Five years ago, former Special Forces soldier, Jason Bowen, created The SF Experience off the back of a charity event in honour of the 3 SF recruits who tragically lost their lives on the Pen Y Fan mountain whilst tackling the Fan Dance. There was so much demand for Jason to organise another that he created the SF Experience, offering civilians the opportunity to take on one the hardest fitness and mental tests.
The Fan Dance is a 24km (15 miles) route march in the Brecon Beacons which is infamous within the ranks of all UKSF soldiers. It is now over 50 years old and still, today forms the first major hurdle on selection and is a major indicator of whether a potential UKSF soldier has the physical and mental determination to complete it within the cut off time set by the D.S (Directing Staff).
The route starts and finishes at The Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre and ascends Pen y Fan which is 2,907 feet (886m). The turn round point is at Torpantau where candidates will have to quickly turn round then return using the same route back up and over Pen y Fan via a very steep path known as Jacobs Ladder.
This time, a little more adrenaline has been injected into the event by way of a DS Hunter team. Competitors are given a head start of 15 minutes before the pack of 'Wolves' (DS) are released and on your tail. If they catch you your armband will be removed signifying you have been caught. For all those who make it to the finish ahead of the pack, you will be awarded the Fan Dance Hunted Survivor medal. If you are caught up with and your armband removed you can still continue on route to the end and be awarded a Hunted Finisher's medal.
Directing Staff, Jason Bowen and 'the wolves'
As per the Original Fan Dance, there are four categories on entry.
You can only be captured by 'Wolves' within the same category as yourselves. For example, only a Loadbearing (35lbs) Wolf can remove the armband of a Loadbearing (35lbs) runner.
It was our first time taking on The Fan Dance, and because of that, we chose to ease ourselves in by entering the 'clean-fatigue' category. Despite not caring a load, clean-fatigue is still tough. You cannot compare clean fatigue to loadbearing, they are completely different races, with different training and strategies, both just as hard as each other in their own way.
There is such a good atmosphere at The SF Experience events. Everyone there is friendly and supportive and you instantly feel welcome.
You can instantly tell that the event is run by ex-military. The whole event is run with the precision organisation. Even with a car crash that occurred down the road from the event, Jason Bowen and his team were able to make changes to the event instantly and prevent as many delays as possible.
It's a long old race in the baking sun with only one hydration stop at the halfway point. You will not complete this without at least 2ltrs of water and several energy bars/gels. Plan your nutrition and hydration strategies carefully to ensure you complete the race safely.
The well-trodden path to the top of Pen Y Fan from the carpark is not too bad. However, it is terrible on the other side of the mountain! You are essentially running on loose rocks. After completing the first ascent of the mountain I was feeling confident, maybe even a little cocky. This cockiness led to me be a little complacent in my running and I ended up stacking it hard on to the rocks and fracturing my hand. Fortunately, I couldn't feel it at the time due to the adrenaline, so a quick strap up at the halfway point from the medical staff and I was back on my way. It is incredibly easy to fall during the Fan Dance, so suitable footwear and concentration is a must!
During my fall I not only fractured my hand but I had also burst my water bladder. I highly recommend taking a spare water source just in case. It's better to have a second source and not use it than not have it and desperately need it. Just pack a spare smaller water bottle.
The added twist of being chased by the wolves is fantastic. Your survival instincts kick-in and you end up pushing yourself further and harder than ever before. The Hunted series is sure to see you smashing your previous PBs!
Hill training is a must before taking on The Fan Dance. Nothing can quite prepare you for the 30-45 minutes of running up hill no-stop. Be sure to get in the similar race elevation gain of 3,000ft when out training. Trust me, your calves will thank you.
She will chew you and spit you out if you have not prepared. Get your training in and go at your own pace. The more you train and are prepared the more you will enjoy the experience.
Unfortunately, the whole Runs team were all caught just after the halfway point of the race. However, despite being caught and despite it being our first Fan Dance race, we all managed to secure top 15 finishes.
If you're looking for something different to your regular half marathons then I couldn't recommend the Fan Dance with The SF Experience. It's such an amazingly rewarding experience from such a friendly and organised team.
Welshman, Terry Rosoman, ran 50-miles carrying a weighted load that increased by 1lb for every £50 raised during the challenge for Mind, the mental health charity.