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. Back in November 2014 I had taken part in Point To Point, one of the SAS Selection Test Marches organised by Avalanche Endurance Events (you can read about my efforts in that here) and Ironman was the next in their series of Test Marches which will culminate in Long Drag. As one of the Originals from Point To Point I was determined to do them all, and do them all first time, which is why I was going down this weekend with perhaps the worst preparation possible behind me. Not only had I managed to damage the hamstrings in my right leg while training for the London Marathon, which had meant I had not been able to put in a proper run for over 5 weeks, but I had also picked up a cold which had stayed with me for over a week and was showing no signs of going away any time soon. I was feeling confident about the navigation requirements of the event but my hamstring injury had kept me away from two opportunities for some more navigation training and orientation in the relevant part of the Brecon Beacons. The navigation was going to be vital, as it had been with Point To Point, because being able to read a map to determine the best route selection from one grid point to another was essential, and especially so in my current condition when I wanted to get round as efficiently as possible, so missing any opportunity to work on that was unfortunate. Nothing was going to keep me away from that start line, though.
I had read all the emails, gathered together all the necessary kit, dealt with all the work that needed to be dealt with before the weekend, and so I was ready to go on time for a change. To be honest, after Point To Point I had everything very well in hand. The journey down was uneventful, unlike my last time (which you can read about here), and I arrived not only in daylight but with the sun shining.
I parked up in the field, the lasting effects of Kramar’s last visit there now taped off, and went to the main marquee to register, passing Ken Jones on the way, who told me he would be back in a moment. DS (Directing Staff) Stu was in the marquee so I took the opportunity to catch up with him while we waited for Ken to return, and then registration, and the process of taking money off me, began. I had paid upfront for the weekend but needed to pay DS Stu for the event tshirt and the after-event meal which was going to be held at Brecon Rugby Club. Somehow, in addition to that, I found myself paying for a raffle ticket. I also managed to pick up some ‘sickeners’ (in the traditional form of push ups) for reminding Ken that I needed to sign the waiver form, and then for not remembering what time the briefing was this evening. While this was going on I saw a few more of the familiar DS coming in and out of the marquee, Dave Humm, Lee Colebrook, and Richie Chamberlain. It was good to be back !
With registration completed, and having said hello to Ian Ford, I left him to his own sickeners and went off to put up my tent while the weather conditions were still light and dry, which was the complete opposite to last time. Should I dare to let my hopes rise in respect of the weather for the weekend ? Best not to. Dave came across to tell me about a new DS for this weekend, Nick. Dave had rightly identified me as the person most likely to take a lot of photographs over the weekend and he needed to make it clear that because of Nick’s background I should not be posting any photographs including Nick on social media. I decided the safest way to comply with that was by ensuring Nick was not in any of my photographs, and I confirmed to Dave that I did not have an issue with that. I saw Nick talking with Ken so I went over to introduce myself, and confirmed the photograph point with them both. Everyone was happy. My tent was up, my kit had been transferred from my car to the tent, and having been through the training weekend before for Point To Point I was feeling very relaxed. I could see that others now turning up were not quite so relaxed and as I got chatting with them I did my best to reassure them. It is funny how quickly you can become a ‘veteran’ of these events !
Some more of the Originals were arriving and it is always good to see Maximilian Lebmeier and his dog, Enigma, and Billy McKie. I knew they had both put in a lot of training towards this weekend and I was expecting great things from them. There was a map of a wider part of the Brecon Beacons up on the noticeboard showing a number of areas which would be out of bounds for the event, and while I was pretty sure that some to the east were red herrings in the context of Ironman, they could not be ignored. We had been told not to mark our maps while on Point To Point so I was a little worried that we were being tricked into sickeners. I decided to take a note of the out of bounds areas and to mark them on the map later, once I knew it was safe to do so.
It was time for dinner and I found myself a place at one of the tables, being joined by Mike Smith, who I knew from the 2014 Winter Fan Dance (which you can read about here) and Alan Wilkins, who I knew from Facebook. I had chosen the chicken curry with rice, tomatoes and cheese, and it was just what I needed and delicious. I recognised a few more faces from Facebook, Pierre-Charles Wood, Andrew Heller and Lawrence Toms, and overall the numbers present had built up so that the dining area was full. I ate up and got myself ready for the evening briefing at 2130, which I knew would be interesting.
“Welcome to Ironman,” said Ken, before continuing to tell us that he did not give a shit about the modern concept of health and safety. The intention of this training period was to give us the skills for the hills because you could not simply tough out a Test Week March, which you might be able to do with the Fan Dance, and what we would be looking to do was the same as all Special Forces – excelling at mastering the basics. There would be no helicopters, and we would not be storming any embassies, but we would pick up some Gucci tips. Everyone was suitably stirred by his words. Ken introduced the other DS to us and the briefing was concluded. One person I had still not seen, and who had not replied to his name at the briefing, was Mark Pigden, and I hoped everything was all right with him. I went to my tent to get ready for the morning and as that did not take long I was very soon in my sleeping bag and preparing to sleep, so it came as some surprise to hear my name being said up in the marquee. I quickly gathered that Mark was now here and was being signed in by DS Stu. I was glad that Mark had arrived safely, and with that I drifted off to sleep.
You can see more photographs from the Friday and the training day on the Saturday here.