Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one and part two, here.

It was like the first day in the car park again. All these bodies with strange faces were there. It was because all the sick, lame, and lazy had turned up. The ones who did selection in installments at a much slower pace. “TA are here,” I said to my mate.

“Ain’t they just,” was his unimpressed reply. The staff dealt with the TA first, which actually afforded me the extra time I needed to get my boots on properly, but the days of doing ’em up were long past. I watched these TA guys in their brand new kit, all clean and polished; they knew we were looking at them but they never looked back. I had made my mind up that not one of these toilets was going to get to the other end before me, even if you gave them each half a day’s head start. It would haunt me for the rest of my life if one did. The deal is, to pass as a regular, you need to be doing about six to seven kilometers per hour with all of your kit. The STABS could afford to go at three kilometers per hour, stop for breakfast, lunch, tea, and have afternoon snacks if required. In my mind, it was farcical. At that speed, a teenager of average fitness could complete the test.

On the truck, no sooner had I lit up my cigarette when one of these additions complained. I just ignored him. His mate nudged him. He got the message and realised he was on the truck with guys who had been doing this for four weeks instead of a day. It was still dark, and the whine of the truck as it went round the muddy Welsh lanes was unrelenting. I knew we didn’t have far to go. I had an extra cigarette just to piss my new mate off. Daz knew what I had done and was quietly laughing to himself about it. We had known each other for years.

I could hear truck tailgates being dropped before we even got there—another sign the TA were in town. If you dropped one noisily before, you got a bollocking. These new geezers didn’t give a shit about that; this was their big day on the hills with the men. It was all about looking good. 

We were all in our groups, waiting to go. Usually it was a fairly simple affair, but today, maps were being unfolded like quilts and torches were shining in people’s faces. I couldn’t wait to get going and get away from this circus. There was a stream of orange marker panels going up the first ridge line at a snail’s pace. I was getting cold, but it was pointless to put whinge kit on. I was gonna come out of my trap like a train, and I would not be stopping to take kit off. I managed another cheeky smoke. It was frowned upon, but all the truck drivers were smoking, so I kept the hot coal hidden and got away with it on the strength of the driver’s smoke.

The last of the orange snails was limping up the hill, and the regulars were being released. I was right near the end. Finally, the DS confirmed I had the right grid and bearing, then I was off. The first leg was about four kilometers long, all uphill and covered in people. I didn’t need my map or compass, I just needed to get my head down and tab like a monster. I was striding out like a man just out of jail. Although it was quite steep, I was already shifting. The last orange snail had gone over the brow. I knew it would not be long before I caught one, though they had about two hours on me. Sure enough, I went past the first one who, incredibly, had stopped for a brew within three klicks. I went past him and thought he must have already given up. I pushed on. I could see loads of snails just waiting to be passed. It was keeping me going. I knew if I got a good eight hours under my belt, the second half of the day would be easier. There’s absolutely no point in thinking you can make the time up later. You won’t.

The trick for me was to just keep smashing it out. It was getting quite light, and my eye was straining; the injured retina was not adjusting properly, so it was like having a bright torch shining in it. Well, at least it’s distracting me from my smashed-up feet, I thought to myself. There was no point whatsoever in stopping other than to check navigation or at checkpoints to speak to the DS. If my body got wind there was a rest to be had, it might have wrapped altogether. As I went past snail after snail, I could think of nothing I would like more than to sit down and have a chit chat and socialize like them. But they weren’t going to become badged members of the world’s elite, so dream on, I told myself. On Monday, those clowns would be back stacking shelves or at whatever honking job they did for a living.