Written By KATHARINE DUNN
Katharine is one of our most experienced crew members and has volunteered at Jordan, Mexico, Scotland and England, to name a few.
Katharine is one of our most experienced crew members and has volunteered at Jordan, Mexico, Scotland and England, to name a few. In her day-to-day role, she works as a Dentist in a Dental Hospital in Edinburgh and we spoke to her ahead of Ultra X Sri Lanka, where she’ll be joining the Ultra X crew team once again.
So Katharine thanks for chatting to us! Can you tell us why you initially wanted to volunteer with Ultra X?
A friend of mine had volunteered on Ultra X Jordan and had a brilliant time. I was looking for an adventure, something completely different to my day job and to meet some new people so it seemed like a perfect fit.
And what was the volunteer application process like?
I completed the online application form and then had a chat on the phone with Sam, one of the co-founders. I could tell that they took both safety and the runner’s experience’s very seriously, and he was clear about what would be involved and what was expected of crew during races… i.e. not a lot of sleep!
So which Ultra X races have you volunteered at so far?
Gosh a few now. I first crewed Ultra X Jordan in 2019 and then (thanks to my very kind boss) Ultra X Mexico a couple of weeks later. I’ve also crewed Ultra X England, Scotland, and the Azores.
And when you have volunteered, what has your role been as a volunteer at Ultra X?
My roles within the crew have been general crew/volunteer and I’ve also been a checkpoint captain, which involves a whole range of jobs that are needed to facilitate the race and give the runners the best experience possible. From a practical point of view, this can involve anything from setting up tents at basecamp, checking runners into the race, manning check points, and organising the finish line party (my Ultra X playlist is legendary).
But the best part of crewing is working alongside your crewmates to be there for the runners. We’re there for runners if they have any questions or issues during the race, as a pep squad when they’re digging deep and to celebrate with them when they cross underneath that famous blue arch. Seeing runners cross the finish line after challenging themselves to the absolute extreme and knowing you had a hand in helping them achieve their goal is a brilliant feeling.
So what’s life like on the Ultra X crew?
Busy. It’s not a chilled week or a weekend away pootling about the desert or the mountains, but it is completely immersive and so much fun. Mornings are early but 100% worth it to see the sun rising over sand dunes or Loch Ness. The days are mostly spent hanging out on checkpoints, cheering on runners, checking they’re well, addressing any problems and communicating any issues with other crew members. There’s also a lot of chatting with fellow crew, checkpoint games and exploring around your check point and route. Evenings are spent debriefing with the crew, planning for the day ahead and if you’re in Jordan or Mexico, tucking into a delicious dinner made by the local crew.
And what has been your favourite volunteer moment?
The long day of Ultra X Mexico involved a 2am start to get to our checkpoint in a beautiful clearing in the woods of the Copper Canyons. After all the runners were safely through, we set off to base camp in Urique, a village in the base of the Urique Canyon. We were all chatting away in the car having a laugh with our driver until we turned a hairpin corner, and we all fell silent. The Urique Canyon was spread in front of us and was honestly the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I never ever would have been there had it not been for Ultra X Mexico.
How about your favourite memory of a competitor?
During the first day of Ultra X Scotland it was snowing at one point (soon followed by glorious sunshine, as is common in summer in Scotland) and a runner came into checkpoint 6 cold, wet, hungry, and ready to drop out. Osteo Sally, Medic Martha and I convinced them to take a break and hang out at our check point for a bit. After a rub down from Sally, some vegan snacks from Martha (don’t tell Sam and Jamie) and some incredible tunes from me, they decided not to drop out of the race and to see how they were by the next checkpoint. Seeing them then cross the finish line the next day with a huge smile was just fantastic – it’s what it’s all about.
Out of all the Ultra X races you’ve volunteered at, which was your favourite?
Ultra X Mexico was special. If you’ve read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, you’ll know that the Rarámuri Indians native to Chihuahua are famed for their natural long distance running ability and for their privacy, so it was incredibly exciting when some of the Rarámuri decided to run Ultra X Mexico. Seeing these phenomenal athletes, in sandals made from leather and old tires, outstrip seasoned ultra-runners in the latest trail shoes was quite something.
As an inaugural race you’re never quite sure how things are going to go, but the local crew were great fun, the canyons were stunning, the food was delicious and the after-party in the “magic town” of Batopilas was quite something.
And finally, why do you think someone should volunteer for an Ultra X event?
Crewing an ultra-marathon in a remote part of the world gives you the opportunity to see a new place in a totally different way than you would as a normal traveler. Sleeping with pals under the stars in the wilderness of the Wadi Rum for a week was rather different to the “Wadi Rum Experience” that I then had the following week in a concrete holiday village a few hundred meters from an A road. Not trying to be shady here, it’s just so different!
If you’re looking to spend your time doing something different, fun and to meet some lovely new people then volunteering for Ultra X is for you. Ultra-running attracts the loveliest people and I’ve made some brilliant pals through Ultra X events as well as exploring places and having experiences I never would have had.
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