In my experience, you can’t do this type of stuff without the support of a super epic crew. As well as two volunteers driving the support vehicles, we are in the very capable hands of Kate Worthington and Gary Tompsett – the only male member of this puzzle. Lucky old Gary.
“I’m here to help facilitate a successful completion of this momentous expedition/journey” explains Kate (who will have to put up with me fangirling over her most of the time) “I am a qualified and experienced Mountain Leader and Winter Mountain Leader and hope I can bring my professional skills and experience to add to this robust team. I have a deep personal desire to support others and create positive experiences in the outdoors – so this seems like the ideal challenge to support!”
Kate is basically the queen of the mountains. She’s done some punchy races and trains people on routes used during events like Dragons Back and The Spine (two of my ultimate bucket list events)
“Running (and mountain running) have come from a love of mountain walking which I have always done from an early age with family. I have run multi-terrain since my 20s – initially to maintain fitness and weight (aka to eat cake and drink wine). I became interested in training for longer runs and completed road half marathons and tried to enter the London Marathon 4 times before moving away from London and the South East. Wherever I have lived, I have run – so I have made it work on the streets of London, the woodlands of Buckinghamshire and fields of Kent, the trails, hills and mountains of the Lake District, Scotland and now Snowdonia, North Wales where I live. Mountain running in Wales came out of wanting to get out to the hills. Like most women, I’m pretty busy, running RAW Adventures Mountain Activities with my husband, Ross, and becoming mum to Libby (now 10) and Nonny-dog (now 3). I love to run for myself in the hills, it’s my solace time. Collectively, I have completed scores of mountain and trail races in North Wales, and also the Lake District, Scotland and Northern Ireland – anything from 3 miles to 50 miles. I’m not a ‘fast club runner’ – I’m usually mid-field and finish strong and I prefer running in self-reliant mountain races, where I am in control of my own micro-routes and journey. Good navigation plays a big part in the race or route lines. The cloudier, wetter and windier it is, the happier I am. I don’t do heat and sun - I live and train in North Wales!”
Kate is a big supporter of women getting into adventure, and knows only too well how much of a gender split there can be in longer events. “I do think that women are underrepresented, but that will change over time, as more women are entering the sport at so many levels, including international level, which is really exciting” Kate continues. “There are still ‘niche’ races/events that only have 10-15% female participation but as more females broaden experience in the sport of running, gain confidence, spread the word and support others, participation levels will continue to rise. The amount of women that are running/training/racing where I live has massively increased in the last 5 years even. This is seen in my local running club, Eryri Harriers: there has been a fantastic increase in awesome female runners enjoying their sport; on their own, with their friends, partners, families. It is all happening out there and stories like this Outer Hebrides adventure are all integral in that essential public voice.”
Although Kate is supporting on the logistics side of things, she will also be running parts of it with the team, keeping morale up and making sure we don’t do anything too stupid.
“I have multi-day running and walking expeditions with heavy packs under my belt, in challenging weather and temperatures, including sleeping in snowholes (don’t ask!). I’ve never done anything for as many miles/days as this team will be facing in the Outer Hebrides and that’s ok for now. My goal is to make a positive impact on the successful logistical completion of this expedition, for our expedition team. I may not need to (or be able to) run the entirety of the route either. Completing this journey will mean that myself, Gary and the vehicle crew have created an environment where these women can complete the challenge. I really want that to be the outcome. So, my aim is to look after myself to help others perform and succeed like they want to and can do.”
From experience comes wisdom, friends. Kate has a lot of experience talking people out of ultra strops and negative thought cycles. Which is lucky. For me. “We can train ourselves to talk to our brains in the same way as our muscles” say Kate. “We are holistic beings where our body and minds are too closely linked to ignore how one will affect the other in positive and negative ways. The more we are conscious of ourselves first…and how we talk to our own self, the more we can control this process and use it for our benefit. The human body and mind is just irrepressible!”
“Personally, when the going gets tough, I stop, eat, drink, reset. Maybe this means putting a layer on or taking it off. I look after my body and then my mind will cope better. I also look after number one, before looking after others. Selfish? No, essential!”
Top tips for anyone thinking about doing something like this but having doubts? “Know your own body and mind, and be proud of what it does” explains Kate. “Remember what you CAN currently do vs what you ASPIRE to do. There is a link to be made between the two and it WILL BE possible. It may mean committing to an increased training pattern or time away from home, or shifting priorities in life for a certain time frame. But I think we are all capable of 50% more than we think we are.”
“My only worries are quirky travel and timing logistics…and the hours of potential darkness that the team will be running in (this is my Mountain Leader head talking!) And where will I get my morning coffee from?!”
I hear ya on that one, sister. Life or death for the rest of the team hanging on where the coffee is at.
Bloody love Gary Tompsett. He describes himself as an ‘architect of adventure’ and I couldn’t agree more. That’s what I want to be when I grow up. Plus, he loves a chat. If you ever want a chat about literally anything, find Gary.
“I'm a consultant to Rat Race and have designed/planned most of their events” explain Gary. “I’m also a life long mountain runner/mountain biker, orienteer and adventure racer. I’ve not done many Ultras, but I did complete Race across Scotland last year - a 'continuous' 215 mile race.” He’s also one of the brains behind Cape Wrath Ultra, people. He has a lot to be blamed for. His job is to come up with ridiculous races and then deliver them. Best job ever.
“I like to help others achieve their aspirations” Gary continues. “I'm a servant to that. I am a logistics guy, but I love to run, so whilst we may run parts of the route with the team, we won’t be doing all of it by any means.”
This is the first all-female team that Gary has led, and he has his own ideas on why female participation in events like this is lower than male. “There are a few reasons, most of which Allie B has touched on in these blogs, but one point I'll add: Most men start these sports from a younger age, so this creates the majority in the most active age group, say 25-45 years old. Men have a more overt and experiential head start - and a kind of 'assured confidence' because of that, and often regardless of their actual ability! I.e. men might apply themselves earlier, but don't necessarily apply themselves better.” AGREED! Look at them DNF rates….
“Women are more than capable of stepping up to these challenges. Look at the proof. Notice that you have a natural capacity to be strong. That human capacity can be almost infinite if fuelled well, and with a bit of luck on your side. That said, anyone doing this sort of thing need to be sure it suits them, and it doesn't suit everyone. People shouldn’t be afraid to try a different genre of running/sport if it's not going as they might have wished; injury, cost, family circumstances, motivation, friendships. I do see a small percentage of Ultra runners who are not happy with their circumstance.” Words of warning there. Listen to Gary by all means, but don’t take up triathlon, people (joke) (not joke).
Because Gary has seen and done loads of these things, his tips are more worthy of listening to than mine. “If the going gets tough, eat more and drink more. Think of all the reasons not to give up. But also look at lateral solutions and adjustments to the challenge so that some tangible form of completion AND enjoyment is achieved. Mental and physical strength have different 'units of measure'. I wouldn't try to separate them. One supports the other. Physical prowess proves to your mental side that you have the fitness/strength. Mental prowess pushes your physical side to tolerate pain and discomfort, work harder for longer, and perhaps more smartly (nature of movement, posture and techniques). Use them in tandem.”
Solutions and adjustments – that’s the joy of these test pilot trips. We don’t have to stick to a rigid format or route. We can change things up or down depending on weather, fitness or other curveballs thrown our way. I know that Gary always has a plan A, B, C and D up his sleeve. He just doesn’t tell us about them until he needs to.
So there you go. We have our team. We have our crew. Bags are packed. It’s time to get on with this thing. Huge thanks to Gary, Kate and all the Female First women for agreeing to take part. It’s going to be interesting!
We’ll be keeping you all up to date on progress throughout the week – be sure to get involved with the socials below to be the first to know when something goes wrong, I mean how much fun we’re having.
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