Gore-tex Experience Tour – Fan Dance Challenge – Day One

It’s been such a hectic but brilliant few days that I’m going to record it over a couple of posts…it’s the only way to get it all down!

For those that don’t know, through a process of application, voting, judging etc I was selected to be a member of a 10 person team from across Europe to take on the “Fan Dance”. The sponsors, Gore-tex, wanted us to run up and over the highest mountain in South Wales (Pen-y-fan/886 metres) down the other side, turn around and come back again, 24km all told….and with a time limit of 4 hours! The winners were selected 7 weeks ago and given training programmes written by British Military Fitness to help us be ready for the day. The last 7 weeks have been packed with training and incident but I won’t be going over it all here. Suffice to say I have never worked so hard, payed so much attention to diet or done so much stretching/icing/rolling and anything else to aid recovery!

So on Saturday all the training was behind me and it was time to travel to Wales and meet the team. Now I’m 34, I’ve made a lot of new friends in that time, started new schools, new jobs, joined new clubs and teams…my job is pretty much meeting strangers and making them like me! That didn’t stop me being nervous when I got to the Storey Arms, our home for the next few days. I had no idea what to expect from the other winners, who ranged from a Chamonix mountain marathon runner to a huskie dog racer by way of a globe-trotting pilot and a Latvian no-one had heard from. Add to that mix 2 very experienced and clearly deadly soldiers plus a representative from Gore and it’s fair to say everyone had the right to be a bit smug, aloof maybe, and given that they’d also won a place to be there these obviously competitive people could be looking to out-do each other at every opportunity. It had the potential to be a very uncomfortable environment for a tubby plodder from Cheltenham!

Nothing could be further from the truth. From the moment I walked in everyone was amazing. Not just lovely or generous or thoughtful or any number of other traits that are so attractive in people, but being in the company of 15 other people who loved exercise, loved mountains, loved talking about it and, very importantly, wanted to hear about other people’s experiences was an incredible thing. Every single person I met in the Storey Arms is now a friend and I shared laughs and stories with every one of them. Some of the things we did during our time together took team work, others were competitive, there were sleepless nights, suspicious smells and all the other things that sharing space brings and never once do I think anyone was offended, annoyed or anything other than extremely happy. That’s an amazing achievement, and may be in part down to the expert selections made by Nicole (from the PR company Medi8 who organised the event along with Anna from Gore) but I think owes a lot to the unifying effect of shared interest and mountain air.

The Team: Stephen, Barry, Sarah, Clive, Brendan, Me, Instructor Jason, Rachel, Lindsay, Jaroslav, Carolyne.

I’d only been there 20 minutes when it was suggested we go for a walk up on to the flank of Corn Du and enjoy the views and clean air. Lindsay led the way, and I knew straight away I was among friends as all thoughts of paths were forgotten and we ploughed straight through the middle of a forest! It felt good to be out on the side of the mountain, even though we didn’t go far, and I think by the time we got back down to dinner we were already all friends and excited about what was to come.

The food over the 4 days was just stunning. I shan’t bore you with menus but after 7 weeks of portion control, planning meals around training and snacking on only nuts it was a huge relief to be tucking in to such amazing grub! (I know I said I wouldn’t bore you, but I expect the food will be mentioned again! sorry)

The rest of the evening was given over to a few beers and chat (no telly in the hostel, which was a good thing!). Lots of stories from our leaders about their army activities, lots of talk about Kilimanjaro (dangerously inspiring stories!) and plenty of speculation about the activities of the next few days.

When I get the chance I’ll write up the training and team building activities we enjoyed and eventually get around to the challenge itself! It’s going to take a while, and lots of words, but there’s lots I want to get down so I’ll always remember what a brilliant time I’ve had and the people I shared it with!

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