Trail and ultra running and issues that arrise. Trail running poles - ActiveEquip

The Long Road to Howqua and the Case of the Disappearing Poles

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“Lightning Protocol” is a phrase that sends Race Directors, Vollies, Event Medics and participants hearts into a free fall in the high country. Some runners think that the sole purpose of this protocol is to make them suffers, while others know its sole purpose is to keep them from becoming crispy fried humans.

Regardless of how you see it, Lightning Protocol requires swift uptake and implementation (cause let’s face it, being a mere mortal we can’t actually move at the speed of light) and it needs to be taken seriously.

Believe it or not, most of us that vollie at ultra events or even those that run and organise ultra events are actually Ultra Runners ourselves, or regularly crew for those that are Ultra Runners. We know firsthand what it’s like to battle those inner demons, be up against it and not know if you will make it but still have the utter determination to put one foot in front of the other to make it over the line in time.

This means we know what it’s like to rely on your equipment and that ever so precious kit and gear you have trained hours and hours with. That gear and equipment that is covered in your blood, sweat and tears. We also know firsthand EXACTLY how much coin that precious gear and equipment has cost you to secure as your own.

Lightening is dangerous. PERIOD! It has more than enough potential to fry you to your core. Turn you into a crispy fried human, or even end your life. It isn’t to be messed with. Especially when you are on the ridge line of a mountain range when the electrical charge in the air makes every single hair on your body stand on end and you can taste the charge on your tounge. Lightening always takes the path of least resistance to the ground. Let’s face it, it’s lazy. Lightening is no ultra runner, it doesn’t want to travel a millimetre further than it has too to the ground. It will always strike the most conductive material around as well.

These are the reasons why you don’t stand in groups, under trees or at the highest point when it’s around. One amazing piece of kit that Ultra Runners use, especially in the mountains to help with ascents and descents are poles. Love or hate them they are a very common piece of kit that I have found very useful more than once. However there is a down side.

These guys are made to be seriously lightweight. This means they are made with super lightweight metals and materials that, you guessed it, are super duper electrical conductors. This is why we affectionately call them lightening sticks. We can guarantee that you are totally upping your risk of being fried to a crisp when there is lightening around – think crispy American bacon crispy.

THIS is why when lightening protocol is enacted you are told to immediately discard your poles. It really is for your own good. It is also why we will keep you in under cover, inside huts, off high points, away from ridge lines and spread out. We take pride as part of the event crew in keeping you safe, even when you believe it isn’t risky. In essence its our jobs to make the call, carry out the instructions and make sure you aren’t at risk of being fried like a crispy piece of bacon.

So because you have to discard your poles on the course of an event (believe me it happens – two years in a row we have had to enact lightening protocol as part of Oscars Hut 2 Hut and The Archie Event). It is the job of event staff and Vollies to make sure this happens and that your poles are collected and brought back to base for collection later on when you complete the horrible task of making it to the finish line without your momentum inducing poles.

It is inevitable that back at base, we end up with 100’s of pairs of trail running poles. We do have some clever ways of keeping them segregated so that we can get your poles back to you when you make it back to be reunited with your treasured possessions, cause we get it. We are super protective of our kit too.

We sort them, pair them up if they haven’t already been and organise them in a way that makes them easy for us to search through so we can find exactly your pair.


Yep there is a massive however here….

Australia is a VERY small market. In fact, it’s minuscule compared to the rest of the world. This means that the range of trail running poles that are imported and sold here is super small and limited. Plus, us trail runners tend to go with what works best all round which limits the range of poles we are likely to purchase even further. Lets face it, statistics are pretty darn awesome and there is a reason there is such a thing as averages. Most of us are of average height which means that most of the poles are set to the same length or just happen to be in the 115 to 125cm range.

This means back at base we end up with multiple pairs of each type sold here in each and every pile. So, when we hear for the 70th time “My poles are a pair of Black Diamond, black/grey poles, with a little bit of blue and a little bit of silver on them” we inwardly roll our eyes and try not to look scornfully at you.

We also have to make sure we get the right poles to you – cause let’s be honest no one really wants to end up with someone else’s sweat laden goodies. So we develop a process. This process also means that if there is a dispute later we can track down the right people to help sort it out.

This is why we ask for your bib number, name and where you had to leave your poles behind so we can narrow down exactly where to look for them. We then ask you to describe exactly what your poles are like. We totally understand that you are anxious to be reunited with the ones that have held you up when you didn’t think you could stand any longer, that have help you climb and helped you descend some of the most insane terrain you could imagine. Believe me we are anxious to reunite you with the goldilocks pair of poles as well!

As a vollie and event staff, we do have a couple of requests for you. PLEASE trust us! Our biggest priority is your safety. Our second priority is to reunite you with YOUR exact pair of poles. We might not be paid but we take massive amounts of pride in what we do!

Trust our process! Please don’t barrage in demanding your poles and telling us what they look like in super generic terms. Because we can bet we have at least half a dozen pairs that look exactly the same. Let us ask you the questions we need to so we can get all the information we need to reunite you.

What else can you do? Label your gear!!! Make it unique to you! Put a ribbon on it, put your name on it, wrap it in a unique Buff – we honestly don’t care how, but make it unique to you. Make it so easy for us to reunite you with YOUR gear that you have paid buckets of money for that we can’t “F” it up! The longer I do this the more I see that things do not go to plan a lot of the time. The longer I do this the more comfortable I am with everything from Plan L through to Z.

It’s totally ok for things to not go to plan. It is how we deal with it that matters! It might not be lightening protocol that separates you from your kit. It might be simply stumbling into an aid station almost delirious and sitting down, putting your kit down and another runner doing exactly the same beside you with low and behold exactly the same kit as yours in exactly the same colour and size. Make yours unique in some way – put your name on it, tie a ribbon to it, I honestly don’t care…. But there might be a time where you care! And presto you can quickly and easily identify yours and be on your way again, with the RIGHT kit!

No matter what, be KIND! Be safe and be YOU!

Sa x

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