If you have read my previous Regiment Fitness tabbing blogs then you will know I love these extra sessions, and although they are presented as Regiment Fitter sessions they do cater for all levels of fitness and it is great to see so many people turning up for them, with over 25 here this evening. For me, they are a great general training session, and also very specific for some of the events I have entered, the next of which is the Paras’ 10 on 31 August. I took along my own bergen (rucksack) and had it loaded to 30lbs with all the essentials I might need if I got stranded in the wilds of Dunstable Downs – a compass, 2 headtorches, spare laces, wooly hat, sun hat, ruff, 2 pairs of gloves, mountain first aid kit, Fitzroy jacket, Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine 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 three 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 dry, sunny evening, so I was just wearing a Rab short-sleeved base layer on top.
The drive to Dunstable from my workplace in Northampton was not the best, and at one point I did wonder if I would make it on time. Matters were certainly not helped when I got close to the destination and my satnav wanted me to turn the wrong way into a one-way street. Fortunately, you cannot miss the Regiment Fitness vans and once I had spotted that it was easy to find the free car parking area next to it. The session was being taken by Tom, who I had not seen since he moved on from bootcamp sessions at Welwyn Garden City, so it was good to have a quick catch up with him. I did not recognise anyone else in the group but they immediately made me welcome. We started with a quick warm up on the grass by the car parking area, with lots of active movements which were not see easy with a bergen on your back, and especially because mine is a long shape and so comes up behind my head when I am throwing myself to the ground. Then just as we were ready to go someone else turned up, so we had a run over to the garages at the far side of the grass and back while they were getting ready. And then we were off, walking in single file through a gate at the top corner of the grass on to Blows Downs.
We were immediately walking uphill until we came to a ridgeline and turned left, those up at the front with Tom having to wait until all of the rest of us had made it through the gate and up the intial slope. Tom had wanted the slower runners at the front but coming through the gate had messed up that idea, so now some of us were reaching him and being sent back to double round behind the group as he sorted out the order, and as we continued on, not stopping, gaining a little height as the ridgeline climbed steadily. We were running along a track and soon reached a junction where we turned left down the hill to the fenceline before coming back up, crossing the track we had come in upon and carrying on to the top of this slope. From there it was downhill to a far corner of the green slopes, again following a distinct track, and I had noticed that someone had dropped back from the group, and as Tom was running this session on his own from the front I dropped back to make sure she was all right. We opened our legs to get back in contact with the group as some of them doubled around and I pushed on to the bottom of the hill. We had passed the first mile just before that point, in 17 minutes.
We turned right along the bottom of the slopes and carried on in two ranks to the far corner, where we turned right up the hill. It was a long, steep hill and everyone was very quickly spread out going up the incline, with a few being left behind from the main group, so I hung back once again to make sure they were all right as we all kept going, steadily climbing, with me telling them it was always better to keep going than to stop, even if it meant going slower, and we got to the top of this part of the hill, where the rest of the group had stopped by a gate to the left for a water break, after some of them had taken a run out to the right along the ridge and back.
With the water break over we formed up in two ranks on the other side of the gate and set off along the top of the slope, with some farm machinery coming very close to the fence on the other side of us as we moved off. We kept in the two ranks well as the path dropped down and then rose up again, gently undulating along this ridge before it climbed towards some cows and then dropped down again into a steeper slope which brought us to another fenceline. We ran down the slope, following the fenceline to a gate part of the way down, and then came back up again, only to be sent back down again by Tom, then back up, only to be sent back down for a third time, and when we got back to the top after that we were off again, going down the slope and carrying on this time, passing the two mile mark in a further 18 minutes.
It almost seemed strange that we could feel so far out in the countryside when in fact we were right on the edge of a residential area and our view consisted of a very built-up part of Dunstable, but now we were about to discover some wonderful parts of this area of the Downs. We came all the way to the bottom of this part to find ourselves running along the top of a steep chalk slope. I always like it on the Downs when the chalk comes through because not only does it provide a different surface to cope with but I also think it looks very striking. We ran to the end and came down through a gap in the chalk, then continued along the track with rises either side of us, down a slope and up the other side before we went around to the right, which eventually brought us to the top of a hillock, which had a very steep slope down the other side.
That was our way down, and some people were taking off their bergens to make it easier, some sitting and sliding down, but whichever way people did it, everyone went down at least once, and some went around a few times.
We turned left at the bottom along the chalk track and pushed on in two ranks, the front setting off while some of the others were completing another round on the hillock, leaving them to catch up with the main group. Soon everyone had come together and we went down a slight slope to the bottom of a much steeper upwards slope, and began to climb. Everyone was strung out in single file and it was a real plod to get to the top before we all made it.
Then we were off to the right, following another ridge track, getting to some bushes and pushing on along the top with some people doubling around as the rest of the group caught up. The path we were on was rising towards a line of trees, and the incline was causing a few problems for some people, so a few of us stayed at the back to provide encouragement to keep them going, and soon we were back on the track we had come out on and through the gate to the top of the slope. We went down to the bottom corner, once more with some people doubling back as everyone made their way down, but then, instead of following the hedgeline we had followed on the way in, we cut across diagonally and followed a different track up the hill. We had passed the three mile mark in another 22 minutes.
We went over the hill and then down the other side, which took us to the fenceline we had cut down to on the outward route, and from there we would be following that to take us back to the beginning. It was really becoming a tough workout for some by this stage, so as well as encouraging them to keep up with the person in front of them, I was also grabbing the bottom of their bergen to lift it up and take some of the weight off their shoulders while running alongside them. Then we reached a gate by the garages we had run to during the warm up, so we could see the end point. I took hold of the bergen of the person I was running with and we pushed on, getting ever closer to the ones who had already finished, and I said I wanted us to get to the top of the slope next to the Regiment Fitness van. Once final push took us to that point and we had completed 3.7 miles in just over the hour and I know others had run further than that in the same time. It had been a good little route over this part of the Downs and one that I will return to myself as part of my ongoing training.
You can see more photographs from the tabbing session here.