Product testing the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline
© Ian Corless
Adventure Racing

Jobs in adventure: Race Director

Meet the man behind some of Britain’s wildest running races...
Written by Matt Maynard
5 min readPublished on
Shane kicking off the Berghaus Dragon's Back race.

Shane kicking off the Berghaus Dragon's Back race.

© Ian Corless

Shane Ohly knows a thing or two about running. Eight years ago he began competing at elite level in mountain-marathons. Simultaneously he set up Ourea Events. He now has seven wild off-road races of his own.
In one of his creations you run the entire length of Wales, navigating as you go. Another sees competitors run from dusk-to-dawn through a long winter’s night. His latest race in Scotland, however, is perhaps the hardest. To register for the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline, participants must present their running CVs – 35% were turned away for their own safety.
“The scrambling is easy,” Ohly explained of his new invention, “but if you slip you could fall 300m to your death.” With some hesitancy, we tracked him down to find out more about his job.
How would you describe your job?
A hands on approach at Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

A hands on approach at Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

© Ian Corless

It breaks down into three parts. The first part is the idea. It’s got to be original and it’s got to be challenging. Next comes the logistics. This involves everything from route testing in the rain, to emailing and meeting landowners. Finally comes the delivery. With good planning and briefing, this is where the event takes on a momentum of its own.
Which is your hardest race?
Marmot Dark Mountains – running and playing chess

Marmot Dark Mountains – running and playing chess

© Ian Corless

The seven races are all pretty different, so it’s a tough question. At one extreme you’ve got the Marmot Dark Mountains. Competitors are sent off into a winter night with just a map and have to navigate using a compass to different checkpoints. That’s awesome! It’s like running and playing chess at the same time. At the multiday events like the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race you run the length of Wales over five days. That’s a different kind of physical and mental challenge altogether. But if I picked one to run myself, it’d be the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline. It’s only 55km but it's got it all – the big mountains, the rock climbing. It’s really hard.
What’s the best bit of your job?
Product testing the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

Product testing the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

© Ian Corless

There were emotional scenes at the end of the Cape Wrath Ultra recently. You realise just how much people have committed to the event. After running for eight days through the Scottish Highlands, we saw some real highs and lows of emotion. Helping to create these magical moments is definitely a perk of the job.
And the worst bit?
Spot the landowners at the Cape Wrath Ultra

Spot the landowners at the Cape Wrath Ultra

© Ian Corless

I get a mountain of emails. I’d much rather be in a bog somewhere planning an orienteering checkpoint than stuck in the office! Finding the correct landowner to get race permission can also be a challenge.
How important is sponsorship and modern technology for race directors today?
Berghaus Dragon's Back race

Berghaus Dragon's Back race

© Ian Corless

You have to strike a balance. The entry fee needs to pay for the core components of your event – like race kit, hiring event headquarters and professional services. If not, your race just won’t survive. Sponsors, however, make added extras such as documentary filmmaking and satellite tracking a reality. These are great for showcasing your event and creating social media interaction.
How do you know if your race is a success?
Scrambling skills at Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

Scrambling skills at Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

© Ian Corless

There’s a key indicator in every event. For months you’ve worked alone, or in a small team. But on race day there’s a moment when all your volunteer and professional staff arrive, and the event suddenly mushrooms from being under your control to something expertly managed by others. You just step back. It’s unstoppable. You know then it’s a success. None of this would be possible without the staff obviously. I try to surround myself with the very best people.
How should someone start out in what you are doing?
Look! I’m running a few metres no handed

Look! I’m running a few metres no handed

© Ian Corless

I started out as a professional rock climber before I discovered mountain running. I think that’s what gave me the confidence to take participants through really challenging terrain. As a runner I competed at elite level in many mountain marathons [Shane often wins]. It’s important to have a really strong background in the sport yourself – that way you can see clearly what your participants need. We also take volunteers at our races and provide a full day of training. This would be a great way of finding out more for anyone interested.
Anything unusual about your job that people might not realise?
Berghaus Dragon's Back – not for the faint hearted

Berghaus Dragon's Back – not for the faint hearted

© Ian Corless

The variety is enormous. One morning I might be investigating if I can send runners through a tunnel under a road in Scotland rather than stop traffic up on top. The next day I might be at my local chemist in Kendal persuading them to give me prescription drugs for my events! I find myself in so many strange places – being on top of mountains is always great.
If you weren’t a race director, what do you think you would be doing?
Shane is on hand to help at the Cape Wrath Ultra

Shane is on hand to help at the Cape Wrath Ultra

© Ian Corless

Ha! Funny story. I’m a member of the Kendal Mountain Search and Rescue team, and I love getting stuck into the medical side of things. Recently I learnt how to apply an IV line and a nurse suggested I practised on her at the end of the Cape Wrath Ultra. It all was going fine until the dressing was attached.
As pressure was applied, a huge spray of blood covered me and three other paramedics!
So, I guess something medical – if they’d let me.
Anything else we should know?
Keeping runners safe. Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

Keeping runners safe. Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

© Ian Corless

One of the early mistakes I made was thinking that becoming friends with participants by the end of a race meant I had done a good job. Now I realise this is not always compatible with running a safe and fluid event. Today I actually tell racers at briefings, “My first job is to keep you and the team safe. Second is dealing with logistics. Way down the list is us becoming lasting friends.” I think people get that though. It’s the race experience itself which endures.
Find out more about Shane Ohly and Ourea Events.
Matt Maynard is an adventure sports and travel journalist based in Santiago, Chile. More adventures at Instagram, Twitter and Matt-Maynard.com

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