Veteran of a lots of semi-planned nights out in the mountains and safety consultant to hundreds of expeditions and trail runs, Lucas Trihey explains what event crew can do to prepare.

Event crew, whether paid or volunteers are the backbone of Australian trail running. Crew often end up miles from backup and might need to depend on their own resources if stuff happens.


  • Learn to navigate. If event crew can navigate reliably they are a fantastic resource if runners go missing or if things start to go pear-shaped. Navigating in the bush, mist or rain is our bread and butter at ESS. Our staff mostly come from an Outdoor Recreation background and have quals and experience in off-track navigating because it’s super-important when working at events in rough or remote areas. You can acquire these skills too.
  • Learn and practice these skills:
    • Take a bearing off the map and follow it in the bush.
    • Learn about contour lines and topographic maps. Once you understand topo maps you can“see” the shape of the land by looking at the map.
    • Find out how to plan a route off-track and through the bush.
    • Learn to navigate in mist or snow (and practice!).
    • Discover what a “hand-rail” feature is.
    • Knowhow to take a back-bearing and triangulate off known features to work out your position.
    • Find out about magnetic variation.
  • Get a quality base-plate compass.
  • How to learn? Rogaining is an awesome sport with events all around Australia. Make a team of friends, do a couple of rogaines and your nav will improve out of sight. Or do a nav course with an adventure company or scouts.
  • Learn to use a GPS app in your phone – these can be a huge help, just be careful with battery life, watch out for water damage and don’t break it 🙂


Have a grab bag packed and with you in case you need to go bush to help at a remote marshal position or to stay and help an injured runner. This is the deluxe list with everything you could conceivably need – use it as a checklist for small or big events:

  • 50+ litre pack. The extra space is useful if you need to take extra gear to give the safety crew a hand or take more supplies to someone.
  • Wet weather gear. In alpine or cold regions include jacket and over-pants.
  • Shoes or boots that’ll keep your feet drier for longer in wet conditions. If you end up staying out for hours (or overnight?)your feet will thank you.
  • Head torch.
  • Knife or multi-tool
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Bovvy sack. An awesome lightweight shelter to keep a few people alive until help arrives. Don’t use a stove inside without plenty of ventilation.
  • OR a tarp or lightweight fly with cord for rigging a rain shelter.
  • Map
  • Compass
  • GPS app in your phone (or even better a stand-alone GPS device that will run on AA batteries for a couple of days).
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Spare socks
  • Thermal tops and bottoms.
  • A lightweight plastic bag to keep spare clothing dry.
  • Fire kit. A ziplock bag with newspaper, matches and a fire-lighter.


Most of the time we are a lucky species, however stuff DOES happen and proper preparation can be life-saving.

Develop a pessimistic streak – ask the ”what ifs”:

What if the runners don’t finish by dark as planned?

What if an Aid Station runs out of water or food?

What if a bunch of runners get lost?

Will a mechanical break down mean a crew vehicle can’t get much needed water and supplies to an Aid Station in time?

Will exhausted runners survive a deterioration of weather in Alpine areas?


Get used to the idea that tired runners are no longer normal people. “Runner’s brain” can lead them to make bad decisions, miss turns, forget to navigate. They don’t put on warm gear until too cold, they forget to eat enough, they push on when exhausted and then collapse in places where it’s hard to get them.

Do organisers have reserves of resources? Surge capacity can be very useful when a few things go wrong at once (spare crew, vehicles, equipment etc).

Learn about the compounding and cascading effects of small mistakes and omissions in a complex organisation. Sometime an otherwise inconsequential error can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

How good is the Risk Management Plan? Does it look objectively at what might go wrong or does it gloss over the true risks?

Are there crew in the team who can navigate to an injured, ill or lost runner in the rain and dark?


ESS has the gear and expertise to do on-site blood analysis for a range of useful tests. We can do tests that help our doctors, nurses and first aiders with medical conditions related to electrolyte imbalance, cardiac issues, kidney ailments and lots more. This gear has proven helpful in diagnosing an illness, ruling out a potential illness and has definitely improved the care we can offer a patient. Our blood testing equipment goes to all the big and/or remote events.


Photo: On the North Ridge of Mt Cook Aoraki, NZ, 1994. Photo Lucas Trihey

ESS staff have a background in the outdoors. Many are qualified guides, climbers, mountaineers, white-water paddlers and trail runners. We have doctors who’ve won the toughest Sky Runs (hello Jacinta!) and who hold BASE Jump and Windsuit records (gidday Glenn!).

Our regular staff have climbed Mt Cook in NZ, are expeditioners with experience in Antarctica, the Australia high country, the dark forests and alpine areas of Tassie and in the mountain areas in the Karakoram of northern Pakistan and western China. We’ve guided on the snow-capped mountains of Africa and have trekked in the Kimberley of WA.

What do our staff experts wear in the bush?

Well… what they DON”T wear is cotton.

In the world of bush search and rescue, canyon guiding, climbing mountains and inhospitable cold and wet environments cotton is known as “The Fatal Fabric”.

Cotton is hydro-phyllic – it loves water – so it makes a great towel. In fact it’s been reported as being able to absorb up to 27 times its own weight in water. If you wear cotton in a cold and wet place you’ll end up with a damp, clammy garment against your skin. It can get this water from rain or from your sweat. The fabric saps the heat out of your body, makes the battle against hypothermia impossible to win and it takes ages to dry.

So when it’s cold and wet you’ll only see ESS staff wearing synthetics or a good quality merino garment.

There’s more info in this article:


Lucas Trihey is an expeditioner, outdoor education lecturer, safety director for trail events and ESS principal. He’s trained for Swift Water Rescue and here explains the guidelines for when deep or fast-flowing water gets too dangerous. He also outlines what, if anything, event organisers can do and when it’s simply time to cancel.

Photo: the author high and dry in big water on the north side of the Karakoram in Xinjiang, China on an expedition to 7400m Mt Chongtar in the 90s. Photo: Colin Monteath


Experienced trail runners know that “runner’s brain” can lead them to make mistakes and bad decisions when fatigued. Tired runners place their trust in organisers to make high-level decisions about matters like water levels, lightning or wind storms and bushfires. When organisers fail in this role people get hurt.

A good rule of thumb for Australian conditions is that organisers will need to implement extra safety measures to keep runners safe if:

The water is above knee deep, even if slow-flowing.


The water is flowing faster than walking pace (5km/hour) even if shallow.


  • Monitor the weather and creek, estuary or crossing levels in the lead up to the event. On event day organisers need to know if the water level is likely to rise, drop or stay the same. Watch out for tidal estuaries.
  • Get experienced water safety people at the crossings – the common standard is Swift Water Rescue but there are other white-water paddling qualifications that may be relevant. These people won’t necessarily enable organisers to send runners across fast or deep water – but they will make better and more informed decisions to help the organisers.
  • Position marshals on either side to show runners where to enter and leave the water. These marshals can also monitor the water level and let organisers know if the level rises or if the flow gets faster.
  • Change the route away from hazardous water, this might be the day for that 2km diversion to the footbridge.
  • Avoid crossings with waterfalls, rocks or rapids downstream.
  • Avoid crossings with log, snags or overhanging trees downstream. With good reason these hazards strike fear into the hearts of white-water paddlers. Even slow-moving water has enough power to pin a person under water.
  • A rope “hand-rail” can sometimes be strung tightly across a crossing. Only ever do so on the upstream side. This technique does not make it safe to cross deep or fast water but it can help runners stay upright in slow flowing or shallow water. Get an experienced white-water person to rig such a rope.
  • Have a safety boat downstream of, or in the middle of a crossing. This doesn’t make a deep or fast crossing safe but can be good to look after nervous runners in slow or knee-deep water or if the bottom is rough.
  • Unless it’s a known sandy bottom tell runners to leave their shoes on. Shoes help them stay upright and protect the feet.
  • Trekking poles can help unsteady runners in water crossings.
  • Runners can buddy-up to cross shallow or slow-moving water. Four, six or eight legs are more stable than two.
  • Cancel the event or the leg that crosses water
  • Event organisers who need to contend with water crossings need advice from experienced water safety people in the planning stages. Make plans to monitor levels and water hazards and have good water people lined up to help you make good decisions on the day.


  • Rope use in moving water can be very dangerous in the hands of inexperienced water safety people.
  • Never tie anyone in to a rope in moving water.
  • Unless you have experienced water safety people at a crossing leave the rope at home, it’s probably time to cancel that section.
  • Inexperienced safety marshals or event crew should not be placed at water crossings with deep or fast flowing water. There’s a lot that can go wrong and they just won’t know “what they don’t know”.


Having provided first aid and medical teams for hundreds of endurance events Lucas Trihey considers the dangers of heat stroke.

March 2016

As a race organiser and responder, heat stroke is the injury that worries me most. When it strikes a runner down things need to happen quickly to save the person from serious organ damage or death. In hot conditions many runners find it difficult to anticipate and prevent.


High temperatures with high humidity is the worst combination. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) a sunny day with a temp of 29C and 75% humidity with little wind is hot and sticky enough to place people undertaking “continuous activity” at high risk of heat stroke.

In hot, low-humidity conditions runners can cope quite well and avoid heat injury because the body is able to shed heat to the (drier) environment using our body’s wonderful cooling system. But when it’s hot AND humid it’s harder to shed heat and we start to cook.

So while participants in Death Valley (USA) or across the Simpson Desert (Australia) often run in safety in 40+C temps due to the low humidity a day of moderate temps and high humidity will see runners in other areas struggling to stay cool and some will suffer heat injury.

HOT AND DRY = OFTEN OKAY – Body can usually shed heat

WARM/HOT AND HUMID = DANGEROUS – Body can’t shed heat


  • When you exercise, heat is generated as a by-product of muscles working and if you can’t shed this heat to the environment your temperature will rise.
  • If your temperature rises you will get sick, if it rises far enough your organs will start to cook and fairly quickly will stop working – this is life threatening.
  • To avoid heat injury you need to avoid getting too hot. You need to help your body shed the heat that your muscles are producing, protect yourself from radiant heat and if you find yourself getting hot you need to slow down and find ways to cool your body.


Be aware that hydration actually has little to do with preventing heat stress. There are many examples of well-hydrated runners and trekkers getting heat stroke. What you need to do is to cool your body. Encouraging people to over-hydrate in an attempt to prevent heat stroke is misguided and is likely to lead to over-hydration and illness (hyponatraemia). As always, the best hydration advice is to “drink to your thirst”.

Read about Austrian tourist Caroline Grossmueller who died at Lake Eyre in 1998 of heatstroke with plenty of water remaining:


Over the years I’ve been at events and have treated runners with heat stroke who have done permanent damage to their organs. I have also researched events where participants have died or received severe brain or organ damage. See the CASE STUDIES below.

After studying these incidents I sought advice from experts including Associate Professor of Physiology, Martin Thompson (Sydney University) and papers from the American College of Sports Medicine. The following guidelines come from this research and should help runners and event organisers to reduce the chances of heat stroke.



  • Wear loose, light coloured clothing. Avoid black lycra.
  • Use ice water and ice packs to keep your cool. Lots of events provide these items now.
  • Tip iced water over your head, torso and limbs at regular intervals.
  • Put small ice packs under your cap, against your neck (carotid area), under arms and down your shorts to rest against your inner groin/thigh – all these parts of the body have good blood supply and are a great way to cool you down.
  • If possible run in the shade rather than full sun.
  • If possible run in places that catch a breeze rather than in a still, humid valley.
  • If the heat is bothering you take regular rests in the shade.
  • Have a good supply of fluids with you and drink if thirsty – but don’t overhydrate.
  • If feeling the heat stop at an aid station to get help rather than pushing on to collapse somewhere remote.


  • Provide ice water dousing buckets around the course.
  • Provide ice packs (party ice in a small freezer bag) for runners.
  • Prepare your marshals so they know how to recognise heat injury and help runners on hot days.
  • In dangerously hot/humid conditions organisers should be prepared to shorten, re-route or cancel the event.
  • Use the WBGT index to help evaluate conditions (see the section on WBGT)
  • Advise your marshals and aid stations not to encourage over-drinking. Simply filling your stomach with too much water will not prevent over-heating and may make them ill with the effects of sodium dilution (hyponatraemia).


The Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer (WBGT) is an index value derived from a combination of temp in the shade, temp in the sun, wind (or lack of) and humidity. WBGT is recognised internationally as offering event organisers and managers an appropriate tool to make informed decisions about the risk of heat stress for individuals exerting themselves in the heat.

Local WBGT values are available for some Australian locations via the BOM website:

We use a hand-held WBGT meter at all warm weather events.



On a warm day in November 2012 I coordinated the first aid team at Glenbrook Marathon for 200 runners. Temps were mid 30s and humidity was around 70%. Late in the morning we heard reports that a runner had collapsed approx 150m from an aid station. Not long after collapsing this person was unconscious, fitting and having seizures, all signs that the brain was being damaged. We called an ambulance, got ice packs and cold water onto the person, and he spent three days in Nepean Hospital being treated for kidney damage. He was lucky the collapse was close to a road and we were able to get to him within 15 minutes, but even so he suffered life threatening heat stroke. It would have been far more dangerous if this collapse had occurred on a remote section of the course.


At a 15km beach run on Bribie Island in October 2013 a leading runner didn’t appear as expected at the finish. He was later found unconscious on a track among the dunes near the beach. Tragically this runner died. One possibility is that the runner began to suffer from heat stroke, became disoriented and left the beach. This thread on Cool Running has more information:


An Australian participant in the October 2011 event in Egypt suffered seizures and heat stroke that led to permanent brain damage. According to media reports the runner now needs 24/7 care and lives on a disability pension.

An American runner in the 2010 Gobi Desert event died from “complications due to… heatstroke”


American College of Sports Medicine (Position Stand)

Exertional Heat Illness during Training and Competition


Trek for Timor

Pleased to announce ESS will be providing first aid services and a radio network to the great team of volunteers organising Blue Mountains Trek for Timor in September 2016. This family-friendly, non-competitive trek is 50km with shorter distance options and is a fund raiser for great causes in one of our nearest and newest neighbouring nations. In the past funds have helped build schools and other important community initiatives.

Blood Analysis – on site / remote area

We are pleased to announce that our medical service now includes on-site blood analysis. This specialised equipment in the hands of our trained medical staff is a significant improvement and will allow us to make better informed decisions and deliver improved diagnostics and patient care. Particulary important for remote work, the equipment will be valuable at all events where our ability to test for electrolytes, creatinine, glucose, haemoglobin and troponin levels could save lives. A useful effect that blood analysis will provide is that it can be used to rule out options as well as diagnosing an illness and as such can greatly help a doctor to rule out a serious issue and allow a runner/trekker/expeditioner to continue.

Managing Heat

ESS has supported some pretty out there endurance events in hot conditions and are leaders in managing events, athletes and crew in hot and/or humid environments. We use the WBGT heat index to evaluate conditions and put in place strategies to avoid heat illness. As well as helping manage lots of summer endurance events, last year we advised Kirrily Dear and her crew about heat management for her 12-day, 860km in western NSW in a hot summer and we are working with Mina Guli as she prepares to run five marathons across the Tanami Desert in February.