From the ‘world’s toughest mountain race’ to the ‘UK’s most brutal ultra’, we work with some of the most challenging ultra events across the globe - each pushing racers to their absolute limits. We know many of you know, love and eagerly await the arrival of these annual tests of ultimate endurance (and even obsessively ‘dot watch’ to track how participants are doing!). But we also know to those unfamiliar, the ultra running world may seem totally alien, a suffer-fest for serious athletes only.
Knowing this, we wanted to help shine a new light on the ultra running events we’re incredibly proud to work with. That’s why we tasked the Crash Course team to head out to capture all the action, as well as the inspiring stories of those taking part. We have videos for each of our big events this season, including the Lakeland 50 & 100, the Montane Dragon’s Back Race (coming soon), as well as the Montane Winter Spine Race (coming later in the year). The films are a chance for you to discover more about each race route and the incredible regions they traverse, learn fun facts and have a laugh at the presenters making a fool of themselves. Think Top Gear…but for ultra runs - something every adventurous soul can enjoy!
So first things first, let us introduce you to the Crash Course team which includes 3 presenters - James, Harry and Tehillah, as well as the man behind the lens, videographer Ryan. We caught up with this dynamic bunch to find out more about them, what the Crash Course videos aim to achieve and which Montane ultra they’d be brave enough to take on.
Tell us a bit about who you are…
James: Montane knew I had been working as a presenter in the adventure sports industry. They also knew that i’ve shot documentaries in over 50 locations around the world for the Discovery Channel, so they reached about an opportunity to produce a show about Ultra Running. I’ve always been a sporting generalist, but this was about specialization, about redefining endurance, about setting new goals for future generations. Curiosity got a hold on me. I love pushing myself in any environment, whether at sea or in the mountains. 125 miles across France on the GR96, just after lockdown, showed me a glimpse of the sudden growth of participation in ultra distance running. I wanted to get up close and personal with a group of people with big dreams, and see if they could inspire me and my team to reach a little further, to dream a little bigger. This is the context that led us to crash our way into this beautiful, growing niche world of narcissistic joggers.
Tehillah: Fitness unicorn. Life before fitness unicorning… South African Olympic hopeful for long distance running, turned competitive surfer and now just trying to find the recipe to having as many adventures as possible, while giving back through sport and enjoying this beautiful gift we call life…alongside juggling too many projects and business interests, ha!
Harry: I’m a former professional road cyclist - since then I’ve worked in the outdoor industry (DMM) in sales roles moving on to businesses development. Out of that you’ll find me building motorcycles (racing them too)….racing mountain bikes, alpine climbing, ski touring and surfing - anywhere I can and as far off the beaten track as can be found! I run a lot to, always have, my family are all very active and as kids cross country running was the thing so that was beaten into me from a young age. A fun fact: a few years ago (2016) I had a bad crash and suffered life long injuries. Returning to the sports I love and learning how adapt and do those sports better than ever has been a great personal challenge; as tough as it’s been I wouldn’t change a thing.
Ryan : Making videos of my mates doing parkour allowed me to start to build my camera and editing skills from a young age, this is how I found my passion. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to camera operate on Roof Culture Asia (Amazon Prime) with the infamous free running team, Storror, have spent a couple days filming with Bear Grylls…even filming whilst hanging out of the side of a helicopter! Since my career started off filming roof top jumps and flips, I’ve always been drawn to the extreme. I quickly built a portfolio of Obstacle Course Race clients spanning the globe and in recent years, have been covering more multi-stage ultra running events, namely Beyond The Ultimate Race Series - creating documentaries in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, or in the -40ºC temperatures of the Swedish arctic, have taught me a lot about what it means to be an adventure camera operator.
How did you guys get into documenting races?
James: Montane issued a challenge; to show the outside world what’s going on in the fast growing ultra distance running scene- and make it daft, fun & pretty in equal measure. Challenge accepted!
Tehillah: James called and mentioned something about very little sleep, adventure and fun. I cut his pitch off early and just said yes. His main line that really sold it to me was "you're not afraid to look stupid in front of the camera.” Haha. I knew this was going to be a special project!
Harry: James Cummings picked the phone up, I answered, that’s the short I suppose.
Ryan: For this one, I was working on the Montane Spine Race creating their daily update videos, something I have only just finished doing for the 2022 Summer Spine! When interviewing runners prepping for their big challenge in the notorious carpark in Edale, I saw James and Harry for the first time and asked “how’re you guys feeling about the challenge ahead of you?” I totally thought they were competitors… And that’s how our romance began!
Describe the crash course video, in a nutshell? What can viewers expect?
James: Everything from tear-jerking, heart-warming stories right through to abject failure, brutal dream destructions and some absolutely horrendous feet, all mixed up with every conceivable type of weather & terrain.
Tehillah: Knowing what we experienced while documenting these incredible races, I can confidently say it's an emotional roller coaster (well it was for us anyway). A perfect combination of capturing the real experience behind these amazing endurance races. Adventure, resilience, humour and a whole lot more!
Harry: Well, it’s definitely going to be different! A lot of the time, these races and other great feats of endurance are covered in a very dramatic, serious and sometimes slightly dark manner - hopefully we capture some of the suffering but also how the challenge dissolves egos and inspires a beautiful comradeship between competitors; it really melds people together and those people are exceptional and ordinary. Like the human spirit.
Ryan: As Harry says, usually any kind of coverage of these events means emotive music, plenty of drama and a good dose of suffering. Hopefully, Crash Course will open the floodgates to the wider-public where the challenging races can be looked at more holistically - we tried to capture the supportive communities that surround these events as much as the enduring spirit of the runners and what they’re going through. All whilst having fun and making plenty of mistakes along the way!
You have filmed all of our upcoming races, if you had to take on one which would it be and why?
James: All things considered, it’s the Lakeland! The spiritual home of fell running is simply so beautiful, and as someone who is yet to go beyond the marathon, this race represents the smallest threat to my ego of the three big races, and has the biggest pre and après party…
Tehillah: I want to say the Lakeland but I think for me it would be the Spine Race. Coming into these races I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or how to even chase the dots! I feel like it all came together (finally) for me at the Spine Race in so many ways. So many raw and emotional conversations with the competitors and such a humbling experience all round.
Harry: The Lakeland would be it for me, partly because I can imagine actually finishing it (don’t directly quote me on that) but mainly because I grew up running those fells and the event itself encapsulates the feeling of a small mid week fell race with a festival vibe… plus I like sleep and probably couldn’t afford the kit for the Spine! If money were no object, the winter spine ALL THE WAY. It requires impeccable personal admin and preparation to finish, it inevitably flows through my home patch and as a journey in those dark winter nights, it offers the greatest challenge.
Ryan: As beautiful as the Lakeland is - I think if I was to actually enter one of these events, it’d be for the challenge more than the views… The Spine is suuuuch a mental challenge. 268 miles, pure craziness.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered about these races?
James: That if you’re doing half marathons then you’re more than likely capable of doing 100 miles, but you just haven’t realised yet.
Tehillah: I saw more of the UK in the months following these races than I have in all the years I have lived here. The competitors that take part in these gruelling races are just ordinary people, doing extraordinary things. The ultra running community is second to none. In all my years as a professional athlete I don't know if I have seen a community as quite as special as that of ultra running.
Harry: For one that they can be done, the next is that they can be organised - I truly do not know how they achieved organisation prior to GPS tracking! How popular these events are and how truly beautiful England is.
Were there any challenges filming such extreme long-distance events?
James: Filming these events is like trying to hit a piñata, you just take a step forward and give it solid swing and most likely miss, fall to the ground and then try to enjoy the embarrassment. Thankfully, we kept swinging & Ryan kept knocking it out of the park.
Tehillah: Where to start…wait until you sink your teeth into these episodes haha.
Harry: That’s probably one for Ryan (jokes) because I thought it was pretty funny and given the subject matter it was a slice of cake on a sunny day!! I mean… they wear a GPS tracker so it’s not like we could miss them…
Ryan : To be completely honest, the challenge of finding the runners and keeping up with the race fell on the presenters - I just had to do my thing and document their failings or success! Pretty easy really, hardest parts were probably when trying not to laugh whilst recording… Which was often!
You encounter lots of inspiring stories of racers taking part in each episode, do any stand out to you?
James: The individual stories are all incredible, whether it be people with one leg taking on the Spine or testing oneself after major illnesses- there’s no end to the inspiration that competitors bring to these challenges.
Tehillah: There are too many to mention but each and every story has completely humbled me and I feel so honoured to have had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring people from so many different walks of life, all brought together for one reason.
Harry: There are too many to count so personally the chap with one leg that had a mechanical and didn’t finish - this isn’t because he had one leg, no. It’s because I know how hard it is to work with a limitation and decide to GO instead of never starting; for him to step over that start line, the journey was behind him not in front.
Ryan: I think to do events like these, there’s always an incredibly powerful motive that gets people through and enables them to endure. Every racer has a story. They can be such personal journeys for people, as you’ll find out on Crash Course!
Now you have seen Montane kit in action, what’s on your kit wishlist?
James: I’ve actually been inseparable from my Pac Plus Waterproof Trousers and the Chonos Fleece Pull-On - that thing has kept me so warm when we’ve been standing on top of a mountain in a gale!
Tehillah: The Protium fleece Hoodie and Pac Plus XT waterproof jacket have been two items I have worn everyday on these trips and, in my opinion, are key items to add to your adventure kit!
Harry: Myself and lots of friends use the gear so I know it well. Actually my first ever set of decent outdoor stuff was Montane - my mam bought it for me from LD Mountain Centre and I loved it…basically used it to death!! I actually left that jacket in a midi top station toilet (we missed the last lift and had to spend the night - fairly common for me…). My mate swears he saw a homeless guy rocking it in Cham after I'd gone- true or not, I hope it's true…
Ryan: I love a good waterproof - Montane has so many great options. What I love about the Alpine Resolve Waterproof Jacket is how easy it is to remain manoeuvrable whilst wearing it!
Watch the Crash Course Videos
Feeling suitably excited? Watch the Lakeland 50 & 100 trailer to get a sneak peek at what to expect and join our live YouTube screening on 26 July at 7pm (UK time) to see the full documentary. Want to find out more about the upcoming Lakeland event? Take a look at our dedicated origins story.