ctiveISSUE 58



ctiveISSUE 58
November 2013 - January 2014
Read me on
your phone
K9 Survival
Aurora Borealis and Reindeer Stew – just the icing on the cake
in this adventure?
The Fastnet Tale From The Rail
Finally the Red Arrow crew make the start line, the Fastnet
Rock and the finish line. Just making the cut for the team is a
Everyone knows an Ironman-distance triathlon is tough. It
turns out that one of the most challenging is right here on
our own doorstep. With a sea swim and a vicious bike course,
Ironman Wales is not for the faint hearted…
Dambusters target the RedBull Soapbox Challenge
This team of technicians from Lossiemouth gave the crowds
what they came for as they took on the RedBull challenge.
Shark Tagging. The phrase can’t help but create a vivid mental
image; especially when there’s not a cage in sight. Four
intrepid souls headed to a collection of remote islands a long
way from the coast of Mexica as part of Jurassic Shark 4!
“You’re going to need a bigger boat…!”
The year’s not over yet - there is still plenty going on…
from courses an competitions in the UK to planning for
some spectacular expeds that you could be involved in
next year – Nepal or Bolivia anyone?...
Running 44 miles of the Cornish coast would be the end-goal for
most people looking for a challenge. For our Triathlon sub-editor
this is just the second of 3 equally tough events required to
qualify for something even bigger!
50 Nijmegen
Fancy a stroll? Read how a High Wycombe team strolled for
163.8km through the Dutch polderlands with a few thousand
54 Crossing the Falklands for
Running more than 5 Marathons in 5 days. A monumental
challenge at any time or place, let alone during a bitterly
cold winter in the Falklands… especially for someone who
had never run a marathon before!
58 (Not) Getting Lost in Sweden!
The Team find some control(s) and challenges on the
Staleyckerheide military training area…try saying that
when you get lost and need to ask for directions, or join
Orienteering and find the way yourself!
Fraught with hazards and dangers commonly found on
your daily commute and hampered by technical issues, Sgt
Adrian Cox aka ‘Wurz’, gives an insight in to the highs, lows
and hurdles as he attempts to tame the Isle of Man TT.
RAF Spitfires’ Battle
Down Britain
Send us your articles - let us worry about
the deadlines, send to any of the editorial team
or visit www.rafactive.co.uk
Publishing dates:
Feb/April issue 59
May/July Issue 60
Aug/October Issue 61
Editorial Team
Deputy Editor-in-Chief
Matt Tope
[email protected]
David Hirst
[email protected]
94130 3785
Specialist Sub-Editors
Air Sports Editor
Kevin Morley
[email protected]
95751 6984
Equitation Editor
Hayley Coe
[email protected]
9214807 3553
Land Based Editor
Cordelia Welsh
[email protected]
95871 7511
Running/Athletics Editor
Dave Hanson
[email protected]
9541 31091
Ball & Racquet Sports Editor
Dave Sellers
[email protected]
95237 7189
Cycling Editor
Mike Page
[email protected]
Features Editor
Dave Hanson
[email protected]
9541 31091
Fighting Sports Editor
Emile Syrimis
[email protected]
95461 7015
Motor Sports Editor
Max Rundle
[email protected]
95922 3308
Water Sports Editor
Gill Rodwell
[email protected]
95235 7789
What’s On Editor
Jo Field
[email protected]
95221 6165
Picture Editor
Dek Traylor
[email protected]
95237 7215
Triathlon Editor
Ben Lonsdale
[email protected]
Winter Sports Editor
Chris Malcolm
[email protected]
95851 7677
Management Team
If you would like to join the RAF Active team and encourage others to get out and make the most of what the Service
has to offer, then just send an email to our OIC, Stu Clarke at [email protected]
AVM Julian Young
[email protected]
Mark Radbourne
[email protected]
Stu Clarke
[email protected]
95221 3986
Distribution Manager
Iain Lamb
[email protected]
95751 6883
Secretary/Treasurer Assistant
Anushka Gunawardana
[email protected]
Martin Harris
[email protected]
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Web Development
Mark Cumiskey
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Advertisements are included in good faith.
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Why not check out the RAF Active Facebook page?
It feels like only last week that I was enjoying the sunshine in
the UK writing the editorial for issue 57, yet here I am enjoying
the sunshine (for the moment, at least) 8000miles south, in
the Falklands. It is an apt reflection on the spirit of Active that
we currently have a number of our team away from the UK
on various deployments, yet find little trouble in keeping the
magazine alive with fresh content. For me, it has been an ideal
opportunity to tap in to some of the remarkable (and possibly
crazy) challenges that people put themselves through whilst
deployed. Take Cpl Broadbent’s run across the Falklands featured
in this issue - 250km over 5 days in a very challenging climate,
and all in aid of a fantastic cause.
KIT WS but that’s not to say we can’t point you in
the right direction... Having been tempted by
VIE the lure
of tech-gadgetery after my trusty Timex
There’s no kit review in this issue,
Ironman watch recently gave up the ghost, I have found
the ‘DC RAINMAKER’ blog to be an exceptional source of
honest kit reviews on any kit linked to triathlons (thus satisfying
three huge sporting disciplines). Before you take the plunge with
lots of your hard-earned money, visit this blog:
Thank you to all those who have contributed to this issue
- please encourage others to submit their stories of physical
endeavour; they don’t have to be stand-alone challenges, just
something that can demonstrate the opportunities available and
encourage more of our colleagues to take part in sport.
CO’s Cup!
As you can see from the letter about CO’s Cup Competitions
there’s support from the very top to reinvigorate competition
at unit level across the ‘Whole Force’ (Regular, Reserve,
Contractor and Civil Servants) - we’d love to hear about these
events and how you get everyone involved.
Annual Awards...
As we’re approaching the RAF Sports Board
Conference on 21 Nov, it’s worth reminding
you that all articles submitted over the 4 issues
are currently being reviewed by an independent
journalist for our annual awards - another good reason
to put pen to paper!
To send us your articles, either visit our website at www.
rafactive.co.uk or just email them direct to: [email protected]
Dave Hirst
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
By plane, train and automobile 14 personnel from
RAF Cosford, Birmingham AFCO and MOD Stafford
set off to conquer the Arctic Circle led by Sgt Olie
Dunk. 12 hours and some 1500 miles later Sweden
was fast approaching; arriving at Kiruna airport 14
faces dropped at the ensuing blizzard awaiting them
outside. Home for the next few days, Kiruna lies in
the far North of Sweden in Swedish Lapland, 150km
inside the Arctic Circle and is considered an excellent
spot for viewing the Northern Lights.
By SAC Erica Bradbury
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
With no time to rest, baggage was collected and a quick head
count conducted before the team all piled into buses to the
main headquarters for equipment issue and a safety brief. With
temperatures plummeting to -30°C, having the correct kit and
listening to safety advice and tips is essential! All kitted up and
thoroughly prepared it was time to set off. Base camp was set
amongst the wilderness, out of reach from the road and accessible
only by foot and so with bags on our backs the team set off on a
3km hill hike through the waist high snow.
On arrival at Base Camp, team leaders Roland ‘The Captain’
and Asa ‘The Colonel’, left us no time to catch our breath as
orders were issued and tasks divvied up amongst the team. Most
importantly water needed fetching from the lake. This is not an
easy task with a 2m layer of ice to plough through before striking
water and with gallons needed for the night this was the hardest of
all the essential tasks. Others set off to start a fire ready to cook
the evening meal and the final few headed to the lake on ice fishing
duties to ensure the team actually had some dinner to cook. With
the light fading fast the team got to work, hours later with food and
water collected and the fire started it was time for the first break
of the day.
Dinner was cooked in a rustic pan over the open fire, and
without any fish caught this was the teams’ first taste of reindeer
meat stew. With the team fed, and darkness truly setting in it was
time to organise the log cabins and sleeping arrangements; a no
frills bunk bed, no running water and lighting only by candle light, it
felt just like being back home in the block!
Whilst we had our heads down organising sleeping bags the sky
above had transformed itself into a mirage of lights and colours.
The team rushed outside to admire the natural beauty appearing
and disappearing before their eyes; streaks of blue, green and
turquoise spread across the sky and made the 21 hour working day
seem more than worth it. Thoroughly amazed, the team retired for
the evening.
Early the next morning, dressed, fed and with our bags packed
we set off on the hike back to the Main HQ for our first meeting
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with the dogs. The dogs used were a
mixture of Siberian and Alaskan Huskies,
ideally suited to dog sledding in the Arctic
environment. The howling and barking
of a pack of 90 dogs was deafening
with each dog trying to compete for a
chance to be chosen and rewarded with
the chance of pulling the sleds. Ideally
bred for sledding, the dogs were eager
and raring to go, with far greater gusto
and strength than the team themselves.
The team listened carefully to the full
instructions on how to harness the dogs
and handle the sled, but with 30 years of
experience crammed into a five-minute
tutorial, the days of sledding ahead
looked like they were going to be a steep
learning curve.
As soon as the sleds were packed and
dogs harnessed it was time to set off.
After a turbulent start of spectacular falls,
face planting in the snow and colliding
with trees the team began making better
progress and covering distance at speed.
The landscape varied greatly, so the route
chosen depended on the weather, snow
and trail conditions. The team soon found
themselves being drawn across frozen
lakes and rivers, through winding dense
forestry wilderness and fast-approaching
mountain climbs.
The sledding proved more challenging
than The Captain and The Colonel made
it look. With upward climbs becoming
ever steeper, the team soon found
themselves having to push the sleds up
the mountain and pull the dogs, all the
time encouraging them to climb further
and ever higher. On reaching a plateau a
brief break was declared by The Captain
- not for the benefit of the team but
some much needed rest and respite
for the dogs.You quickly become
aware of the pecking order; the
dogs are first and us humans
undoubtedly last. For lunch
the team carved out a
snow hole in the mountain
to shelter them from the
unrelenting wind, with
positions established and a
fire started, lunch was made
in the same manner as the
night before. The much needed
sustenance and rest was short
lived, the dogs let you know when
they are ready to go again with the
barking and howling yet again reaching
deafening levels.
The descent rapidly picked up daringly
fast speeds. The dogs, fully rested,
ploughed downward through the
mountain forestry with such strength
the team soon found the sled coursing
through the sky instead of on the ground.
Sleds gripped and hearts in mouths,
it took every ounce of strength and
concentration to stay upright. The team
had a few nerve-wracking moments,
luckily emerging unscathed apart from
the rapid rising of heart rates as you
see the dogs sprinting into the distance
without you in tow. Sprinting
after them through waist
high snow, it was no easy
feat to catch your dogs and
those that fell only needed
to learn the key lesson once,
with The Captain bellowing
“You never let go of the sled!”.
Finally back at the camp for
the evening and everyone
now well rehearsed in
the routine, we quickly
organising our new home for
the night. The dogs are the
first to be fed and everyone
participates in removing the
harnesses, feeding them all
a delightful concoction of
frozen meat, biscuits and
warm water before bedding
them for the night. Once The
Captain and Colonel were
happy the dogs were settled
the meal for the team could be prepared.
The evening followed much the same
pattern as the night before with a
campfire cooked dinner accompanied by
the spectacles of the Northern Lights
and tails of woe from those who had
fallen off their sleds. Alarms were not
needed to get up the next day. As soon as
the sun was up, so were the dogs; hungry
and raring to go for another day. The
morning was started by another meal of
frozen meat for the dogs but thankfully
it was hot porridge for the team. Once
the sleds were packed and ready it was
almost time to start the days sledding
adventure; but not so fast - the kennels
had been cleaned. Shovels in hand, the
team ‘dug-in’ to clear up after the 90
This day a more alpine route was
followed, with the team passing across
lakes and through forestry but the
somewhat flatter route compared to the
day before in no way meant an easier day;
with no downward descent and break,
the dogs became tired easily and quickly.
The temperature reached a ‘warm’ level
of -10oc making it too hot for the dogs
to perform optimally.
A few team members had adapted their
own style and technique of attempting
to control their pack, no doubt confusing
the dogs with certain
non-Swedish phrases,
but everyone ended
up in the same place,
thanks mainly to the
dogs rather than the
sledder. After a hard
day it was onward to
the next set of log
cabins. With chores
now becoming a
routine the team set
off fetching water,
ice lake fishing, fire
building, dinner making,
dog feeding and the
unenviable task of
clearing up after the
The final day was
another early start to dogs howling and
barking. Not much time for sledding as
the dogs needed grooming and returning
back to the kennels. It was evident to all
who had bonded with and cared for their
dogs the most, with cuddles and kisses
being awarded - whether invited or not
the dogs had their way of saying thank
you. No time for emotional farewells as
the dogs were returned to the kennels,
the now apparent fickle dogs lurched
forward excitedly as they returned
home, without so much as a backward
glance they began getting comfortable
and resting back at home before meeting
their new set of sledders.
And so the group began the laborious
journey back to the UK with once in a
lifetime memories and friendships made.
All 14 had the time of their lives and
would recommend a life of sledding in
Sweden to all those daring to brave it!
Edited by
Flt Lt David M Hanson
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By Flt Lt Mim Aicheler
The Fastnet Race is a
famous offshore yachting
race organised by the
Royal Ocean Racing Club.
Generally considered one
of the classic offshore
races, ‘Fastnet’ is a
difficult contest testing
both inshore and offshore
skills, boat and crew
preparation and speed.
It takes place every two
years over a course of 608
nautical miles (1,126km);
starting at Cowes, Isle of
Wight, the route passes
west along the south
coast before rounding
Land’s End. After crossing
the Celtic Sea, the race
rounds the Fastnet Rock
off the Southwest coast
of Ireland before heading
back, round the Scilly
Islands on the return
and then finishing in
Big boats starting the Fastnet
Fastnet Marina at Plymouth Yacht Haven
This is my experience as
‘rail-rat’ on board the RAF’s
J109 Red Arrow…..
A ‘rail-rat’ is a member
of the crew who trims the
sails, hangs off the side of the
boat as ballast, and crosses
the top of the boat when
tacking WikiMiniAtlas. For
all competitors the Fastnet is
a challenging race, but I was
particularly delighted to be
selected as I had been close
to hanging up my sailing gloves
after having my confidence
broken previously. Months
earlier, the final crew for
the Fastnet had yet to be
decided and some of us were
fighting hard for a place. I can
remember texting Al, one
of the Red Arrow skippers,
‘That’s it, I’m not doing Fastnet’!
I was adamant. Responding
with words of wisdom, Al
replied ‘Are you sure? Sleep
on it’. Luckily I had taken his
I nudged Kirsty on the
arm. Nervous excitement,
anticipation and relief flashed
between us. We had made the
start line, and that had been a
challenge in itself. Kirsty’s zeal
and determination to gain a
position on the team brought
out my competitive streak, as
did the thought that this might
be my one and only chance to
compete on Red Arrow. Still
unsure about taking part I had
found enough motivation to
get to the start line.
I was hoping that the race
would be easier. I certainly
couldn’t have hoped for better
conditions. Having crossed the
start line, tacking numerous
times, we sailed out of the
Solent and into the sunset.
Leaning over the rail of the
boat I could see the water
slicing off the bow. It glanced
off the green Rolex sticker
put there for the Fastnet
event, indelibly marking us out
from other boats that had not
made the entry.
Taking place in August, the
race often faces westerly
winds that can be gale force
in strength. The succession of
low pressure systems which
advance on the UK across the
Atlantic provide a constantly
moving weather pattern for
which Fastnet navigators must
plan. Knowledge of where
meteorological disturbances
are likely to occur, and how
best to use them, is the
keynote to success in the race. RAFSA Battle Flag
Shifts started after dinner.
At the beginning of the race
we were on fresh rations
- Caribbean Chicken! We
were sleeping four hours on,
and four hours off during the
night. This stretched to six
during the day. For those who
normally enjoyed a good eight
hours sleep it was hard going.
This was our pattern of life
for next four and a half days.
The first night was crystal
Sqn Ldr Helen Undrell & Flt Lt Pete Culley somewhere near Ireland
clear, the phosphorescence
turning the surf luminous
in the moonlight. The stars
were incandescent, and shone
brighter as we sailed deeper
into the night. Shooting
stars left trails as they burst
through the sky. Make a wish?
Finish the Fastnet!...
Sleeping was quite an
experience; with three or four
bunks available and time at a
premium, we shared sleeping
bags or scrunched them up
and used them as pillows.
At the start of each shift
the off-coming shift ensured
the kettle was on. This small
kindness warmed hands and
hearts, helping to maintain
Cooking on board was
as interesting as going to
the toilet; both have to be
performed at a 45degree
angle. This requires a great
deal of clever manoeuvring,
a fine balancing act and
hanging or bracing off anything
that aids a roughly upright
The rail
can be a dark
place at night
when you
are struggling
tiredness and
no-one is
As a new
day dawned
we realised
we were not
alone, ahead
of the boat
there were
and we were
soon joined
by porpoises playing in our
bow wave as if to escort us to
The Rock!
The weather didn’t
deteriorate until we neared
Ireland and a fine mist settled
into gentle rain. As we neared
our destination we fleetingly
glimpsed The Fastnet Rock
before it disappeared, we
had made it! It was time for
‘Champagne Round The Rock’,
something that had been
planned for some time by Flt
Lt Jorg Lobbedey, now on his
third Fastnet attempt, and
Sqn Ldr Helen Undrell on her
The return leg went without
mishap, escorted again by
porpoises. They stayed with
us for some time, seeming to
enjoy Red Arrow. They can’t
have visited every boat - there
were 380 in total!
Four and half days after
we started The Fastnet race
we arrived at
the finish in
Plymouth. We
were greeted
with more
hugs, grins,
laughter and a
Marina full of
Rolex Fastnet flags. We had
come 224 out of 287 finishing
boats but more startling is
we beat Challenger 1, 2 & 4,
and Artemis Ocean Racing,
plus many others larger and a
lot faster than ourselves. We
started, rounded The Rock
and crossed the finish line what an experience!
Edited by
Flt Lt Gill Rodwell
Sqn Ldr Simon Watson
Flt Lt Jorg Lobbedey
(Mate & Watch Leader)
Sqn Ldr Helen Undrell
(Watch Leader)
Wg Cdr Mark Hollis
Sqn Ldr (Ret) Steve Treherne Flt Lt Pete Culley
Flt Lt Mim Aicheler
Fg Off Kirsty Ward
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by Mark Lee
The Swim (2.4 miles)
I was feeling surprisingly
calm standing on the beach
watching the sun rise over
Tenby. The pre-race butterflies
had subsided and were
replaced by impatience; I
just wanted to get on with
it. During the previous five
months I had racked up nearly
3000 miles on the bike, swum
the distance of the English
Channel and back twice and
run more marathons than
I could recall. Had I done
enough training? I would find
out in the next 12 hours
or so. Before I knew it, the
claxon sounded and I found
myself sprinting towards the
water: my Ironman adventure
was underway!
Not the strongest of
swimmers, my pre-race plan
was to start at the back - out
of trouble - and work my
way forward. Unfortunately
a combination of adrenaline
and misplaced enthusiasm
saw me enter the water
in the middle of the pack
with only a hundred or so
swimmers ahead of me; that
meant there were another
1200 or so behind me, most
of whom were faster. The
result was chaos. I had been
warned about mass swim
starts and the turbulent
‘washing machine’ effect
caused by the hundreds
of arms and legs thrashing
around you. The first half
mile was more about
survival than time now.
If I wasn’t being kicked
20 20
and punched repeatedly by
swimmers coming past me
then those behind simply
swam over me! Lungs already
bursting, I lost count of the
amount of times that I was
dunked just as I was coming
up for air. Eventually I found
myself in clear water where
I was able to get into some
sort of rhythm.
The second lap seemed
to fly by; spurred on by the
crowds on the beach and
on neighbouring cliff tops I
exited the water and made
my way up the steep zigzag
walkway to my trainers. I
had completed the swim in
1 hour 20 minutes, a whole
eight minutes faster than I
had achieved on my own in
training. I stripped my wetsuit
down to my waist, donned
my trainers and began the
kilometre run to the bike
transition with an extra spring
in my step.
The Bike (112 miles)
My plan for the bike was
simple: keep going. The first
20 miles were into the wind
and a bit of a slog but I felt
positive and strong and
I quietly went about my
business picking off slower
riders ahead of me. There
were a few short climbs in
those early miles but nothing
that I hadn’t encountered
in training and I coped well.
Flat, or downhill with a tail
wind, I found myself eating
up the miles. Feeling like
Bradley Wiggins during his
Olympic time trial, I blasted
‘The first half mile was more
about survival than time…
through the Pembrokeshire
countryside achieving speeds
in excess of 30 mph. That
feeling of cycling greatness
soon came to an abrupt
end as I entered the town
of Pembroke and began the
‘more challenging’ part of the
For the first time I found
myself struggling. Having
done all of my training on
the bike in the Lincolnshire
countryside (most of which
is as flat as a pool table), I
began to seriously question
whether I had done enough
hill work. I was on the verge
of stopping as I entered
Narbeth town centre but was
saved by a faint cheering in
the distance. As I rounded a
bend, I was confronted by a
wall of sound. I cannot over
emphasise the effect on a
tiring body of hundreds of
voices shouting your name
and offering encouragement.
It was awesome! The hair on
my neck stood on end and
adrenaline swept through
my body and I actually began
to accelerate despite the
gradient now being 15%!
From then on the hills
came thick and fast. Some
were short and sharp, others
long and arduous but their
cumulative effect chipped
away at my energy reserves.
The next real test was a hill
so steep that my car had
struggled to get up it two days
earlier whilst doing a recce of
the course! This was without
a doubt the hardest climb I
have ever attempted on a bike
and made all the more difficult
as the awe-inspiring crowds
that had carried me up the
hill at Narbeth were nowhere
to be seen. My legs hurt like
hell and my lungs felt like they
were going to explode out
of my chest but at no time
did the thought of stopping
enter into my head. The final
two miles were all downhill
bringing welcome relief and
giving me a chance to spin out
the legs and for the first time
think about the run…….
The Run (26.2 miles)
Before embarking on the
Ironman challenge I had set
myself a number of time
goals, with the ultimate aim
of completing the race in less
than 12 hours. I calculated that
this was achievable but only if
everything went smoothly and
I had a strong run. My biggest
fear though was for my kids
to witness their Dad shuffling
across the finish line like a
90-year old man! So, I was off
and running and for only the
second time in 81/2 hours of
racing I allowed myself a look
at my watch. I worked out
that I needed to run a 3 hours
38 minute marathon if I was
to get under 12 hours overall.
I thought about the possibility
for a while then decided to
put it to the back of my mind,
concentrating instead on
putting one foot in front of
the other and hoping for the
To my surprise, I completed
the first half of the marathon
in 1 hour 36 mins which
was far quicker than I had
“The race announcer’s voice
came over the tannoy ‘Mark
Lee you are an Ironman‘.”
Yet another climb
‘As I rounded
a bend, I was
confronted by a wall
of sound…’
Just 26.2 miles to go…
intended. Too quick in fact! I began
to pay for that misjudgement
mid-way through the third lap. I’ve
hit ‘the wall’ before in races so I
recognised the symptoms straight
away. Every step thereafter became
a battle; my legs decided that they
had had enough, and my mind was
trying desperately to stay positive.
The last lap was without a doubt
the most painful 10km I have ever
run but I managed to complete it
just 8 minutes under my 12-hour
goal. The wall of noise that hit me as
I came down the finishing straight
was unbelievable. The tiredness
evaporated away and I found myself
swept along on a wave of adrenaline.
As I approached the line I heard the
race announcer say the words that
will stay with me forever. “Mark Lee,
you are an Ironman!”
Edited by Flt Lt Ben
Visit www.ironman.com for details
of ‘official’ Ironman events, or www.
onestepbeyond.org.uk for details of the
superbly organised Outlaw ironmandistance triathlon which doubles as
the RAF Long Distance championship.
Entries are open for 2014!
I’ve hit ‘the wall’ before…
so I recognised the symptoms straight away
Essential support!
Dambusters target the R
Each machine is fuelled
by nothing more than
sheer courage and gravity
down a frighteningly
steep hill. It’s a unique,
non-motorised racing
event challenging both the
builders, and those brave
souls charged with driving
the course in front of
20,000 spectators……
You Tube: ‘Red Bull
Soap Box 2013’
The Red Bull Soapbox Race is an
international event in which amateur
drivers’ race home-made soapbox
vehicles. Each entrant is judged on overall
speed, design creativity and showmanship.
Previous designs have included a grand
piano, a giant baby carriage, a rodeo
clown and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Four SACs from 617 Squadron, RAF
Lossiemouth, accepted the challenge and
in the Squadron’s 70th year entered, of
course, a Tornado……
I noticed that the Red Bull Soapbox
Race was returning to London after a 9
year hiatus whilst in the crew-room. We
had to enter. To throw ourselves down a
hill in an ill-advised manner just seemed
right. A few hours later we had a team
consisting of the author, Ian Day, Ash
Shaw and Dan Pereira. We spent a short
time brainstorming ideas before realising
that the design of the cart could be
nothing else but the 617 Squadron 70th
Anniversary tail-art Tornado.
Around 75 teams would be chosen
to race and we knew that there would
be plenty of competition to win one of
the coveted places. We wrote a case
explaining how we could mix professional
humour with the precision engineering
of the oldest air force in the world. (We
also included a signed 617 Squadron print
from the aircrew and ground-crew for
good measure!) Two months later we
were in!
“Now the hard part begins” Dan told us
Every night something else was built
for the cart and things slowly started to
take shape. The chassis, Dan decided, had
to be strong but not necessarily made of
metal. Using Dan’s previous experience of
wood working, we soon created a solid
base with double wishbone suspension.
Next we needed wheels. We noticed that
previous racers who had crashed used
racing bike wheels or something more
akin to a wheelbarrow wheel. I found
David Ackroyd, the current holder of the
World Speed Gravity record, who kindly
sold us the same wheels that he used
on his record breaking racer and a week
later they were fitted along with disc
brakes and a steering system.
With a plastic chair fixed onto the
chassis we decided that Thrungee (our
RedBull Soapbox Challenge
By SAC Si Kitt
pet name for the cart) needed
testing. First it was some small
circular laps with a piece of rope
attached to the back of Dan’s
car in a deserted car park. The
steering was solid and the brakes
worked well.
Now it was time to create the
body. Ian drew up the technical
diagrams for the shell and he and
Dan set about crafting sheets
of insulation foam into a rough
cartoon version of a Tornado.
They then spent the next week
sanding it down to shape before
we put a fibreglass layer over the
whole thing. Once dried, sanded
and filled we took a trip to
Halfords and emptied their entire
stock of Polar grey spray paint.
With something now approaching a
soapbox racer, we needed to select a
driver. Naturally we all wanted to drive
but the rules stated a maximum of two
people in the cart and two to push it off.
This was quickly solved by a few laps of
our local karting track. The fastest lap
time would be the driver and the second
Ash on the test track
‘Danny Macaskill, awarded us the best
crash of the day…’
fastest the passenger. Ian managed to pull
of an impressive 34.83 seconds with Ash
being just a second slower.
It looked the part but lacked detail so
armed with some tape we masked off
areas and began painting the nose cone,
the intakes, the flaps, slats and airbrakes
black and the exhaust a metallic grey.
The next task was the fin. Ash had
drawn some good copies of the 70th fin
art for the application so he set about
with spray cans and paintbrushes and
Hard Landing
Airframe taking shape
Timber construction coming together
after 3 days we had an impressive tail
Two and a half months of hard
work and now we needed to travel
to London and push it down a hill,
navigate a small course of obstacles and
claim our glory. How hard would that
be? Nearly 600 miles and 14 hours of
driving later we arrived with Dan’s eye
twitching slightly as he had driven into
central London with a large car trailer
on the back of his Toyota Hilux. The
streets were narrow and local motorists
impatient. We pulled up to Alexandra
Palace and were told where to park up
and assemble our cart. We had removed
the fin and wheels to assist in a smooth
journey down. Quickly attaching these
parts we casually chatted with other
teams as they arrived. Some admitted
they hadn’t started building till the night
We wheeled our cart up a slight hill to
the pit area where we would be based
‘It went like a rocket…’
for the weekend. Teams from all around
the country were all chatting about their
various problems or sharing rumours
they had heard about the 400-metre
run we would be doing the following
day. At 4pm we were given a safety brief
and taken down the hill. The first thing
we noticed was its steepness. Our guide
told us it was the steepest they had
ever used before. Next came the first
jump which was a small gapped jump.
Preceding that was a cheese wedge
jump that was the normal style of jump
for Red Bull’s Soapbox races. We were
then shown the next obstacle called the
“apples and pairs” which were 3 stacked
cheese wedge style jumps made into
steps. Finally there was the “Big Air” jump
which had a very steep kicker. Our guide
smiled and told us to hit it nice and fast
and we wouldn’t have a problem…..
Sunday arrived and the nerves started
to set in. Dressed in flying suits, fake
moustaches and vintage flying jackets we
waited for the gates to open and for our
time to go down the hill. We were to be
5th. The sun beat down and before long
we were called forward to the grid. We
watched as other teams ambled down
with only minor incidents.
We were called forward. Like all teams,
we did our 20 second introductory
dance skit based on an aircraft ‘see off’
and pushed the cart off. It went like a
rocket. The commentator struggled to
keep up with the progress and remarked
on its speed. Having negotiated all
other obstacles well, it soon came
to the ‘Big Air’ jump. Approaching its
terminal velocity, the majestic looking
Tornado literally took off. Thousands
of spectators held their breath as no
previous racer had dared to catch quite
so much air time. Filmed live by the
channel ‘Dave’, cameras moved rapidly
to follow the flight of the Tornado.
For a second it looked like it might
cross the finish line airborne but then
at the last moment, the nose dipped
and smashed into the tarmac. Ash was
thrown from the navigator’s seat over Ian
and he connected with the ground. The
crowd let out a gasp as the body of the
Tornado appeared to shatter and break
into hundreds of pieces. Despite the
catastrophic damage, the lads dramatically
skidded over the line and Ian stood up
with his arms aloft. An awesome cheer
rang out from the crowd as they realised
that they had witnessed something truly
spectacular. 20,000 people raised the
noise level again as they saw both Ian
and Ash depart the track. The soapbox,
however, would take a little longer to
depart the scene due to the terminal
damaged sustained! Hey, it was only
ever designed for 1 sortie anyway!
Sadly, despite wearing mandatory
safety helmet and goggles, Ash had split
his chin open and chipped 3 front teeth.
Medical aid was given and the race was
over for us. Clocking an average of
25mph for the course we were fastest
so far and held on to finish in the top 5
overall for speed.
A few hours later ‘Dave’ had covered
the show and had featured our crash.
Our phones went crazy with people
telling us how amazing it looked. One of
the judges, a professional cyclist called
Danny Macaskill, awarded us the best
crash of the day - an unofficial prize but
welcome nonetheless.
If the 617 Squadron experience
has wetted your appetite for next
year then please look at the Red
Bull website for more information at
Edited by Sqn Ldr Stu Clarke,
OIC RAF Active
Dan conducts a speed test
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
By Sgt Phil Blake
With evening setting in and the visibility
dropping, this was the time when
sharks started hunting….
Sgt Tony Whelan and Sgt Phil Blake with a JS4 receiver
…it swam confidently
towards us, pectoral fins
down – a sign of agitation.
As a result the
RAF team were sat
underwater at 25
metres on a sandy
seabed waiting patiently
for that rare opportunity
to tag a shark. Juvenile
Silver Tips plus a large Silky
shark warily circled the team.
Unexpectedly, a large silhouette
appeared from the gloom and the
smaller sharks suddenly vanished.
The silhouette quickly revealed itself as
being a big shark; its bulky body, blunt
nose and long tail were clear to see as it
swam confidently towards us, pectoral
fins down – a sign of agitation. We saw
the unmistakable tiger stripes running
down its back and, all of a sudden, we
felt small, vulnerable … nervous. The
adrenaline started pumping and our eyes
opened wide as the huge 41/2 meter Tiger
shark made a couple of curious passes,
remaining just out of reach of the pole
spear. Moments later it had gone along
with our fear, leaving us exhilarated and
awe struck. As we made our ascent back
up to the boat we were all hoping to be
lucky enough to see that tiger shark just
one more time!w
Located 240 miles South-West of
Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula is
the volcanic Revillagigedo Islands. The
remote islands are known for having
unique wildlife and environments, which
make it comparable to the world famous
Galapagos Islands. The surrounding
waters are also abundant in marine
life and serve as an important area for
critically endangered shark species.
For this reason it was decided as the
location for Exercise CLARION CALL, or
“Jurassic Shark 4” (JS4). JS4 saw members
of all 3 Services combine to form the
Joint Services Shark Tagging Team. Since
2006, the team, led by Lt Col Andy Reid,
has collectively tagged 62 sharks over 4
expeditions. These have included Great
Main photograph: Galapagos shark at Roca Partida
Whites, Scalloped Hammerheads and
Galapagos sharks.
4 members of the Royal Air Force took
part in the expedition and for some it
was the first time they had experienced
sub-aqua diving in such challenging
environments. Cpl Laura Mcaulay of
RCDM Birmingham only began her subaqua training in December 2012 and was
really taken by the experience; “this was
a huge learning curve for me. So different
from my normal duties and to experience
what we have over the 2 weeks was
The aim of the expedition was to study
the population of a variety of shark
species through the use of acoustic
tagging technology. This involved tagging
sharks underwater with a modified
pole spear. We also caught the sharks
and brought them on board the vessel
to insert internal tags in the shark’s
abdomen (or fit satellite tags to the
dorsal fin of the larger sharks). Our work
Departing for another dive at Roca
and Phil Blake
Sgt’s Tony Whelan
A job well done by
was carried out in partnership with
the marine research and conservation
society ‘Fins Attached’.
The main part of the expedition
began once we arrived in Cabo San
Lucas, Mexico, and boarded the
expedition vessel. After 24 hours of
stomach-churning sailing we reached
San Benedicto Island. We stayed
there aboard the boat for 3 days and
successfully tagged a number of sharks.
Sgt Jon Mountfield was able to tag a
juvenile Silvertip shark at the ‘Caves’
dive site. This was done underwater
using the pole spear with an acoustic
tag attached to the end. Data was
then collected whenever the shark
swam within 500m of the underwater
It was a great start to the expedition
and with good weather expected for the
next few days we headed out to Roca
Partida, a further 10 hours sail away.
At just 80 metres long, Roca Partida is
the smallest island in the archipelago.
At the surface it was 10 meters in
height, but underwater the sheer walls
dropped down to the seabed 100 meters
below, making for some challenging
diving. We experienced strong currents
and thermoclines which dropped the
temperature to around 22 °C. On the
odd occasion the current slacked off and
we were able to swim right out into the
blue water. Losing sight of the rock and
with the added distraction of all the large
sharks meant it was vital that every diver
controlled their buoyancy, monitored
depth, time and gas contents and marked
their position with the delayed surface
marker buoy. We were fortunate to
see what a relatively pristine marine
environment should look like without
significant overfishing. On a typical
day at Roca Partida
you could expect
to see various
shark species
including the
resident school of
Hammerheads. At
the end of a dive
it was a regular
occurrence to
be circled by a
couple of Silky
The Joint Services Shark Tagging Team
Satellite tag attached to a Silky shark
sharks during the safety stop. Also making
regular appearances were dolphins, tuna
and giant manta rays.
Unfortunately the isolation of this rock
meant that it was easy for fishing vessels
to make large catches. The huge market
for shark fin has meant that sharks
were not safe in these waters. Numbers
are declining at such a rate that it has
become unsustainable. Only through
conservation efforts will we be able to
understand how to protect sharks and
other marine species, but it is the local
governments who need to enforce the
laws on fishing and illegal shark finning.
For the second half of the trip we
returned to San Benedicto with the aim
of tagging a Tiger shark and positioning
a new acoustic receiver underwater.
We had a few encounters with the Tiger
sharks but typically never with the diver
who had the tag. It was however still
amazing to see the magnificent Tiger
sharks up close. Sgt Anthony Whelan was
responsible for locating a suitable area
and attaching a new acoustic receiver to
the sea floor. “This was one of the highlights
of my expedition, knowing that I have directly
contributed to gathering information to help
save sharks”.
I was a member of the
team for Jurassic Shark
3 to Costa Rica in 2010
and so knew a little of
what to expect for JS4.
I was excited to get on
with the job of shark tagging again, and
passing experience to the others gave
me a huge sense of achievement. It was a
very successful trip with 12 sharks tagged
and a new receiver positioned at San
Benedicto, all adding to gather important
data for shark research. It is a unique
project within the military that enables
personnel to experience something
extraordinary whilst undertaking
adventurous training in a joint services
For more information on the
expedition and shark conservation scan
the QR code or visit www.jurassic-shark.
Edited by Flt Lt Gill Rodwell
Sgt Jon Mountfield flushes
water over the Silvertips gills
The team tagging a large Silky shark
underwater the
sheer walls dropped
down to the seabed
100 meters below.
[email protected]
Compiled and edited by Sqn Ldr Jo Field
Sqn Ldr Jo [email protected]
After a summer of sporting successes, we go into
winter training with renewed vigour. Here are just
some of the opportunities on offer over the coming
months; Details of these and many other events can
be found on the RAF Sports Board website at: www.
RAF Canoeing
RAF and Inter Services Surf Kayaking Championships
Both the RAF and Inter Services Surf Kayaking Championships
will take place in Devon on 16 & 17 Nov 13. The RAF
Champs are open to all, subject to conditions on the day, and
competitors may be selected to represent the RAF for the Inter
Services competition. Interested personnel should contact
Marcus Ross on 01492 640702 or [email protected]
Further details about the RAF Canoe Association can be found
MOSS: http://cui5-uk.diif.r.mil.uk/r/354/Canoe/default.
aspx Website: http://www.raf.mod.uk/
Airspace site: https://airspace.raf.mod.uk/
sports/rafca/index.cfm or the Facebook
group at: https://www.facebook.com/
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
RAF Badminton
place on
The RAF Open Handicap Tournament takes
n. The
18-19 Nov 13 in the Burnett Gym at RAF
event is open to all standards of serving perso
MPGS and MOD Civil Servants. Full detai
are available from Andy Johnson at
[email protected] or on
the RAFBA website: www.raf.mod.uk/
rafbadminton Following the tremendous successes of the 2013
season, the RAFHPA are looking ahead to 2014…
Ex HIMALAYAN HEIGHTS 2014. For the first time,
the RAFHPA is running a paragliding sports tour to the
Himalayan Mountains in Nepal! Taking place 15 Feb - 1
Mar 14, this tour will see 6 RAFHPA member fly amongst
the most demanding terrain in the world against a
Ghurkha team. Contact [email protected] for
Paragliding Courses. For those wishing to experience the
sport for the first time, the Joint Services Hang Gliding
and Paragliding Centre (JSHPC) in Crickhowell are running
beginners paragliding courses over the following dates:
3-8 Nov 13
10-15 Nov 13
17-22 Nov 13
24-29 Nov 13
More details about these and other courses
can be found at www.raf.mod.uk/rafhpa/
training or by contacting the JSHPC on
01873 810386 / 94354 Ext 3260.
RAF Hockey
Following the recent RAF Hockey Association (RAF HA) Indoor Inter-Station
Tournament at RAF Shawbury, the representative squads have a number of
training fixtures and matches during the early part of the winter at a variety
of locations. In addition, RAF HA will compete at the following tournaments:
13-14 Nov 24 Nov 14-15 Dec 5-11 Jan Inter Services (Indoor) (M, L, MM, MU23)
Indoor Tournament (L)
Indoor Tournament - West of England (L) Bath
Trg Camp & Matches v Grammarians & Eagles (M) Gibraltar
More details on all RAF Hockey events can be found at www.raf.mod.
uk/rafhockey or details are available from: James Havlin on 95261
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
RAF Mountaineering
With a blistering July and an action packed Joint Services
Alpine Meet in Switzerland, the RAF Mountaineering
Association (RAFMA) has seen plenty of activity over the last
few months. A bumper Rock Week saw many take to the
hills and crags of the Welsh mountains whilst Symonds Yat
provided a mixed bag of conditions. New members continue
to join and the oldies keep coming back.
Coming up…The RAFMA Winter Meet, details of this and
of the RAFMA Annual Dinner on 15-17 Nov in the Lake
District, are on the RAFMA forum. Applications forms can
be found under Administration on http://www.raf.mod.uk/
rafmountaineering/ and there is a RAFMA facebook group.
Bolivian Adventure 2014
RAFMA will mount a 23 day trekking and mountaineering
expedition to Bolivia over the period of Jun – Jul 2014. Aiming to develop and prepare RAF high altitude
mountaineers for future expeditions, previous high altitude
experience is not essential. Applicants must complete and
submit the form at Annex A of 2013DIN07-095
RAFMA is a great opportunity to enjoy quality mountain days,
climb with new friends all over the please
visit http://raf.mod.uk/rafmountaineering for
membership information or any questions
about RAFMA, please contact Sophie Foxen
at: [email protected] or Karl Taylor,
[email protected]
There are plenty of fixtures for Orienteering over the winter months, for more
details of these and many others, please visit: https://airspace.raf.mod.uk/sports/
orienteering or contact Chris Poole on 95461 6217
Sat 02/11/13 SOC Urban Event (UKOL18) B
Sun 03/11/13
YHOA Championships
Sun 03/11/13
November Classic (UKOL19)B
Sun 10/11/13
Regional SE League
Sun 24/11/13
Regional B event
Spring Cottage
Ashby de la Zouch
Sun 08/12/13
Regional SE League
RAF Rowing
Following a successful regatta season with highlights which
included wins at the Joint Service Regatta, competing in
the invitation military 8s and 4s at the prestigious Diamond
Jubilee Regatta, a win at the Henley Town and Visitors Regatta,
and 7 RAF oarsmen selected for the Combined Services this
year, RAF Rowing looks ahead to the winter season and a
number of local and national Head Races including the Upper
Thames Small Boats Head on 27 Oct, Fours Head on the
Tideway on 30 Nov and Plum Pudding Races at Dart Totnes in
early Dec.
The RAF Indoor Rowing Champs and Annual
Dinner is on 22 Nov with times to beat from
2012 of 6:34 (Hwt) and 6:47 (Lwt) over 2000m,
also team and 500m events for new and experienced rowers
For further details, visit: www.raf.mod,uk/rafrowing or contact the
RAF RC PRO Toby Rose on 95371 5820 or Squad Captains: Dave
Merchant: 95 461 5533 / Kath Linton: 95 221 7360
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
At S.E.T.T.O. we can provide everything that you will need for
your activity holiday or team-tour, including a wide selection
of team and individual sports for adults of all ages, school and
student groups. We can invite you to participate in our regular
sports events. Our team at S.E.T.T.O. can organise your:
• Flight information advice, helping to find the best deal!
• Accommodation booking, with a wide range available
• Airport transfers to and from your accommodation
• Sports tour programmes according to your requirements
• Coaching programme if your team requires instruction
• Optional excursions & social programme
• Other sports activities outside your touring/events programme
Phone: (0034) 670 806 223
Email: [email protected] www.setto-lz.com
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk
Lightning flashes over
the coastline, with the
rumble of thunder almost
immediately following. It
occurs to me, a little too
late that running along a
cliff top probably isn’t the
safest place to be during a
lightning storm. Obviously
thinking the same thing,
the chap running next to
me glances sideways at
the metal walking poles
strapped to my pack and
lengthens his stride to
move away from me as
the downpour continues.
The path descends to the
apparent safety of a rocky
cove. I step back to avoid
being hit by an incoming
wave; the guy in front isn’t
so lucky and gets a head
to toe seawater soaking.
Not for the first time, I
wonder why we do this to
The Endurancelife Classic
Quarter is the second of
3 events I need to finish in
order to qualify for entry in to
the 2014 Ultra Trail du Mont
Blanc. The race follows the
Cornish South West Coastal
Path for 44 miles from Lizard
Point to Lands End. Despite
having sworn not to run any
more long distances, I find
myself on the M5 heading
A sleeping bag on the back
seat and a pre-pack sandwich
is hardly the ideal prep for an
Ultra. Nor is the alarm going
off at 0330; 20 minutes later.
I find myself on the top floor
of a double decker bus on the
winding road to the start. As
we get closer to Lizard Point,
I realise that what I thought
was an offshore lighthouse is
actually lightning from a storm.
A big one. That should mix
things up a bit. The heavens
open as we queue to pick up
our electronic Sport iDent
dibbers and race numbers.
I’m also handed a race t shirt
Photo: Ben Lonsdale
and bag of goodies…which I
now have to carry as throwing
away free stuff seems wrong
and I didn’t bring a drop bag
with me. Given the extra
weight I’m already carrying
round my middle, it’s not going
to make a big difference and if
it keeps raining I might need
the extra layer of clothing!
At 0600, over 200
competitors stand on a track
masquerading as a river,
soaked to the skin listening
to a race brief from someone
who has no right to be so
bloody cheerful. The first 2
miles are single track along
a cliffside, so it is politely
suggested that slower runners
get out of the way now. As I’m
making my way to the back of
the group, the horn sounds;
by the time we drop down
in to the first cove, the field
is spread over a quarter of a
mile, most of them in front
of me.
What I’d naively hoped
would be relatively flat
running along idyllic white
sand beaches quickly turns in
to a rollercoaster from cliff
top to beach. The first 10
miles fly by in a succession of
hands-on-knees climbs and
slippery descents, crossing
treacherous stretches of
greasy rock while avoiding
incoming waves, all the time
ignoring the water running
down my neck. A quick stop at
the first Check Point (CP) to
refill water bottles and dib in
and then it’s onwards, across
a long sandy beach which saps
my legs and fills my shoes with
abrasive pain. By CP2 at 22
miles, the sun has come out
and as the temperature rises,
morale plummets.
The leg from CP2 is the
fastest part of the course tarmac for almost 10 miles,
past St Michael’s Mount
and along the sea front at
Penzance. While it’s nice to
have a flat section, trying to
ignore the heavenly smell of
fish and chips is exquisite
torture. Two of the lads I’ve
been to-ing and fro-ing with
for 30 miles have stopped
‘Running along a cliff top
probably isn’t the safest
place to be during a
lightning storm…’
Written and Edited by Ben Lonsdale
at an ice cream van for a 99
and a can of coke. Misplaced
integrity gets the better of
me and I carry on past. As the
temperature pushes towards
30 degrees, I regret not
getting that ice cream. Not so
the runner who has stopped
at the pub for a pint of IPA
mid-race. He bounds past me
5 minutes later so he clearly
has the right idea!
Through the village of
Mousehole and on to the
overgrown coastal path
again, I start to feel like I’m
going backwards. The heavy
rain and heat have made the
wood like a greenhouse and I
haven’t paid as much attention
to eating as I should have.
For the first time, I check
the time cutoffs. In order to
keep people safe and make
sure they aren’t running in
the dark, there are cutoffs
throughout the day. I make
CP3 with half an hour in
hand, but my quads are now
cramping with every downhill
step, so I’m barely moving
forwards. I chug down 3 mugs
of foul tasting electrolytes
followed by a pork pie and
some jelly babies and head
back up the cliff. Chances of
finishing before the cut off are
diminishing with every step,
and with them my hopes
of getting a place for
Mont Blanc.
Two particularly
cheerful ladies running
the event as part of
a relay team come
past me on the climb.
Coincidentally, at the
exact moment they pass
me, the electrolytes kick
in and I manage to pick
up the pace and chat
with them for a couple of
miles. They eventually drop
me, but the extra pace has
brought me back in range
of the cut off at the final CP.
With 20 minutes to spare, I
drop in to the cove to find no
marshals. Oh @!*&%$. I waste
5 valuable minutes searching
the car park and beach in case
they’re hidden away. Nothing.
More expletives. With 39
long miles done, less than 5
Feed station (no, there’s nothing under
my shirt). Photo:Ben Lonsdale
Below: Sunderland Memorial
Photo: Ben Lonsdale
miles to the finish, I know I’ve
missed the final cutoff.
There are no recovery
vehicles so, head firmly down,
I start plodding towards the
finish and my car for the long
drive North. I hear footsteps
coming up fast behind me;
it’s the ice cream guys from
earlier. “No rush fellas, we’ve
missed the cutoff.” As I’m
barged off the path in to the
undergrowth I hear “Check
point’s on the cliff up there
you silly tit.” An adrenalinefuelled sprint gets me to
the cliff-top CP with just 3
minutes to spare. From here
it’s a few short and incredibly
picturesque miles to the
visitor centre at Land’s End.
Most of the competitors have
already packed up and set off
home but as I cross the finish
line with the sun setting over
the sea, it’s hard to care that
I only just made it, in almost
last place. I finished, one very
tired step closer to a place on
the start line in the Alps next
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Nijmegen Marches.
Four days. 160km.
The bottom line
is that it’s just a
walk in the flattest
country on Earth.
So, my reasoning
went, ‘it couldn’t be
that hard’…..
The Nijmegen Four Day
Marches (Vierdaagse) is an
international marching event
both older and bigger than the
Royal Air Force, with upwards
of 50,000 participants. The
multi-national military
contingent undertakes the
160km route in uniform, over
4 days, with males between
19 and 49 carrying 10 kg
The UK provided almost
900 personnel in 2013; I
volunteered for the RAF
High Wycombe team which
principally comprised firsttimers. The regulations
require participants to wear
black military boots; as HM
Government had furnished me
with a new pair of CABs, my
training began in February with
some modest road walking
around the Chilterns, where
the rolling hills and steeply
wooded slopes replicate the
Netherlands’ not at all.
From a 10km start, we built
up our training marches to
more regular 20km routes,
aiming to complete 2 marches
per week. By the time we
came to qualify in April, at an
annual event at Cosford, I had
completed a single march of
50 km and a sorry total of
only 160 km. Not enough. Two
days of 25 miles at Cosford
were purgatory; apart from
nearly freezing to death in the
accommodation, my training
had been wholly inadequate.
For those of us who had
covered too few miles, blisters
became an issue on Day 1. We
learned that poorly-balanced
packs were fundamental to
quickly feeling sore. The big
lesson was to march at no
more than a steady 5 km/
hr. We qualified, but had to
draw in local reservists and
a singleton-qualifier from
But…. we needed to step
up the training regime. In
the 10 weeks that remained,
I concentrated on carrying
more weight and walking
on consecutive days rather
than simply extending the
routes. Self-discipline and
motivation became of
paramount importance as
our team dispersed on duties;
each individual had to train
when they could, irrespective
of weather. General fitness
was equally important, with
3-4 gym sessions per week
mixing cardio with anaerobic,
on top of the walking. By the
penultimate weekend, I had
achieved a total of 420km in
a variety of weather. I was
confident that I could walk for
two consecutive days without
getting blisters and carrying
the weight without trouble.
I just wanted it to be cloudy
and cool.
Our arrival into Nijmegen
coincided with two things:
July’s heatwave and the
start of ‘Vierdaagsefeesten’.
This most Catholic of
Dutch towns puts itself
onto carnival footing. The
entire town is given over
to music stages, wandering
brass bands and bars. Kings
of Leon covers mixed with
Eurotrash is motivational;
by Flt Lt Rob Perry
‘The carnival atmosphere
submit your article at www.rafactive.co.uk is infectious…’
the town is uproariously
joyful and crowded until the
early hours. Each day starts
and ends at the purposebuilt Heumensoord Camp
a few miles south of the
town centre. Start times
are staggered, so we began
our days forming up after
breakfast at 0400 and 0530.
The routes form loops to the
north, west and south of town,
through a variety of suburbs,
skirting the German border,
and some ‘hills’. The final day
to the south-west culminates
with massed military march
into town behind bands and
jubilant spectators.
The quantity of marchers,
especially when all routes
coincide, limits your speed.
But a 5km pace is easily
achievable. Early starts
mean you have covered a
fair distance before dawn,
and this year at sunrise, the
temperature soon rose.
Daytime temperatures
of 26ºC felt considerably
warmer when reflected off
the road surface and heat
injuries were clearly going to
be a factor. The importance
of a steady pace and effective
sun protection quickly became
apparent. By the end of Day 1,
despite being out on the road
for 10 hours, the team were
in fairly good shape. Next
morning, we had to get up and
do it all again. At 0300, quads
and thighs are taut, we were
lacking sleep and you have
to really jam your feet back
into the boots. Now you reap
the dividend of training on
consecutive days. Once you
are in motion, the body gets
used to it - but hydration was
For those of us in good
shape after 2 days, Day 3
was a different matter. As the
route rose over the hills surprisingly arduous after 65
miles on the flat - you had
to dig deep. Marching songs
help, amazingly, even with
my ragged singing voice, and
can physically increase the
team’s pace in comparison
to solitary walkers and those
suffering in silence. However,
through continued support
for each other in fetching food
or water, you keep moving
as a unit. Everyone has pain
after Day 3. An apparently
insignificant blister on my left
little toe affected my gait to
the extent that it translated
into hip pain. Pay careful
attention to your feet at the
end of each day!
However, if you start Day
4, come hell or high water
you’ll finish it. Although
the conditions were just as
strenuous, the mood is more
upbeat and the crowds were
‘Being part of
the scene is truly
buzzing. Using the open-air urinal in front
of 10,000 people was a novel experience.
The last 12km or so is effectively along
a straight road, mentally tough and
physically exhausting.Yet support around
the whole area is unbelievable. In towns
and villages the carnival atmosphere
is infectious. Along the whole route,
families, groups and individuals applaud
continuously throughout the day. People
offer snack and drinks, children stand in
the road, high-fiving, souvenir hunting
or just watching, you are offered gladioli
stems and free hugs, you are showered
from garden hoses, bands play, Mayors
take salutes and café owners make a
killing - Tour de France meets Armed
Forces Day.
The tumultuous reception over the
last few miles underlines how culturally
important this event is to Nijmegen.
The crowd lining the route is 10 deep
and people stand on the roofs of town
houses or lean out of windows to add
their voice to the crescendo. It provides
the tonic to survive the last few hours
and complete all 163.8km. Being part of
the scene is truly memorable and alone
draws people back time and again.
In terms of whether a route
march qualifies as ‘active’, it
certainly falls between darts
and SAS selection. It tests
your ability to co-operate as
a team and help others to
draw on their stamina. But
above all it is an endurance
event; individually, you require
determination and energy.
Without willpower, you
will not complete sufficient
training to soften the impact
of four consecutive days
on the road. It is a tiring
business, undermined by
poor preparation and being
self-absorbed. Each member
of the team will struggle with different
aspects of the challenge: be it heat, pack
weight, the sun, the lack of sleep or
inadvertently drinking too much beer
halfway through. Operating as a team
throughout is crucial to succeeding as
a team. The RAF High Wycombe team
began as 10 and finished as 10 and
should be congratulated on 2nd place
overall for RAF Regular teams, whilst
team leader Debbie Seymour retained
the team medal.
Team members: LAC Catherine Cornall,
SAC Karl Thayer, SAC Josh Brimmer, SAC
Doc Loosley, Fg Off Tony Van Geene, Flt
Lt Debbie Seymour, Flt Lt Mike Proctor,
Flt Lt Katie Bell, Flt Lt Kerry Shardlow
and Flt Lt Rob Perry.
Edited by Sqn Ldr Matt Tope
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Crossing the Falklands
Running back towards Mount Pleasant
Complex (MPC), it was like another
settlement in the distance at least 25km
away, built in the middle of nowhere.
The goal was in sight; slowly growing as
we got closer. My calves were like lead
weights slowing me down but knowing
I had run this far I was not going to let
Fraja down. I was set a challenge of doing
something that had never been done in
the Falklands. I was going to run from
west to east of the Islands. Travelling
the rolling hills and long straights and
hoping the weather would be on our
side although it was the
‘I was
middle of winter, this
was a worthy challenge
and one that I took
great pride in organising
and completing. The idea was put into
my head as I was looking for an event
that that would stand out and help me
raise money for my neighbour who was
diagnosed with cancer late January this
year; she is 5 years old and lives at RAF
Leeming. I was deployed to the Falklands
for 4 months and as a dad I wanted to
bring the awareness of Childhood cancer
in pain… there was no way
I was going to stop now…‘
Neuroblastoma and the Fraja Ellie Appeal
with me. Fraja’s cancer is rare; with the
addition of MYCN amplification this
makes her one of only three in the world
with this type of cancer. I started planning
the route that would get me from start
to finish. Covering over 235km I planned
to complete the challenge in 5 days,
running 50km per day and the final day
being the shortest.
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By Cpl Joe Broadbent
The morning of the 22nd July came
around fast and after months of hard
training, I had Dave ‘Pikey’ Pike, James
‘Ducky’ Duczak and Jim Fowler running
with me planning on completing the full
distance. The nerves had set in, the day
was here, I wanted to get going, I had
never done anything this challenging
and wondered if I would complete it.
When we stepped out of the warmth at
Mt Byron and into the fresh mid-winter
weather, it was dark, I was surprised at
how little snow there was on the ground
considering the week before it was a foot
deep. We had a photo and set off slowly
for the first marker 20km away, with the
lights of the support vehicle showing the
way. As the terrain was uneven and there
was every chance of twisting an ankle
whilst trying to get off the mountain.
Once off the mountain, there were still
plenty of rolling hills to conquer, the
roads were made of gravel, little stones
that manage to get into your shoes every
so often, then there would be parts
that were wet and clay like which when
running on, it would suck the sole of your
shoe and try pull it from your foot. The
weather was overcast and there was a
constant wet haze that was keeping us
cool but damp. We managed to complete
day 1 in 5 1/2 hours finishing with 2 final
hills of the day ascending approx 60m to
finish the day at the 50km marker.
We stayed at Hill Cove Dance Hall for
the first night; this was a wooden hut
right on the beach. We were warmly
welcomed by the locals of the settlement,
letting us shower and freshen up at their
houses, and then they came to the hall
for a chat before we called it a night. I
remember the caretaker asking what time
we wanted to be up, he wanted to put
the generator on to get the hall warm, I
didn’t want to get him up too early but
we came to an agreement of 0600. It was
a cold night and the winds were smashing
against the hut, all I hoped for was that it
would settle before we started running
again the next day.
On the morning of day 2, like
clockwork, the generator was rattling
into motion at the agreed time. We were
up and porridge was on the hob. Today
we were also joined by Fred Boardman
and Brien Middlebrook; fresh legs that
helped us get to the 100km marker. The
weather changed for the better; the sun
was out, there was a light westerly breeze
pushing us along and the ground was
dry.You could literally see for miles, the
roads in the distance were twisting and
dropping in and out of view where the
terrain meandered. There was one point
where the road had a gradual incline
and just went on and on for around 6km
straight. I thought it would never end, but
with the new runners came more stories
to distract from what was ahead. Jim was
beginning to struggle and needed to take
a break; he pushed himself on the journey
but couldn’t run any further. Passing a
wing of an Argentine plane seemed a
good place for a 5 min rest, then without
knowing we were back to the winding,
rolling roads. We made good time getting
to the 100km marker by 1530 and with
15km left to complete the west island,
with the lure of a longer rest the next
morning before being taken to the east
island, we decided to continue on to our
accommodation at the port.
Again, a warm welcome by the locals
and chicken stew on the cooker ensured
we settled in at Port Howard. We woke
on day 3 to find the helicopter was
delayed and we wouldn’t get us to San
Carlos till 1400, this had me worried
as I thought we wouldn’t get the 35km
completed before dark. But on the flip
side it gave tired legs more rest and time
to stretch out which was much needed.
Once we made the 10 minute flight
across the sound we were back down to
4 runners, Jim and Brien had run their
bit. We had to tackle Sussex mountain
range, this was a 345m ascent and a slow
descent of the other side, the spacing
between runners was starting to show
the tiredness kicking in, for some reason
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I was happy to run uphill but my thighs
were hurting on the descents. One by
one Ducky then Pikey started dropping
out for a rest in the vehicle and by 135km
my Achilles tendons were searing with
pain and slowing my pace. I had to take
a rest leaving Fred with the fresh legs to
carry on to cover the distance into the
dark reaching the 150km marker.
We arrived at Goose Green for
another night of rest, it was like a ghost
town and we took advantage of the
peace and quite to get an early night
ready for the penultimate push the next
day. Heading out to the 150km marker
ready for our run, we had Ben Shepherd
and Thom ‘Dobbo’ Dobson joining us
with more fresh legs to help out again. It
was raining and no one wanted to get out
of the vehicle, there was no way I was
going to let Fraja down so took the lead
and stepped out into the fine rain that
soaks you through in minutes! The rain
lasted about half-hour so a pause for a
quick change of clothes and we were off
again heading for MPC. There were small
groups of people dotted along the roads
as we went through the base, cheering
away as we passed. I think they were
surprised we made it that far. Heading out
of the camp gates we still had another
25km to the end of the day, the weather
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was overcast and the breeze helped a lot.
At our next break, a vehicle pulled up
and the Padre jumped out in his running
gear, I was surprised, but he wanted to
run with us so off we went to the 200km
marker and the end of the day.
Our final night was back in our own
beds at MPC, we went to the bar to say
hi and collect some more money for
the charity. People were generous and
showing the state we were in helped
encourage them to dig deeper. Our final
morning came and we were back on the
road for the final stretch into Stanley,
looking over my shoulder a big black
cloud loomed and was heading our way.
With 3 original runners left and the final
group of volunteers joining us including
OC 1564 Flt (Search and Rescue) Rob
Hurcomb along with Phil Mason, Nige
Mortimer and Dave Currie, we started
running before the rain came, as we got
to the 210km marker the cloud was just
creeping up. We managed to take cover in
the vehicle as it passed, 15mins later and
we were still dry and back on the road,
the Falklands TV crew came out to get
some footage and the Search & Rescue
helicopter came for a fly-past. As we
arrived in Stanley, the pace was slow and
we still had the last 10km to run to get
to the Airport and the finish line. I was
in pain. However, joined by a good group
of runners, knowing I’d run over 200km,
in all weather and had the end nearly in
sight there was no way I was going to
stop now. As the finish came in to sight,
we could see a group that had travelled
from camp and were waiting for us; I’m
sure they were making sure we finished!
Cpl Joe Broadbent
Cpl Dave Pike
L/Cpl James Duczak
Capt Fred Boardman
Sgt Jim Fowler
Cpl Brien Middlebrook
Sqn Ldr Ben Shepherd
SAC(T) Thom Dobson
Mr Phil Mason
Sqn Ldr Rob Hurcomb
FS Nige Mortimer
Sgt Dave Currie
This was my jo
urney across
the Falklands to
help a special
little girl get th
e treatment
she needs to fig
ht cancer. You
can keep upda
ted with Fraja’s
progress via w
ppeal and www
ffnbs.co.uk (For
ces Families
Support). Donat
can be made th
the links on the
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(Not) Getting Lost in Sweden!
by Sqn Ldr Mark Hassall
As I attacked my 8th control with
sweat stinging my eyes, lungs
straining for oxygen and legs
suffering under lactic overload
I felt a surge of confidence that
this tricky control would be no
problem. Yes there was the pressure
of international competition, but
after the training camp I was now
orienteering with more confidence
and navigating to features, rather
than controls. True enough, I was
out for personal glory as I was
travelling as support for the team,
but I wanted to show them that
I should have been selected. As I
hared into the finish to the cheers
of the team I knew why I was there,
but where was there?
NATO’s Headquarters Ramstein Air
Component holds an annual sporting
challenge comprising 4 events from
a catalogue of sports chosen on a
rotational basis. The second event for
2013 was orienteering, hosted by the
Belgian Air Force at Leopoldsburg in June,
with teams of 9 men and 4 ladies from
Germany, Belgium, Poland, Netherlands,
UK and US air forces. As the project
officer and publicity man (as well as
masseur!) I was the supporting official
with the task of keeping the team focused
on their race plan; in other words
dealing with the little details or ‘dad’ as
I become known. This was the 2nd such
event I had been privileged to be a part
of and with RAF Orienteering recently
boasting England and International
success, we were in a good position to
bring back some trophy ware. All of the
team started the week with a training
session at Parkwood, High Wycombe
with 4 various and challenging exercises
led by England International, Geoff Ellis
and Team Coach Wg Cdr Mike Edwards.
During the first of these exercises I
realised the training was tougher than
normal; I got so frustrated standing on
the right feature and not seeing a control
kite that I started to protest heavily to
my training partner, Steve, who kindly
pointed out that the control cane was by
my side. Even when the ‘map exploitation’
exercise was short of maps, it didn’t stop
the Coach from uttering some words
of wisdom: ‘man-up’ and off we went
again. The training was full on; I hadn’t
appreciated quite how hard the guys at
the top work to get it right. Being part
of the training challenged me, but made
me feel more confident going into the
The following morning saw an
early start, having left Halton’s sports
accommodation at 3am (I wasn’t the
most popular member of the team
at this stage) to be bussed across via
eurostar to Leopoldsburg, Belguim for
midday. After the initial accommodation
allocation (army basic training blocks for
most) and the welcome brief with our
Belgium Air Force liaison officer, Damien.
Now we had our first opportunity to
experience the terrain as we visited the
Staleyckerheide military training; a typical
mix of sandy tracks, run-able forest and
waist height vegetation as well as the odd
slit trench and soldier or two. As there
was no set course that afternoon, just a
number of flagged controls around the
area, we conducted our own bespoke
training with guidance from the Coach,
along with those inevitable words of
wisdom! The day finished with the
popular meet and greet at the Base’s
tennis club to be warmly welcomed by
all the nations and in a great setting. An
evening of cross-nation conversations
finished reasonably early as the first
competition day was foremost in the
team’s thoughts.
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The Individual Competition
The opening ceremony set the scene
for 2 days of hard racing in warm
conditions. The stadium was to become
our home for the duration and here I
found myself conducting the headcount
once again and having the camera
ready to go (thankfully, Steve our UK
coach driver stepped up to take the
photo’s - a David Bailey in the making!).
As the official publicity man, I was non
competitive but was still able to run the
men’s individual race and experience
what was a technically challenging 9.2km
course (direct route) in which you
needed to focus to ensure you picked up
the contours and features of the terrain.
At control 12 the hosts had included a
water stop and this was very welcome
and I understood why, after finishing
some 2:20:49 later, on what was a very
warm day. The competition is best viewed
through the eyes of other team members.
Flt Lt Rachel Sullivan, who successfully
defended her Individual Title, put her
success down to:
1. Not trying to win the race at the first
two controls.
2. Sticking to my TOPCARE process.
3. Keeping the focus when seeing other
runners on my course.
4. Retaining control when things were not
going quite to plan.
5. Don’t discount using the paths because
you feel you should be running through
the terrain – it might just be the winning
6. Speed isn’t everything, but it helps –
particularly when trying to compensate
for errors.
7. Not mincing down the run-in.
8. Use nerves to your advantage.
9. Hydrate.
10. Believe you can do it.
and declared that she “couldn’t have run
the race much better”.
SAC Carly Crookes was one of the
most junior members of the team who
commented that “I have done a couple
of big events this year, mainly sticking to
small courses organised by local orienteering
clubs. It was a totally new experience to
be taking part in a competition overseas
which included so many other nations.
However I was ready for the challenge set
before me and felt privileged just to be
picked to represent the RAF in my sport.
The competition was tough and the course
quite long and technical compared to
the ones I had done previously. Help was
always at hand from the coach and other
team members with hints and tips to help
me improve. I gave it my all and, although
I didn’t rank that high by the end of the
competition, I still had a lot of fun and learnt
new skills. The event has encouraged me
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to carry on competing in a sport I have a
passion for with the bonus of representing
the RAF.”
Cpl Wayne Byrne added “It was my first
time attending a multi-nation event, I had
expected each team to be really competitive,
but even with that focus I felt that the
atmosphere was friendly and welcoming.The
venue for the Individual and Relay race was
good, it had all the facilities you needed and
our hosts had provided plenty of food and
drink.The accommodation was not quite as
expected; it’s been a few years since I have
shared a multi-man room!”
The Team Captain, Gp Capt Stu Jack
noted that “In the UK, courses are normally
graded and you race in either open or age
class completions. In this instance we were
all racing in an open competition which
for the men was over about 10 km.This
represents the straight line distance between
each of the controls of which there were
over 20. To put this in perspective one
of the competitors who had a GPS watch
clocked over 24 km running; running in a
straight line directly to each control is more
difficult than you might imagine! From My
own perspective I had two goals. Not to be
last and to complete the course cleanly. I
achieved both ending up in a respectable
time and position. For the men Geoff Ellis
was our best man being beaten only by an
outstanding Polish side that contained a
number of international standard athletes.
For the ladies the outstanding performance
of the week was by Rachel Sullivan winning
and retaining the ladies individual title.”
The Relay Competition
We returned to the local athletics’
stadium at Hechtel for the relay
competition and again I was able to get
out in the terrain as part of a mixed
team embracing the true spirit of the
competition. I was matched up with
fellow team mate, Sqn Ldr Tony Green
and Rene, a member of the Dutch team,
racing on the same course as the ladies.
Why were we competing on the ladies
course? Well Tony was recovering from
an injury so this suited our situation
given the difficulties of the terrain
the day before and the shorter 5Km
distance. The relay was split into 3 legs
with a mass start of leg 1 runners, who
on arrival at the finish would hand over
the next map to the leg 2 runners and
so on… This was the first opportunity
for competitors to view their route as
they left the stadium not to be seen
again until the spectator control, about
half way round. Once again the Belgium
hosts had provided tough and technical
courses as well as opportunity to cheer
team mates as they came back into the
stadium at the half way point. The ladies
relay race started first followed by the
men’s and it proved just as exciting as
the day before, with serious competition
from the other Nations; in particular the
Polish and Belgium’s. The day ended in
the Hechtel Stadium with presentation of
medals and closing ceremony before we
were returned to Leopoldsburg for the
final social event; the BBQ at the tennis
club. Our Belgium Air Force hosts were
great and most attentive, the programme
was full and nothing was ever too much
trouble, this made for a very memorable
competition which other team members
add to:
Flt Lt Rachel Sullivan ran hard on the
2nd leg, gaining significant time by the
mid way point and “Then came the sand
dunes….having got to within 100m of the
Belgian on leg 2, I lost focus, lost touch
with the map, and had to waste time
relocating on both
controls 11 and
13. Final flog to the
finish was without
hitch, but kicking
myself for making
basic mistakes, and
allowing myself
to get distracted. Yes, I handed over
to Sarah having
made up a couple
of minutes, but it
should have been
more. Way forward: do more relays, and
face my distraction
Cpl Wayne Byrne added “I found the
sandy area in the NE tough and learnt a few
lessons from the area. I shall take away that
it’s good to relocate early if having difficulty,
then pace/accurate bearing onto the Control.
This will take time, but its time saved over
running around lost.”
Gp Capt Stu Jack noted that “the relay
event, with a slightly shorter 7km course for
the men, was for, me one of the highlights of
the week as competitors were cheered home
by their team mates sat on the finish line to
congratulate all that ran through. From a
personal perspective the relay brought about
my best performance when judged alongside
my colleagues.”
The Results
Over the four days of training and
competition we ran about 40km over
some very challenging terrain. The
men’s team were always going to face
strong competition from the Polish and
Belgian Air Forces, finishing 3rd overall.
Our women’s team finished 2nd overall
and won the individual race, defending
the title. This was a great result for the
RAFO Team, given such strong world
class competitors, but it falls to the Team
Captain to have the final word.
“What did I get from this event? First and
foremost, despite the competitors going out
into the terrain on their own, orienteering is
a team sport.
The team is about mentoring, supporting
and competing against one another to bring
the best out of each other. Watching the
older hands advising and talking to those
relatively new to the sport and to see them
do better than their own personal goals was
RAF Orienteering is strong on the
international stage and at it’s heart is a
group of committed dedicated athletes.
In my mid 40s I can still run upwards of
60Km in a week over challenging terrain and
talk about doing so with a sense of pride.”
Edited by Flt Lt David Hanson
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by Sgt Adrian Cox
Wow, hard to believe that after almost a year of preparation the 2013 TT has
been and gone, but boy was it worth it!
The plan was to run one rider, myself,
on both the Supersport Honda 600
and the Supertwin Kawasaki 650. Both
bikes had undergone major upgrades
over the winter months to make them
more competitive - after all we were to
compete against the best in the world!
Things were going to plan - the 650 was
up on power and torque and had been
on a weight loss plan. Additionally, the
600 had a new race Engine Control Unit
(ECU) giving us adjustments we could
only dream about last year. Unfortunately
the new race engine just wouldn’t make
the power so we had to take it with the
standard engine!
Saturday arrived and before we knew
it I was sat on the start line for the 1st
practice. The TT regulations now only
allow the newcomers and Lightweight
(Supertwins) classes out on the 1st
practice. Nevertheless I set off on the
Kawasaki - only to break down 5 miles
in! Once the bike and I were rescued we
started our investigations. As with many
electrical problems we couldn’t find the
source, but luckily for us John Ewles from
Track Electronics just happened to pop
in the awning as we were beginning to
despair! His advice was to change the
loom and every component possible, so
we did!
Monday night practice and it was the
turn of the Honda 600. We went straight
through after the 1st lap so thought all
must be good. Unfortunately the session
was red flagged and when eventually
the riders made it back to the paddock,
I was concerned about high-speed
stability issues - upon checking the bike
we discovered the steering damper had
blown a seal.
The rest of practice week was
hampered by bad weather (and even a
house fire!) so it was decided to delay
the 1st race on Saturday until Sunday,
leaving Saturday free to run a full practice
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session. It turned out that this was a
good call as some riders had 5 bikes to
We took the 600 out first to do 3 laps
qualification and then ran the Kawasaki
to check that we had cured the problem.
A phone call from Ramsay to say the bike
had stopped was not exactly what we
wanted! Luckily he managed to get a lift
back on the back of a marshal’s road bike,
enabling him to get back out on the 600,
thanks mate! It turns out the Kawasaki’s
battery terminal had come loose, “oh
yeah that would be me” I mumbled,
at which point Roley banned me from
touching the bikes again! The 600 was
still unstable and the damper had leaked
again, so we borrowed one from our
neighbours in the paddock (cheers Mick!).
So, Monday and our first race, and
we still weren’t sure we had cured the
instability issues. As I came in for the pit
stop it felt worse than ever, remarkably
I was told I was actually going faster
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(112mph lap), needless to say I was sent
straight back out. Two laps later I came
in thankful that it was over, “that ain’t my
bike” I believe was the quote!
We had just one day before the next
race in which time we stripped, checked
and rebuilt the 600, and also made some
major geometry changes to the chassis
in an attempt to cure the stability issues.
After all our hard work it was hugely
disappointing to retire in the pits at the
end of only the 1st lap. The bike had
overheated with a suspect head gasket
or water pump.
We now had to successfully complete
a lap on the Kawasaki; if we didn’t then
we wouldn’t be racing at all. Thankfully
we did, and with a new personal best on
that bike at that - averaging 108.5mph...
believe it or not, I almost cracked a smile.
Friday arrived quickly and it was time
for the Lightweight (Supertwin) Race. As
we only completed one lap in qualifying
we unfortunately had to start from last
place on the grid. As this race is only 3
laps we decided to pit on our 1st lap, and
what a pit stop it was - 5th fastest out of
the whole field! Good skills boys! And
I wasn’t doing bad on the bike either,
109.6mph on the 1st lap, then I really
woke up and started making up places
and on the last lap did 110.9mph and
finished 15th - yes, 15th, which in the
company of so many excellent riders was
unbelievable and I even managed another
smile despite all the challenges we faced.
So what a finish to a difficult but
fantastic fortnight! Well, almost! We
couldn’t go without a party could we?
All I will say is it started Friday in the
morning and finished Sunday eve on a
beach. Work hard, play harder!
Finally, we would like to the following
for making this all possible:
X Bikes, Breitling, RAFA, RAFMSA, RAF
Sports Lottery, Energy Communications,
Pirelli, Silkolene, Moto 46, Track
Electronics, BB Originals, The Other Bike
shop, Shark Helmets and Track Tanium.
Edited by Max Rundle
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by Flt Lt Nick Monahan, Dep Director RAF Rugby 7s
We’d cycle from the Scotland
leg of the IRB 7’s World Series,
to the final in London one
week and 500 miles later,
incorporating several stops
of historical and sporting
Long-distance cycling is physically
far removed from 7’s rugby; hours of
discomfort in the saddle versus 15
minutes of short, sharp, lung-busting and
bruising intensity. Participating squad
members spent months training for the
endurance event (to varying degrees!).
The first notable stop was Barnard
Castle School Sports Day. The Yorkshire
school boasts England rugby legends
Matthew Tait and the Underwood
brothers as old boys, as well as Spitfires’
captain Rory Wood. The ‘VIP’ cream tea
and cycle race around the running track
were particular highlights and the lads
were only too happy to autograph a few
shirts for some young admirers!
After overnighting at RAF Leeming, and
being led out of camp by a uni-cycling
Padre, Day 4 ended with a desperate
and brutal hilly advance party dash
to rendezvous with the Canterbury
marketing team at Derwent Dam
on Ladybower Reservoir. The dam
is famously where the Dambusters
practiced for their historic raid 70 yrs
ago and we arrived just a week before
the anniversary memorial events, in order
to conduct a promotional photoshoot
for our new Camo supporters’ shirt.
The Dam’s museum curator kindly kept
it open for us and a period of exhausted
reflection followed.
On reaching Leicester we were joined
by RAF and international rugby legend
Rory Underwood to attend a fabulous
Lord Mayor’s Reception at the Town Hall,
followed by a ‘rest day’ of 7s training with
the Leicester Tigers Academy! Just days
Most had never done any road cycling
at all, leading to some very questionable
discounted lycra being procured online!
With fantastic support throughout from
our sponsors Canterbury and Spitfire
Ale, invaluable guidance from the RAFBF
and extra help and goodies from Red
Bull, Casio G-Shock and Kinetica Sports
nutrition we were left with no excuses!
After setting off from 449 (Lanark) Sqn
Air Cadets’ premises near Glasgow, we
enjoyed spectacular Scottish landscapes
and beautiful Yorkshire villages, as well
as thousands of potholes and everything
from drizzle to glorious sunshine, multiple
punctures and the obligatory crash (a
bike-bending pile-up which I’m ashamed
to admit was caused by my wheel leaving
the tarmac during an on-the-move biscuit
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before the Tigers’ Premiership Final, the
privileged hospitality continued with a
tour of their exceptional training facilities
at Oval Park and all ball-shape prejudices
were put aside to take up free seats at
the Leicester City FC play-off final leg vs
Watford that evening!
The journey had also included a stopoff at the Webb Ellis Museum in Rugby,
to pay homage to the schoolboy that
started it all in 1823. Chatsworth House,
one of England’s finest stately homes,
had also been taken in earlier on the
journey, inducing quote of the week from
Callum Davies: “Chatsworth? That’s where
Shameless is filmed isn’t it?”!
At the beginning and end of our 517
mile trip we had been granted permission
to take to the international 7’s pitch
and promote our charity ride to the
crowd. Indeed, the final few hundred
metres of the week-long journey was
around the perimeter of the hallowed
Twickenham pitch on a day which
attracted nearly 72,000 fans, the largest
7s crowd in history! Admittedly, many
thousands seemed to use the break in
rugby proceedings to get the burgers and
beers in! This slight reduction in crowd
numbers may well have been a relief for
Nathan Jones, when interviewed on the
big screen stating, “yeah, there have been
some tough moments and my bum has
taken a real pounding”! (Dave thoughts
on leaving this in?)
The real hero of the gruelling
journey was Blythe Crawford who was
‘The RAF Spitfires have always prided themselves on being more
than just a rugby 7’s team, and a pre-season 500 mile cycle ride
from Glasgow to Twickenham Stadium via some training with the
Leicester Tigers proves it!’
instrumental in the formation of the
Spitfires nearly five years ago. As an older
and slightly heavier rider he had to dig
the deepest but epitomised the RAF
and Spitfires spirit through his dogged
determination - his sentiments about
the route-planner, whilst climbing his 4th
steep incline in succession in the Pennines
are not printable! He was one of four
riders who ultimately completed the full
distance, along with Will Greenwood, Tim
Barlow and Nick Monahan.
The proceeds from last year’s RAF
Club dinner and auction, combined with
the money raised through our retailed
supporters’ shirts range, have meant
that we have already contributed over
£50,000 to the RAFBF, Khelo Rugby,
RAF Ex-POW Association and Help
for Heroes. At the time of writing
team physio Flt Lt Kat Falconer is in
Kandahar mirroring the 517 miles on the
exercise bikes of Camp Bastion, regularly
reporting on the generosity of the troops
out there. The money she raises, added to
Canterbury very generously matching our
fund-raising total, has seen us comfortably
pass £10,000.
Our association with Khelo Rugby
has grown over the last 3 years, having
made consecutive annual trips to Kolkata,
India at the invitation of the British
High Commission (see Active Edition
51, Winter 2011). The Khelo (Hindi for
‘play’) project was started by an Afghaniborn Indian, Zaffer Khan, in Kolkata and
we have since joined him in coaching
Tag Rugby to hundreds of disadvantaged
street-children - and most recently in
Himalayan jungle villages! Other than
funding India’s first ever scrum-machine,
we have also sponsored Zaffer’s RFU
coaching qualifications and he’s now the
Afghanistan Rugby Federation’s Rugby
Development Officer. The climax of this
year’s trip was winning the Calcutta Cup
7s, for the third successive time.
The Spitfires’ busy summer schedule
includes the Bournemouth, Edinburgh,
Harpenden and Bristol Sue Ryder 7s, our
return to India to support the Khelo Rugby
coaching project and a trip to the USA
for the International Defence Force 7s
competition in Denver, CO. All our activities
can be followed through www.rafrugby7s.
co.uk, which includes links to our range
of supporters’ shirts, and on twitter, @
Edited By Flt Lt Dave Sellers
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