© Image supplied with kind permission of Guy Boden. www.guyboden.com
The Fan Dance is a gruelling 24km non-navigational race over two sides of Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. This infamous route has long been a part of SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service) Selection and is considered the yardstick of a candidate's potential to perform well on Test Week and ultimately pass the Special Forces Selection programme.
The route is a real lung buster that throws everything at you, including the elements. There are steady slopes that allow a solid jogging pace, shocking inclines that have you almost on your hands and knees, loose stone tracks that require cautious foot placements and a forested vehicle track that allows for some rapid going. Even SAS recruits at the height of their physical abilities regard beating the clock in this event as a serious challenge, and all know its capacity to hurt. Aside from the race aspect of this event, just getting to the end is an accomplishment and something to be proud of. The Fan Dance is open to ANYONE looking for a unique challenge: be it personal, competitive, as a sponsored participant in aid of your favourite charity or as part of a team building exercise. As per real Special Forces Selection, the event will be staged in both summer and winter (both load-bearing and clean fatigue).
Each test march is essentially a TAB (Tactical Advance to Battle). In the Special Forces context the exercise replicates advancing in small teams from the point of strategic insertion towards the theatre of operations while remaining undetected. By definition the main part of the mission commences once the TAB has been completed. The ability to TAB is essential to SAS/SBS soldiers and other elite military units such as the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marine Commandos who are required to cover large distances at speed over arduous terrain while being completely self-sustained (carrying extremely heavy loads made up of essential personal equipment, weaponry and ammunition supplies, radio communication devices, survival provisions and food and water). If an SAS Trooper or SBS Marine is unable through injury, poor personal administration or lack of fitness to be operationally effective and fulfil his role, he will become a liability and have put others' lives in jeopardy. The ability to TAB, is therefore the bread and butter of the Special Forces soldier.
The nuts and bolts of the Fan Dance are so simple. Carry all you need over a certain distance. No man made obstacles or tricks, just man against nature. But simple does not mean easy. Simple can also be primeval, brutal… all the mental & physical excess swept away by necessity. What is left? The stark beauty of such an experience has to be tasted first-hand.
In our artificial world of mortgages, smart phones and the incessant chatter of the voice in the head, there is an urgent need to return to the simple raw intensity of man against nature: the human will pitted against an unapologetic and silent adversary of rock and earth. Sweat prickling the forehead and soaking the back, straps digging into the shoulders and the primitive urge to suck in the next breath and keep going smother out everyday concerns. The glorious feeling of the body working to its maximum capacity washes over you, jockeying for position with dozens of other competitors makes your heart feel as though it is attacking the inside of the rib cage. Fully dilated pupils drink in the richness of the surroundings as you pound up the mountain, scalding heat bursts through the leg muscles and the hypnotic rhythm of gravel underfoot and urgent breathing echoes around you. This is what it means to be alive: the vital and overwhelming awareness of the present moment thrust onto you by straining lungs and aching limbs. This is what it means to do The Fan Dance.
Enjoy our photo gallery and blog section which beautifully capture and detail some of our finest Fan Dance moments.
After Saturday, if it's possible, the pride I have for my little brother and his achievements, has deepened still. Yes, I completed the Fan Dance, an achievement I am and will always be immensely proud of, but for my brother and other men like him, this isn't a challenge, it's a way of life,
It felt like I was trying to go up an escalator the wrong way. Legs heavy, breath short and for the first time the wind and rain begin to strip me of my body heat. Needles of rain stung my exposed face like when my brother used to twirl a t-towel into a rat's tail and flick me with it on the arse, but this time it was on the cheeks, but it hurt the same amount (an odd memory to conjure up at that moment in time)! Each step forward was followed by two steps sideways, which was a result of the Force 10 winds scything across the valley and up the mountainside
More than any other event I've signed up for, Fan Dance Race had a taste of authenticity throughout. It was run with military precision, which to the average civvy (like me) might have seemed a little excessive at times, but I welcomed it open armed, knowing that there was absolutely no room left for error.
Its a bloody hard slog, lungs bursting and heart pounding through your chest. Legs are screaming at you to stop. This is the hardest part, the physical is nearly over but the mental part is getting tougher. My all time fastest time is on the cards...
Perhaps in years to come and many years hence, those who know will talk about those few cold hours, that infamous race, the first of the series, the biting winds on those snowy slopes in the harsh January winter of 2013. I'll be able to say, that among those lucky few, I was there. I danced.
As someone once said, we can't all be heroes someone has to cheer them from the side and Brummie Stokes once said "Everyone has their own personal Everest to conquer". That feeling of "spirit" certainly helped me as we climbed and topped Pen y Fan.
Sure, I have my very own personal reasons for doing this and I guess on some level that resonates with the guys, but it feels like you've been welcomed into the fold. From my own experiences of Hereford after Lloydy's passing, it's a special place to be, you feel looked after, and that's no different when I turn up at an AEE event.
The events ran by AEE are something I have never experienced before and will continue going back to keep experiencing. I aways learn something new about myself. The environment is one of professionalism, honesty, safety and you always come out different. The aim is always to finish but the learning, as always, is made upon the path that you choose to tread.
The blast of cold air on my naked torso had my teeth chattering by the time I had reached the washrooms. Incredulous, I stared into the mirror wondering what I was doing here and if any of what was happening was real at all. I ran the hot water and coughed up into the sink, spitting out a filthy mixture of brown dehydrated phlegm and blood. The man shaving in the sink next to me stared into the bowl and remarked ''That doesn't look good.''
Proud to support and donate to Brecon and CBMRT Mountain Rescue Teams, the 100 Peaks Challenge (The Soldier's Charity & ABF), The Pilgrims Bandits, The True Grit Initiative, and the Friends of Storey Arms Project for disadvantaged children. A special tribute to Support Our Paras, the official Parachute Regiment Charity and home of the UK's original military challenge, the legendary Paras 10.