Category Archives: More adventures

Marshalling at the inaugural Lakes Sky Ultra

It’s all too easy to run the same races year after year. I’d become a bit of a stickler for this – so in my quest for new races I stumbled across the True Mountain Lakes Sky Ultra, part of the UK Skyrunning series. I’d heard about Skyrunning – another branded trail race series right? Wrong. Skyrunning is not trail running – it’s mountain running.

This looked like a true adventure and I wanted to see what it was all about. So I signed up as a marshal.

I arrived in Ambleside the night before the race – five hours after plan, but with just enough light to pitch my tent before a starlit dinner for one with a beautiful mountain view.

Race HQ was the University of Cumbria campus in Ambleside, where the marshals convened for their briefing. I met race directors Andrew and Charlie for the first time and team of Marshalls.

There was a sense of concern at Race HQ. Not panic, there was never panic, just concern. The weather forecast was dire. Usually you can find one forecast with a little optimism. Not this evening. They all said wind and rain and lots of it.

After the safety briefing I was paired with another Katie (who I’ll call Katie 2). We were allocated Grisedale Tarn/CP1. I was given a radio, a dipper box and sent on my way to get some sleep. It was 11.30pm, meaning 5 hours until my 4.30am alarm. 

Like Christmas morning I woke before my alarm with the very familiar gushing of Lakeland rain fighting to get inside my tent. After the 5.30am marshal breakfast at Patterdale (with fresh coffee!) Katie 2 and I headed up the hill for the few mile walk to CP1.

It was wet. Really wet. This really made me realise the importance of decent kit. My Arc’teryx waterproof trousers and Halglofs waterproof trousers performed so well. They had never properly been put through the wet test. They passed.

Grisedale Hause was wet AND windy. Just as we arrived so did a guy from sponsors True Mountain with his flag and camera.

Taking charge at CP1 Photo courtesy True Mountain

Taking charge at CP1
Photo courtesy True Mountain

We didn’t have long to wait before out of the clag on the top of Fairfield came a distant flash of red. That flash of red dropped off Fairfield like a whippet into our checkpoint. It was Jim Mann in shorts and T-shirt, which just made me feel cold.

Next came Erik (the ultimate winner) and Gareth (2nd) – neither of whom I knew of at the time.

Erik and Gareth speeding through CP1 Photo courtesy True Mountain

Erik and Gareth speeding through CP1
Photo courtesy True Mountain

Sarah Ridgeway got an extra loud ring of my cowbell – just because she was the leading lady and was looking so happy!

A happy Sarah Ridgeway bouncing through CP1 Photo courtesy True Mountain

A happy Sarah Ridgeway bouncing through CP1
Photo courtesy True Mountain

Katie 2 and her dog headed back down to Patterdale – a very sensible idea given the amount they were both shaking. I even hugged the dog. I have a ridiculous and irrational fear of dogs. Hugging a dog is a big deal (for me).

All the runners were though within about an hour. I waited and waited for the sweeper, Howard. I took shelter in a perfectly placed sheep fold for what seemed like an age. Turns out it was only 30 minutes, until Howard, with a LOT of flags appeared out the clag.

I was so happy to get moving. I collected the flags and signage from Grisedale Tarn, up “the wall” to Dollywaggon Pike, Helvellyn and Nethermost. This was probably my favourite part of the day. The perfectly placed flags guided me so I could just enjoy having what seemed like (visibility was less than 10 meters) the hills all to myself.

Before descending Swirral Edge I tagged Colin, who would finish the sweeping to CP2. Swirral Edge was so slippery. I wondered how treacherous the ascent up Striding Edge would be.

Arriving back down into Patterdale felt a bit like an oasis in a dessert. The lovely cooking ladies greeted me with suspiciously looking pale green yet deliciously tasting soup.

Many of the runners looked a little bewildered. They stocked up on Trek Bars and Striptsnacks before heading back out to the unknown.

RD Andrew was control central command here. I eagerly awaited my next assignment. This was to be at the finish – to dip the runners in as they completed this mammoth run.

The winner, Erik came through the finish just after 2.15pm to the great echo of Cowbells and cheers!

One by one each of the runners were greeted by the finishing cowbells. With the exception of a 10 minute re-fuelling break I stood on the finish line for nearly 7 hours – each minute of which I loved. As a runner to have the opportunity to see the emotion of each finisher was just so wonderful.

The sponsors were all great too. They were ever present all weekend. On the hills, at the check points and at the finish – an element of sponsorship that is often missing.

The event organisation and spirit was spot on. When I run the Lakes Sky Ultra I will be reassured in the knowledge that I am in very safe hands.

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Falling in love with the UTMB

The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or the UTMB as its lovingly known is often spoken of being THE ultra-adventure. A few weeks ago I didn’t understand what the UTMB really meant to people – I didn’t see the big appeal – the tales of people traffic jams and the hard packed tracks were not exciting.

Finding myself, purely by coincidence, in the Chamonix Valley during the week leading up to the UTMB I found myself wondering more and more about the possible adventures through the mountains. Exploring the western side of the Mont Blanc massif in the days leading up to the race I found my spectating spot for the Friday night.

Finding the perfect spectating spot

Finding the perfect spectating spot

At 5pm on race night I had really warm vertical kilometre hike up to 1800m – to my selected spot at the top of the Col de Voza climb. This was the first proper climb for the runners so I expected they would have spread out a little and to be going slow enough for me to catch the names on their race numbers to cheer then on. I’d done a bit of entry list stalking and had my spotting list ready.

Climb to Col de Voza

Climb to Col de Voza

Something magical happened as I waited. As the last of the sunshine was still glistening on the peak of Mont Blanc and the speedy French leader glided by, the mountain came alive – the trails came alive and I felt part of this mountain race – yet so calm and peaceful all the same.

Testing out my cowbell

Testing out my cowbell

One by one the top runners began passing. I had a little tingle of my cowbell – the runners loved it! Then I was away, ringing my bell and calling out “alle alle” as the enduring 2,000+ runners ran, jogged then walked past.

Sunset over Mont Blanc

Sunset over Mont Blanc

The sun was nearly set by now, turning Mont Blanc a beautiful crimson and I just didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay up there all night. I ran with the runners all the way down to Montivon, I just wanted to be part of it, as the sun disappeared over the horizon.

Nightfall

Nightfall

As I arrived back at my tent, across the valley was the flickering light of head torches and the feint ringing of cowbells.

I sat in the light of the full moon quite overwhelmed. It seemed I had just fallen in love.

So if you get the opportunity to be part of the UTMB, as a runner or a spectator, be warned: you may just find yourself falling in love.

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