Volunteering at Cape Wrath Ultra 2023

The Cape Wrath Ultra is an epic 250 mile, 8 day stage race organised by Ourea Events that follows the Cape Wrath Trail Starting from Fort William right up the West Coast of Scotland to finish at the lighthouse on mainland Scotland’s most North-westerly point – Cape Wrath! This year there were roughly 180 competitors taking on the challenge, and I was one of 80 or so event team members supporting them along the way. The event team is made up of Ourea staff, specialist contractors (medica, timing, plumbing & electrics, marquees…) and many, many volunteers!

While the 10 day commitment is not to be taken lightly (thanks Julie 😍), a week or more camping, working and hanging out in great surroundings with a bunch of like-minded people – what’s not too like?

Putting on an event of this scale is a major feat of logistics, and the Ourea team are a well-oiled machine. Volunteers are assigned to a team for the week and I was part of the Start/finish team. A typical day for us would involve setting up for the start (7-9am), making sure each runner had their GPS tracker and sending them on their way. As soon as the last runners were out, we’d pack down the start funnel and gantry, pack all out kit into a van and head to to the next camp to set it all up again for the finish! Usually we had plenty of time but on one particularly short day with a relatively long drive between camps we were ready only ~15 mins before the first finishers arrived. We’d then welcome each runner back in, take their trackers back and let them head off to prepare for the next day! The course closed at 10pm but most days almost all the runners were back in with an hour or more to spare. In between times, we would help the camp team with packing everything else away, and erecting the 20+ 8-sleeper blue tents that the competitors used. We had morning and evening shifts which meant there was a chance each day to get off site for a short run, although I must admit I was there at course opening and closure every day 🙈

Some highlights from the week:

  • On day 2, we had late drama as three runners were still out on course as the 10pm deadline loomed. The first one rounded the last headland (about 1km out) with less than 10 mins on the clock. Sprinting it in, he made it with 58 seconds to spare! Sadly the other two failed to make the cutoff.
  • On day 5, the last runner on the course (Agamemnon a.k.a. The King) made a wrong turn a couple of miles from the finish and came down the wrong side of the hill. He managed to get within 250m of the camp, but on the far side of a burn and deer fence. We all watched as he proceed to double-back and re-climb the hill, adding nearly 1000ft and a couple of miles to his route. Race control deemed no action was required as he had “self-penalised” 🤣 For the rest of the week he was the butt of (good-natured) navigational jokes.
  • The weather was great pretty much all week, light overcast and some sun and a little breeze – perfect for running and camping. Only on the morning of day 7 did we finally get a little taste of Scottish Spring, with driving winds and horizontal rain. The midges weren’t too bad, even in Torridon!
  • The camp locations are stunning. My favourite was Inverewe (Camp 4), where we had stunning sunshine and a lovely site overlooked by Beinn Eighe. I even managed a little swim in the river… very nice after most of a week without a shower! Glenfinnan and Kinloch Hourn were also special places.
  • On the final day, the finish line is at the Cape Wrath lighthouse, but from there everyone needs to be shuttled 12 miles down a dirt track, across a the loch via a short boat ride and walk to the final camp in Keoldale, near Durness. Only a small ground of event team get to go to the actual finish line and I was one of the lucky ones. It was an absolute privilege to be there to welcome the competitors to the end of their epic journey and share cheers, hugs and tears as they crossed the line.
  • I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people to work with on the start/finish team! Inspired by the late, great Tina Turner you guys were “simply the best”. Simply the loudest too – as I believe our finish line whooping was heard more than a mile from camp 🙉

If you want to find out more about what happened in the race itself, there is a great daily blog from Ourea. All I would add is that volunteering was an absolutely fantastic experience, and I totally recommend it to anyone – you will not regret it! I made some great new friends and really feel like part of the CWU community. Looking forward to seeing many of you again next year, when I will be back – as a competitor 😁

2 thoughts on “Volunteering at Cape Wrath Ultra 2023

Leave a Reply