This months update focuses on a training run in Wales and my race report on the Fan Dance. The more I run in Wales, the more deeply I love the country and look forward to running the Dragon’s Back.
New Years Day Run – Conwy Castles High and Low
We spent the New Year with friends in North Wales and I crept out the house early (0830) on New Year’s Day for a run. I had found a route on line that incorporated Conwy Castle and the old Iron Age fort on Conwy Mountain.
I ran across the estuary into Conwy and then through the quay, enjoying the flat route and the views back across to the Orme (I’m definitely running the Orme next time I’m in Conwy). I then entered some forest and began a steep but runnable climb, crossing the road and railway line and climbing higher as I reached the open moorland. The wind and rain started to close in and it became much wetter and windier as I climbed. The views from the summit and the old fort are impressive, but would be so much better on a clearer day. It was good to see the wild Welsh Mountain ponies at the summit.
I quickly dropped down towards a hill farm and a metalled road that I followed back towards Conwy, there was an option to follow a trail over the hills, but I had been out long enough and had left the house without eating so took the short cut. A steep down hill brought me back into Conwy past the ‘new’ castle before crossing the estuary and back to a welcome bath and some breakfast.
The Fan Dance
My second trip to the Welsh Mountains was for the Fan Dance. Run by ex-Special Forces officers over the course used to determine the fitness and mental strength of soldiers attempting Special Forces selection, it takes place the day after SAS recruits run the course. The race starts at the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre, runs to the summit of Pen Y Fan (2907 feet), then down Jacob’s Ladder, a rough stone staircase, before running along a Roman Road to the turn around point at Tal Fechan Forest.
For me, the event was a true test of mental strength an endurance, starting with a 9 hour drive through Scotland and England before entering Wales and crossing most of the country, arriving at the Storey Arms at 9pm and bunking down for the night.
This race was well and truly out of my comfort zone. I had chosen to do the Load Bearing Race over the Clean Fatigue, so I was running with a 35lb military bergen on my back. Because of this and the weather conditions, I was running with boots, fatigues and a goretex shell jacket.
After race briefing and a minutes silence for fallen heroes, the race was off, up the path over the first shoulder before the climb up towards Corn Du (2864 ft) and then the final push onto Pen Y Fan. At this point, the wind was behind me, but I knew that the return would be tough in the face of the wind. Dropping down Jacob’s ladder, my lack of experience with boots really told here as I lost my footing and rolled a few times; pride bruise, I dusted the mud off and kept going each time. At the base of Cribyn, I checked in at the tent before heading along the Roman Road. I had planned to run this stage, but a combination of the rough surface and being unused to the pack meant that I quickly embarked on a determined yomp. I wasn’t concerned for time but reaching the end of the Roman Road and the second check point, I was about 2.5 hours so quickly checked in and commenced the return, eating a snickers as I yomped.
I made good progress back to the first check point but as I reached it, there was very distinct change in the weather, the wind picked up and hail/sleet began to fall. As I climbed towards Jacob’s ladder I could feel myself getting colder. I tried to pull my hat and gloves out of my pocket, but my hands had become too cold to operate properly. As I ascended onto the more exposed peak, the wind nearly managed to blow me over a few times and the last steps up Jacob’s Ladder were tough. Reaching the summit again was a milestone and I found new reserves of energy for the yomp down again, managing to overtake a few people on the descent.
I was delighted to reach the red Phone Box and the finish, even more so to discover I had finished in 4.57.40, I won’t be joining the SAS anytime soon, but I’m still grinning.
Official results are here