Have you ever had the greatest ‘aha’ moment of your life and wanted to share it with everyone but realised you do not have the capacity to put what you are feeling into words. This is how I am currently feeling after my most recent challenge. This challenge was set in the Brecon Beacons and run by Avalanche Events, an incredible company who allow civilians to place their feet on the same path as those chosen for selection through the some of the toughest tests known to man for entry into the SAS and SBS. The Race Director, Ken Jones, sets the tone for the type of person taking on these events, an ex Special Forces man who survived an avalanche out in the Romanian mountains and lives to tell the captivating and inspiring tale in his book, Darkness Descending. Ken is an unassuming man but one that earns your respect instantly as you can read his strength and determination in his words and movements.
The weekend’s event was titled Iron Man and is number two in the SAS test march series, we had a training day on the Saturday where we learnt valuable survival techniques that I desperately hoped I wasn’t going to have to put into action on Sunday. I also learnt there is no such thing as a relaxed day around ex military personnel when planning an event of the magnitude we were going to take part in on the Sunday. Each minute was filled with teachings and highlighted in my head how unprepared we seemed.
When evening came we were so fatigued that we instantly fell asleep in our tent, despite the cold and armed with the knowledge that we would wake in a few hours due to the cold seeping into our bodies. The alarm was set for 0330, where we packed up our tent, rammed some food into our mouths and packed our bags for the day, ensuring we had a change of clothes, safety equipment and enough food and water for the allocated 12 hours this may take.
Iron Man is a self navigated TAB (Tactical Advance to Battle) around the Brecon Beacons with an unknown amount of RV’s (Rendez Vous) points. At each RV you receive a set of co ordinates that dictate the next RV, the final RV is only revealed when you physically arrive at it, add to that the weight of your bag, which for most people taking part was 40lb, mine was just safety equipment plus food and water, then the terrain and the constant awareness required to ensure you stayed on track, throw in for good measure a bit of sleep deprivation due to the cold camping and my week of worrying, we had a good test of the human spirit on our hands!
We set off to the first RV with the sun rising on our backs, I turned around to see a steady stream of people making their way through the extreme expanse of land in front and behind us. It was a breathtaking moment.
Tim and I walked from RV to RV, only stopping for food or to analyse our route. Ascending and descending some incredible terrain. The weather went from warming sunshine to turbulent winds and lashings of rain that only seemed to end on our approach to the final RV. Time didn’t seem to factor, it would take us an hour, an hour and half to reach points if not two hours and where this would seem like a long time anywhere else, it paled in comparison to the challenge ahead. The only thing that mattered was the ability to put one foot in front of the other and make the next RV with the secret hope that this would be the final one.
It was only on approaching the final RV that everything seemed to hit, the aches, the sore feet, the weight of the bag, the tiredness in your legs, everything that you had held off feeling; because to accept it would mean you have also accepted defeat. You can somehow push your body to what seems its limit but then surprise yourself by how much further your can actually go. We had put ourselves in the midst of mother nature preparing ourselves as best as we knew how at the time and luckily we had done enough on this occasion.
I finished on Sunday wanting to never take on anything like this again. But hang on, I finished …. I not only completed this march but also came out injury free. I had entered something that had taken me so completely out of my comfort zone, the thought of it had consumed me and a small part of me doubted that I could actually do it.
Having been through what most would consider life changing moments, this one seems to have affected me deeply. Maybe the other events were a way of opening me up to allow the necessary realisations to take place so that moments like this have their full impact on me. I can’t pinpoint the exact feeling or give you a sentence that sums up how a weekend in the Brecon Beacons has altered my perception on life, but it somehow has. A clarity has been reached and the weird thing is I am happy just knowing this and not having to explain it to anyone, those who know will understand and I have the full belief that those who don’t will find out at some point in their lives if they want to.
We are incredible creatures. Physically we are fragile especially when thrown to the whim of mother nature, but what we lack in physical strength, our mentality makes up for and can carry us through anything we choose to set our minds to. To open this mentality up we need to get past the barriers we have self built from allowing outside expectations to dictate our behaviour. Step outside of what you consider your norm and you will find a person that you have been shielding from society in a bid to fit in but a person that is incredible beyond your own comprehension and someone who will get you through any situation, if you allow her the room to breathe.