The GORE-TEX® Experience Tour Fan Dance Challenge is one of a series of projects designed by Gore to give outdoors folks the chance to take part in money-can’t-buy experiences. Derbyshire-based pilot, Stephen Smith is one of 10 winners who headed for South Wales in the first week of September to attempt the infamous Fan Dance and he kindly agreed to tell us a bit about how the daunting challenge went. You can read Stephen's own blog at smithschallenge2012.wordpress.com.
Day 4 - The Fan Dance Challenge
Waking up on the morning of the challenge was a sad experience. I had loved every day so far and didn't want it to end. We had all been in our own little bubble, enjoying our experience as a team.
We had spent the last 4 days doing what we all enjoyed and loved to do together, while the whole world continued on with its normal day to day. I longed for the experience to continue, even just for one more day... but right now there was more important matters to deal with like the Pen y Fan.
With porridge consumed (Thank you again Sarah!), a pint of water downed and bags packed with all the jelly babies it could take, the time seemed to drag in the run up to our 0800 start time.
The route that we would take would start at the Storey Arms Centre heading north up to Y Garn (619m) before swinging round to the south-east and ascending up the Craig Cwim Llwch, then skirting around the summit of Corn Du (873m). We would then traverse across the head of the valley up onto the summit of Pen y Fan (886m) itself. From the summit it would be down across Craig Cwm Sereto then following the ridge (east to west) around the south side of Cribyn before heading south along a dirt road to the rendezvous point at Taf Fechan Forestcar park. Once there we could resupply before turning round and heading right back up the long climb to the Pen y Fan. Reversing what we had just covered.
As we set off straight into our climb we all set our own paces for the challenge. At the front myself, Rachel and Barry but as the climb continued I was finding it difficult to keep pace with Rachel about 50m ahead, 20mins in. Barry was close behind me with the rest of the team following closely in pursuit. At around 2000ft we entered the cloud still looming over the summits adding a welcome chill to cool me down with a breeze that accompanied it. It was tough going up the hill to start as we were not quite warmed up yet.
As the gradient levelled out to skirt the summit of Corn Du it was time pick up the pace further though. Running around the summit, the ground was wet and loose but awesome in every way. Running trails like this was what it was all about for me. It beat running on the road any day!
While taking puddles in our stride, picking our lines across the loose, muddy terrain we skirting the summit of Corn Du above us to the left, running around her in the cloud. Rachel was leading at this point with Barry and Sarah close being me, all within 100m of each other we kept a quick pace before reaching a turning point with paths and trails crossing in all directions. Looking at our maps to choose the correct route in the mist cost us some time until Clive came running past us, clearly familiar with the route and now leading the way. We followed suit!!
It was the same story at our next point with Clive making a confident turn onwards. I probably should have gross checked the turns against our map and compass in hindsight but hoped at the time it was the right direction. Part of me wanted to drop a jelly baby or two to mark our turns as well but I feared I may need my whole supply later. As we pushed on for the summit of Pen y Fan it became clear we were on the right track!
At the summit was Rachel, Sarah, Barry and I closely followed by Clive and Jason our mountain leader. I had no idea how close the rest of the team were due to the cloud we had ascended into. The wind was stronger on the summit and we were keen to keep moving to avoid cooling down too much. As we began our descent running down the Pen y Fan we dropped out of the cloud to a view across the valley looking right down to our rendezvous point at Taf Fechan Forest. I remember shouting to Barry and the other "This is amazing!!" and couldn't stop smiling. My legs were starting to feel stiff, I was covered in sweat, chilled by the wind and working hard but I could not have been happier! This is what it was all about!
Running the leg along the south side of Crybyn towards our half way point we set a good pace negotiating what was pretty challenging terrain until finally reaching our Rendezvous point in 1hr 20mins! We were really pleased at this point and when Andy the British Military Fitness instructed said he was also impressed we knew we were onto something.
Quick refill of our camelbacks and a quick energy bar each it was back up what we had just ran down - all the way back up the Pen y Fan and more. Retracing our route we all agreed to try and beat 3 hours for the route, a time that would be difficult but achievable as long as we maintained our good pace. At this point there was the four of us running together, myself, Rachel, Barry and Sarah, but it wasn’t long until we were joined my Clive who had worked well to cover the ground between us and catch us back up before we started our steep climb up the Pen y Fan again.
We passed the other team members on our route back. All of them were on track and coping well! All bar one person, that is. We still hadn’t passed Brendon and had all assumed he must have injured himself on the start leg and returned to base until we finally met him quite away into the return leg, we were thankful he was OK though! It later turned out that he had taken a "slight" detour adding another 5km onto his distance!!! Nutter.
As we reached the climb up Pen y Fan, I felt good and that I still had a lot more to give and so pressed on to make the summit. As we ascended back into the cloud I was so keen to complete the challenge in less than 3 hours that I just went for it. Rachel was close behind with Barry, Sarah and Clive a minute or so behind her.
The ascent now was becoming pretty hard and as my legs screamed to stop, my lungs were forcing every last breath of Welsh mountain air into them, and I pushed on. Once again, on up into the cloud, Rachel and as the others dropped out of view I didn't and couldn't stop.
At the summit I remember thinking it was tougher than I had originally thought it would be and stopped to catch my breath back. My legs at this point were like jelly. I wanted to stop but knew the other wouldn't be far behind and so jogged on to touch the summit that I could just make out through the cloud about 10m ahead of me.
Stopping for a second, I thought it might be a nice idea to leave a jelly baby sitting on the summit for the others and so while wearing shorts and nothing more than a base layer I delicately placed a jelly baby on the summit while getting some strange looks from people out for a walk…
As I placed the jelly baby for the others, Rachel appeared from out of the cloud after her ascent. A high five later we were off running back down the Pen y Fan safe in knowledge we had done the worst bit of the challenge. Just one more climb remained but it was to be nothing like what we had just done so we were confident.
As we ran our route down from the Pen y Fan, my calves decided they were going to cramp on me. Not just one, but both. It was horrible. I tried to run though it but when my right foot locked out I couldn’t push on without trying to stretch them out first. I remember being so angry it was happening now, the home stretch when we needed to really push for our time! Rachel was brilliant though and proceeded to slap my calves about and rub them down in an attempt to try and clear it, which worked incredibly!!! 30 seconds later we were back up and running, negotiating our paths, taking puddles and rocks in our stride. Nothing was stopping us now.
At the top of Y Garn, which we had ascended at the start of our challenge almost 3 hours ago, we could see the end. We were on course to smash our target time and while running down the final stretch we could see Nicole and Anna ahead cheering! It was a great feeling!
On finishing our time was confirmed as 2hr 53mins and 27s! I was over the moon!
Barry was up next as we screamed for him to run faster down the hill and then comfortably finishing within 3 hours. Clive and Sarah following 15 seconds behind Barry and all finished in under the 3 hours mark! Next was Jaroslav at 3hrs 14mins, in all his gear (Those GORE-TEX® Active Shells definitely had their work cut out and performed really well!). Carolyne, James and Lindsay were the next to arrive all finishing within 4hours but there was still no sign of Brendon!
Brendon is a cracking bloke and we all hoped he would cross the line under 4 hours! His sheer determination impressed us all to continue on after adding such a big detour onto what was already a challenging route but unfortunately the damage had been done! Had he not taken his detour though he would have come in well within the 4 hours and that’s based on his average pace over an even longer route!! I like to think he just fancied a bit more a challenge?
The whole experience from start to finish was amazing. From very first arriving it was clear this was going to be something special. Our kit was fantastic, having tested mine to almost destruction during the river crossing exercise; it stood its ground well! The Berghaus GORE-TEX® Active Shell Jacket certainly coped with everything I threw at it and really impressed me. I hate wearing anything heavy and bulky too and so having such a lightweight but fully waterproof jacket made all the difference! I've even come to love the colour too! I can’t recommend it enough!
The whole experience could not have been made possible without Nicole Wheatley and Anna McNamara who put the whole event together and I cannot thank them enough for the opportunity. Our Mountain Leaders, Pete Curley and Jason Revel were truly incredible blokes and from start to finish I was constantly impressed and mesmerised by some of their stories! Sarah King, BMF Events Manager was an absolute god send to us all! Without her, the whole 4 days would have been next to impossible to have accomplished. Plus she makes some cracking porridge! Thank you all so much.
The GORE-TEX® Experience Tour really exceeded my expectations in many ways. There was/is still so much more to talk about, I could go on for days! If you have made it this far though, I salute you and apologise for any sentences that don't make sense or my lack of writing skills! What's next for me then? Well this was challenge 4 of 12 for me in 2012. smithschallenge2012.wordpress.com has all my challenges that are still to come with the Great North Run this weekend and kayaking the River Wye in October next on the list!
Thank you for reading!
Click here for part 1 of this feature...