Or the story of something I shouldn’t have done
Sometime in May, with a lot of races and events being canceled, AEE – the organizer of the Fan Dance one of the events I was really looking for – puts a FB post with a test: 14.5km with 10kg with a great story about its inspiration from the Australian SAS. (All the details about the tests can be found on AEE’s FB. Here we will get some distances and weights.)
I was starting to be more comfortable over long distances and 10kg weren’t that much, so I went for it. I remember in the posts surrounding that particular test that there was a specification about “advanced” level of training, but I ignore it. Was a fun test. That become sun enough a series of tests, one more painful than the one before.
I went through the first 2 tests, but I had to MW (medical withdraw) at test III when my right knee went out with a loud crrrr sound while I was going down the stairs with a +27kg backpack.
I kept on hoping that I could finish the series of exercises, but my knee had a different opinion – sometimes Mother Nature (God, powers that be, or whatever each believes in) gives you signs that you should be smart enough to follow. Not my case. I accepted my MW when Cycle II of the BFTGR was announced.
And so my adventure had begun
By then, mid-July, I knew I can run for 20km so the fist test was done in a jog, shaving approx. 20 min from the first one. But things weren’t that good for the next 3 tests, Alpha, Bravo the Budd and Charlie.
The times were worst that the first time around. My health was slowly going south but I was ignoring it, just one of those weeks that you don’t feel 100% and you brush it off for being fatigue, stress (lookdown, job lost), overtraining.
Next I was facing Pegasus, first of tests’ III double tap, the test that made my knee go crrrrr. And that I knew I will lose a lot of time in transition because I lived in a gated property that people kept triple locked. I was blessed with finding the Gone Tabbing community before the pandemic and that wonderful group of people kept me sane and gave me focus with all their crazy virtual challenges, but for this particular moment in my journey, they were too soft on me. Very well-intended but too kind. So I called my friends back in Romania. We came from a different culture – I am not saying that is better, it might be worst – one in which, when life gets hard, you men up, pull your shit together, and go on. You don’t moan indefinitely about it and expect someone to hold your hand and feel sorry about you. The response I got after my 15 minutes of listing all the reasons why I shouldn’t go on, was: “You’re more fucked up than I remembered, but either you quit, either you accept the fact that you’ll lose time on the gates, and do the test. Make a decision, own it, and stop moaning about it.” So I went out, cursed everyone on the property and the 27kg in my back, and done it.
Strength & Speed Cycle, the second part of test III, was another one that I disliked. More than the physical part – I was never good at circuit exercises, so I avoid and hate them – was my mind that was working against me. The test was to be done on grass, which meant outside with people around me. And because I am not good at those exercises, my form and grace being similar to those of a drunken fat cat, I didn’t want to go out where people could see me struggling. Nobody looked, but the mind is a fucking bitch sometimes. Added to that, was my physical condition that kept going down (whit days that I couldn’t keep down any food and could barely stay on my feet for more than 15 minutes) and my mind following it and going down the rabbit hole. I cut off from all the social media, social events and friends, pulled back on myself, and regrouped. The good part of living with monsters for a long time is that you get to know them, and you learn how to use them to lift you up from shit.
Went out, did the test, hated every second of it, did the last sets of burpees one in 30sec (probably less, but it felt like that) and the last 5 bergen press from my knees, cause I could not stand. On the same day I’ve done test IV, British Army Combat Fitness Test, 8 Miles (12.8km) 25kg (55lbs) +H2O.
By now I had already seen my GP and had a blood test done, so the next day after the test, I start taking double doze off vitamins. With cakes, Romanian chocolate and raisins the CFT was finished late at night with a frontal light – that brought back some good memories of night hikes in the Romanian mountains.
Whit some strength and confidence back on, I kept the plans to go and recce the Fan Dance route up in the Brecon Beacons, on the following week. How that went can be read in another story, but the essence of it was another two days spent with +22 in my back.
With a deadline imposed and the open warning that we’re going to lose the patches (the reason why I put myself for all this torture) unless we get on track with the tests, I pushed on and the following week did test V: endurance phase: 35lb (15.8kg) + food & water, flat on trail/off-road vehicle track terrain for 12 miler (19.3km), forced 30 minutes rest (hydration and nutrition to be taken on as per original test – which required potential troopers to prepare by hexamine stove out in the field), 10km (6.2miles) high speed march. Being in London, with a lot of people around me, I could not get the burner out to make a coffee, but I did enjoy the one that I had and some (more) Romanian chocolate.
What came next was nicely put by Ken Jones (the man behind AEE and all the pain inflicted on us): “Break the back of Heavy Carry week or it will break yours.” Test VI: Klepper – 1 mile with 70lb (31.7kg), and Stanley – 5.6 miles tactical march with 65lb (29.4kg) broke my shoulders, if not my back.
And then came the end – of me. And of Battle for The Golden Road Series Cycle Two, but I was (and still am) to focus on getting over the Exercise Sillito to feel like celebrating.
Exercise Sillito… you know that moment when pain and desperation take over and bring you close to your breaking point, where you just decided that you had enough and quit? That was for me the 10 minutes before going out for the last 4 miles of Sillito. Exercise Sillito was +28 hours of food and water fast with 3 runs/tabs: Evening before – last meal & drink 18:00; 06:00hrs Ambush phase-initial escape: 3 miles (4.8km) run for time; 12:00: Catch jeep phase: 3-mile speed march 60lb (27.21kg): run /march: TAB; 13:00hrs: Battle Field Phase 1/2 cup of water and an Oxo cube; 22:00hrs: Wadi Cache Phase: 2 miles (3.2km): speed march no running straight into 2 miles max effort run march 60lb.
The first two runs/tabs were ok, but by mid-day the headache from the dehydration and lack of caffeine was skull breaking. I was fine with not eating, but not drinking was a totally different story.
For my last 4 miles tab I had water and some high sugar candy with me just in case worst came to worst. I focused on keeping a steady, although slow pace throughout, and let my mind work on the story about my BFTGR experience. Yes, the story that you are reading now, what pushed me forward, what held me back, the emotions and the thoughts of the journey. The second the GPS market the 4th mile, I drunk about half a liter of water and took one of the candies. Rested for a few minutes and slowly walked the 200m that I miscalculated till my house.
Felt no joy in completing the series. I wasn’t physically strong enough to do all the tests respecting all the requirements, so I didn’t feel like I deserve that patch. Some time from now on, after I analyzed what I’ve done wrong and learned my lessons, probably I’ll feel like I’ve earned it. Also, I’ve drowned no blood, had some blisters and a crashed nerve on my left shoulder that still numbs two fingers, but no physical injuries like others that have done the tests, so I wonder if I could have pushed more – although I know that my lack of injuries is more likely due to my experience in the mountains and on choosing and investing in the right equipment.
I did learn one thing in the last few weeks that is probably more valuable than the patch (KJ, I still want the patch, t-shirt and everything else). That I can recognize the signs and can control my mind and my body when I get close to my breaking point. While ago I would break into tears, then pull myself up and go on. But mid-way through BFTGR, early morning up in the Brecon Beacons and late at night down in East London, I realized that there’s no point in wasting my energy on tears. I just stopped for a few seconds, told myself that I have a way of getting out of the situation I am in, that I am mentally strong enough to find a solution, and moved on.