On Saturday 9 July, five personnel from 815 Naval Air Squadron took part in The Fan Dance Race in the Brecon Beacons and replicates the conditions undertaken by military personnel on the Special Forces selection course.

The Race

The Fan Dance race is run by a company called Avalanche Endurance Events whose staff comprises only of ex-Special Forces personnel. Their purpose is to replicate the conditions in which this event is undertaken by military personnel going on the Special Forces selection course, ran twice a year, summer and winter. The route of the race is 16 miles over the Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons and in the surrounding area. Special Forces pass time is under four hours with a 45lb Bergen.

The teams aim, leading up the event, was to promote team cohesion, leadership traits and field craft skills in extreme conditions, under a time limit and in competitive surroundings.

Race Day

The team departed Yeovilton after their final brief on Friday afternoon and arrived in the Brecon Beacons around 8.30pm. They then weighed in at base camp for Avalanche Endurance Events near the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre where the DS weighed and checked their bergens – Male equalling 35lbs without food and water, female equalling 25lbs.

After a restless night the team awoke around 6am to get gear together and to drive down to base camp. As the rest of the competitors arrived too, they gathered at the base of the first hill and stood by for a safety brief from the March Director – Ken Jones.

Safety

Ken started his brief by saying "I’m a numbers man and there are two numbers that are prominent in my mind this morning; the first number is the amount of people that looked out the window this morning, saw the weather and thought “ bugger this, I’m not going”, which numbers around 100. The other number is those of you that are here, that have shown some morale courage and a bit of strength and those are the right attributes that this team is looking for, so well done for making it to the start line."

Ken then went on to the safety brief and explained where members of the DS were on the mountain that would check us in at each RV point. The weather would be 50 mph winds with rain all day. He also reiterated that on this very exercise, three military personnel on selection died three years ago and that 24 hours previously, the official exercise was taking place with selection candidates feeling the same trepidation as us.

On your marks, get set, go!

The team finally stepped off at 8.40am, starting at a steep incline and pushed their way up to the summit of the Pen Y Fan. After checking numbers in, they proceeded to descend Jacobs Ladder, the steepest and most dangerous point on the mountain, especially with the weather trying to throw them off the cliffs on either side. After a couple of miles of descent, they turned south down the Roman Road for four miles until they hit the half way point at a time of two hours. Although the team was making good time, the weather was still against them but they pushed on after a two minutes stop and turned around to do the same route in reverse.

On the way back up the mountain you could see people going man down due to injuries and exposure every couple of miles. The mist had fully descended and the wind picked up even more, this is where the leg pain really kicks in as it’s about three miles up hill, culminating at Jacobs Ladder which takes arms and legs to climb up! At the top of the Pen Y Fan again, the team knew the rest of the route was mostly down hill so they got a jog on as best they could with everyone struggling with niggling injuries.

The result

The team eventually made it across the finish line in just under five hours, soaked through and absolutely hanging out. The DS handed them their finishers patch, a small and subtle trophy but which so brilliantly captures both the pain and pride which is felt finishing the event.

Originally, the team set out to do this challenge to make a greater impression on the endurance community and to show that the Royal Navy still has a vested interest in events that are truly nails, especially in times where technology has taken over and many people aren’t as motivated as they used to be.

Overall they’ve raised over £200 for the RNRMC and would like to give huge thanks to Avalanche Endurance Events and Lt CDR Matt Boulind for the overwhelming support of the welfare committee.