If you read my blog from last week (which you can still read here) then you will know this type of activity certainly ticks all the boxes for me ! A tabbing session with Graham Grover of Regiment Fitness in St Albans at 0615 on a Saturday morning. I accept that I might have some strange boxes, so let me explain once again – tabbing is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, we do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but as the events I am currently drawn to (The Fan Dance, Paras’ 10) are worked on this basis then this is perfect training for me. The location was even better this weekend, meaning that I could get in a little bit extra by tabbing down to the start from my house, the time meant that it did not eat into my day (and also meant I could stick to my agreement to run another parkrun at 0900), and Graham always pushes us hard, so, like I said, this ticked all my boxes. I took along my own bergen (rucksack) and had it loaded to 25lbs with all the essentials I might need if I got stranded in the wilds of St Albans – a compass, 2 headtorches, spare laces, wooly hat, sun hat, ruff, 2 pairs of gloves, mountain first aid kit, Fitzroy jacket, bivi bag, sleeping bag, gaiters, towel, knee brace, and in a separate waterproof bag in my bergen a short sleeved zipped base layer, long sleeved base layer, two fleeces, a pair of hiking trousers, long johns and socks – plus two 2kg dumbbells and 3 litres of water (2 litres in the internal bladder and 1 litre in a bottle in one of the pockets). In total I was carrying 35lbs. I would also be doing this in the kit I would be wearing for my events, meaning long hiking trousers and my Scarpa ZG-10 hiking boots. It was a wet morning, and there had already been some rain showers will I was getting ready, so I was wearing a Rab short-sleeved base layer with my Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine jacket on top, to deal with any rain.
As I have said, I had decided to add to the session by tabbing down from my house, which meant adding just over a mile to what I would be put through once I got there, and I ate an apple before I got going. That is the one problem with these early starts, trying to get some food and energy into you before the exercise gets going. The rain had stopped by the time I left the house and I got down to the Regiment Fitness van, which was parked by the athletics track in Verulamium Park, in 11 minutes and 37 seconds. There was already a good little group of tabbers there and we were soon joined by some others. Regiment Fitness were clearly expecting good numbers because they had three instructors in attendance to take us through the session, with Graham Grover and Shaun Casey from last weekend’s session joined by Luke Baverstock, and by the time we got going there were at least 30 of us tabbers present. Graham got us into two groups, those who were going to push it in one group, and those who were after a ‘normal’ tab in the other. I went with the pushing it group and we started edging away along the track leading towards the lake, before Graham called us back and the tab got going in the opposite direction, heading over the grass in front of the Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre. I wonder if there was anyone on the treadmills looking out at us.
We ran along the perimeter of the grass before heading down into a ditch and then back up again over a hillock at the far end of the Park near to the main road. We circled round to the other side of the grass and ran along the treeline between us and the river, passing to the right of the building on the hillock in the middle of this part of the park before we got closer to the treeline alongside the river than many of us would have liked, as Graham told us to run down into the river, touch the far bank and come back out again.
The water had come up to my knees and gone in over the top of my boots, so I would be stuck with wet feet and carrying the weight of extra water with me for the rest of this tab, the downside to GTX boots once the water does get in. I had hung back to take a photograph of some of those behind us as they came into the river (which turned out to be blurred anyway !) so now I had to shift it to catch up with my group, running to the far side of this part of the grass and through a gap that brought us out near to the crossroads of the tracks which go through the park, close to the lake, and as I came out of there I found that Graham had sent the group across to the benches under the trees and back while we waited for the other group to reach us, so I followed along. Then we were off, running up the track which takes you up the hill alongside the Roman wall, and I was finding it tough going. The stopping and starting with the photographs and the fast pushes to catch up were definitely hitting me, and the extra mile before we started had probably not helped, but I did also begin to wonder if I had just overdone things a bit this week. Anyway, I pushed on to the top of the hill and completed the first mile in 13 minutes and 55 seconds. Graham was setting a fast pace.
We turned right at the top of the hill, going into the trees and up a muddy slope which brought us back along the Roman wall until we turned off to the left into the undergrowth again, circling round to the right and eventually coming out of the trees, on to the grass and following a route which brought us back down the hill, in the shadow of the distant Cathedral, until we reached the crossroads of the paths again, and another run over to the benches and back for the group at the front while everyone else took a quick water break and got back into two ranks.
Then we were off, carrying on down along the path and taking the left fork which brought us to the lake, which we began to circle in a clockwise direction, and everything was going very smoothly, with the geese looking down on us from the top of the slope to our left. Then Graham told us to get into the water.
It was deeper than the river, though not by much, but it was a completely different proposition. For a start it stank, and one can only guess at what manner of nasties the water was holding. This was definitely not a pleasant experience and my boots were filled with water again. My hiking trousers were already soaked through with sweat, as was my base layer and jacket, so the water made little difference there. Yes, as it turned out, and with the rain holding off, wearing my jacket had not been my best idea ever, and I was steadily boiling inside it. We were out of the lake and continuing to circle it, carrying on past the bridge to complete a full circuit and coming back down the other side, thankfully without any more entries into the lake, which suited me fine because I was really feeling done in by now. My thighs were aching and I was beginning to feel an all too familiar pain in my left shoulder. I went through the second mile in 15 minutes and 23 seconds as we ran along the side of the lake.
We reached the end of that path and carried straight on and down into the river, no hesitation, just ran into it, and carried on round the bend to the left until we saw Shaun and Luke waiting for us at an exit point on the right. Everyone helped everyone else to get out and I did my bit, lifting the bottom of the bergen of the person in front of me so they did not have to deal with the weight as they went up the slope and out of the river. Luke gave me a helping hand to pull me up and we were off along the grass again. We came together into a group and Graham told us that to finish off we would tab a figure of 8 around the grassy areas until we got back to the van, running with the river to our left to begin with, circling round at the top of the park near to the main road, going back to the other side of this part of the park with the building on the hillock to our left, with another visit into the river, and then following the perimeter as it circled round to the left, and as I was making my way at the back of it all I saw Danny Brennan come running out to give me some company as I ran it in, which was very good of him to do.
We all got back to the van and wasted no time getting the bergens off our backs, at which point Graham told us he had got the timings wrong and that as we still had two minutes left we could run over to the far bank of the river and back. I was soaked with sweat anyway, so a bit more water would not hurt me. The final mile and a bit had taken me 17 minutes and 23 seconds and I was feeling exhausted. This had really been a tough session for me and I was definitely not going to be tabbing another mile to get home. We stretched to warm down and I began the walk back to the house, still having to carry my 35lbs, of course, and now soaked through, walking in sodden boots and socks, and very conscious that I was due to be running a 5k parkrun in about an hour and a half.
The session next Saturday is on Dunstable Downs, a very familiar tabbing ground for me, but unfortunately I will have to miss it as I will be away in France, doing some more of this.
You can see more of my photographs from the session here.