Ten y Fan Hints and Tips for ‘Peak’ Performance
Many of you reading this article will have climbed Pen y Fan before…maybe once, maybe several times. Those with experience of the Brecon Beacons and its highest peaks will know this can be one of the most beautiful areas in the world with stunning scenery, breath taking back drops, challenging but pleasurable terrain and glorious sunny days enjoying some exercise with friends and family in the great outdoors. What could be better?
There is absolutely no reason why the Ten y Fan challenge cannot also incorporate these pleasures and this sense of challenge, enjoyment and achievement for you BUT… KNOW YOUR LIMITS.
A single ascent of Pen y Fan will NOT be regarded by the vast majority as an excessively challenging experience. 1.9 miles up, 1.9 miles down, 440m ascent and descent and a steady gradient to help you on your way.
The immediate danger here is that this form of exercise is commonly known as low intensity. Your heart rate increases slightly, perhaps by 60-80%, you sweat unknowingly, you burn more calories than you are aware, and you maintain a state of physical excursion for well over an hour, perhaps closer to two hours or more. Once you have completed your walk up Pen y Fan you will feel invigorated, energised, endorphins, adrenaline and oxygen will be racing around your blood, your legs will feel strong and your mind will be alert. As you drive home, fatigue will soon set in, you will experience hunger, thirst and tiredness, expressing the odd yawn as your body processes what’s just happened and begins asking for replacement fuel in the form of food and water and encourages you to rest and conserve what energy you have left. IT’S TOO LATE.
For those taking on Ten y Fan and its optional multiple number of climbs, it’s too late because you have hit the beginning of the wall once this hunger, thirst and tiredness begins to set in. Ten climbs of Pen y Fan will total around 39 miles and cover a total ascent of 4,400 meters.
The main reason behind this article is to try and help you understand how to administer yourself both before the challenge and during the challenge itself. Below are a few hints and tips to help you avoid hitting the beginning of that wall too soon and to help you prepare yourself correctly to give you the best chance of success:
1. Drink lots of water 2-3 days before the challenge.
Try and drink 3-4 times more water than you usually would for the 2-3 days leading up to the challenge. It takes the body 48hrs to fully hydrate properly. Whilst a quick drink ‘in the moment’ will feel good and help ‘maintain’ hydration, the foundations of hydration need to start a minimum of 48hrs before an event.
2. Carb up the day before the event
On the Friday afternoon/evening and the Saturday morning before the 6pm start time on May 16th, focus your diet on carbohydrates such as pasta, spaghetti, potato and rice based meals. Carbohydrates take 6-8hrs to convert into useable energy in the body. Load the body up with these carbs for 24hrs before the event.
3. Eat before you get hungry, drink before you get thirsty
Once you start your succession of climbs, keep grazing on snacks and sipping water. Once you begin showing signs of hunger and thirst, it’s generally too late and your body will begin functioning at a level below it’s optimum. As outlined earlier, we all have an inbuilt safety mechanism that kicks in once we begin feeling hungry or thirsty. It’s there to help us conserve what energy remains to survive.
Graze on food such as nuts, dried fruit, jam sandwiches on brown bread, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, mini pork pies/pasties/sausage rolls (great for salt replacement which is lost when we sweat).
DRINK WATER – energy drinks will not be effective for endurance exercises such as this. They will actually make your challenge harder. When you consume high sugar and caffeine drinks, the first thing the body needs to do is dilute the sugar and caffeine in the stomach before distributing it around the body. To dilute, it needs water. Guess where the water comes from? The biggest muscles first, your legs, followed by your back, chest and shoulders. It will also take fluid from the protective membrane around the brain which is why people often get headaches when dehydrated and fatigued.
Constant grazing and drinking will help you avoid cramps.
4. Start cold
Do not start you challenge at 6pm wrapped up in a puffer jacket, thermal leggings, woolly hat, scarf and gloves. It might be comfortable but I can assure you, 10-20 minutes into your first ascent, you will be stripping off and your body will already have started sweating profusely . Not only is stopping psychologically negative, it allows warm muscles to become cold again and risks injury.
Start cold and warm up.
5. Wrap up when you stop
If you decide to stop for a rest, wrap up. This is the time to be disciplined and to make a small amount of effort to get a jacket, hat and gloves out while you’ve stopped. It’s the easy option to think “Ah, I’ll put up with the cold and just sit here for a while”. Wrong attitude. You must adopt a professional mindset, you’ll thank yourself in the long run. This also applies to eating and drinking too! “I can’t be bothered to get my water out…” attitude will see you off the mountain before you know it.
6. Stretch off
Gently stretch off before you start climbing and stop briefly every now and again to stretch off your quadraceps and calf muscles. Hold each stretch for 10-12 seconds. Never bounce a stretch as this can result in pulled muscles. This will also help you avoid leg cramps.
7. Pace yourself
This is a 24 hour event. Start off nice and steady. You should be able to talk as you walk at all times. If you can’t you’re going too fast and your challenge will reach a premature end. The tortoise and the hare sums this challenge up perectly.
8. Know your limits
If you’re starting to feel light headed, dizzy, very fatigued, hunger pains, excessive thirst, headaches, cramps, confusion, hallucinations or are beginning to slur your words…TELL SOMEONE. Pushing on and trying to be a hero might seem admirable but it could not only spoil your challenge but the challenge of those around you if something goes wrong. Likewise, if you see someone acting irrationally or saying strange things, tell someone. These are often the early signs of Hyper/Hypothermia.
9. Prepare your feet
With a total ascent of 4,400 meters, that means there will also be a total descent of 4,400 meters. Tape your feet up. The best tape to use is Zinc Oxide Tape as shown in this link. There are several types of Zinc Oxide Tape but this is the one favoured by the military and has the best adhesive and durability properties for this challenge. A roll of the 2.5cm and the 4cm should suffice to tape up each and every toe fully, your instep and your heels. For the best results, leave your feet exposed to the air for half an hour in order to dry fully before taping. You can tape your feet on the morning of the challenge or the night before to give the tape a chance to settle and to identify any areas where the tape begins to roll back or areas of the foot you have missed. There will be advice on taping your feet provided at the start point 2 hours before the start.