A few months ago a friend mentioned he was going to do the Winter Fan Dance Race, billed as a gruelling 24km non-navigational race over 2 sides of Pen Y Fan the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. So I thought, yeah I’ll have a go at that. So we set off on Friday for the long car journey to Wales with the requisite 36lb Bergen and Army boots packed.
Saturday morning, 830am saw me and my mate, Tony McGonnell, at the Storey Arms Outdoor Activity Centre, in the howling winds, light drizzle (you know the stuff that gets you wet through….) unable to see the top of the mountain for the low clouds. After the safety briefing and minute silence for the comrades who has lost their lives in the various wars, we were off.
There was about 500 load bearing participants all setting off together, I found this a bit frustrating as the going was very slow making it difficult to find my own pace. The field broke up after about 40 minutes and I was off. The first checkpoint was Pen Y Fan, the wind was howling and it was too dangerous to stop for long so after a brief word we were off again down Jacobs Ladder, stop start down here as the wind was very strong and there was a danger of being blown off the hill. By now I was soaked through having not put my waterproofs on at the beginning, well you can only get as wet as soaking. At the bottom of Jacobs Ladder there was a stream that had to be crossed, nothing for it but to wade through – no other option. Following this was 150 yard scree scramble before following an old Roman road for quite a way past a lake. Cold now but soldiering on, checking people out as I passed them to make sure they were ok, one of the rules of the race is if you find anyone who is in trouble you must stop to help them otherwise risk disqualification, fair enough really in these circumstances in this terrain.
Down another steep bank and across another river, fast flowing up to your knees because of the recent rains, then a bit of undulating terrain to deal with. Due to the severe weather they had a tent where you have to answer some questions so you can be assessed for your fitness to carry on and make sure you hadn’t developed hypothermia then it was onto the turnaround point and checkpoint 2. Here they made sure again that you were ok and ensured you had a 10 minute break and something hot to eat and drink. And then it was off again to do it all in reverse.
Conditions had worsened by now, the wind was stronger and the rain had developed into driving rain making you stop several times up Jacobs Ladder so I didn’t get blown over. Up the top of Jacobs Ladder then about a quarter mile on was stopped again to answer more questions to assess how we were doing to continue.
On the homewards stretch, a long downhill, then all of a sudden you can see it, THE FINISH! the red phone box at the Storey Arms. One fella got so excited he decided to run down, slipped and bust his nose all over his face – ouch!
Once through the final gate, gave my name and number, received the coveted Fan Dance Race patch then off into the hut for hot soup and sausage rolls – most welcomed after an arduous cold wet but awesome experience. My goal had been to complete in 6.5 hours, but looking at my Garmin I got 5 hours 7 min. Pleased with that. Bring on next year.