John Muir Way Ultra - a marshalling perspective!

At the weekend Owain and I were part of the marshalling team for the John Muir Ultra Marathon organised by Foxtrail Scotland.  We have both marshalled at many different races but this was our first experience of ultra running and we weren't sure how it would compare to other races.  Needless to say, it was a great day out, superbly organised and we really felt part of the team.  For previous marshalling stints, we have attended a pre-brief either by the race director or our group organiser and then left to pretty much get on with it.  This wasn't the case on Saturday, with James and his team checking in with us at regular intervals to make sure everything was good.

The race itself is a 50k route - or 31 miles in old money.  The race started at 9am and, as we were marshalling at around the 20 mile mark, we didn't need to be in position until around 10.30, with the first runners expected through at around 11am  We were given the very important role of setting up and manning a water/feed station.  Now, as I have said this was our first ultra experience and so even the thought of providing food seemed strange to me.  We set up one side of the table with food which included bananas, oranges, cakes and of course the obligatory jelly babies!!  The second side of the table was set up as a drinks station with copious cups of water along with cups of flat coke (or as flat as we could make it).  I had heard that ultra runners are partial to the odd glass of coke during the race but I was yet to be convinced.  With the water station set up, we set up our bluetooth speaker to play some music for the runners and even managed a quick photo before the front runners were due.

Soon enough, the front runners were making their way past although, as many had their own hydration packs, they weren't stopping. We had a great little spot in the forest where the runners did a little out and back loop, running past the water station and then back through about 100 metres away so were able to give them plenty support.  As the runners began coming through, our job got a bit more intense, shouting to runners approaching to let them know about the water station along with the vast array of goodies on offer.  There were a few times that we were running low on filled cups as everyone stopped to replenish.  And yes, the cups of coke were a huge success and we ended up running out towards the end.  I was surprised at the amount of runners that were so thrilled at having a cup of coke during the race!  The station was really well equipped with loads of water and we also managed to fill up water bottles and hydration packs for runners to keep them going until they hit the next station.  We even had a few runners doubling back to top up - although this did lead to confusion at one point with a runner crossing over the tape and trying to skip the loop.  Thankfully we managed to get him back on track - we'll forgive him given he was 20 miles in on the run!

What I enjoyed most was getting to chat to the runners while they stopped to refuel, it really added to the atmosphere of the day to feel part of the team and almost all of the runners offered words of thanks to us.  Owain nicknamed our station the "mixed emotions" station as some runners were telling us how much they were loving the race whilst others had had some struggles, particularly with the terrain being mainly trail.  One thing that was common though was how much the runners were enjoying the route - so much so, that this race is now on Owain's to do list for next year.  It was great to speak to so many runners, all with different running experiences but all out there taking on the challenge.  Personally, it has given me an increased joy of running, seeing people of all different ages and different speeds out there just doing what they enjoy and taking in the beautiful sights that are on offer.  

One runner did make an impression with both Owain and me.  I don't know his number but he had said to us he was loaded with the cold and had night sweats the night before the race and wasn't sure whether to carry on.  We had a chat with him, talked him through the route and the stations left.  By the time he left, he seemed to be in a better place and gave us a wee wave as we cheered him on as he completed the loop and headed away from us.  Once we completed our marshalling duties, we headed down to the finish line to cheer in the remaining runners coming through and it was great to see this runner running well towards the finish line.  We managed to get a quick word with him afterwards but it is amazing what we can achieve when we put our mind to it - well done again to that man!

A huge well done to everyone that took part in the day - whether running or organising the event.  It was great to join the ultra community and I look forward to another great event next year.  

Mandy Williams

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