Always Be Prepared!


When event organisers send out their final instructions for ultra-events, especially for those happening in the mountains, take note and don’t fob off the compulsory kit items, because they may just save your life, or someone else’s life. – BY ALISON CHADWICK

With glorious weather to see us off, 61 enthusiastic trail runners set off at the start of the Mighty Mutter 65km or Mutter 37km trail run on 7 October. Run in the Southern Drakensberg, both events are self-navigating, and this was my third Mutter. The first 13km up to Thule Beacon at 2537m was tough going, and thanks to the great weather, we wished we’d worn our short Funky Pants rather than long leggings. However, once on top of the ridge, the temperature immediately dropped and we could see the rain approaching, and we soon pulled on an extra layer and rain jacket. Just 10 minutes later the rain started and it got very cold, and actually quite unpleasant.

We continued in these conditions for the next 10km, and I could see that one of the women in our group, Fiona Dawson, looked like she was struggling – not fitness-wise, but with the cold and rain. She did not have the correct gear, notably a waterproof jacket, nor did she have gloves. Another factor when it is raining is that no one wants to stop to eat or take a drink from the streams, and on this particular day everyone was too cold to stop, so we just kept going, and unless your food is easy to reach, you’re not going to stop to eat.

We reached our third and last checkpoint at “The Pig,” about 23km into the race, and at this point I knew I had to help Fiona, as she was shivering and shaking uncontrollably. I could see that the early signs of hypothermia were perhaps setting in, and luckily I had a dry long-sleeve thermal top, a windbreaker and a spare pair of gloves for her, and we used my poncho space blanket as her outer layer. I also insisted that she eat something, even though her hands were shaking too much. (She doesn’t eat ham, but she said she didn’t care at that stage!)

In situations like this, you just know you have to do something to help someone who is struggling, and both Fiona and her daughter Sarah said I saved her life. I think that is perhaps a bit overly dramatic, but I am grateful I had the extra kit… and to be honest, I was actually excited to finally use my space blanket, which I’ve carried with me for about seven years!

Conditions in the mountains can change in an instant. When the mist moves into the mountains, it becomes another ball-game altogether, and you have to rely solely on your tracking device to find your way. Even when I was packing the night before, I threw in a spare set of batteries and my partner said to me, “You’re not going to need those,” and I replied that maybe I won’t need them, but someone else may…

I need to point out that the women’s winner did the 37km course in 4 hours 44 minutes, but us slower runners took nine hours or more, so you can see that the compulsory kit it even more relevant for the backmarkers, as we spend a lot more time out there. At prize-giving, I found out that the event organiser, Malcolm Millar, had witnessed what had happened up on the mountain, and I was awarded the “Lighthouse in a Storm” award. More importantly, I think we all learnt from this experience. It was a tough lesson to learn, especially for Fiona our frozen runner, but also a lesson I’m sure she will never forget, and a few weeks after Mutter I received a lovely gift and card from her to say how much she appreciated my help, and that we’ll always share this special bond.

Images: Courtesy Alison Chadwick