Who are you?

Seven days ago, I proclaimed that your only certainty, in most difficult events, was pain. In fact, on the ultra marathon a couple of weeks ago, myself and Krister came up with a mantra about holding it together, checking you were still ok, and it was basically along the lines of counting what you still have left when you’re at your lowest ebb and what, or whom, were your ‘friends’. We concluded that when your friend strength leaves you,  you still have humour. When humour leaves you, you still have pain. When pain leaves you, there’s only death left! Such was our black humour that day.

Of course, the motto of Pain is your only certainty was borrowed from a t shirt for the Paras 10 event, which I took part in at the weekend. My third one, but my first one at the Colchester barracks.

In a nutshell, the Paras 10 is a 10 mile loaded (16kgs Bergen, plus food and water) speed march over mixed terrain. In Colchester’s case, it is mainly fields, woodland tracks, two rivers and a swamp. And there is machine gun fire too (blanks, I hope) and smoke grenades. Recruits will be put through this test, amongst others in order to make selection and enter the coveted paratroop regiment. The selection time is 1 hour 50 minutes, and at Catterick, the other Paras 10 venue, I passed in 2017, scraping in at 1 hour 49 and 19 secs! Seat of your pants time.

I didn’t know what to expect on Saturday, but went into it feeling positive and buoyed by my Fan Dance mock run a few weeks ago. It suddenly got warm at the start and a few people started looking nervous. Nothing to be nervous about, just get going and get the job done, even if it is a slower time than you’d like, it’s still a huge achievement.

So off we went and I quickly set into a steady pace, running comfortably with the bag weight less than what I’ve trained with. My boots felt great, everything perfect. Not unusual for running with my military boots, I started to get a dull muscular ache up the front of both shins. I’ve had this many times before so just ran through it, as painful as it is. After about three miles, there’s the first river crossing. About a mile previous, the dull ache in my right shin suddenly became a sharp, concerning pain, like I’d been scratched or stung. This continued up to the water crossing. Maybe it was the shock of the cold water, but the pain quickly disappeared afterwards. The route continued, winding its way through woodland and open fields, through another river, and along some tracks. At one point, I was running with a guy who I recognised and I knew exactly where I knew him from. He is one of the ex-SAS DS Members on the Fan Dance. Every time I have done it, he has been a bit of a nemesis to me. Telling me off for addressing him as mate, not staff. The other time was when he managed to get me to doubt myself and planted the seed in my mind, thus scuppering my sub four hour attempt. So as you can see, he’s played a big part in the story. So I mentioned this to him, to which he revealed his true nature. Unsurprisingly he’s a great guy and has a front to manage. For an older guy too he was churning the miles out. I pulled away from him and although he overtook me later at a drinks station, I finished five minutes ahead of him. He congratulated me at the end. Not sure he’ll be the same person I’ll see on July 6th.

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So, years ago, when I was training for my last Fan Dance, I found myself doing hill repeats with my Bergen at 5.30 am. I used to to 5 bursts. I’d normally be knackered after three. One morning, I found myself really struggling half way up and as if I was a ventriloquist’s dummy, controlled by someone else, I uttered the words, “What are you f*king made of??”. I repeated it, and bang, up a gear and off I went. That has been my self talk mantra ever since, though I rarely need to use it, and always check if there are impressionable children nearby. On Saturday, on a bit of the course which doesn’t need describing due to its name of “The Hill”, I broke into a walk. The sun was beating down on the dusty trail and made it blindingly bright. I could see guys I’d fought so hard to catch up to, still running and pulling away. So I did it again. I clenched my teeth and said, “Who are you?” It was this probing query into my own identity that suddenly had me running again. Who indeed am I? Was I saying to myself, “don’t you remember who you are and what you’ve achieved in the past?”. Either way, it is another mantra.

Two hours later, after finishing 38th in a field of 600 and beating the selection time by 10 minutes, one of my best friends and I began our journey home. “What do you want to listen to, mate?” I asked. “Dunno”, came the reply, “any old crap”. So I hit the shuffle button on my phone and it began playing The Who, Who Are You.