Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis so I am always looking out for training opportunities which incorporate tabbing. Most recently that has been the extra Regiment Fitter sessions being laid on by Regiment Fitness, and now I had signed up for an event called Dark 15 and they had arranged a training tabbing session in the course location early on a Saturday morning, so, of course, I signed up for that. There was another good reason for doing the training session, because Dark 15 will be a 15 mile run through Swinley Forest, Reading at night, so this might be the only chance I would get to see some of what could turn out to be the course, unless I can get hold of some night vision goggles ! I was instructed that our bergen (rucksack) should contain 22lbs in total (including water) so as I would be carrying 2 litres of water that left me to find 18lbs of weight, which I made up with all the essentials I might need if I got stranded in the wilds of Bracknell – 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 a 1kg dumbbell at the top of my bergen to finish it all off. I would 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 dry, overcast morning, with the sun coming through, so I was just wearing a short-sleeved base layer on top.
The arrival time was 0645 for a 0700 start and the drive over was easy at that time of the morning. The meeting point was the car park at The Look Out Discovery Centre on Nine Mile Ride, where parking was only £2 for 4 hours, and as I drove in I could see someone who was most likely going to be taking part in this – you see a pair of boots, combat trousers and a bergen and it is more than just a lucky guess. It turned out to be Sean Linehan, who is organising Dark 15, and we got chatting while waiting for the others to arrive. We were soon joined by Kramar Donachie, who I knew from The Fan Dance and from the Strava group associated with that, and Simon Limb, who was a new face to me. Listening to them chatting as we got ready, Kramar was running clean fatigue and was treating this as an interval training run, Sean was carrying the stated weight, and Simon had not checked the weight of his bergen but it was clearly over the stated weight. I already had a distinct feeling that I was out of my depth, and we had not yet left the car park. Sean checked my kit, and, to my great embarrassment, tightened a number of straps on my bergen, without making any real fuss about it while saying that loose straps were one of his pet hates. They were the straps over the side pockets which I had not tightened while the pockets were empty, but there is no excuse for crap admin. It appeared it was going to be the four of us for this first training tab, billed as “8 to 10 miles of hills and paths. At pace but not race pace.” Only a fool would have thought it was going to be 8 miles. I thought it was going to be 8 miles.
We started at the gate by the Go Ape Experience, at a pace Sean described as a rolling start, which seemed to be a fast march for me, along a flat forest path which stretched straight ahead, with Simon’s two dogs running around us and enjoying their time off their leads. Kramar was running ahead and circling back, to the pace of a metronome, which was not our pace, and as the three other guys knew each other very well there was already good banter between the load bearers and the clean fatigue runner. We turned right and the path started to climb, not very steeply, but an incline none the less, and as we passed the mile mark after 15 minutes Sean decided the rolling warm up had come to an end and we began to run.
I stayed with them but the gulf was clear – they were very easily within their comfort zones and I was pushing the boundaries of mine. We were out in the open now, and the sun was coming through on a lovely morning. We had come out from the forest path and it had turned into a stoney track and then something more sandy, very well defined and a clear route, and the pace got us through the second mile in 10 minutes. This had also brought us on to the Ladies Mile segment on Strava, which continued through the second mile. I was keeping up over the undulating ground, but only just, and as I got slower on the downward parts of the undulation, so my pace on the upward parts was more approaching a walk than a run. We had come back on to a long, straight stretch, the Broadmoor Lane to Hill segment on Strava, passing under a roadbridge, and the pace for the third mile had dropped to 12 minutes. We kept pushing on, straight ahead, and now we would keep going to the end of a track before coming back on ourselves, so the others moved ahead of me with Kramar still circling back. Having to circle back to me must have doubled his run ! He knew this area very well and was able to encourage me by telling me what the terrain was like ahead and how close I was to the turnaround point. As I met up with the others coming back towards me I joined in behind them and carried on in their wake. The fourth mile had taken just under 14 minutes and from here on in I was in the 14 minutes per mile zone.
The guys had paused at a junction so that I did not lose them while catching up, and they had been met by an old fellow coming out of the woods with his dog, who asked them if they were out for a yomp. Such terminology immediately set him out as a Marine, and sure enough it turned out he had been in the Royal Marine Reserves. However, both of our load bearers were from the Paras side of things, where this is referred to as a tab, and I was glad to a fight was avoided.
As we moved on we agreed that from how he spoke the old fellow must have been at least a Major, and probably went in as one. Now we took on the Badgers Copse segment and at the end of it Sean said that we were almost half way. We had passed 4 miles so I made the comment that we were over half way. It suddenly became very clear that this was a 10 mile tab, and that only an idiot would have gone out thinking it was ever going to have been an 8 mile tab. We pushed on back up the hill to the 5 mile point before turning off to our right, and it was at this point that Sean mentioned that he and Simon had run the Winter Fan Dance organised by Avalanche Endurance Events which had taken place in the most appalling weather conditions and completed in Selection time. I had already known I was out of my depth, but now I knew I was all out to sea ! I said that the nearest I had got to the military was being in the Officers’ Training Corps at University, and Sean laughed while saying that would explain the loose straps on my bergen.
Now we were pushing along on the Range Fence Handrail segment, which not surprisingly was taking us along a fence line, and first of all took us out to Foresters Way and back, with me once again circling round to join the others as they doubled back on our route. We turned right and not before long came to what I had been dreading, a big slope. The guys were up it in no time at all and there was more than enough time for Kramar to circle around me before I got to the top. They were not going to let me drop back too far or give up.
We were marching along at the beginning of a track and Sean asked if I could see the range post, which I could. And we were going to run to that and turn right. So off we went. My thighs were really feeling this, and my left shoulder was beginning to ache a little as well, which was a worry because that is what had gone on me during the Summer Fan Dance, but it was only a small ache, a niggle. We turned right and carried on with Sean encouraging me along, not allowing me to stop going at any speed faster than walking pace, even if that did drop to a very slow jog, and I pushed it up a slope and round a corner, feeling every step of the way now. I was taking on water from my internal bladder at a regular interval and did not feel thirsty, but I am going to start adding some High5 Zero electrolyte tablets into that as well. There was just one more slope to climb and as we approached it I saw some horse riders coming down the wide open track the other way. The guys ran on to the top before I had even reached the bottom, and as I passed the riders they very jokingly asked if I was going to be running up it as well. I asked them for a lift instead, but that got me nowhere. I was at the top and we ‘only’ had 2 miles left to go. These would go in no time, they told me. We were on another straight, going along the Windsor Ride segment, with Sean picking out landmarks in the very far distance for us to run to. Not all the landmarks worked for me, though, but it did mean the others got to run as far as four telegraph poles down the track while I pushed myself to get to one. Then Sean said we would run to a post and as I could not see it Kramar said he would run ahead to mark it out. “Don’t stand sideways when you get there,” remarked Sean. I did not make it all the way to the post running.
We were into the final mile and turned left back on to a woodland track, with the guys waiting for me at a crossing of the tracks. For one really stupid moment I thought we were finished, before I realised this was where we had turned off the track at the beginning of the route. They made sure I had my breath back, indicated the gate at the end of the track which we had started from and said that we were running to there. I was ready for this and off we went, with continued encouragement from the three of them getting me to the gate and through it at a run, over to a tree, bergen off, standing up straight with my hands behind my head to get my breath back. I was knackered. We had covered 10.1 miles in 2 hours 26 minutes and 59 seconds. So that gives me a target for the Paras’ 10 at Catterick on Sunday 31 August, although I will be carrying more weight then. We met up with Sean’s wife and daughter, who had spent the morning distributing promotional leaflets for the Dark 15 and went to the cafe for a very well deserved cup of tea. I needed the sit down. And then I thought my legs might seize up so I stood up, until my legs told me they had had enough and I sat down again. I have to say it had been a brilliant morning in the most excellent company. The guys had allowed themselves to work to my pace and had given me positive encouragement throughout – so a very big thanks to Sean, Simon and Kramar. The terrain had been mixed and interesting throughout, and the morning had given me an idea of what to expect when it comes to the real thing. I have two months of hard work ahead of me to get properly prepared for the Dark 15.
You can see more of my photographs from the morning here.
If you want to register for Dark 15 or just find out more about it then go here.