The far side of the mountain…. (Fan Dance – Winter 2016)

On Saturday I took part in the winter Fan Dance. This has to be the toughest event that I have done so far. It isn’t the distance that is the issue but the terrain and the weather… Before I tell you all about the event I think I should fill you in a bit on my training leading up to it.

Training had been going well until about 6 weeks before the event. I had been building my mileage and getting in enough hill training. I had also added swimming in to the mix 🙂 Then, on one of my night trail runs on the South Downs I caught a foot on a tree root, badly twisted an ankle and fell. I managed to hobble back and could put some weight on it but it soon started to swell up. It was one of those really annoying injuries that is painful, leaves you with a swollen ankle but you know you haven’t done too much serious damage but it will take time to heal. Initially I thought (rather optimistically) that I would give it a week and then start running again. I quite quickly realised this wouldn’t be the case when I found I couldn’t even use that leg when I was swimming… In the end I didn’t run at all for two weeks. Since I have started running this is the longest time I have ever not run for. After that I started back quite gently being very careful on my ankle, taping it up and wearing support socks afterwards. I think I am very lucky in that I seem to heal quite quickly and by being careful I managed to get one long run on 11.8 miles in before the event as well as a number of 5-8 mile runs. this fell well short of the training I had planned ( it had included four 15 mile runs amongst others) but I knew I could complete the distance on this training but it wouldn’t be an amazing time, I just needed to let my ankle heal so I could actually make it to the start line.

The Fan Dance isn’t like any other event I have taken part in. Because this one was held in January you know the weather is going to be bad. You also know that if you have a problem on the mountain that it could be hours before you get down. There is no easy way down and the only place you could voluntarily withdraw from the race is the half way point; there is no road access to any other part of the course. I remember chatting to a friend about it beforehand they said “Can’t they just get a helicopter to pick you up” and I suddenly realised how people can under estimate what the weather can do and over estimate what is actually possible ! On the day I doubt that any helicopter pilot would have been able to get anyone off that mountain. Visibility was almost non-existent, it was absolutely hammering it down with sideways rain and sleet and blowing a gale so strong it was blowing the water back up the mountain… so no, I don’t think just asking for a helicopter to pick you up would be an option..

You know the event is a bit different when everyone listens very carefully to the safety briefing. This warned us about the black ice on the steepest part of the course (in with the wind that nearly took me off my feet and the rain that felt like needles in your afce). They also warned us which side of their flags we needed to be… “The other side is a cliff, if you fall off you will die…”

The race started dead on 9am with a thunder cracker and we were all off… at brisk walking pace 🙂 This is still the only event I have done were the vast majority of people start off walking and it really does become apparent why !

It is just a long slog up to the top of Pen Y Fan in horrible weather… I managed to run some sections of it but all the time I was conscious that my ankle was only just recovered enough and I really didn’t want to go over on it and not complete the race… At the top of Pen Y Fan you couldn’t see much at all, in fact for most of the race visibility wasn’t good hence the lack of scenic photos. We had also been warned not to linger at the top and the DS (Directing Staff) were quite keen to keep everyone moving.

The top of Pen Y Fan

Jacobs Ladder is my nemesis. I’m really not sure which I hate more, going down it or up it… The first part is a scramble over rocks before the “steps” appear. Because of the black ice we had been warned to keep to the grassy slopes to the right (not forgetting the cliff to our left…) which were also incredibly slippery and I made slow progress down.

When I made it to the half way point I needed to get someone to open my jelly babies for me because my fingers were a bit wet and a bit too cold… I then knew I had to turn round and do it all again…

Parts of the paths were running like streams and there is one particularly deep gully that you have to cross… and there is no way you can do it without getting in the water..

Going back up Jacobs Ladder the wind had increased (as had the rain) and I was finding it really difficult to stay on my feet without being blown over. I just took it steady and stayed to the side that had the odd thing I could grab hold of… When you get back to the top you do feel as though you are nearly home but in reality you still have another few miles to go (including another uphill !)

As you come down the last hill and see the red phone box all sorts of emotions run through you. Relief that you have made it, exhaustion when you realise you can actually stop now and sadness that it has come to an end.

The support from other competitors, the Directing Staff and Mountain Safety Team is amazing and really does make this event what it is.

Would I do it again ? you bet ! I’ve already signed up for the summer event and hope to be back next winter 🙂

IMG_4033

And now for a bit about kit 🙂

What I was wearing

Inov-8 Roclite 280 trainers
Hilly monoskin merino wool socks
Inov-8 debris gaiters
Nike long running tights – the top is a thicker warmer material but they are really fast drying
Shock absorber running bra
Inov-8 merino wool base layer
Fan Dance Technical t-shirt
2 x buffs round my neck – used to cover my face in the worst of the weather
OMM Kamleika Race Jacket II – This was an amazing piece of kit that REALLY did its job !
Warm hat with fleece bit over my ears
Nike gloves

What I carried with me

The following was all packing in to an Inov-8 Race Ultra 10l back pack (with a waterproof cover over the top):

Mountain Warehouse Down filled jacket (to keep me warm at -20C)
Spare Hat
Spare Gloves
Spare Socks
Additional Inov-8 Merino Wool base layer
Survival Bivi Bag
Spare laces
2 litres water
Stainless steel flask of coffee
First aid kit (split between 2 side pockets
2 x Chia Charge Flapjacks
2 x headtorches
Yaesu FT1-DE radio with a Diamond 771 antenna

In the pocks of my OMM jacket I had maps, compass, mobile phone in life proof case and a whistle.

My Yaesu radio has GPS and APRS built in so I had set it to beacon my position once every 3 mins. I wasn’t sure if any of this would make it to the APRS website in Finland or not but my support team also had an APRS radio that could receive the data so they could see when I was nearing the halfway point and the finish. As it turned out my APRS data did make it to Finland. The data is below the photos for the radio people that might be interested.

The finishers patch

The finishers patch (yes I got one with the “falling snow” !)

Approaching the halfway checkpoint

Approaching the halfway checkpoint

with Phill at the halfway point

Halfway with Phill

Approaching the finish

The finish !

2W0FSE-7

Found 6 packets. 14479 seconds between packets on average during 86876 seconds. Lookup took 0.021 seconds.

Raw APRS-IS packets are stored for 2 days. Unsupported and unparseable packets are shown in red. Some formats are unsupported at the moment. AIS data is not shown here. It is possible to search using wildcards (*?) after a prefix.

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2016-01-09 12:35:34 GMT: 2W0FSE-7>UQURYW,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,MB7UVN:`y6=l,W[/`”=H}www.aspire2run.co.uk_$
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2016-01-09 12:38:40 GMT: 2W0FSE-7>UQURXT,G0ROZ-3*,WIDE2-1,qAR,M0NDE:`y6PlI<0x7f>[/`”<w}www.aspire2run.co.uk_$
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2016-01-09 12:41:43 GMT: 2W0FSE-7>UQURWQ,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,GW8VFQ-1:`y6el6X[/`”<r}www.aspire2run.co.uk_$
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