It was 0330 and I was awake. I had set the alarm on my watch and the one on my telephone but my body clock had woken me up anyway, and I could feel my nervous excitement, the same feeling I had had before Point To Point (which you can read about here) and although having done that gave me some insight into what today might bring there was still that element of the unknown. The layby photographs may well have given us the start point, but nobody outside of the DS actually knew where RV1 was located. Equally, while we may well have guessed where RV1 was located, until we were given that six figure grid we would not actually know. Finally the time had arrived. Again, just as with Point To Point, I had not been binned and I was ready to go. I got dressed into my kit and having put my sleeping bag inside my bivi bag I stuffed it into the bottom of my Karrimor SF Sabre 45 bergen.
I was going load-bearing this time, carrying 30lbs, which would be made up of my safety kit, which consisted of a spare compass, spare headtorch, spare laces, paracord, gaffer tape and a couple of utility tools in one waterproof bag, into which I also put my telephone; spare wooly hat, ruff, and spare pair of gloves in another; waterproofed map in the inner pocket; mountain first aid kit, and a towel and talcum powder in their own bags; Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine jacket; a hexamine stove with a Zippo lighter, spork, tea bags and bags of porridge inside a metal pot and cup, all bagged and secured so it would not rattle; a cut down rollmat, and in another waterproof bag my change of clothing, being a short sleeved zipped base layer, long sleeved base layer, two fleeces, a pair of hiking trousers, long johns and socks, and a knee brace, just in case; my radio in one of the bergen side pockets, with my basha (with bungees already attached) and a couple of extra packets of P2P mix, and once all that had been gathered together my bergen was weighing over the necessary 30lbs. I also had 3 litres of water in a bladder (with High5 Zero electrolyte tablets added), and in the other side pocket 1 litre of hot water in a thermos flask, water purification tablets in a water bottle in case of the need for an emergency resupply from a stream, and more food. I also had my Leki walking poles fastened securely to the back of my bergen, in case of emergency. My pacing beads were attached to one of the shoulder straps on the bergen. I was happy that my bergen was ready to go, and would pack my belt kit after breakfast. The weather was dry with a cold edge and rain forecast for later, so I was wearing long North Face hiking trousers, Paramo boxer shorts, Bridgedale socks with a pair of thinner socks inside them, a Rab long-sleeved base layer, a Berghaus short-sleeved technical top on top of that and my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket on top of it all.
I headed up to the dining hall in my Aku Pilgrim GTX boots, using my hand torch so that I saved every bit of battery power in my headtorch, just in case. I was delighted to hear that Ken had brought over more steel cut oats and I got myself a big bowl of them, adding a liberal covering of syrup before taking a seat at the end of one of the tables. The dining room was mostly quiet, everyone still waking up, very much focused on what was ahead of us. I ate my oats quickly, enjoying the taste, apparently unlike many others in that dining hall, and got myself a glass of orange juice and a cup of hot tea. The weather was mild outside but who knew what the DS were calling up for us once we got away from base camp. They had locked the door to the kitchen to make it harder to get hot water. I headed back to my tent and got my belt kit ready. Energy gels spread between my trouser pockets, with my racing snake map also in one of the trouser pockets and a survival blanket in the other, my notepad and pencil in one of my jacket pockets, and some food (the P2P mix and some Chia Charge bars) and a lip salve in the other, with my compass attached to one of the pocket zips, wooly hat and headtorch (with a whistle build into the headband) ready to go on my head, and I decided I would wear a pair of thin gloves. I could easily take them off if I got too hot. I was also wearing my Garmin Fenix 2 watch. Together with the kit in my bergen, I had absolutely everything I could ever need to survive. I took it all from my tent over to the car. I had checked the list of car registrations which had been posted and seen that I was eleventh in the list, but as it was not even 0430 yet, I had more than enough time to get into the queue and be ready to go at 0500. And as that relaxing thought came into my mind I heard DS Stu barking out that we were supposed to be leaving at 0430 so why were people not already formed up. I needed to speed up. I got my tent down and into the boot of the car in less than 5 minutes. I would have to drive in my boots, which I could cope with, but I had no idea where we would be driving, so I needed to be fully awake as from now. I would put on my gaiters once we parked up. I started the car and drove to the back of a convoy which looked to contain about 40 cars, with Mike McDonald and Chris Dougherty in the car ahead of me. I have no idea what they were messing about at, but Mike kept getting out to fiddle with the bergens in the boot, and then as the front of the convey began to move away he quickly jumped inside. Then the convoy stopped. Mike got out again, and very quickly had to get back in as we moved away again and were on our way. We were bombing down country lanes, with it very unlikely that we would encounter anyone coming the other way, and even when we did hit some towns they were sleeping. Which was fair enough, because you would have to be some kind of lunatic to be awake at this time on a Sunday morning. We moved into a more built up area and came to a stop. I had no idea where we were, but I knew we were not yet at our destination. Then Ken Jones was making his way down the convey calling out, “Where’s Lawrence Toms ?” and I was immediately glad that I was not Lawrence. He was found, drove to the front of the convoy and we were off again, with the next stop being the layby, accompanied by much shouting from Ken and DS Stu, who had clearly been annoyed by the performance of the convoy. I had only just switched off my engine when I had DS Stu telling me to get a shift on, so now was definitely not the best time for my gaiters to take on a mind of their own and refuse to zip up. Given the potentially swampy terrain we might encounter today they were going to be essentail, so there was no way I was leaving them behind. I eventually got them on, slung my bergen over one shoulder and moved into a speed march down the layby to meet up with everyone else at the far end, preparing to double in if I got shouted at again. I arrived before they moved off, put my bergen on properly, also put on my head torch and gloves, and I was ready to go.
DS Stu doubled us down a lane to a clearing and there was much chatter when we came to a halt as people tried to identify the location on their maps. We were told to quieten down and turn off our head torches, although people seemed reluctant to turn off thier head torches so this instruction had to be repeated until they did. Once everyone had turned off their head torches DS Stu made the observation that there was sufficient light at this time to allow us to rely on our night vision without the need for the head torches. What a difference that made from the pitch black of the Point To Point start line. We were called forward in order, dependent on Fan Dance times, reporting to DS Stu and then going to Ken at the start line. My name was called. “Doesn’t anybody want to go with you, Mr Allen ?” questioned DS Stu. “No, Staff,” I replied. “You’re better off without any of this lot anyway,” was his response, with the usual mischief in his voice. We chatted as we stood there and he said the nav ex during the training day had been at 3 miles per hour at the front. “I was at the back, Staff,” I stated. “2 miles per hour will do today,” he said, in a very encouraging way. After three Fan Dances and Point To Point he knows me very well, he knew how I had struggled with my injury coming into this because we had corresponded over the navigation sessions being run down here, and he knew that once I passed that start line I would also cross the finish line. And if I know him, he will be wondering why it is taking me so long to write up this blog, so I had better move on. I was called forward by Ken, who also knows me well and so did not require me to point out our location on the map. I was given the six figure grid reference on the map and immediately pointed to it with the edge of my compass. “You guessed that,” said Ken, “so now show me how you would find it using the Romer.” My eyes were not adjusting very well to seeing points on the map once my compass was placed on top, so I had to turn on my head torch for a second to deal with that, and then easily identified the landmark and the six figure grid reference. It was the point I had guessed as RV1 the previous evening and I knew how to get there. I gave Ken the bearing, he was satisfied and sent me off at 0601. I stopped a little way from the start line to sort out my kit, take off my head torch, switch on my radio, and while I was doing that Jonathan Dando came through from the start line. It was clear he was taking the same route as me, at least initially, and we set off together up the slope, although I knew I would not be able to keep up with him for very long – he put in a brilliant time. Even at this early stage we could see people taking other routes, which was interesting.
I got to the top of the slope and as it levelled out I noticed that Andy Heller and James Nicholson had come to a halt, so I asked if everything was all right as I passed them. It was, and I continued on. The terrain was very open and you could see for miles in the early morning sun. It was stunning, daunting, bleak, challenging, but the conditions really could not have been more perfect for the start, and having such clear visibility made it easy to see the routes being taken by others. However, that certainly did not mean it was as simple as playing follow the leader because I could now see at least four different routes being taken, so which one would you follow ?
I was happy with the bearing I had taken and the route I had chosen, so I carried on, crossing at a gap in a wire fence which someone appears to have put up across this part of the Brecon Beacons. The river crossing which followed was more like what I was expecting to find out here. The ground was certainly not as wet and swampy underfoot as it might have been, though still not as firm as the ground for Point To Point, and you had to keep your concentration at all times. I had already gone up to my left knee with one step among the babies’ heads when one of the guys in a group of three who had just passed me almost disappeared down a trough. His mate jokingly warned me about it just in case I had missed his friend’s descent into the water. I smiled as I ate a Chia Charge bar and reminded myself that as well as drinking the water from my bladder I needed to keep snacking as I went along. I was trying to keep this part of the route as flat as possible and the direction I was taking was allowing me to go past the edges of rises rather than up and and over them, until I got to one hill I could not avoid. As it turned out, I gave it a push and was pleased with the way I got up it and that drove me on, especially because I could now see RV1 ahead of me.
After 1 hour and 53 minutes I was passed by Mike Smith, who said hello as he tabbed past me. I was not surprised at all to see him, and having expected him to do very well in this he did not disappoint. I reached RV1 after 2 hours and 02 minutes, and joined the queue of competitors waiting to cross over the stile to check in. Graham Titcombe was in a team ahead of me and as they moved away, I moved forward to find RV1 was being manned by DS Stu. I checked in as Allen 49 and he told me that was my callsign and for RV purposes I was Allen 15. I identified our location, he gave me the next six figure grid, which I was able to immediately identify (as it was one of the possible next locations I had guessed while getting myself to RV1), and with my confirmation that I knew how to get there I was released to continue. As I moved away DS Stu looked up, saw Graham was still standing nearby and barked at him to get off his RV.
I saw Mark Pidgen as I went back over the stile from the RV and he looked well in control of himself. I started going the wrong way around a knoll, corrected myself and was then on my way, more than aware from the map that I had a long slog ahead of me which would climb to what I expected would be our highest point of the day.
I was pushing on as best I could but I knew I was going slow, so it was no surprise that people were now passing me. After 2 hours and 20 minutes the awesome team of Rob Paine, Steve Moore and Scott Wealthall sailed past at speed. Then after 2 hours and 34 minutes I exchanged my last words of the day with Mark Pidgen as he pushed on. I crossed what now seemed like a chasm going down to the centre of the earth before there was a stream of familiar faces after 2 hours and 43 minutes, with Mark Lundquist, Charlie Martin, Billy McKie and David Ellicott (and you can read about their day in Billy’s excellent blog here), Maximilian Lebmeier and his dog, Enigma, and Gunter Troznek going past, before Ian Ford asked me how I was doing as he went by on 2 hours and 53 minutes. Ian is another who writes excellent blogs about these events, and you should go and read his account of Ironman here.
I was running out of people I knew when on 3 hours and 02 minutes Andy Heller and James Nicholson, and then Kate Bent went past, but I could still see people ahead of me as I pushed on, so I did not feel isolated. It had become windy and it was certainly colder than when we had started off in the sun, and, of course, we were getting higher, but the ground had still not yet turned as bad as I had feared it might. This leg seemed to be taking forever and when I saw Lawrence Toms coming in ahead of me from my right, I was sure that I was now bringing up the rear. And seeing him did make me wonder which route he had taken to get to a point where he was coming in from my right. Then the fog came down and I was alone. I could not see anyone else. I was isolated. It is funny how the situation can change just like that. But that is what this is meant to be about. The Test Marches are a solo endeavour, and I had got more than used to that through Point To Point, so that element did not worry me and I pushed on. The fog had really come down now and I could not see very far in front of me at all. I could also not hear any sound out here. Thankfully, I knew that my navigation skills were sound, I was still walking on my bearing from RV1, and I was more than willing to trust it for so long as I was still going uphill. If I went over a ridge and started heading downhill then I would start to get worried, but that did not happen because as I continued walking forwards I could see something on the horizon coming out of the fog, and as I got closer it became clearer that it was a trig point, a tent, a flag and some figures, so I was pretty sure this was it. Of course, it was, and I had reached RV2 after 4 hours and 10 minutes. It was being manned by DS Matt and DS Stu, who appeared to be closing it down. I had no idea how DS Stu had managed to get there before me, and had certainly not seen him go past me. Alan Wilkins was also there. I had seen him going very strong earlier on in the day, but had heard over the radio that he had to medically withdraw, and it was good to see him safe at an RV. I checked in with DS Stu and he gave my next six figure grid reference, which I was able to identify. He told me I was a long way behind everyone else and we agreed a route which would allow me to contour round rather than going all the way down into the valley and all the way back up. “I’ve still got another 8 hours available, Staff,” I joked. “It’ll be dark by then,” he replied, making it very clear that I did not have 8 hours available to me.
“It’s all downhill from here,” said DS Stu as I set off on a bearing, knowing the distance I should travel before taking a turn to contour round, after which I would be looking for a track to take me to the top of a ridge. It was still foggy so I was counting my paces to measure the distance, as well as going by how long it should take me to get to that point. If the visibility improved then looking at the map it should be obvious anyway. If the visibility improved, and there was no guarantee of that, which is why I was also relying on my pacing and timing. I followed the bearing and the ground was firm enough underfoot so the going was good, and as I descended the fog did begin to clear. I could now see the valley below me and I could see a couple of figures in the valley looking at their map. It was Andy Heller and James Nicholson. I could also now see that I had already dropped down a bit more than I had wanted to, but decided not to change my route to follow them as I still had some beneficial contouring to go, and not before long I was coming round to the other side of the valley and climbing to the top of the ridge, although my impatience still saw me coming round earlier than I might have done.
From here I went down into another valley to cross a river and then began my climb up a track, which I had seen Lawrence taking as I came over the top. It was not too steep but it still seemed to go on forever and now that I was on it I could not see where it was leading to, which always has a psychological effect. I began to wonder if I would ever reach the top. Over the radio I heard Mike Smith asking if RV5 had been opened yet, and here was I struggling to get to RV3, but it is impossible to hate him for being so fast because he is such a friendly and pleasant person. You simply have to admire what he brings to events like this, and the same goes for so many others I am now lucky to have met through AEE, and honoured to take part with – I would not dare say ‘compete against’ ! I was becoming desperate to reach the top so that I could see the road running through the next valley, to know that I was where I thought I was on the map. It had stayed cold and now it was beginning to rain, so I wanted some comfort in my endeavours. I reached a plateau and could see the features down below that I had been expecting, so that was good. I could also see groups of people coming up from the direction I was heading in, and although they appeared to be coming from a number of different directions it was certainly a comfort seeing people coming from where I was going to and gave me a confidence that I was following the correct course. I do have confidence in my navigational skills, but by this time I was tired, cold and wet, so getting that something extra, something tangible, was very welcome. There were also some people heading off to my right, so I had an idea of where I would be going once I had managed to get to RV3, and that did not have such a great effect on me as I realised I would be going all the way down just to come all the way back up. Anyway, none of that would happen unless I got going, so I got going, heading on a diagonal towards where I expected the next RV to be, because I could not actually see it from here. This was rough terrain, definitely not solid underfoot, and now it was getting wetter from the rain with each step I took. I was really beginning to feel miserable out in the open, seeing people in the distance away from me, but not actually having anyone go past me, and this stretch was another which seemed to be taking forever. I thought back to my time with DS Matt on the hill during the training day, and I knew I would get this done. I had continued in a pretty straight line across the undulating ground, but now I reached another split which appeared to be heading to the centre of the earth and I had no option but to go around it. I headed downhill to do this and decided to then stay low, following a track to my right. I passed the very welcome smiling faces of Team Kamon TK4 (Jamie Horgan, Mark Pint, Jamie Turner and Gerald McCarthy), which certainly raised my spirits, and when I jokingly asked if I was going the right way they replied that I was on the right course to RV3. I crossed a little stream and got myself on to the track I had been following. I arrived at RV3 after 6 hours and 26 minutes to find it being manned by DS Nick. He asked how I was doing and I confirmed I was fine and good to continue. He took a proper look at me and did not appear convinced. In all honesty, if he had told me there and then that my event was over I would not have put up any argument or complaint, but there was absolutely no way that I was going to VW. I put on a happy face, told him it had been tough going to get there, and that I was ready to continue. I identified the next grid reference and was ready to go, and as I was the last one coming through this RV it meant DS Nick was ready to close it down. He did not look unhappy with that.
As I had noticed when I came into the RV, Max and Enigma were still there, together with Mark Hughes and another guy whose name I, unfortunately, did not get. Max asked if I wanted to join them and I said I would follow along but under no circumstances were they to slow down or stop for me because I would only be able to go at whatever pace I was able to go. DS Nick had discussed some possible options to get from this RV to the next one with me, and I passed on that information as we took a look at the map before deciding the best route for us was to go along the track and then head up a slope to join up with another track at the top which in turn would take us round to the next RV. There was some discussion around where it would be best to head up the slope, but in general the plan was agreed and we set off as Max handed me a couple of Jelly Babies which went down very well indeed. I found I was able to keep up with them pretty easily as we walked along the track, stopping from time to time to consult the map. I knew where we were and I knew from the map that we still had some way to go along this track before the point where Max and I had decided it would be best to head up the slope, so when the others stopped for discussions I carried on walking, knowing that they would catch me up. We were close to the turning point now so I stopped at a point where a stream crossed the track and took a couple of photographs as I waited for the others to catch up. When Max arrived he also decided to take some photographs. Then we noticed that Mark Hughes was not with us, so we decided to wait to allow him to catch up, but he did not appear. We had not heard any sound from him, and could not hear anything now. We were not in the best position to look back down the track, having just come down a slope, but we could see a little way back and he was not visible there. We waited a little longer. We were not going as a team, and I presumed he had decided to take the turn off earlier than we had planned (and the position we were in made it impossible for us to see if that was the case or not), so when he did not appear we decided to carry on. We had no idea at the time, but now I understand that Mark was in trouble and having a problem with his knee, which had caused him to come to a stop. He had made his way back to RV3, which had been closed down by the time he got there, and had then followed all the right drills to keep himself warm and safe. Unfortunately, when he was found by some locals they could not get a signal on their phone and so could not phone the AEE satellite phone to arrange for assistance to get to him, which was especially unfortunate because RV3 was probably the most easily accessible of the outlying RVs. It just goes to show the value of the radio network which is used by AEE during their events and run by Dave Humm, because if there had been access to a radio in this case then I would have picked up that radio chatter on my radio and we would have gone back to provide assistance until others arrived, which would have made for a lot less drama. As it was, given that we were not in a team, I do not believe we made a wrong decision in not going back to find out what was happening. As we made our way up the slope the others were soon ahead of me and I did not expect them to come back for me. I did find it hard work getting to the top of the slope and it did not get very much easier once I was there, as once the track had dipped down it then rose again as it wound its way to RV4. I could see a number of people ahead of me now, and I was following in their footsteps but always just unable to catch them. The landscape had changed, the grass disappearing from the surface to be replaced with mud which was wet and loose in places. I stuck to the edges to avoid having to walk through something which would just drain my energy even more. The rise in the path was getting steeper as we climbed higher and now the fog was coming in again, and I was almost losing sight of those ahead of me. They were just on the edge of my vision and I determined to keep them there as I pushed on. I passed one cairn of stones, but that was not the RV. Then a flag appeared from the fog, standing in another cairn of stones, and down a slope to the left of that was a tent. I had reached RV4 after 8 hours and 12 minutes and after standing back to allow the team in front of me to check in, I went forward to go through that procedure myself, and found it was being manned by Lee Colebrook, who had very wisely decided to stay in his tent. He gave me the grid reference for the next RV, which I identified on the map, and it was not too far away and was going to be an easy one to find once we got there.
It was the guys from TK4 who had been just ahead of me, and Lawrence was also with them, and as they had stopped to check their maps and have something to eat, I took the opportunity to stop and chat with them, while having something to eat myself. I suddenly felt energised and set off at a brisk pace towards RV5. I had seen what looked to be a good route when I had identified the grid reference with Lee, and now I carried on along the track which had brought me in to RV4 until I saw an opportunity to cut diagonally downhill. To cut steeply diagonally downhill. To cut very steeply diagonally downhill. I think the sheep wondered what sort of lunatic was this who was hurtling headlong past them, and as my speed increased I began to wonder the same thing myself. I changed to walking on the sides of my feet to slow myself down until the slope began to flatten out. I had seen the RV as I had been descending, and while it had now disappeared from view, I knew where it was and continued on a straight line to it. This type of navigation was easy so long as the visibility stayed good, and just in case it deteriorated I was making sure I tracked my position on the map. One of the big advantages of my ‘racing snake’ map was that it was so easy to refer to, which made tracking my position on it a simple matter. My straight line approach hit a snag when the ground opened up before me and it was immediately obvious that I would not be able to cross at this point. I climbed to a better point and was across what appeared to be my final barrier on this stretch. I followed a track down to the road and walked a short way along it to the RV, seemingly coming in from the back rather than by a route coming down from above it which others appeared to be taking. I had reached RV5 after 8 hours and 49 minutes, to be greeted by DS Matt, who told me I had missed the bogey time. Max was there and I got the impression he had been inside the bogey time. I saw where he was heading off to and was relieved that a decision had been taken out of my hands. The energy I had felt as I left RV4 had disappeared the moment I had hit the road and RV5, which must have been a psychological thing, so I was not convinced I would have chosen to go on if I had been given the option. Who am I trying to fool ? Of course, I would have carried on and dragged my sorry state through whatever. But I did not have the option, with DS Matt saying that he wanted me to contour round to what was now the FRV for me, following the route of the road and keeping as low as possible. He was quite adamant that he did not want me to gain very much height at all.
I set off just as TK4 and then Lawrence were arriving at the RV. The way I was feeling I knew they would catch up with me in quick time. Even just the climb up the slope which led away from the RV felt like the biggest effort of the day, but I kept in mind that the FRV was not far from here. I should clarify that, because while it was not far in my mind, it was still quite far on the ground. From the top of the slope I was able to follow a track which immediately started to descend, and was then undulating with a firm footing. It ran alongside a fence which was closely following the route of the road, and so was perfect for me right now. Not before long I was passed by the TK4 guys and then by Lawrence, and I did not expect to see any of them again before the end of the march. I kept low, really following the twists and turns in the road, rather than going straight over the top of some higher points as I saw them do ahead of me. I knew where I would do that to cut out the biggest bend, but for now I was plodding along on the flatest ground I could find, even if at times this meant I had to cross some streams created as water flowed down from the hills towards the lower ground of the road. I cut out the bend in the road and not far beyond that saw Lawrence taking a track above me as I took a lower one to contour the rise he was going over. I did not go as low as I could have done because I could see the ground was very wet down there, and now I was heading on a straight line to the edge of woodland, which I could then follow to take me round to the FRV. I saw some youths out for a walk joining the same track just ahead of me and I reckoned if they could get through the terrain safely in what they were wearing then it would be more than fine for me. I saw Lawrence coming down from my right. I had heard him on the radio during the day and now I heard him sending a notification that he was coming into the FRV and joining up with the last man (which I recognised as being me). He was immediately asked who that was, and I gave my name, and it must have left the DS baffled because I knew that although I may have been coming in last by time, I was by no means the last person still out there. We carried on together and I began to wonder just how much further we had to go. I could see where we were on the map, but it seemed to be taking a long time to cover a short distance, even if it was very undulating ground now, sometimes requiring us to move out away from the treeline when the branches came down too low. We just had to keep going. It was impossible to get lost at this stage of the day because of the landmark we were skirting round, but it still seemed never ending. We found an entrance into the woods, and a muddy footprint of a boot indicated we were not the first to be going along this route today. It was a clear track, and we turned right to take us down to the FRV. Lawrence and I reached the FRV together, after I had been out for 10 hours, 32 minutes and 27 seconds to cover a very tough 20.6 miles and almost 6,000ft of elevation, and I let him go through first to be greeted by Adam Gain, who himself had been forced to make a medical withdrawal part way through Ironman. He had an existing injury and as he is going through an application to join the Royal Marines he did not want to aggravate it further. I totally understood that logic, and wish him the very best of luck in his application. It was at this time that we first heard from Adam about the situation with one of the competitors, as we saw a Brecon Mountain Rescue Lynx helicopter hovering overhead, but did not know that the person they were looking for was Mark Hughes. I stayed chatting with Adam for a little while because I was simply unable to walk away from this spot. I felt a lot more exhausted than I had at the end of Point To Point, and was either crouching or leaning against the fence, unable to stand up straight. I took off my bergen, carried on drinking my water and eating some more P2P mix, and after a while I felt much better, picked up my bergen, wished Adam all the best and started the walk back to my car. With absolutely no ceremony whatsoever, Ironman was over.
It was a long, tired walk back to my car. I ate the meat pie we had been given the previous evening and drank some Lucozade, which certainly woke me up. I do not drink it very much so when I do it is effective. Now that I had stopped I could feel how wet the outside of my jacket was, as were my gaiters and boots, so I dumped them in the boot of my car with my bergen, to be dealt with once I got home, and there was still more to be done before I started that journey. Mike McDonald and Chris Dougherty arrived back at their car just after me and we chatted while we all got packed away to move off, at which point I could not remember where I had put my car key. Another moutful of Lucozade and I woke up enough to see it lying on the back seat. Lawrence had given directions to the Brecon Rugby Club, the location for the awards dinner, and after taking a very welcome shower in their changing rooms at their ground I continued with a short drive down to their clubhouse. I had not gone to the awards evening after Point To Point and having now arrived at the Brecon Rugby Club I wished that I had because the atmosphere inside was excellent from a very large contingent of those who had just taken part in Ironman. I will not make that mistake again, even if it does add on a few more hours to my weekend, because those few hours were very well spent in the brilliant company of people I am honoured to call friends. Food, drink, chatter, many Ironman tshirts, and then the award part of the evening. Ken’s speech praised the admin of the event, and it was true that over the whole weekend the performance of the DS team had been exceptional. Ken reflected on this in saying how good everything had been. There was a special presentation for Mike Smith from DS Stu because Mike had arrived at on of his RVs well ahead of the time they had expected and so needed to be slowed down to allow the next RV to be opened. DS Stu did this having Mike unpack items from his bergen and then by asking him to make a hot brew, but try as they might they could not get anything to light, be it waterproof matches or a windproof lighter, so now Mike was being presented with a Jetboil, so that should not be an issue again. Ken asked if any of the other DS had anything to say, and DS Matt just wanted to thank Ken for giving him all the duff jobs, including giving out grid references which were at the top of hills.
We moved on to the awards, and it did not come as any surprise to me to hear Mike Smith announced as the Men’s Champion, nor did it come as any surprise to hear Rob Paine, Steve Moore and Scott Wealthall announced as the Team Champions, and nor did it come as any surprise to hear Kate Bent announced as the fastest woman.
In all cases their previous achievements speak for themselves, and I look forward to seeing them all again on future events. Mick Caren received the True Grit award, which was very well deserved, and I hope to see him come back for more.
Then the badges were handed out, and I hobbled up as best I could to get mine, because my legs had given up on me by now. I was grinning like a lunatic as Ken presented me with my badge and shook my hand, with DS Nick taking a photo I will treasure. I shook hands with DS Stu and DS Matt as well, who had both done so much to see me over that finish line.
Ken had made the point during the training day that simply reaching the FRV did not guarantee a ‘pass’ in an event like this, and that they would not publish or explain the criteria for a pass, and so it was that Mark Hughes came forward to receive his patch, because of the way he had conducted himself after going down during the event, and I know it was to his absolute surprise because I was sitting near to him at the time his name was announced. There was one more presentation to be made, that of a Lowe Alpine hat from DS Stu to Ken, but you will have to enter Ironman and read the story behind the patch to understand the significance of that. All that remained after that was the raffle, which was won by Ian Ford, and so was clearly fixed. It was time to drive home, and it looks like I will have to go out and buy my own Jetboil then.
I did say thanks on the day, but I must thank a multitide of people for their assistance in various ways in getting me to the FRV. First of all, everyone involved with Avalanche Endurance Events – Ken Jones, Matt, Stuart, Nick, all the MST, and those involved behind the scenes – for all the training and guidance and for laying on such a very well organised and brilliant event; Dave Humm for the excellent communications training; Kramar Donachie for selling me the Karrimor SF Sabre 45 bergen just in time for this event; Dean Clarke for the recommendation of the perfect AKU Pilgrim boots which continue to serve me so well; and, of course, Debbie for allowing me to continue to go off and be an idiot.
I will be signing up for Ricochet (another of the Selection Test Marches) the moment it goes live, and have cleared my diary for the two marches in Elan and for the finale of Long Drag. I am only considering doing this because of the trust I can put in Avalanche Endurance Events, based on my experiences with them. There are no two ways about it, these events are dangerous and have the capacity to seriously injure or worse, which they have done even recently with the real things, so I would only consider doing them if I thought I was going to be kept safe. Ironman followed Point To Point in that everything leading up to it made me feel that way, from the initial selection process to the informative, useful, and, frankly, essential-reading emails; the excellent paper-based and on the ground navigation training, and just as excellent online communications training, both of which put me in the best position possible to complete the event; and then there was the training day itself when we were all tested so that the DS could be sure about sending us out into the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons. The event itself was perfectly organised, and not only were there the correct number of marshalls in all strategic positions, every single one of those marshalls, be they DS or MST, were of the highest calibre. Events like these demand that they be run by the best and this one was, which is why it was such an outstanding success. As I have already indicated, Avalanche Endurance Events will be running all the Selection Test Marches and for so long as I qualify to take part in them I will be signing up. I came out of Point To Point and now Ironman a better person – I would suggest you put yourself through the challenge provided by Avalanche Endurance Events and see what you can learn about yourself.
You can see more photographs from the day here.