Sunday, 21 February 2016

Back on the Fan!

THE WINTER FAN DANCE, BACK to BACK - 09/10.01.16


Three years ago I was meant to line up at the Red Phone Box in pursuit of my first Fan Dance, I didn't get there because of the weather, and that has bitten hard ever since, it's the only Fan I've missed, and in all honesty I don't think I've ever really got over it!

Much like the Paras'10 it's an event I look forward to, more so because of the friends I've made. The Fan has always been about tracing Lloydys footsteps a little and trying to endure I tiny element of what he put himself through to achieve what he did. It's my way of keeping his light burning bright, it's always been a battle for me, especially the early ones, a battle against mother nature and my own short comings, not in heart, but fitness. That has changed somewhat in the last 18 months and now I almost revel in the competition of it and trying to achieve that sub 4.

My first Fan in the Summer of 2013 took 6 painful hours and 47 minutes, last Winter (2015) I broke in to the 4 hrs for the first time with 4hrs 37mins and improved upon that again in the Summer with 4hr 24mins. A marker had been put down and a gauntlet thrown by a few friends to get that 4hrs. It's a target at one stage that seemed unattainable but now felt like it was in reach, although knocking over 24 mins off the Summer time would be a big ask. 

This would also be my first crack at doing the Fan Dance Back to Back (on Saturday and again on the Sunday). I wasn't sure what to expect with it, I'd had a go at 'back to back' over at Ivinghoe just to get myself used the slog of 2 days at it. You can always rely on the notion that no 2 days on the Fan are ever the same, and so it would prove.

I arrived though full of hope and heart and that was only swollen further when parking up at the Storey Arms on the Friday and meeting up with so many great friends and soaking up the normal Fan Dance atmosphere. The air filled with anticipation, excitement a fair amount of dread and a good sprinkling of banter. Checked in and registered with Back to Back race numbers in hand, Jay chaperoned me back to the Youth Hostel where we were hauled up for the weekend, we claimed our bunks and began the obligatory faff with kit. We were soon joined by Big Dave, Mick H and Nikki and so the fun begins.

With my weekend Partners in Grime - Paul and Jay

SATURDAY 9th JANUARY


At 0600 5 alarms go off along with a crescendo of grunts, and other bodily noises that would have made the deaf wince. Getting kitted up and breakfast stuffed down the neck is a laboured process at that time of the morning, it's a familiar routine that doesn't get any easier despite how often we inflict it upon ourselves. The only saving grace is that the last time we were all together breakfast would have been at just after 0400! Thankfully Jay had brought a kettle so at least we could begin the day in proper fashion. It was evident from the noise outside that it was going to be a 'normal for Brecon' kinda day. It was p*ssing down and blowing a hoolie, to be fair we'd been subjected to that on the previous two Winter Fans, it wasn't anything new.

We loaded up and headed out just after 0700, a journey of no more than 10 mins was followed by taking about 20 mins to park. I'd never seen the event so backlogged with cars along the A470, it was like the final scene from 'Field of Dreams' "if you build it, they will come". Again I'd never seen the start area swollen with so many bergens. Standing waiting for the safety brief I was tapped on the back by a guy that had noticed my tribute to Lloydy (placed as normal on the top of my pack), turns out that he served with Lloydy (albeit in a different Squadron), I think that gave me a little extra, knowing that someone that knew Lloydy was on the hill with us. The chat was brief and no more than a confirmation of who I was to Lloydy, and that James knew him, but nonetheless it was a welcome distraction from the hill!

By now the weather was full on, torrential rain and gusting winds, but huddled in the pack waiting for gun to go off we were pretty sheltered, it wouldn't be until we hit the path up to Corn Du we'd feel the full force of it. The gun sounded a little after 0805 and the climb began. I've become accustomed now to how I'm gonna feel, and know how long it take me to hit each 'marker', the first is the gate, the second the turn under Corn Du, third Fan Summit. By Fan Summit I was 50 mins in, not as quick as I'd hoped but in decent shape. The next target is Windy Gap then the turnaround (Windy Gap doesn't feel right without Fordy manning it). 

I reached the turnaround an hour after getting of the Fan. I grabbed a bag of jelly babies, gave in my number and turned straight around. I passed quite a few of the guys as I headed back up the Roman Road, taking the opportunity for a little chat as it presented itself. Guttingly I passed Mick who was in a bad way being ably supported by Strokey, Mick insisting he was jacking at half way.

The Roman Road can be a pretty lonely and dull drag back to Windy Gap and luckily the boredom was punctured by Christine, who like Mick was struggling with injury, she still cracks out a smile though, again it's gutting to see her struggling. I'm still setting myself targets, going back up the Roman Road, must be at Windy Gap inside 3 hrs on Fan Summit in 3hrs 30. Bang on 3hrs 30 I'm checking in with Staff Big, who gives me a well done, swiftly followed by a "get a f****** move on", well that's what it sounded like as I skipped off the summit.

Now It was a question of how quick I could get back, I was on for 4 hours, I knew it was tight, but I left nothing out there on that last slog back. As I slapped out my last few steps I shouted out my number and got 4:01 back! 

Done, eye of the Tiger!

I was greeted by TEC, Lesley and the 'Hunter' and Nick's family and waited for a few of the guys to come in before heading back to the Youth Hostel with Jay to sort ourselves out. One of those I waited for was my good friend Nick Hore, Nick and I had a running wager over a 'Victory Cigar', the first one back to the Red Phone Box got it, the bugger tried to give it to me as we passed each other from the turnaround point. I wasn't having any of it, on paper I won the Cigar, but he's true gentlemen and deserved to keep the Cuban in my opinion (enjoy it buddy whilst you recuperate, we'll share one next June if not before).

The 'Victory' Cigar

4hrs 1min, it was a massive mix of pride and disappointment, so close to breaking 4, I know there were a few moments out there where I could have 'pushed' a bit harder, but I gave it a fair crack and now I know that there is a sub 4 in there, however it was not going to be the following morning!

Always a humbling moment getting my patch from KJ!
Kit squared away and prep and admin done ready for the morning, we are greeted to Mick arriving back with patch in hand, the dogged bugger had only got it done after going over on his ankle, much banter was had but that made my day to see him back at the bunk with that precious bit of cloth! It went without saying though he wouldn't be taking on back to back as planned though!

That evening was spent in great company at the Red Dragon in Brecon and was the perfect way to end the day before the mornings revelry! You know who you are, and I hope we get to do it again!


SUNDAY 10th JANUARY


Welcome to a winter wonderland, white stuff greeted Jay and I as we made our way to his car with our kit on Sunday morning. The routine had been exactly the same as Saturday morning, albeit some kit wetter than the day before but there couldn't have been a greater contrast in the conditions.


The moment we saw how much snow there was up on the hills, we had a game plan, it was never going to be anything more than, get it done safely and get home fully intact. There was going to be no gung ho attitude from me, Jay and I pretty much determined that we'd get through the second day together. In comparison the effort was a bimble to the previous day. That was reinforced when we reached the top of Jacobs to descend, everywhere you looked along the edge it was just ice, I must have muttered f**k to myself a hundred times. The next 15/20 mins weren't dignified as I spent most of it on my arse bumping down Jacobs, for me a bruised arse was easier to contemplate than a broken leg or worse. The rest of the time down Jacobs was spent picking my arse out of the snow as the combination of fresh snow and long wet grass made the lower slope pretty treacherous. 



It's weird looking back at Sunday, because it was nothing more than (as I've already said) a 'nice bimble' in the white stuff with great friends. By the time we'd reached the turnaround we were pretty much a three again, as we'd begun the weekend, Paul, Jay and I. 

I must admit after the effort of getting down Jacobs safely, the idea of ascending Jacobs in the same conditions filled me with dread, moreover because I just wondered how the f**k we'd get up there! Again looking back I don't know what I was worried about, ascending was far easier than getting down and I got up on the shelf in pretty decent time. At the top I was greeted by Staff Bigg, he offered me his last piece of Millionaires Shortbread which I gratefully took, and waited for Jay and Paul to rear their heads above the ridge. 

We took some pics on the summit of the Fan and I laid my cross for Lloydy among the stones, we pretty much skated back, the drop off Fan Summit was mental until it levelled out under Corn Du.


And that was that, a perfect bimble in the White stuff in great company. It wasn't quick, it was never going to be, we weren't going to break any records and conversely any bones and we were fine with that, home and hosed in 5hrs 30.

For me the effort was there to see on Saturday and I hope on some level I did Lloydy proud, and ultimately a 'Back to Back' Fan Dance weekend isn't to be sniffed at, no matter the time it's done in, and again although breaking the 4hrs will always be the holy grail, being in the hills with friends will always be (after being there for Lloydy) my primary reason for turning up each Summer and Winter.

The Weekend Done!

I'm still completely staggered by the impact this event has on a group of people and how it's capable of creating the bonds it does, and for that I'll be forever grateful. My thanks as always to KJ, DS Bigg, Linda, Dave Humm and all those that make this event possible, and enable us to walk in the footsteps of giants, no matter your reasons. 

Lloydy may have had the same size feet as me, but they are boots I could never fill, nor would I want to, I'm just thankful I get to be on that hill and celebrate the life he lead. 

And as is customary I must mention my gorgeous wife and littleman, without who, I'd be lost, they are always there to light up my life, love you both to the depths of forever xxxx

And Lloydy for always being there when I need him the most, blue skies little brother and big love. You may be beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow, but my heart walks with you always xxx

See you in the Summer, if not before...........

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The 100 Peaks Challenge - A Year On!

100 PEAKS CHALLENGE UPDATE



This time last year the embryonic scribblings for what the 100 Peaks Challenge has already become, began. Most will know that the Challenge began life as "Beyond the Last Blue Mountain – the Ally SkyGod Challenge". A mouthful and one that didn't roll off the tongue easily. It became a battle then of capturing the ethos of why it was called that in the first place (the tribute I wanted it to be for my little brother), and finding something succinct that would leave no confusion as to what we are trying to achieve.




A year on it's hard to believe how far the Project has come. The 100 Peaks Challenge is instantly recognisable and has seemingly captured the imagination of many. There is a complete Management and Support Team in place handling operations as well as a Training and Medical Team managing those that have registered for the Challenge.



Registration for the Full Challenge has already closed and the Information Packs and Training Trackers issued to those who have registered in time. It's now though that the serious work begins for those that have aspirations of making the team. The reality is we have to trim the current numbers to a manageable number for when the Challenge begins in May 2017.



The 'Selection' process ends on 23rd August this year and everyone will be monitored constantly between now and that date. However, the process will continue up to the Challenge start, even if you make the team, you can't rest on your laurels, getting selected for the team only means you're half way there and it's up to individuals to maintain that level. The commitment and desire that is being shown is exemplary and just watching the way others continually inspire the group as a whole is humbling.

There is so much energy and focus that it encourages all to step up and be better, be more. The training volumes are immense as are the numbers beasting themselves, the enthusiasm isn't just being shown by those aiming to take on the Full Challenge but those aiming to take part in Partial elements and by the support team too, it's truly awesome to witness. This is one amazing group of people, which extends to our families too. I know from a personal point of view what we all as individuals will have to sacrifice and that's precious time with those we love. You can't get that time back, so we have to be smart with our time and make the best of the time we have. This Challenge our families too, not exclusive to those who will march the hard yards, cycle the never ending miles and paddle hopeful with each stroke that land will begin to appear.

I would encourage you to ensure that on this journey, you bring your families along too, without them we are only half as strong as we could be. We will need them more than it is possible to quantify, the next nine months are going to be brutal, the period beyond that more brutal still. The training recces alone will be 3/4/5 days of constant battering, up at dawn, done at sunrise, eat, sleep and go again all the while administering ourselves, and going hard for a long time. It's at that point after those slogs when we will need them most to help us remember why we're doing this. Use the love it's our most powerful weapon and the one that will ultimately see us win.



Talking of wining and the reason we're taking this on, our Goal is to raise a minimum of £100,000.00 for ABF The Soldiers Charity and Support our Paras. Shortly we will release the new Fundraising Packs and during the course of this year we will be staging various Fundraising events, the first of which will be the Official Challenge Launch on 21st May. Most of you will be aware that we have a Jump Day with the Red Devils organised in August, 30 people will jump that day and if everyone hits their minimum Target we'll raise £13,500.00 from that one event.

ABF The Soldiers’ Charity is the National Charity of the British Army. Formerly known as the Army Benevolent Fund, it was established in 1944 and exists to offer a lifetime of support to soldiers, veterans and their immediate families in times of need. They provide financial assistance to individuals and their dependants, and make grants to charities and other organisations which deliver specialist support on their collective behalf.

Support our Paras provide welfare assistance to serving soldiers and families to complement or fill the gaps in State provision, as well as supporting vital aspects of the Regiment’s daily life and history. That support includes Mobility equipment and disability conversion of vehicles, Funding remedial courses and help to assist those recovering from wounds, Funding vocational courses and help to assist soldiers in transitioning into civilian life, Funding sporting equipment for the wounded and for Regimental teams, Funding Adventurous Training expeditions for serving troops, Assistance with travel and other costs on compassionate grounds.

The Challenge has already received serious recognition from Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dan Jarvis MP who have both given their backing to what we are trying to achieve. On top of that we have been extremely fortunate to gain the endorsements of Andy Torbet and Phil Campion who are both acting as Challenge Ambassadors. Ken Jones will act as a Patron and we've been incredibly fortunate to add Richard Villar to the team as Medical Officer. Add to that, I have been selected by Ordnance Survey to be one of their #GetOutside Champions for 2016.

We will on 14th May officially launch the Challenge, that launch will be an opportunity to have everyone together and to focus attentions that a year from that date we'll be pretty ready to go. The event will be held at Cpl Bryan Budd VC Gym at Merville and will also see Barrie Williams have a crack at the Guinness World Record for distance covered on a rower in 24hrs, there will some fundraising activities and an army curry filling our bellies ready for The Paras'10 the following morning! So save the date, this is your Challenge and we'd love to see as many of you there as possible.



2015 has been an amazing year, 2016 promises to be even more incredible, if you're reading this and thinking that you'd like to get involved in this Challenge and Support us, and help us deliver this exciting project then please contact us, be part of something special, "nothing is as strong as team spirit" #BeInspired #BeInspiring.....


A Champion!?

ORDNANCE SURVEY #GETOUTSIDE CHAMPION 2016


Back in October I'd been alerted to Ordnance Surveys #GetOutside Campaign.

Are You a Champion of the Outdoors? Was the question.



I thought why not lets write a little ditty about what we're trying to achieve with The 100 Peaks Challenge and see what happens, I wrote: 


WHAT IS YOUR #GETOUTSIDE PLEDGE?

"I wanted to try and create the single biggest endurance event ever staged in the UK taking in all four countries – Scotland, England (inc. Isle of Man), Ireland and Wales, involving as many willing participants as possible, across three disciplines, tabbing, cycling and kayaking, and claiming 100 peaks above 2000ft in 25 days.

WHO DO YOU INSPIRE AND HOW?

Inspire is not a word I would use to describe myself, the Challenge I've created however, I hope does and the reasons behind its creation and the causes we are taking the Challenge on for certainly do. The Challenge has been created as a tribute to my little brother, he was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011 and ever since I've used various Challenges as a means to try and do something positive and raise as much money as possible for military charities. The 100 Peaks Challenge has been created as 'sign off' event for the current fundraising effort with the goal of raising £100,000.00.

The Challenge will involve tabbing 100 Peaks, cycling between summit lines and peak regions and Kayaking across the Irish Sea. The 25 day duration is to symbolise the length of my little brothers last tour, beginning on the day he deployed (23.05.17) and finishing on the day he was killed (16.06.17). To date we have over 100 people registered as taking the Challenge on in some form, 40 which are interested in taking on the Full Challenge. It promises to be an epic event and journey for all who are part of it.

TELL US WHY YOU SHOULD BE A #GETOUTSIDE CHAMPION

I love the outdoors, when I'm not working, I spend most of my time outdoors, whether that be with my trainers on or in the hills with my boots and pack on. With The 100 Peaks Challenge the aim is to not only create a legacy for my brother in support of the Charities we are raising funds for, but to also create a Challenge and Challenges within the build up period, that will inspire others to join us and be part of the Challenge and to also engage as many people as possible with our fundraising efforts. One such event is a jump day with the Red Devils next August (we have 30 people booked on the plane and ready to jump). We are also planning to takeover the Milton Keynes marathon, among many other events we'll be attending and creating in the next 18 months. As well as the legacy for my brother I want this to be an event that everyone who takes part in can share with their families with the hope that our children will be inspired by what we aim to achieve and go on to enjoy the Outside and all it has to offer as much as we do."

On the 25th November I received this letter back from the OS.

Dear Karl,

OS #GetOutside Campaign - OS Champion 2016

As you know, Ordnance Survey has been looking to recruit a small number of outdoor enthusiasts to become Get Outside Champions, to inspire and motivate family, friends, colleagues, children, and wider communities to ‘get outside’ and enjoy the British landscape. 

Having received numerous applications and nominations from people across Great Britain, we are delighted to select you to become one of our Champions for 2016. 


To say I was a little taken aback at first was an understatement, but since I've had time to reflect on how big a thing it is, I'm honestly proud that off the back of what we've achieved to date with The 100 Peaks it's been recognised as being something that could inspire others to #GetOutside.

So what does that mean? I guess that I'll be bugging you all to join in making sure that I make good on that promise to engage as many people as possible in The 100 Peaks Challenge and the whole build up process, you have been warned! You may need to get out of your comfort zone, but you don't need to think outside the box when it comes to being part of The 100 Peaks Challenge - you just need to ‪#‎GetOutside‬

On the 2nd Feb I'll be going down to the big smoke (like any normal day really) but instead for a Photoshoot Day with my Fellow Champions for 2016. It really is an exciting time and one I hope that really helps us grow the Challenge and what it's trying to achieve even further. 

For those that don't know much about the campaign, below is some background to the #GetOutside campaign.

Ordnance Survey launched the #GetOutside campaign to urge people off the sofa, to ditch the car and to enjoy the outdoors. Nick Giles, Managing Director for Ordnance Survey Leisure, says: “We are in danger of becoming disconnected from our own landscape. The benefits of exercising and getting regular fresh air are already well documented, but more needs to be done to get that message across, which is where our #GetOutside champions come in.

Have a look at the Ordnance Survey website to find out what the #GetOutside campaign is all about, to be inspired is great, to inspire is incredible.





#BeInspired #BeInspiring #GetOutside

A little catch up - Paras 10 Colly

It's been a while since I've written a post and there's possibly a fair bit to bring everyone up to speed on! It's been a bit of a crazy 12 months or so since the details of The 100 Peaks Challenge were announced, most of my spare time is taken up now either training for or planning the Challenge, luckily I have a very understanding wife and some incredible people doing all they can to make it happen and reduce the burden.

Firstly we'll start with The Paras'10 at Colly back in November! With posts on Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion, Winter Fan Dance and 100 Peaks Update to follow.....

PARAS'10 COLCHESTER - 15.11.15


My first effort at the Paras'10 was back in September 2012 at Catterick, myself and so many incredible friends (17 in total) signed up for that event, it seems like time ago now. But that event alone was the catalyst for what has since gone and what is still to come.



This was No. 6 and still I hadn't got anywhere near close to breaking the 1hr 50, the closest I'd got was 1hr 58 at Colly in 2012. This year though with The 100 Peaks Challenge really beginning to take shape and the discipline that I've instilled in myself with my training over the last 18 months, I knew that standing on the start line I'd be in a fairly decent place this time. We arrived in good time and were greeted by 100 Peaks Tees everywhere and our own tent set up on Abbey Field courtesy of Dave and Ness and Agile Momentum. The momentum with which the Challenge has gathered has been amazing and it still humbles me seeing so many incredible people representing it and puffing out their chests and cracking on.



Having been delayed from July earlier in the year due to the heat there was no such issue on a typical November day! As is customary now I have my family and close friends there to wave us off and I get a massive buzz from that. When the gun went off I just remember settling in to a nice pace early, almost bumping into Bear at the gates going into barracks, I think he'd literally sprinted from his van and over the start line, it's not like Bear to be late! 

The course was wet as expected and the crossings fun as always, and all in all my race was relatively uneventful, in so much as every time I glanced at my watch I was averaging 10/11min miles, so if I could maintain that I knew I'd be in with a chance of finally breaking 1hr 50. I remember seeing Pete Lavelle a few hundred yards ahead of me at about 5 miles and thought if I can keep him in sight I know I'll be there or there abouts come the end. 



By the time we were making our way back out of Friday Woods I'd caught Pete up, we chatted a little and cracked on. I started to get a little nervous about my time, it's 2 miles from that stretch back to the finish line and I was 1hr 25 to that point, it was touch and go if I didn't maintain the pace I was going at. I dug in and as I got to the gates I could hear the crowd cheering those that were crossing the finish line and half way on to the field, all of a sudden I could hear my lot shouting my name. I gave a little spurt and crossed the line in 1hr 45. A new PB by some 13 minutes, the training and the effort put in over the months, there and then highlighted. After 6 attempts I allowed myself a proud smile when I was greeted by my family and gave them all honking hugs! 



As well as my family being a wonderful part of this, this event was responsible for creating this incredible family that I feel very fortunate to be part of and what's more to see them all crossing the finish line with the 100 Tees on is beyond amazing, the next Paras'10 at Colly in May this year promises to be very special indeed!

Big love to you all!


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Spa day par excellence!

The concept of a spa day is as alien to me as carrying 70lb on my back, although the latter became a reality last Sunday (20th September). The Spa day however, well that's just a dream but there was a lot of mud involved, some swimming, and there was definitely no dressing gown or towling slippers!

The weekend began with our first Core Management Team Meeting for The 100 Peaks Challenge, the subject of which will command it's own, very much overdue blog post.

#BeInspired #BeInspiring - THE 100 PEAKS CHALLENGE


Once the meeting was done it was a hot footing exercise to Brecon. Everyone who knows me knows how much the Avalanche events mean to me, I'd missed out on Ironman because of the London Marathon and expected that I'd miss out on Ricochet too because of the date falling on the weekend of the first opportunity we had to get The 100 Peaks CMT together. Luckily KJ was relaxed as to when I could get myself there.

My training in the last few months has consisted of base miles and strengthening work, thankfully about a month before Ricochet I'd managed to kiss the constant niggles of training volume goodbye and had been able to step up my training again to include intervals and hill work. The old man Achilles niggles still remained though.

Physically I know I'm fitter than I have been since I first embarked on this little journey, but I still have some weight to shift and I also hadn't had the Bergen on since the Summer Fan all bar my 'panic' 10 miler with 60lb the Saturday before Ricochet. To be fair though the 'panic' tab was a decent workout, I cracked the 10 miles out in 1:55, albeit on a pretty flat track, but I wanted to accustom myself to what that weight felt like more than anything else. To be fair to myself I was coming in to this off the back of my best effort to date on the Summer Fan and a decent London Marathon under my belt this year. I'm pretty comfortable at cracking out miles and spending a lot of time out on the ground, with and without pack now, so it really was nothing more than a getting familiar exercise. The weirdest sensation was the circulation issue the additional weight seemed to have, the fingers got numb pretty quickly and a lot of that 1hr 55 was spent giving it the jazz hands!

I decided that I needed to rethink the Bergen packing because something wasn't working. At 35lbs the Bergen doesn't really weigh enough to 'cut' but with 55lb of kit and food and water on top I knew I had to really think about where I was loading kit to ensure I was going to be as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible.

In prep for Ricochet I stripped everything out, and decided that I'd make a change with my bladder position in the first instance. The likelihood was that we'd need a minimum of 5 litres and that meant two bladders, I decided that I'd pack them at the sides and try and balance things out from there. I thought it better to configure that way than risk issues with circulation and endure a little lower back trouble (which packing water at the sides generally gives me as it messes a bit with my COG). I pulled the doss bag up higher than normal, almost to the top of the Bergen to give a little extra padding against the back, and repacked. Dry kit, warm kit, emergency rations and extra first aid supplies, poncho and jetboil and a mallet for a bit of extra weight! Side and front pocket, contained waterproofs, mess kit and first aid/emergency bivi and all my utility items in the top flap.


We banged in on the money at the weigh in, with a few tins of extras, should the proverbial hit the fan. Everything was loaded up Friday night and Strokey and I set off just after 3pm on Saturday. The traffic Gods were kind to us and a little after 6 we're parking up in our new home for the next 24 hours. Not even out of the car moments and familiar and some of my favourite faces appeared, the chat was nervous and excited and laced with a little bit of fear of what was to come. KJ and the DS had promised us some proper naughty scenarios, the first of which would become evident pretty quickly.

I got myself registered and noticed that Rob, Steve and Scott had a spare bunk in their room and asked Staff Bigg to put me in there. He joked (or at least I think he was joking) at me that he was getting fed up of seeing 100 Peaks Tess at his events and where was my AEE one, I pointed at KJ and said "he sold it". I'd managed to catch up with everyone and there really is no finer company, just as I'm beginning to get my pasta and meatballs down my neck and feel content with my lot, we're interrupted by a call from Staff Bigg to get our 'weapons'.  

Those of us who hadn't attended the training day were marched up to a store shed where he delighted in presenting us with our new best friend for the duration. A piece of scaffold tube weighing in at 10 to 12lbs to act as a mock SLR for the exercise. I knew the terrain was going to be shit when KJ joked in a message to me to "bring my flippers", I retorted at the time "I'm packing my water wings just in case", I wish I had, come 0610 the following morning that wish was compounded!

Back to the mess, the next interruption to eating came the way of why we were instructed to bring colouring pencils, ruler etc. We were given a map sketching exercise of the area we would need and we were given 45 minutes to get as much detail on our maps as we could. The next 45 minutes were spent realising that I was pretty dire at cartography whilst trying to get as much food into my gullet as possible! Time was called and relief was felt, more so it meant I could finish my apple crumble and now cold custard. No hardship really, but I was flapping enough already as is SOP for me anyway! Our maps were gathered up and subjected to scrutiny by our peers and then handed back to us, with what felt like a rhetorical question "would you navigate with your map" to which the stock answer appeared to be "no Staff"! We were then issued with Staff prepared sketched maps and instructed to ensure our OS and/or Racing snake versions were tucked away safely in our bergens, they were not to be used! 

With the enforced panic over I could now begin to flap properly, safe in the knowledge I still had to get all my kit to the room, pack my bergen again and get my water in there and get my food sorted for the march. With some very welcome help from my friends, notably Andy Heller, Strokey and James N, who fabloned my map for me, slung my scaffold tube and filled up my bladders. Bergen reweighed it hit 65lbs dead on loaded with water. Finally I get my kit up to the room and get the stuff I didn't need squared away back in the car. 

I was very conscious back in the room that I was still flapping for England when I should have been letting the guys get their heads down. We had a good chat about what was happening with the 100 Peaks and finally I managed to switch the light off at 11, knowing that in 4 short hours we'd be climbing back out of those bunks again! Those short hours got even shorter as God only knows what must have been going through my head because before I knew it, it was 1am and the next time I'm aware of anything it's just gone 3 and there is plenty of movement from other rooms around ours. My alarm hadn't even gone off, I'd set it for 0330, trying to cram as much sleep in as possible, I guess on some level we all knew there wasn't going to be much sleep had that night, so there was little point pulling the doss bag over your head and ignoring the noise.

Dressed and packed away, the bergen is dropped outside the mess at 0350, I load up my mess pocket with food for the march, grab my new best friend, place it next to my bergen and stand in line waiting for the steel cut oats. I'd kept the trail mix with me that was given to us in our 'packed lunch' to throw it on the oats for extra energy, it struck me as a stroke of genius at just after 4. Oats down, I tuck in to the cooked breakfast, I manage most of it, but like so many find, it's tough throwing that much food down your neck at that time of the morning, especially against the clock.

Bergen's on we file in, it's 0515 and we're off in two ranks. 10 minutes in I'm sure if it were light we'd all be looking at each other with puzzled faces, wondering if the exercise had started. This was no ordinary warm up and we were going at a decent clip. After 30 mins we see the white van pulled up as promised by Staff Bigg, make our way through the barrier and drop Bergen's. The instructions are to layer up as we might be there a while before being called forward to start. I don't, I'm running pretty warm and I just get a bit more food down me and top up with a bit of fluid. 

The banter is already flowing, it's amazing, despite the realisation of what we're about to embark on, sure, some of it may be down to nerves but there is a fair buzz among the group.

Over breakfast Al, big Dunc, Mick, Paul Southerwood and myself had teamed up, Al relayed that to Staff Bigg, Staff insisted we weren't going out as a five, which we expected and were separated out to Paul, Mick and myself and Al and Dunc. Just after 6 we were called forward, Bergen went back on the scales and with food now topped at 70lbs on the nose, this was gonna be an arduous day.

First grid given we are instructed to get over the sty and from there we begin, it's just after 0600. It's still pretty dark out but the sun is slowly beginning to add a little glow to the darkness. We decide on our bearing and off we set and it isn't very long before we realise what we're in for, within moments we're lifting our feet over babies heads and each footing is wet, very wet, it's only 0610 and I go back to the wish that I had indeed packed the water wings or at least taken KJ at his word.


I lost track at the amount of times we were pulling ourselves out of water or trying to find easier places to tread only to end up in deeper shit. It pretty much carried on in that vain until we reached RV1 where Staff Bigg jovially remarked "anyone get wet?" 

Only up to my chin Staff!


By the time we had got ourselves to RV2, the three had become a significantly larger number, in so much as we piled in to the RV with Strokey and Chris D. RV protocols done we unload for a few minutes, quaff the pie handed to us and take stock. Everyone hits the RV with a similar expression, it's comforting in a way! We know the next RV and it's a long haul up to what is referred to (affectionately now) by some of the group as 'Lloydys Point'.



Heading out of the RV Fordy joins us, he's not having a lot of fun, but for me this is why I do these events, to share the misery and fun, that's where the bond comes from, and I wouldn't give that up for anything. It's all up hill and it's all bog, by now my lower back is in rag and Strokey breaks the pills out. I'm not one for pills unless things are dire, the little capsules are welcome. Thankfully the discomfort gives way to hilarity as Fordy decides to try and jump a bog, the only issue is though his Superman Cape is under his bergen and he hits the shit in dramatic fashion, which somehow manages to happen in slow-mo! There is serious concern for his welfare as we watch his bergen begin to slowly lower him further in to the muck' "Strokey get the f******g camera out quick!" Laughing at his expense was just what the group needed, because it did put a massive smile back on everyone's face, those last few km's became a little easier once we'd dragged his arse out of there.



By the time we'd gone through RV3 we also picked up Mr Dando, who looked like he'd been dipped in chocolate. He'd managed to find the same bog as Fordy, however it would appear he'd managed to go in backways and frontways. For me there's not much point talking about the rest of the march, it was pretty uneventful, we took the cautious route on the advice of DS from RV3 to RV4 and again erred on the side of caution from RV4 to FRV, which probably added time to our day, but hey when your among friends, hell ain't a bad place to be!


I think in the main, getting it done in the group we had kept everyone going. The banter flowed as often as we ended up balls deep in water and although at times it was nothing but utter misery we had a day none of us will ever forget.

FRV - Endex

So to all the guys I finished that march with, Chris, Paul, Micke, Dando, Strokey and Fordy, thank you boys it was emotional (and dare I say it a lot of fun)! On a personal level it's so humbling to be able to count so many incredible people as friends and share that time in the hills, especially in the rawest moments. Nothing gives me greater pride than seeing so many of them tabbing those hills wearing the Tee that has now become the symbol of tribute to Lloydy. 

I know he's not the only soldier who's climbed those trails and his aren't the only 'giant footsteps' we tread in, after all KJ and the DS laid down that marker for us too and have given us that opportunity in the first place. However, Lloydy's example and the pride I have in him and what he achieved gives me that reason to do so. I find it amazing that so many who never even met him, want to pay him tribute too. 

As is customary I'll finish with my thank you's, firstly to Ken, Staff Bigg and the DS, without whom this wouldn't be possible. I owe so much of what I've achieved in the last few years to you and The 100 Peaks was born out of the confidence and desire to get myself into a position where in 600 days or so, I will be aiming to pay the ultimate tribute to my little brother. I don't think I'll ever be able to express my thanks fully for that.

To all the friends I've gained as part of this journey, thank you for sharing this with me and for the friends that are always there, big love.

And of course to my very understanding wife and beautiful boy, who instantly take the pain away and supports these crazy endeavours. You are the strength that keeps me walking! Nothing beats getting home to that gorgeous face and hearing "daddy home" as the little man's first words the morning after! TTDOF xxxxx

To the reason I do this, who is and will always be my hero, big love and blue skies little brother. You may be beyond the glimmering sea but my heart walks with you always and together will continue to climb the mountains barred with snow. xxx

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

VMLM2015

The Job is Done.....well almost!

"For Lloydy, for you all"
As I write this 'London Marathon Withdrawal' has well and truly set in. The marathon becomes a big part of your life from the moment you find out that you have a place, so I guess it's only natural, that you feel a little empty after it's done. I have other challenges to prepare for in the coming months, which I love being a part of, but the marathon is a special day and anyone that's experienced it will know exactly what I mean.  Hell, if hundreds of thousands of people get swept away by the occasion, then that's all the proof that's needed. Personally, I couldn't sell the event enough, and if you could bottle the energy you are afforded by your own supporters and the crowds as you make your way around the course, you have the potential to cure most of the worlds ills! London Marathon Sunday is when London is at its most magical, and it's people at their best. It may seem a strange thing to say, but anyone who has to walk the streets of the city as part of their daily commute will understand what I mean!

The build up to the day is massive and you do feel like you're part of something truly special, and you'd be correct, you are. From the moment you walk through the Expo entrance to register and pick up your race pack, to the moment you meander back (slowly) to Horse Guards on tired, cramping legs, glowing in a mix of triumph and sweat, to be greeted proudly by those who've endured the journey with you. Oh its special!

"This is what makes all that training worth it"
That's two years on the trot I've experienced it, and it's hard to imagine not being there for a third!

My training and prep initially was a bit hit and miss, the knee injury set me back and at times I was so despondent about it, I wondered if I'd actually be running. But once I was let off the leash by Zoe (my physio), I got stuck in to the programme Yolanda & Mike Gratton set us. When I look back I feel I can be proud of what I achieved in a relatively short space of time. My training had gone so well in the last few weeks that I began to put a bit more pressure on myself to not just run and get it done, but to aim for a target where my runs were pitching in terms of predicted times. With last years marathon I figured out early on how important pacing is for 'slightly' older marathoners, and with last years as a marker, getting inside 3:45 became the revised target. When the application went in, I had initially put down 3:30 but had to reign that back in with the early setback with the injury. However, as Marathon Sunday edged closer, I began to believe that although 3:30 may be out of reach, a 3:3* something was possible. 

All week I pawed over facts and figures, just getting things straight in my head, by Friday evening I was in a relatively decent place, I'd settled on my pacing for the event and all bar a few niggles in the knees and legs, which I put down to nothing more than pre-race nerves, I was set.

On Saturday morning, I woke and the legs still felt a little stiff, even after a little loosener. After a panicked call to Blackberry clinic to try and arrange (and failing) an appointment with Zoe, I decided, just to be on the safe side I'd tape the knees up. A little panic visit to Sweatshop to buy some Rock Tape followed a carb and protein fest at Nandos, where for once I avoided the X-tra Hot, which didn't sit well with me, but was the sensible call! Ring sting marathon morning is definitely something to be avoided.......

Slipping in to an Epsom Salts bath and a carb coma mid-evening, the mandatory maranoia set in.......had I done enough training? Would my knees hold out? Had I got my nutrition plan right? Should I slap vas on the soles of my feet? Will my giant nipple plasters make me look more of a twat than just letting them bleed!? But that all melted away as I began to read the messages I had received throughout the day. Just before my single handed demolition of Nandos in the Hub, I'd put a plea on Facebook to help me get through my revised target of £2k, I was £55 shy just before lunch. By the end of Saturday I was almost at £2,500! I'm always completely and utterly blown away and humbled by the support I receive, remarkably together we managed to surpass 2014's total, there are no words to describe the pride I feel when I look at that total, and I can't thank everyone enough that made that happen. 


"You're all amazing, thank you xxx"
The support for me is what drives me on, and that comes in many forms, not least via messages from dear friends and family and you know who you are. To be honest I'd be here all day if I were to mention you all, but know this, without what you do, I would find things more of a struggle and you inspire me to keep going. I must reserve mention though, for young Josh Ford (ably assisted by his wonderful dad)  for their fantastic video message, which went in no small part to ensuring those last 10km didn't hurt quite as much as they could have done! I'll get to the rest of the thank you's later.........


"Ready for the off"
Saturday evening, I set race kit out in the guest room, clipped my race number to my 'ABF' running vest and tied my timing chip to my running shoes. I packed my big red sack with all the other bits and pieces I would need and set the alarm for 0530 to get the 0627 train from Flitwick. At 0527 I was awake, wide awake, I think I'd spent most of the night like that.....there didn't seem much point trying to cram in another 3 minutes sleep, so I turned off the alarm so as not to disturb Caz and the littleman too much. 

Most that know me well, know I'm partial to writing myself a 'list', Sunday mornings list started with 'Zinc Oxide Tape the Nipps', remember 'Torq Energy' and 'Protein Shake in Fridge' and don't forget breakfast! My breakfast has typically become, live yoghurt (namely 'The Collective - Russian Fudge'), oats, chia seeds and a selection of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, which does get some funny looks when you're trying to mix it all together on the train in the morning! My morning prep finished with kissing the sleepy wife goodbye, looking forward to the moment I would be kissing her hello again at the finish!

Upon reaching Greenwich Park the Carnival atmosphere hits you straight away, on the DLR out, there's a real sense of nervous excitement, but that seems to evaporate as everyone pours off the tube. Greenwich is awash with colour despite the grey skies and the air is warm with good cheer, despite the cold - a far cry from Marathon Sunday last year (the weather that is), which was absolutely redders! This year for me I'm a lot more focused, I have a plan of how my day is going to go, which is 'tighter' than last years and I almost happen upon the Red Start, so focused am I on what I need to be doing before the gun goes off. 

"Sh*t just got real"
Inside the start, it's bag down, rubber gloves out, vas applied to those hard to reach places and biofreeze massaged into the legs, race trainers on and banana eaten. Just as I'm packing away I get to meet one of my fellow ABF Running Army Team mates, Jason 'Butch' Davies, and we natter for a bit, before I depart to dump my bag on the wagon, vowing to meet him back at the very same spot. We had both tried and failed to get to the 'communal' team meeting spot earlier on in the morning, but managed to get 'papped' before going into our pen. 

"A Gentle Giant and me, for the ABF"
I will reserve special mention for the Running Army at this point because it really has been an honour and a pleasure to be part of the team again this year. The guys at the Soldiers Charity (Sophie Coad especially) worked so hard to foster a real 'togetherness' among those taking part this year (of which many have become friends) and I only hope that continues to grow and develop in the years to come. I had suggested that my love affair with the London Marathon and The Running Army had run it's course (as far as taking part was concerned), but of course a wonderful and sympathetic wife and the ballot opening put paid to that, and once again I've thrown my name into the hat........


"......they DO need you!"
.....as an aside and I know I've alluded to this before, if you get an opportunity to run the London Marathon, please consider the ABF, especially if you have an affection for or an affiliation with the Armed Forces. They are a wonderful charity doing amazing things, and your support is massive in helping them achieve their goals - I promise they'll look after you and make you feel part of something special. 

Standing next to 'Butch' in Pen 4 we chat away until the pen begins to edge forward, Jason pats me on the back and wishes me well and I return the gesture. At 1013 I'm through the start and my London Marathon has begun. My first instinct was to dive into the bushes on Greenwich Common, just like everyone else that had been penned up for a while and not had that last 'shake', but I resisted the temptation and settled into my stride. I'd settled on 08:22 pace in the build up and 26 minute 5km splits, but by 5km I was well inside that and comfortable, I figured I'd get to 10km and see how I felt. By the time I rounded Cutty Sark I was feeling great and again was inside of target. I accepted at that point if I could get to half way feeling this good, I might slow a little second half but I wouldn't be that far off where I wanted to be. 

The miles much like last year just seem to whizz by, the support is beyond incredible and almost too difficult to do justice to with words alone, and that is felt ten fold as you take that first step on to Tower Bridge. You don't run across Tower Bridge, you float across, and for me I know at the end of the bridge I'm expecting to see my cheer squad, my wife and boy chief among them. I drift out to the left of the traffic hoping to spot the 'ABF' Cheer Point but it's nowhere to be seen, but just as I turn onto the A1203, I hear my wife and sister-in-law shouting my name and waving frantically, and it gives me another lift, so much so, I put in my fastest split to halfway! 

At halfway I settled back into an even pace and just concentrated on getting to the 35km marker with something left. It's a little bit of a mental battle when you're heading into the Isle of Dogs at 21km and watching the 'Championship' runners going through 35km on the other side of the road. However, you know once you've made you're way out the back of the Isle of dogs, it's only a few short miles (albeit the longest short miles you'll ever run). By 30km I'm still feeling decent but began to feel a little bit of cramp developing in my lower calves and my stomach was beginning to cramp a little too. I had tried to prise a salt tab from my pouch to head off the onset of cramp, but the fiddling to find one proved too difficult and I left them alone, probably to my detriment.

At 32km I dropped my pace to cope with and manage the cramp and just kept telling myself to keep going, there was no need to stop and just plod on and that's what I did. I remember feeling pretty rubbish as I went past The Tower of London for the second time and that feeling stayed with me until I made it out of the underpass onto Embankment. The crowds at that point seem to swell and the cacophony of noise is enormous. Whether that's because of the relative quiet as you make your way through the underpass or the sense that you can see the Wheel and it's not going to be long before Big Ben comes in to view, I can't say for certain, but the noise and the cheers from the crowd is most welcome and immeasurable for the lift it gives you.

"Rounding into Westminster - the Final Mile"
I wish on some level I could thank every single person that cheered my name along the entire route (I hope the thumbs up and smiles on all occasions sufficed), especially those along that portion of the course, and even moreso those boys in uniform who noticed my running vest as I made my way onto Birdcage Walk. There were so many points along the route that I felt a pang of emotion and more than a few times I had to pull myself together, and as I went past my incredible cheer squad on Birdcage Walk, it hit me pretty hard. I 'accidentally' put on a bit of spurt when I saw them, and instantly the emotion I was feeling was usurped by cramp smashing through every single muscle, making the last half mile a very uncomfortable but triumphant last few minutes. Nothing can describe that feeling of seeing your loved ones so close to the finish, so the pain is definitely worth it!

"Finish in sight - must buy better shorts!"
"There goes 20 minutes off last years effort"
The finish for many I guess offers a massive sense of relief as well as euphoria, well as much as the tiredness we all must feel will allow anyway. For me, for those few yards between the finish and receiving my medal it gives me a little chance to reflect and send a few words to Lloydy on the breeze.

When I set my mind to the first event I took part in (as part of a team of friends) back in September 2012 (Paras'10 @ Catterick), the objective was simple, keeping Lloydys memory alive by doing something he would have had to endure and raising money to help others. Sure, I had my own (possibly selfish) reasons for doing it, helping me with my grief chief among them.

I still feel that grief everyday, and my daily objective remains the same, keeping his memory alive and doing him proud. I know I have nothing to prove to him (or anyone else for that matter), but his last words to me were "don't go changing bro". The big brother he has knows no other way than striving to achieve, and that doesn't mean being the best at everything (because I'm not and will never be that), it just means being the best I can be, and right now, being the best I can be, is being the best father and role model I can be for my son, because that's the least he deserves and if I am that, I know Lloydy will be smiling.

Another 4 Paras'10s, 4 Fan Dances, a P2P and 2 London Marathons later, I hope I've done them proud, Lloydy and Charlie that is. Charlie I guess is still too little to know and understand what I'm doing, but I hope when he is old enough to understand, that he has something to aspire too, especially when we talk of his wonderful uncle, who he'll never meet, but will always be with him.

On a personal level though I'm proud of the achievement, I was so close to breaking into the 3:30's but for the onset of cramp I may well have got there, however, I smashed last years time by 20 minutes. Initially I was kinda stuck in the middle of being really chuffed and wishing I had those first 6 weeks back, now however, I know there's always next year! My supporters have certainly done Lloydy proud, with how much has been raised for the ABF (not just this year, but last year too) and this marathon is dedicated to you all as much as it is him.

"Cheese..." 
Medal hanging around my neck, I get my photo taken and pick up my bag. On the slow walk back I drain the lucozade in my goodie bag and bump into Mark Stuart, a fellow ABF runner, and we offer each other hearty (but tired) congratulations. The amble back to 'Meeting Point K' on Horse Guards was slow and laboured, I couldn't wait to see Caz and the Littleman, that's what kept me going between Tower Bridge and Birdcage Walk, but I couldn't move any faster.

I didn't have too many difficult moments out there this year, but when I needed it, them, Lloydy, all my friends and family and not least the crowd, gave me all the inspiration I needed and ensured the smile on my face masked any tiredness and soreness I was feeling.

Waiting patiently at Horse Guards I spot my gorgeous wife, picking her way through the masses to make her way to me. I head in her direction and as she spots me, she gives me the biggest most beautiful smile, the kinda smile worth running 26.2 miles for! She kisses me which couldn't have been pleasant, and takes my bag from me, telling me how proud she is of me. The walk back through St. James Park to the rest of the Cheer Squad is nothing more than a blur, I'm glad that the marathon is done and I'm sharing the final moments of it with Caz.

When we get back to meet the others Littleman is asleep and I gladly accept hugs, although I'm not quite sure how appreciative they all are of mine in return, I'm honking and my dear wife lets me know that. I read messages I've received most notably from Midds who's spent all morning chasing me around London, and missing me, much like Skipper who arrives just as the hugs are being given out. He'd also been chasing me around London all morning too and had missed me at every cheer point! I guess the training was spot on this year and testament to all those long and lonely miles through the winter months, next year they'll have to up their game! 

So that's the Marathon done (for another year anyway), it's fingers crossed time again that a ballot place will finally come in. I would love to do three years on the bounce and that would also tie in nicely to my training plans for next year and the culmination of my fundraising efforts and the 100 Peaks Challenge in 2017.

That for me is Lloydy's legacy it's a genuine attempt at something quite epic, almost extreme in its ambition. It encompasses three disciplines that are demanding enough on their own, but thrown together in an extreme triathlon, with the logistics of attempting to summit 100 peaks in 4 countries in 25 days, means it's a first. The Challenge target is to raise £100,000.00 for ABF the Soldiers Charity and Support our Paras, if we achieve that, then I know we have created something truly special in Lloydy's name and again something I can share with my son in the years to come.

I think that's a wrap all bar the thank yous of which there are many, I hope I have managed to thank everyone that sent messages, that donated. If I haven't please know I am so very grateful for every bit of support, and I'm humbled by it constantly. I know I've said that already but it's the God's honest truth, I'm very blessed to be able to count so many incredible and inspirational people as friends and family.

ABF the Soldiers Charity, Sophie Coad especially (who sadly is no longer with the Charity and is already sorely missed, especially by those of us she's engendered into this great team). Thank you for affording me the opportunity to pay tribute to Lloydy for the last two years, hopefully you'll have me back for third! And to the members of the team I got to meet and share the experience with, you all made this an extra special experience and I hope to get to do this again with you all.

My amazing friends and family, especially those that formed my cheer squad on the day, sharing the day with you all means everything to me. Words don't sufficiently cover seeing you all at the end, hopefully you're not too bored by the experience of it all, and have another year left in you all (if I get in)! 

My wife and my son, without who, I'd be much less of a man, thank you for always supporting my endeavors, and being my reason to keep 'fighting'. I know you get little benefit out of me putting myself through the training for these events and even more so with what is to come, but you understand completely why I do, and support me regardless, we're almost done I promise! You are my world, and that's as simple as I can say it xxxxx

Big Love to you all xxx

"My world"
And to the man who's example continues to drive me on, my little brother, my pride knows no boundaries when it comes to you, you are and will always be my hero and my inspiration to "go always a little further". Blue skies and big love little brother xxx