I signed up to run the Paras’ 10 at Catterick the moment I got home from the Paras’ 10 at Colchester (which you can read about here), and had been really looking forward to it. Then I took longer than anticipated to recover from a training tab for Dark 15 (which you can read about here) so my calves were aching, I had picked up my usual insect bites all over my lower legs from an evening bootcamp session with Regiment Fitness in St Albans, an overnight stay in Derby was a bit further away from Catterick than I had anticipated, and I woke up later than planned, so as I was driving the two hour journey to get to Catterick it was fair to say that my enthusiasm was beginning to wane a little, but that instantly changed the moment I drove up to a parking space down a side road near to the start location and saw some other participants making their way to the start. This was going to be a great day.
Paras’ 10 challenges you to attempt the 10 mile ‘P’ Company Cross Country Route used by the Parachute Regiment, carrying a bergen (rucksack) weighing 35lb (excluding food and water) and wearing long trousers with ‘military style’ boots. It is a ‘tab’, tabbing being 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. I took along my own bergen (a Berghaus 35+8 Freeflow rucksack) and had it loaded to 20lbs with all the essentials I might need if I got stranded in the wilds of Catterick – 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 two half kg dumbells wrapped up in various items in the bergen, which took it up to the 35lbs required weight. I also had two packets of jelly babies, seven High5 energy gels and 2 litres of water (in the internal bladder (to which I had added some High5 Zero electrolyte tablets). In total I was carrying 40lbs. I would be doing this in my long North Face hiking trousers and my Scarpa ZG-10 hiking boots (with Sorbothane insoles added), and as it was a dry and very sunny day I was just wearing a Rab short-sleeved base layer on top. I had eaten an apple and a couple of flapjacks during my drive up and now I was ready to go.
My parking space turned out to be excellent as I turned right out of the driveway and was on the road up to the starting area. There was a slight bottleneck at the gate by the side of the gym but there was not too much of a delay, and I was very soon in the gym getting my envelope with my number and timing chip. I secured my number to the back of my bergen and attached the timing chip to my right boot. And while I was doing this I spotted someone walking round handing out free 9bars, so I very gratefully helped myself to one of those. I came out of the gym back into the sun and it really was beginning to get hot outside.
There was a track the other side of the fence around the start area and I was told to go down there to have my bergen weighed. I handed it over to the corporal and he took a look at the read out on his digital scales and said it was fine. I asked him the weight and with a knowing look he said it was spot on. We both knew that meant it was over the required amount. I quickly made my way to the paracharity tent to get my Arnhem stamp in my Paras’ 10 Passport. I love the Passport, and going to have it stamped also gave me an opportunity to check out what was for sale – I would be coming back after the tab !
I took a walk around the starting area before making sure I had everything stowed away safely, and then I moved into the starting zone to take a look at the route map before being taken through a lively warm up which included some dance moves, although it was difficult to follow the exercises given that I left my bergen on my back. I did notice there were some Gurkhas in amongst the runners. I suspected that would be the only time I would see them for the rest of the day (and I was right). We listened to the general instructions from Major Chris Collier, including the note to GPS ninjas that although the course itself was shorter than 10 miles it did include half a mile of ascent, which took it over 10 miles, and then the runners were off, and the canicross runners as well, before we were told there would be another 5 minutes before those doing the tab would be sent on our way.
It did not seem to take any time to count down, which I was thankful for as we were standing there under the hot sun, just wanting to get moving, and then we were off, although it still took me just under a minute to actually cross the starting line, time which I used to good advantage to start my Garmin so that I recorded this properly.
I started at a run and as we were running across flat grass I tried stretching my legs a little to see if that would ease the aching in my calves. The bergen felt fine on my back, the sun was not too hot and I was happy to be moving. We ran diagonally across the grass until we reached a gritty track and turned right. I was going to get very used to this type of surface over the remainder of the course. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I had recently been on a Dark 15 training tab and one of the guys on that tab, Simon, had mentioned how he found Catterick to be boring. Even in the first mile I could understand what he meant as we passed over an undulating track which was gradually ascending and bordered by somewhat plain and desolate terrain. The track twisted and turned but it did not change in any real way.
I found it to be good going and passed the 1 mile point in 12 and a half minutes, which I was pleased with. Now we started a much steeper gradual ascent and I had to dig in. The ascents always slow me down and I wanted to try to keep the pace as fast as possible, and to help with that I took one of my High5 energy gels after 20 minutes and was regularly drinking from my internal bladder. We were heading towards Rabbit Wood and turned right on the track at that point, under the watchful eye of Major Collier, as it turned out, before we reached Range Road, being stopped by the RMPs as they allowed some traffic to pass before we could cross and pass the 2 mile point.
That stretch had taken me 15 and a half minutes and I was still feeling good, although I would have liked to have kept the time below 15 minutes. We continued along the same gritty track under the bright sun, and there was no shade out here in the open. We turned right on what was wonderfully named as the Grenade Loop on the map, and we soon began a descent past some burnt out and rusty tanks, which in themselves made this course interesting for me, and I was able to run down the descent, turning right and then taking a sharp left to go through the 3 mile mark after just under another 15 minutes before reaching the bottom of the downhill part and pushing up the hill on the other side of this dip.
My legs were certainly feeling better now that I had got going, and just in case I took another of my energy gels. It was another long, gradual ascent, so long that it pretty much took us to the 4 mile point before it flattened out to take us through the first water stop (although I did not actually stop). That mile had taken me 18 minutes so I very gratefully took the bottle of water offered to me, and I was glad to be drinking pure water without anything added to it because it was just that bit thinner than my own water with the High5 tablets in it, and so felt more refreshing at this time, and it did give me a boost.
I carried the bottle with me and drank from it on a regular basis, while also taking another energy gel, which turned out to be the last one I took because I did not feel like eating any more of them after that. We went downhill from the water stop, which was another opportunity to open the legs and get in a bit of a run, passing through a vehicle washing area before we turned left up a slope, where a tape across the roadway was seperating the routes in and out, which ran alongside each other at the junction.
I was glad that our route took us into the shade of some trees, at least for a short while, and then we were running around Fish Pond, passing 5 miles after another 16 minutes and then hitting a sharp ascent which really hit me, and yet as I passed the top of it I suddenly felt really good and pushed on down the slope, quickly getting out of the woods to the junction then turning right to take me through a gate with a sign which very clearly told me to keep out because it was a military training area active. It was very good advice because the hardest parts of the course were still to come.
Fortunately the route was still going downhill at this point and I went past the 6 mile point in 15 and a half minutes, and carried on running to the bottom of a steep slope before going round to the left and finding a steeper slope which would take me out of there. I dug in and pushed on as the track climbed and climbed until I reached Range Road again (although further along it), and was very politely asked by a female RMP to stop to allow some cars to pass.
I told her I was more than happy to stop for 30 minutes, an hour, however long was necessary and she laughed as she replied that everyone said that at this point, and then wished me luck with the rest of the course. Her cheery attitude and encouragement was typical of those assisting with the event ! Thankfully, crossing the road took me into the shade of some trees again, which was very welcome after the uphill slog and before long I went through the 7 mile point after 18 and a half minutes.
That uphill had proved to be tough, and I was more than happy to reach the second water stop, take another bottle of water and start moving downhill again. It was slightly undulating before a long stretch brought into view the Land Of Nod, a looping set of tracks used for hill repetitions.
Fortunately we were only required to go up one hill. Unfortunately it appeared to be the pick of the bunch. In fact, getting down the slope to the bottom was not so easy, and the guy in front of me stumbled to a halt, apologised for getting in my way (he had not got in my way at all) and then accepted a hand to help him past that point in his route. I got to the bottom, crossed to the start of the ascent with voices all around me saying how steep it looked, and my immediate thought took me back to my running of The Fan Dance (which you can read about here) – I have done Jacob’s Ladder, so I can sure as heck do this. I took it one step at a time without stopping and drove myself to the top.
It was not easy, but every step of the way I knew I would do it. We turned left at the top and passed the 8 mile point. That last mile had taken me just under 16 and a half minutes, although I think by this stage my Garmin was ahead of the route and that time did not include all of the Land Of Nod. What I do notice looking back is that I was keeping my times consistent over the course, depending on whether the terrain was flat or uphill. At the time I just remembered something that Sean and Simon had said at the 8 mile stage of our Dark 15 training tab – the last two miles are in the bank – and right now, having got to the top I was feeling more than ready to finish this course.
We were going downhill again, heading straight towards the promised water features, although as I approached them they looked an awful lot more like mud than water. We had been told in the initial briefing that we could go around them, but that we would be respected a lot more if we did not.
Well, after being taken through a lake in St Albans and a river in Hemel Hempstead by Regiment Fitness this was not something I was going to avoid, so I marched straight in, and it came above my knees before I had got through the first one.
There was a slope down to the second one, which was not as deep, but was just as much fun, and then we continued round to the right through something more like a puddle to what was signposted as the Last Hill and is actually called Pussy Hill.
There was nothing pussy about that ascent. From there it was a downhill plod to the 9 mile mark, during which I chatted with a guy I had been with from the bottom of the Last Hill, until he told me to go on because he was feeling cramp. I had done that last mile in just over 20 minutes, although, as I have said, I do think that includes the end of the Land Of Nod, the water features and Pussy Hill, which is not the easiest stretch of terrain on the course. At the time I was feeling good and I pushed on. What I had noticed over the course from about the 7 mile mark was that I was able to overtake some people, while nobody was overtaking me, and that did feel good. What I now noticed was a heat spot under my left big toe which did not feel so good. I needed to get this finished. I pushed on along the track, one uphill section taking me towards a group of cheering spectators, then a long stretch on an incline which brought me to the edge of the grass I had started on, so I went around the trees and could see the finish ahead of me.
I pushed on, running it in, encouraged by the cheers of those either side of the barriers which led to the finish line, and I finished in 2 hours 35 minutes and 32 seconds by chip time (my race time was 2 hours 36 minutes and 18 seconds). I have wanted to do better than that, but given how my body had felt at the beginning and the hot weather on the day I was not too disappointed with the time. I know I gave it everything. By both my race time and my chip time I came 588th out of 667 loaded runners.
I stopped my Garmin, and collected my medal as I crossed the line, then went to have my bergen weighed, to make sure I had finished with 35lbs, but there was nobody doing that at this late finish time so I did it myself when I got back to the car (and it was 39lbs). I had completed the course carrying the requisite weight in the correct attire, so that was my second Paras’ 10 under my belt. I collected my goody bag, to find that all the ones with Large tshirts had gone, and so had all the XL, which meant I took a Medium, which just about fits me fine. The bag also contained a car sticker and a water holder, so I was more than pleased with that. I had something extra to collect now because I had completed both of the Paras’ 10 in 2014, which entitled me to a Double Of Trouble tshirt, so I hurried round to the paracharity tent to pick that up, and while I was there invested in a copy of the book The Para Fitness Guide by Major Sam McGrath, which I already know will be a great investment, and the money goes to an excellent cause so it is a win win. The presentations were being made as I finished up there so I stayed around to applaud the winners and then I made my way back to the car for the drive back to Derby, and from there the drive back to home. The 7 hours driving paled in comparison to what I had just been through, and while I felt tired my body, and most importantly my legs, felt fine, which was a definite improvement on Colchester. I do still need to get a more suitable pair of boots, though !
Just as with Colchester, the whole event and the day itself had been perfectly organised, with great communication throughtout. The route was very well marked out and manned by very friendly, welcoming and helpful marshalls, and everyone taking part had been equally as friendly. I had enjoyed a brilliant time doing this, and not only will I be back next year, but I will also be doing the Paras’ 10 at Colchester again, and Simon has challenged me to do it in a time of 2 hours. Let the training commence ! For now, my next similar event is Dark 15 and if you have run the Paras’ 10 then I suspect you would love this, 15 miles of night time tabbing.
You can see more of the photographs I took at Catterick on the day here.