Coach Lee Takes On The Fan Dance

For those who know me I’m constantly looking for challenges to test me physically and mentally. I like to test my fitness over various disciplines, time frames, terrains and weather. This challenge was no different.

The Fan Dance is the name given to one of the first fitness and navigation tests for UK Special Forces. It comprises of a 24km long distance march over Pen – y – Fan in Brecon Beacons. You start at the bottom of the mountain, ascend the 886m to the top, go down the other side before turning around and returning to the start. All while carrying around 20kg in a rucksack or Bergen.

During Special Forces selection, potential recruits must complete this march in less than 4 hours and 10 minutes.

So my journey as always started with some crappy travel on public transport to Wales (why can’t I do an event in my back garden?). Once in Brecon, I stayed at the Storey Arms, which sits right next to the infamous red phone box and the start point of the Fan Dance.

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I was in a 6 man room with bunk beds and after enjoying some Fan Dance ales I retired to bed only to be kept awake by people carrying out panic admin and trying to get their packs up to weight. Once the guys had settled I was finally dosing off only to be awakened by guys returning from the high moon edition of the Fan Dance at around 2am. These guys sounded destroyed and were talking about how it was the hardest thing ever. These words echoed in my head as I finally fell asleep.

5am and I was up ready for breakfast and doing my final checks before heading out to the start. The weather was really good, however there was still a lot of snow on the ground from the previous week. Gathering at the start you are immediately met with the first incline which is the exact moment I told myself I should have done some actual hill training. However I quickly reminded myself “I’m and MdS veteran, I’ve got this”. I soon ate those words as I began the first climb, slipping and sliding all over the place on the snow and ice. Sweat was immediately pouring off me as I was already thinking this is nails.

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The terrain levelled out after a while and I began to run which took the pain out of my already tight lower back (should have warmed up). Just as I was getting into a rhythm the next incline started and it was at this point I was glad of the poor visibility so I couldn’t see how high or long it was! I slowly made my way up before seeing the first tent and guys being waved to turn right. At last a break! Again it was short lived as I made the final climb to the summit. My time was just over 1 hour, which felt good. Next came the famous Jacob’s Ladder, the steep descent over the other side of the mountain. I could see guys slipping all over the place so I literally sat down and slid down the snow on my arse. As the gradient eased off I stood up and ran down using the deep snow to manage my speed. At the bottom, it was a right turn to start the long journey on the Roman Road to the turnaround point. My strategy of run the flat and downhill worked perfectly up until that point. However at the turnaround point it finally sunk in that I have to do it all again!

I couldn’t muster the motivation to run back and my back was on fire so I cracked on as best I could. After what seemed and eternity I was back to looking up towards the incline of Pen – y – Fan. I quickly learned why everyone was talking about Jacobs Ladder as it absolutely killed me! I was like a penguin waddling up the side of the mountain wishing for the end. When the end was in sight a huge wave of energy came over me, as I knew it was mostly downhill to the finish.

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I ran as much as I could, falling over quite a few times before getting to the final section and seeing the finish. I crossed the line in 4 hours and 38 minutes, which I was more than happy with. I received my patch and hog roast sandwich, which helped me forget about the pain and the cold temporarily. While I was more than happy with my efforts in the conditions and the terrain, I will return next year for the summer edition and some proper training under my belt to beat that 4 hour 10 minute pass mark!

It was a great event and well organised and I would highly recommend to those out for a tough challenge. Was it the hardest thing ever? Unfortunately MdS still sits top for me, my lack of preparation is what made it harder than it should have been for me personally. Avalanche Endurance Events also run a ‘clean fatigue’ category for those fell/ultra runners who want to attempt it as fast as possible.

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What’s next for me? The Rainhill Trials in Feb!


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