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 number of training tabbing sessions in the course location early on Saturday mornings, so, of course, I signed up for that. You can read about my struggles through the first training session here, but I had had to miss the second training session last weekend because of opera commitments, so I was definitely up for this third session. There was another good reason for doing the training session, because Dark 15 will be a 15 mile run through Swinley Forest, Bracknell at night, so these sessions 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 25lbs in total (including water), which was a slight rise from the first session, so as I would be carrying 2 litres of water (to which I had added some High5 Zero tablets) that left me to find around 23lbs 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 few packets of jelly babies in the pockets 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 new Aku Pilgrim GTX hiking boots. The boots were almost straight out of the box (I had worn them for a 4 mile tab over the rough terrain of St Albans the previous afternoon) and I knew that was causing Sean Linehan some concern. Sean is organising Dark 15 and I had got to know him during the first training session, and when he had seen me mention the new boots on Facebook he had commented “Leave them off for Saturday” but I had to give them a go. 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 0815 for a 0830 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 Sean and the person standing with him looked familiar from Facebook. It did indeed turn out to be Olly Rowsell, who had overslept for the first training session, and we got chatting while waiting for the others to arrive. As with the first training session, I already had a distinct feeling that I was out of my depth, and I was hoping that someone more at my level would show up. Nobody else showed up. At least I learn from my mistakes, because when Sean checked my kit this time there were no straps on my bergen to be tightened. So it was going to be the three of us for this third training tab, billed as “10 miles at a reasonable pace with nobody being left behind.” And, again learning from my mistakes, I was fully expecting 10 miles this time around.
Olly and Sean
We started at the gate by the Go Ape Experience, at a pace Sean described as a rolling warm up, which was a fast and bearable march for me, along a flat forest path which stretched straight ahead, and Sean said we would be largely running the first training session route in reverse. “Excellent,” said I, “we’ll be going downhill then, because last time it was all uphill !” This time we carried straight on along the sandy path, instead of taking a right turn, and continued on what Sean would refer to as undulating ground, but which for me is more like some flat, a lot of uphill, and practically no downhill.
And off we go again…
We turned right on to the Windsor Ride segment on Strava (although doing it backwards, which I presume is why it did not show up on my Strava readout), passed the mile mark after 12 minutes and 40 seconds, and even though it was very clearly already a fast pace, Sean decided the rolling warm up had come to an end and we began to run. Actually, all joking aside, I was feeling good and stayed with them while casually wondering how long that would last because they both appeared to be within their comfort zones and although I was comfortable I knew I was only just within the boundaries of mine. I did not dwell on that or think about it for long, however, because having gone down a slope I now needed to dig in to push up the far steeper and longer upward slope.
Downhills can only lead to one thing around that corner…
I did dig in and got to the top where it levelled out, and the second mile had taken us 13 minutes, another fast time, or at least another fast time for me. It was warm out there and felt close. I was hoping the sun would not push more any more than it had done. There was a good downhill stretch from here as we went along tracks which were more gravel than sand, but I knew that for every downhill there was more than likely to be a greater uphill, and sure enough there was a steady climb to take us past the 3 mile point, after another 14 minutes. Now I made a mistake which I am convinced I will not learn from. As we approached the range fence we saw the red flag was flying, and Sean asked us if we wanted to take a short detour to see a FOB (forward operating base) he had found, which was used by the local military for training purposes. He knew how to reel me in by saying it would make a great photo opportunity, and off we went, cutting through the trees before coming back on to a track.
Time for a detour
And with that I felt completely different, because running over the softer ground under the trees seemed to have instantly sapped the energy from my legs. I knew we would be stopping when we got to the FOB so I pressed on but really needed to lean against the structure to get my breath back once I did get there. We did take a little while looking around before we set off again and I took the opportunity to eat one of the High5 energy gels I had in my trouser pockets. I had also been making sure I was taking on water at regular intervals, and taking the gel definitely made a difference. Which was fortunate, because that ‘short detour’ had just added a mile on to this tab.
With the stop at the FOB it had taken 19 minutes to get to mile 4. Now we were pushing along on the Range Fence Handrail segment on Strava and Sean was setting us points to double to and I was trying my best to keep up, maybe making it most of the way at best, definitely feeling it, and looking forward to getting past 5 miles for the boost of knowing we had passed half way, while erasing from my thoughts the fact that the ‘short detour’ would add to our final distance. We were going over what would correctly be termed as undulating terrain and covered the fifth mile in 14 minutes. Actually, I should clarify that, because the times relate to me, and most of the time Sean and Olly were left standing at the top of a hill waiting for me to finally catch up with them.
Range Fence Handrail
Our route took us out to Foresters Way and back, with me circling round to join the others as they came back on our route, having gone all the way to the fencing. At least I got to join them for the run back up the hill, or for as much as the hill as I could manage to stay with them. We went through mile 6 in just under another 14 minutes. This was a demanding pace for me. We turned left on to The Devil’s Highway and while I thought we would be heading straight down to Broadmoor, when Sean said we would be leaving that for now I honestly thought he meant we would be leaving it for another day (I really must have been exhausted for my mind to be so muddled as that), but we were, of course, doing this route in reverse and that meant we took in Badgers Copse first. It looks innocuous. In fact, it looks easy. It is downhill on soft, easy ground, but my legs were gone. I could not double down, I could barely jog, and I very soon ended up marching it out and joining the others at the point where it turns to the left and comes back up the hill. We hit 7 miles as we came back on to The Devil’s Highway and that mile had taken me nearly 17 minutes, and I could feel it. It was downhill now on the outward part of the Broadmoor Section segment on Strava and we passed a lady with four pugs and another little dog she was carrying. I managed to stay with the guys to the end of this section and we turned around to retrace our steps back up the hill, passing the lady on our way but she had put the other little dog down to walk and he would not stop following us, so Sean bent down to pick him up and take him back to her. He was a Jack Chi – a Jack Russell and Chihuahua mix, which must be something of a handful to control !
The cutest tabbing photo ever
With him safely back with his owner we were on our way again, passing a family with another dog and as he dropped his ball I wondered out loud if he might like to carry my bergen instead. Apparently not, so I carried on plodding along. The dog’s owner had suggested I ask the guy up ahead to carry my bergen but as that would have been Sean I knew that to make that request would have been foolish at best. This is not a short stretch of the route and we were still on our way back up when we passed 8 miles, after another 16 and a half minutes. I had been looking forward to 8 miles because the last 2 miles were in the bank, but now I was acutely aware that having not actually cut out the Broadmoor part of the route we would be going beyond 10 miles today. We went down under the roadbridge and I knew there was an uphill on the other side so I tried to run into it and then marched, just not wanting to stop. Sean had other ideas, though, grabbing my bergen and helping to propel me up the slope until we got to a gate at a junction which came to my rescue, because my legs had given their all. I quickly got my breath back and we were off again, along a Strava segment called Short And Sharp, but I was not living up to that name this time around. We came to a junction where we would turn left on to the Ladies Mile segment, but Sean had seen a slope off to the right and asked if I fancied adding in an extra hill. I just looked at him and stayed silent, to which he laughed, saying my face was a picture. And that was when I made my second mistake of the morning, to follow up agreeing to detour for the photo opportunity, by saying, “well, I would have done it” and so we were off, running down to the bottom and back up again on something I now see has its own Strava segment named Another V Steep Gravel Hill I, except that as we do not do things by halves, we appear to have gone beyond the end of that segment before turning round and coming up again. Sean and Olly were waiting for me at the top as I emerged, clearly exhausted, and that was when I got all the motivation I needed to finish this thing off as Sean said there were a number of good reasons to like me but the one which stood out for him was that I never give up. So now I had to keep going. We crossed the track and continued along the Ladies Mile, going through 9 miles after another 15 and a half minutes, before we cut the top off the Ladies Mile by taking a track to the right, with Sean saying I would have to give something back for that, and we would be running from the gate. I expected to be running from the gate like last time, anyway, but suddenly there were gates everywhere and we seemed to be running from all of them (except the one which was obviously not on the track we were going along). We still seemed to be gradually climbing more than we were going down and although I had eaten another couple of gels along the way I knew I was pushing on empty. It took 17 and a half minutes to get past mile 10, and that brought us onto the very aptly named Homeward Bound segment, back on to the more sandy ground covering and into sight of a group of people going along the tracks on Segways but I was too far away to ask for a lift.
Looks like a better way to travel these trails
There was one more slope under the trees to come down and then I was on familiar ground because this was the route we had taken out last time so I knew we were almost there, and also knew that the relevant gate was coming up. Mile 11 was another 17 minute mile and then we were at the gate at a crossing of the tracks, and running to the finish, going under the Go Ape lines and hearing that someone up above us had found a spider up there, and then we were at the starting gate. I was knackered, soaking with sweat, and could do nothing more than lean against the gate to get my breath back. We had covered 11.7 miles in 2 hours 55 minutes and 12 seconds. We dropped the bergens and took a walk back up the track and then back down again to the bergens to warm down, before heading off to the cafe for a very well deserved cup of tea and a KitKat. I needed the sit down, although my legs felt better than the last time around. I have to say it had been another 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, and Olly. The terrain had once again been mixed and interesting throughout, and the morning had given me even more of an idea of what to expect when it comes to the real thing. I realise that I have not actually mentioned my new Aku Pilgrim GTX boots since the beginning of the blog and I was asked how they had been while we sat there enjoying our hot tea. The simple answer is that they could not have been better. They had felt light and comfortable, not tight, and there had been no rubbing and no hot spots. I had even had a slight niggle in my left heel before I started and it did not affect me through the tab. So the boots were perfect, which is fortunate because I have just over a month of hard work ahead of me to get properly prepared for the Dark 15, so I will be using them a lot.
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.