Behind the Scenes: The Revenant Community

Two things that Scott Worthington and Welcome Rock’s Tom O’Brien stand for – Community and Challenge. They’re building both in The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run.

I love the outdoors and I love a challenge. And I love people that love a challenge. It’s really important in my heart and in my wife’s heart to recognise the strength in everybody.”

Scott Worthington at the close of the 2020 Revenant Ultra Adventure Run
Scott Worthington and Tom O'Brien at the closing ceremony table with the Welcome Rock Whisky bottle and shot glasses.
Scott and Tom about to present the very first Revenants with their ceremonial shot glass full of Welcome Rock whisky.

One of the very special things about the Revenant run is its community feel. The runners, their families, supporters and all the volunteers feel a sense of connection and belonging. 

It’s not an accident. Everyone has a part to play in the Revenant family.

Family And Friends Are Key To Success

Very few people conquer enormous challenges without a support network behind them. Ultra-runners are no different. 

It’s hard for Revenant spectators. So much of the course is off-limits to the public. Nevertheless, family and friends spent hours up at the Garston Ski Hut — aka Revenant HQ. 

Some watched the Facebook updates driving up the long and winding gravel road whenever their runner was close to coming in. A few had hired campervans and camped out onsite 24/7. They were there, supporting the race even in the wee small hours. 

But wherever they stayed, people bonded. Everyone shared pride — and anxiety — as the hours wore on. 

The 2020 Spectator Innovation

Two competitors toil up the hill through tussocks and scrub after visiting checkpoint 2.
2020 was the first Revenant experience for “Tiramasu” as this team (Terry and Sue) became known. Friends and family cheered them on as they toiled up the hill from checkpoint two.

 In 2019 we watched the runners disappear into the dark. There was no point in staying at the ski hut; there’d be nothing to see for hours. The fog billowed around the cars as they snaked back down the mountain. 21 tiny headlamps bobbed on the hillside on the way to checkpoint one. Now and then we spotted the runners and hoped they were going in the right direction. 

But the 2020 experience was far more satisfying for those left behind. 

“Don’t disappear,” Scott told all the families and friends before the race began. “We’ve got a surprise for you later.”

The 25 runners disappeared over the horizon within minutes. But instead of feeling bereft, anticipation rippled through the crowd.

Up the trail and over the edge we went. Picking our way through tussocks and spiky Spaniards we followed Scott and Tom down the hill. There, below us, was Checkpoint Two. 

And we didn’t have long to wait.

Angus Watson runs down the fence-line. He's one of the first three runners to make it passed checkpoint two.
Angus Watson on his way to checkpoint three. Angus, Louis and Ian took a slightly different route to the rest and were the early front-runners.

Ian Evans, Angus Watson and Louis Schindler — had outdistanced the rest. There they were, loping towards us on their way to checkpoint three. These guys were on a mission — they waved, grinned and disappeared before we knew it.

For 90 minutes we waited, watched and cheered as the runners ran past. This was their first experience of that “unexpected-meeting” boost of their spirits. 

It was a terrific lift for those of us watching and waiting as well, and we loved it.

Volunteers Are An Essential Part of the Revenant Family

The race couldn’t run without its volunteers. They are essential for safety and communication. 

Gotta Have A Medic

David is a paramedic from Dunedin and in some ways, he had the hardest job. Based at the ski hut, David was awake when every competitor arrived both in daylight and the wee, small hours of the night. His task was to assess each one to be sure that they were capable of going out on the next lap. Imagine how hard it would be for him to say “No” to a competitor who was desperate to continue.

David was also on board to assess and treat any injuries that arose. Cramps, stomach issues, hallucinations and sore feet are common problems. But the one that got him out on the course was when Australian soldier Speedy’s old knee injury flared up. Ben took David out on course in “Raj” (one of the two trusty Welcome Rock jeeps) to bring him in.

David, the medic, outside the Garston Ski Hut, aka Revenant HQ.
All the volunteers are here because of their connection to someone else. “How did you get involved?” I asked David, our trusty medic. “My wife knows Ben,” he replied. “They needed a paramedic and here I am.”

Where Are The Runners? Track Volunteers Are On The Case

On a course designed to be uncharted and devious, you can’t have people stationed at each checkpoint. So other volunteers are ranging out on the course. Equipped with back-country radios, it was Ben, Ian, Kendra and Graham’s job to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for. 

Based at the Mud Hut, they spent hours walking between checkpoints. Between trips, they manned the hut, which was a welcome watering spot for the racers. And every time they radioed in, Scott and Tom updated the leaderboard. 

Graham clambers into the grass-filled water race to photograph competitors on the narrow trail.
Graham (from Auckland) takes yet another social media-bound photograph of competitors on the water race.

They’re all here because of their connection with Scott, as I found when I had lunch with them at the hut. 

“I’ve known Scott and Sue for years,” Graham told me as we munched our homemade burgers. “We worked together in a restaurant in Auckland when we were just 15 years old.” 

“We’re old friends too,” said Ian Jones (yes, the All Black) who was MC at Thursday’s race briefing as well. 

What do All Blacks do when they leave the fold? I wondered. 

“I’m still working that out,” Ian laughed. “Lately I’ve been helping with the new All Black Experience simulation at Sky City.”

Visitors will go in groups and be wowed by all that it takes to become an All Black. They’ll learn to pass a ball, work together on tactics and experience the haka. “When I ‘walked’ down the tunnel and heard the National Anthem it was almost like being there again,” says Ian.

Kendra’s part of the running community and serves the Worthingtons their coffee fix whenever they make their regular visits to Alexandra’s Tin Goose cafe. And what about Ben – our indefatigable photographer, interviewer, Instagramer, jeep driver and go-fer? Well. this year’s race was dedicated to Ben, a Revenant if ever there was one.

Even The Horses Have A Special Story

Last year, Sue Worthington took her horses to Welcome Rock to “give me something to do while Scott was stressing over the race.” Now, a year later, it seems the horses have their own particular role to play in the Revenant family. 

“People loved them. We had messages asking: ‘Are you going to bring the horses this year?’

They’ve actually been really useful because you can go cross country with them, you can go anywhere with them. So, we’ve been spotting runners and been able to let Scott know where they are.”
Sue Worthington

Four horses and riders pause on the tussock-covered hillside. They, too, have been roaming around to check on runners out on the course.

One of them, Abby, “is a bit of a Revenant herself,” says Sue.

First, her family survived the Christchurch earthquake and moved to a property on the Port Hills. But, in 2017, a wildfire sparked up in the Hills. Before it finished, it had burned nine houses and more than 1600ha of land. 

At first, Abby’s owners thought they were safe. Then, as the flames rose higher, the police arrived: “You’ve got to get out,” they said. 

As some worked to evacuate the house, others rushed to get the horses. Most were quickly loaded into the horse float. Only Abby, terrified by the noise, the smoke and the looming flames, galloped out of reach.

“I’m not leaving without Abby,” said Nicky, her owner.

“You’ve got five minutes to find her,” said the police, “and that’s it!”

But still, the panicky horse wouldn’t come. 

“Abby, you’ve got to come now, or you’ll die,” pleaded Nicky. 

“And, just like that, Abby walked straight to her, and they got out,” says Sue. 

Already A New Year Beckons

Scott and Tom spend months planning the race. Two weeks after the 2020 race, they were out on the course once more. Chatting, arguing, rehashing and planning they collected the checkpoints. 

What deviousness were they planning for 2021? Time will surely tell.

Sunset over the southern mountains, taken from the Garston ski hut .
The sun slowly sets over the Revenant country. What will 2021 bring to our runners? Return to Time of my Life next year to find out.

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