which at times had me convinced I was actually signed up to join the real SAS the event 2 years ago has been epic, severe weather conditions adding to the challenge with temperatures of -20 degree and snowfall.
At the start line the weather was straight from a film set, driving horizontal rain with strong winds, I half expected a director to shout cut and some hosepipes and a huge fan to be wheeled to the side of the set. Ken Jones, the man behind the event gave a stirring speech during the safety brief before we were off, a steady slog uphill.
Pushing over the first summit the wind started to increase, within 20 minutes the rain dripping down the arms of my jacket and soaking my gloves. I had opted for 3 layers and jacket , adjusting my own comfort throughout by removing and adding gloves and hat.
The temperature at ground level as we left was 4 degrees, on the summit ridge with the added pleasure of a substancial 50mph wind chill it plunged to -12 degrees. As the claggy mist cleared to reveal the stunning roll of the beacons before us, we appraoched windy gap. Now wind is one, thing, I like a bit of wind, a fresh breeze across the face but this was extreme – strong enough to blow young fit soldiers over the edge. At this stage I did indeed dance and part crawl along every step a challenge in itself.
The route then headed down the steep face of Jacobs ladder, down and back up the seemingly endless Roman Road down before the punishing push up back up Jacobs ladder.
With a strong push to the finish and an added smile we arrived back at the iconic red telephone box where this years finishers patch was handed out (see pic below) with a nothing more than a well done and a firm handshake… Aimed at replicating the real test whereby upon finishing, the winged dagger patch is handed over without any pomp, circumstance or fanfare.
There followed a slow plod next door to the Storey Arms where delicious hog roast sandwiches were being dished out. As war stories were passed about, I ensured that I placed ‘The Fan Dance’ firmly on the list titled, ‘must do again’.
Check out Ken Jones book, an inspiring real life tale of adventure and survival against all odds ….. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Darkness-Descending-Ken-Jones/dp/1782066004