The Places We Run – The Mudcrew Story
It is no secret that Nicky and I love our trips to Cornwall. We’ve tackled some truly amazing events in the county. Mudcrew have hosted much of our fondly remembered Cornish running. It was my great pleasure to catch up with Andrew Ferguson (Ferg) and Jane Stephens who make up ⅔ of the Mudcrew team.
Mudcrew’s Black RAT (32 miles) was the first event I’d ever done in Cornwall. That was back in 2015. My beautiful lady wife had successfully completed the Red RAT (20 miles) in 2014 and absolutely loved it. The RAT (or Roseland August Trail) was also the first ever Mudcrew event, in 2011. That first year saw the 32 and 20 miles versions plus an 11 mile, White RAT.
The RAT festival of trail running has expanded to now include The Plague (the whole of the Black RAT in both directions!). 2019 saw the introduction of BOYD24 (Bring Out Your Dead), 24 hours of repeating the brutal last section of the RAT course. Truly for the lion hearted!
Mudcrew is headed by Ferg, Jane and Andy Trudge. Jane was the last to join the team after co-founder Jo Lake went on to new challenges.
The first RAT was an ambitious undertaking with coach transport for nearly 500 people to three different start locations and 32 miles of coast path to be marked and checked. Ferg was relieved that the first year was such a great success and made the effort that had gone into creating it worthwhile.
“It was a huge learning curve though. I didn’t finish marking the course until 5AM the day of the event, I was exhausted before the day even started.”
There weren’t the number of trail events companies that we are now spoiled with back then. Those that did exist were putting on some epic events, most of which Ferg had taken part in. Yet he felt that there was scope to add a bit more to event day than these early companies were offering.
“Although they were commercial pioneers, we thought the events lacked passion…….. We wanted to put on a party afterwards, with camping, so that everyone could chill and enjoy a social evening together….. The RAT afterparty is now legendary.”
Social media was in its infancy back then and the Mudcrew team were out there using the old school method of handing flyers to runners at other races. At The Grizzly (an epic trail race in East Devon) they tucked 1000 leaflets under car windscreen wipers. As the success of that first RAT proved, Ferg’s belief that they were offering something new and different was lapped up by the trail running community.
Jane was already a fan by the time she joined the team:
“I ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff! MudCrew had been going for a couple of years when I came on board, so I was lucky enough to join an existing company with a great following. Apart from helping out at club level, I was fairly new to the game. My first event as part of the team was the RAT in 2015…… it was amazing, I was so glad I took the plunge.”
Andy, Jane and Ferg have naturally found how their individual strengths help the Mudcrew team work so effectively. Ferg points to Andy’s exceptional organisational skills:
“Andy is quietly behind the scenes doing all the crucial stuff, dealing with permissions, councils, timing and safety, financials, all the real important stuff that I would be terrible at!”
Ferg takes responsibility for the course and crew, plus their social media whilst Jane is, as Ferg explains:
“..super organised, the smiling front face of the company, she lives and breathes Mudcrew and the sport.”
Jane tells me how when it comes to race day, the team effort culminates in the incredible experience us runners are treated to:
“During the event we work very much as a team, doing what needs doing. Ferg tends to stay out on the course and Andy and I look after race HQ. I deal with the finish line and awards etc. “
Mudcrew’s other flagship event is the Arc Of Attrition. A winter 100 ultra marathon, ran entirely on the South West Coast. It is both revered and feared. With good reason. The finish rate is around 50% in a good year! A 50 mile race has been added to the weekend in recent years. Sharing a finish line with the 100 and starting on the stage of the iconic Minack Theatre, it is no ‘baby’ ultra marathon!
The ARC has been digging itself into my brain since I first learned of its existence back in 2015. I even wrote a piece (here) about how I would *never* entertain such a challenge…..
I had a place in the ARC 50 for this year. I was taking it very seriously, I’ve run recees on the whole course and was training hard. Like so many of us, my challenges are on hold, which is obviously frustrating, but health must be our priority. The amount of work Mudcrew put into creating these events means these frustrations must be tenfold for them.
As a competitor I’d been kept informed about the incredible lengths to which Jane and the team had gone in order to make the event Covid safe:
“We had an incredible plan ready for the Arc that was really tricky to get right but the latest lockdown meant it was impossible.”
Both Jane and Ferg say that their favourite memories as race organisers are all about seeing those final runners through the finish line on both the RAT and the ARC. On a personal level, Jane also treasures the moment she got to present her own daughter with a RAT trophy.
Jane and Ferg are proud of the standing and reputation their events have earned in the trail running and ultra marathon communities.
Ferg, as will we learn later, is a fan of the big ultra marathons around the world and is chuffed to link The ARC to that world.
“I’m most proud that the RaidLight Arc 100 is now made it to Western States Qualification status. It was a personal ambition of mine for the race”
Janes ambitions for Mudrew are simply:
“To continue to grow our flagship events and to be a name known everywhere synonymous with great races!”
Ferg agrees, also pointing out that they have plans to extend the scope of their latest event to be announced, The South West Traverse. This will hopefully be the next event they host, if Covid risks and restrictions are sufficiently reduced by then.
As well as celebrating every single finisher in their events, the level of elite athletes who seem to be drawn to Cornwall to take these challenges is also a source of much pride.
Both Jane and Ferg say it can be frustrating when some participants don’t understand the work that goes into their events, sometimes bombarding them with queries when they are at their most busy, in the days immediately before race day. Or indeed afterwards, when they finally allow fatigue to take over:
“One of the busiest times for emails/ questions is immediately after a event when all you want to do/ can do is sleep … we can go 3 nights without sleep (or very little sleep) on the Arc sometimes.”
Mudcrew has quite a large loyal army of volunteers who help make race days so special, the ARC Angels are credited by many runners as the reason they managed to complete the event. Jane too says that their crew are the reason the events are so successful. She also has the support of her husband who, along with her daughter, make each event a genuine family affair. Although she does say “The thing I miss the most is being able to take part!”
In fact, carrying on the family theme, when asked who inspires her most Jane replies:
“My daughter and my close running friends.”
Jane is also grateful to the support Mudcrew have received during the most challenging of years for events organisers:
“It has been an extremely difficult year granted, but I love how supportive the running community has been on the whole. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made (with cancellations of the RAT and the ARC particularly). It is made a little easier when you get messages supporting our decision.“
Ferg also draws inspiration from local running legends such as Jo Meek and Paul Maskell.
“Definitely Jo Meek , a good friend who has raced at the very highest level seemingly forever. She continues to train like a ninja and is as competitive today as ever … she shows no sign of slowing down or losing her zest for the sport“
“Paul Maskell is a GB 24 hour team runner who manages to mix training with family and a full time air ambulance paramedic job. 24 hour track running is by far and away the hardest discipline in the sport of ultra running, I have crewed enough of them to see how it has broken the very best in the UK.”
Mudcrew haven’t offered any virtual events during this challenging time, letting others fill that gap in our race plans. Ferg doesn’t find himself tempted to get involved but Jane has completed a few in the last year to keep her motivation levels up. She wasn’t able to create a “Lockdown gym” though, as her garage doubled as the Mudcrew store.
Both Jane ane Ferg are clearly motivated runners, as we discover whilst delving into their impressive trail and ultra marathon accomplishments.
Like so many of us of a certain age, they both came to this wonderful sport relatively late. Ferg, around the age of 40, had finished his football career and was looking to fill that void:
“I missed the social aspect and the exercise when I was too old to play anymore. I quickly found out that I was never going to be fast and that I soon got fed up with road marathons. I got into the trail ultra scene in the early days, around 2007. I did the very first Classic Quarter when there were only 18 entrants. I loved it and quickly got addicted to distance trail running.”
Jane seems to be equally addicted, she started her running journey almost 10 years ago and her glittering array of achievements in that time is extraordinary:
“I started running in 2011 and ran my first marathon in 2013. I then ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff!
I have run approximately 75 marathons and ultras to date.”
Amongst this eye watering list of achievements is the 145 mile long Grand Union Canal race, which she rates as her proudest achievement to date. Jane has completed both the 100 and 50 mile versions of Centurion Running’s South Downs Way events saying the 50 is probably her favourite – “I loved the 50 because it was the second half of the 100, but in daylight!”
Ferg enjoys most of the local events, he tends to support them all. I’ve bumped into him at quite a few over the years. He gets frustrated at the lack of passion he finds at some events, but has high praise for some of the South West’s epic trail races:
“The Grizzly, which I’ve done at least 15 times…. As a Race Director I can see what a massive amount of work goes into it, with a mind boggling number of runners. I also really like Bys Vyken events such as the Cousin Jack, I love the passion which David puts in (Bys Vyken RD, see my interview with him here).”
Ferg has also completed the Grand Union Canal Race as well as an ever growing list of epic events from across Europe and beyond. These include such classics as The Spine Race, Leadville 100 and The Golden Ring 100 in Russia.
“I love to combine the sport with travel and have done several other major and low key events in Europe and beyond.”
These adventures are on hold for now. Jane and Ferg both have grand plans for 2021 if health and restrictions allow. Jane has her place in the legendary Marathon des Sables held back from last year, while Ferg has his eye on The Dragon’s Back multi day race in September. Along the way he is hoping to race in Spain and The Azores with further trips to South Africa and Thailand at the end of the year.
One fantastic Mudcrew event neither Jane and Ferg have mentioned is The Scrooge. Sadly the venue is no longer available for this Christmas trail running extravaganza. Many in the trail running community, particularly Nicky and myself, have very fond memories of dressing up in festive costumes and joining Andy, Ferg and Jane for some festive fun in Mevagissey.