Lake District Sky Trails 2018: An Interview with Mr. Charles Sproson, Head Guide at Mountain Run and LDST Races Races Creator!

Από 04 Ιουν 2018

On the weekend of 14th & 15th July, the Lake District National Park will host two races that stand out for many reasons, chief among which is their extreme character, especially in the case of the Lakes Sky Ultra 56k. Mountain running, combined with scrambling and the volatile weather of Great Britain’s West Coast, as well as the stunning landscapes of the Lakes, create a unique mix that is sure to enthrall all participating athletes. Advendure is a communication sponsor for the event, and will be there to run the Scafell Sky Race 40k and report back to the Greek running community with first-hand experience and insights on the weekend’s longer, extreme course. Our article on last year’s Lake District Sky Trails offered an initial glimpse, but this year we go deeper, examining issues such as race organizing and outdoor activities in the UK, and also what truly extreme skyrunning means for the culture of the British organizers, through an interesting discussion with Charles Sproson, head of Mountain Run and race creator. Naturally, Greek trail running also came up during our conversation!


[Advendure]: The Lake District Sky Trails team is involved in the organization of various outdoor events, with the Lakes Sky Ultra 56k and Scafell Sky Race 40k races constituting an important “package” of trail running events, with particularly extreme characteristics. It would be interesting for us to know what the idea behind these events was, the background of the team, and your vision for the future, with particular reference to the two races taking place on 14 & 15 July 2018 in the Lake District National Park, in Great Britain.

[Charles Sproson]: Yes, the idea behind both races was to design and deliver “world class” and extremely technical races to match those of the original ethos of Skyrunning in Europe. The idea of “skyrunning” was mildly ridiculed by the ISF before the conception of the UK series, with the belief that the UK mountains, being relatively small in height, would not classify for “skyrunning” as such. Therefore 2 teams took on the concept of developing highly demanding and technical races in the English Lake District and the Scottish Highlands, the former being our domain. We created the Lakes Sky Ultra in an ode to Scratch, our race creator/directors dog who died in 2014 and was a fantastic 4 legged skyrunner, and based the route design loosely around the epic and original sky race, Trofeo Kima, which started the whole concept of “skyrunning”. 


[Advendure]: The Lake District, the setting of the two races in July, is a National Park and it was declared a UNESCO site last year. I imagine that one of the main reasons behind your races is to showcase the beauty of the Lakes, isn't it? Please give us an idea of the type of landscape that your runners will be able to admire during the two races.

[Charles Sproson]: Of course we are loving show casing our very special terrain to the rest of the world, we are extremely proud of the beautiful place we live and exist. The Lakes has a very old history of “mountain running” or “fell running” as we call it here. Our “Fells” (old Norse term for mountains) are very special, being originally created by a large volcanic eruption, then sculpted by glaciers in the last ice age. They are extremely rugged but yet “tame” at the same time and are very accessible to all. Our careful course design shows off some of the best “technical” trail running the Lakes has to offer.


[Advendure]: The Lakes Sky Ultra 56k is not impressive only for its 4,500-metre positive ascent, which is a lot for the race distance, but also because of its extreme racing characteristics, which test the athletes' mountain running and also climbing skills. This is a type of race that has been growing recently on a global level, and which combines two different worlds. Why did you choose to add this element to your race, and what are your thoughts on the future of this new trend, now included in certain ISF races, too?

[Charles Sproson]: I met Ian Corless back in 2013 on races I was working on at the time. In 2014 on one of the races he was photographing for the company, Ourea Events who produce the Skyline Scotland events, he showed me some images of Kilian, who I didn’t know of at the time, racing the Trofeo Kima in Italy. The images were of severe scrambling during the race. At the time I had completed a “round” in the Lakes called the “Classic Rock Round”, which is basically 55km and 4500m in distance and ascent, with 15 low to medium grade rock climbs thrown in for good measure. I had also been combining running and rock climbing for a few years and enjoying this style of movement and ascent. I didn’t know there was a sport based around this type of combination of sports and on seeing the Trofeo Kima I wanted to put a race on of a similar calibre. Subsequent conversations with Ian secured the idea and in 2015 we made the race a reality.


[Advendure]: Striding Edge, Eagle Crag, Pinnacle Ridge… names that might not mean much to people in other countries, such as Greece, but which are definitely engraved in the minds of anyone who has done the Lakes Sky Ultra, for their difficulty and also for their beauty. Tell us a little about the parts of the two races that are above average mountain running difficulty.

[Charles Sproson]: The Lakes Sky Ultra is extreme in distance, ascent and technicality. You must be comfortable in rock climbing in order to gain and entry and take part. It show cases the Helvellyn Massif and the Eastern Fells of the Lakes as well combining mountaineering with mountain running, taking in 3 of the most classic scrambles in the Lakes, these being the “Edges” of Helvellyn (Striding and Swirral Edge) and Pinnacle Ridge, alpine in its character. The Scafell Sky Race was developed to give those without the “climbing” skills a chance to come and run/race some of the most “technical” trails we know about in the area and allow them to reach the “roof” of England traversing the highest mountain in the country. Whilst there is no actual graded scrambling, there is some very extreme and technical running and it should not be under estimated.


[Advendure]: Is there any chance of sunshine during the races? As you can imagine, Greek runners are used to running in the heat! Looking back at the article that Advendure published about your event last year, with the amazing photographs that Guillem Casanova took in the Lakes, I realized that the weather is another element that adds difficulty to the race. What is mid-July like in Great Britain? 

[Charles Sproson]: With the Lake District being positioned on the West Coast of England we are governed by the Atlantic Seaboard meaning our weather can be extremely quick to change. One day we might have 10m visibility and serious rain, the next it could be 25+ degree’s or more with perfect sunshine. For example, as we conduct this interview I’m based in Fort William in Scotland and the temps outside are 28 degrees C with “wall to wall” sunshine.  It’s the end of May! July is typically a mixed month, so the best we can say is hope for the best and expect the worst! 



[Advendure]: Considering that the Lakes Sky Ultra race is strictly vetted, and also considering your instructions for the race, please tell us a bit about race safety and how you handle it. What must runners pay attention to in order to enjoy the experience without injury and unexpected incidents?

[Charles Sproson]: We vet the runners for safety and this is for both us as race organisers, and the competitors themselves. The reason for this is that the LSU is an extreme and technical course and “rock climbing” skills are a prerequisite must.

Safety on the day is handled by the guys at Nav4 Adventure, seriously experienced in race safety and looking after tired competitors in serious situations.

On the main technical sections we have qualified and experienced mountain professionals who are there to look after the safety of the racers. They are not there to lend a hand, but are there “just in case” someone might find themselves in a difficult situation in a climbing position.


[Advendure]: As for the Skafell Sky Race, considering the 3,000-metre ascent in 42 kilometres, the technical terrain, and the fact that the race is a qualifier for the British National Skyrunning Team, I am certain that this is not a fun-race, like many of the smaller races in other trail running events! Does it differ to the Lakes Sky Ultra only with respect to the more extreme climbing elements? What landscapes will runners be able to admire in that race, and what must they pay particular attention to?

[Charles Sproson]: Yes you are right, the SSR is certainly no fun run, but great fun can be had whilst preparing for and racing it on the day. We again have the same “safety” team in place on the day of the race, from the LSU the previous day. These guys are slick, professional and ready to help guide or direct any runners having difficulties with the course and its technicalities. There is no “graded scrambling” like in the LSU, but don’t let that fool you, the SSR is a seriously extreme race in the way it travels carefully selected and highly technical single track trails in the Lakes. Runners can expect massive mountain vista’s, highly technical and rocky terrain underfoot, traversing the Scafell Massif and the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, and some really great trails in the second half of the race.


[Advendure]: Dynafit and Salewa are both active supporters and main sponsors of the race weekend. The philosophy of both companies is definitely very close to the style of your races, which are thoroughbred mountain runs. Please tell us a bit about your cooperation.

[Charles Sproson]: We are very proud to have Salewa and Dynafit support the races and yes the ethos of both companies fits the race weekend very well. These companies understand the demands and rigours that running in the mountains puts on both clothing and equipment needed for both races. We value their support greatly and encourage racers to check out their range of awesome kit!


[Advendure]: Are you happy with the evolution of your initial vision for the races, and the support of the trail running community? Could you name a few distinguished athletes that will be taking part this year?

[Charles Sproson]: We are extremely happy with the evolution and uptake of the races through-out the mountain running community. Whilst there are no big European names taking part this year there are certainly a few UK skyrunning stars on the scene. Keep a look out for Sarah Sheridan, Catherine Slater, Sally Fawcett in the Ladies Race and George Foster, Andy Bryce and Steve Birkinshaw in the men’s race for the SSR.

The LSU looks to be dominated by Sophie Grant or Henriette Albon in the Ladies race and for the men’s keep a close eye on James Elson, Tim-Campion Smith, Jason Millward and Rob Sinclair.


[Advendure]: For athletes from abroad, a race is also a great opportunity to become familiar with the cultural and culinary attractions of the area. What would you recommended for your runners from abroad - including Greece! - to ensure that they take away an integrated experience of the Lake District? Are there any parallel events for runners and their companions during the race weekend?

[Charles Sproson]: We welcome and encourage racers from abroad to come and sample some of the delights we have on offer for the weekend. There is plenty of true Lakeland culture in our events hub of Ambleside, being one of the most popular holiday destinations of the area.


[Advendure]: It would be interesting for us to have an overview of all of the activities organized under the Lake District Sky Trails umbrella.

[Charles Sproson]: Lake District Sky Trails is our “race brand”, sister company to Mountain Run our coaching and trainings brand. Between the 2 brands we offer some of the toughest mountain races in the UK and on top of this we offer guided experiences for runners of all abilities or the chance to grow their skills in all things mountain running, whether is be skills for navigation, skyrunning, ultra running and more. We also have another off shoot called Nics Nordic Walks where those suffering injury or just less of a desire to travel at speed through the mountains can still enjoy guided experiences, skills and adventure holidays as well.


[Advendure]: On occasion of the collaboration between the Lake District Sky Trails and Advendure, and our visit to the UK in July, we would like to hear if you know anything about mountain running in Greece? We are proud of our full racing calendar (more than 200 races a year), which includes several skyrunning events. Do you have any ideas for further cooperation in the future? Perhaps in the form of joint efforts with organizers in Greece? An exchange of elite athletes? Advendure is keen to act as the forum for discussions on trail running and outdoor events in general.

[Charles Sproson]: We are always open to collaborations in races and idea’s and whilst not knowing the race calendar in Greece we are always keen to know more. Greece obviously has a great heritage in running, developing the marathon distance which still stands today. Greece has very special mountains and its certainly something we look forward to learning more about and getting to know on a first hand basis.


[Advendure]: To keep the dream alive, you have to keep moving forward and keep innovating. What is your vision for the future of LDST? How would you like it to grow?

[Charles Sproson]: LDST is all about technical running in the mountains, whether rain or shine. We are looking at ways to develop a “winter” event, something to stand up to our own Lakes Sky Ultra or Scafell Sky Race. It will always be a tight ship, but there are still a few ideas to roll out. We believe in quality over quantity.


[Advendure]: And one last general question. How do you view developments in the mountain running world, both in Great Britain and globally? Do you think it has preserved its initial values, the purity of competing in nature and on the mountains? What elements require particular attention, now that the sport is becoming more and more popular?

[Charles Sproson]: Safety is the first thing that springs to mind. With a large growth in the area of “technical mountain running” so does the opportunity in accidents happening. We would encourage all mountain runners to go through a full apprenticeship and make sure they gain the skills in an appropriate way.

Mountain running is going through serious growth and the ethic and values seem to be protected, but all concerned need to make sure they understand nature in the best way possible. This means looking after the trails as much as their own skills, integrating into nature in a way that preserves the places we love, so all future generations can enjoy them as much as we do. Race organisers need to do their upmost to preserve the nature of the environment that they use.

Thanks for the interview, we’ve had fun answering the questions and can’t wait to see some Greek runners on the start lines, looking forward to enjoying the races we have on offer.

Cheers, Charlie (Head guide at Mountain Run and Race Creator at the LDST offices).


[Advendure]: Charlie, thank you for the great conversation! Looking forward for LDST races in July!

Dimitrios Troupis

Photo ©: Guillem Casanova

Films by MovieIt & James Appleton

Δημήτρης Τρουπής

Γεννήθηκε στο Ξυλόκαστρο Κορινθίας το 1969 και ζει στην Πάτρα τα τελευταία 30 χρόνια. Συμμετείχε στην συντακτική ομάδα του Adventure Zone από το 2009, ενώ μαζί με τον Τάκη Τσογκαράκη ίδρυσαν και "τρέχουν" το Advendure.  Παθιάζεται με τους αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος, υπεραντοχής και  περιπέτειας. Έχει πολλές συμμετοχές και διακρίσεις σε αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος όλων των αποστάσεων, με έμφαση στους αγώνες ultra trail.  Θεωρεί ότι το τρέξιμο στην φύση μας βοηθά να ενισχύσουμε την περιβαλλοντική ευαισθητοποίηση μας.


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