Best Ultra Marathons UK 2020: The Ultimate UK Ultra Races List

Written By Sam Heward

Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)

7 February 2020

10 Comments

  1. WomenfitnessWatches

    Very good info. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved it for later!

    Reply
  2. Lanora

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous
    blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    Reply
    • Jamie Sparks

      Thanks Lanora! It was written by Sam, one of the Co-Founders of Ultra X.

      Reply
  3. Boris

    Wow, this article is nice, my younger sister is analyzing such things, thus I
    am going to convey her.

    Reply
  4. Clyde

    Thanks for sharing such a pleasant thinking, piece
    of writing is nice, thats why i have read it entirely

    Reply
  5. Rebecca

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to understand a lot approximately this, like you wrote the guide in it or
    something. I think that you just can do with a few p.c.
    to force the message home a little bit, however instead of that, this
    is great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

    Reply

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

This month, we’re considering which ultra marathons are the best in the world in 2020. So far we’ve gone big: Asia, the US and Africa. This week we’re honing in on the birthplace of Ultra X and home for us — the UK. So, which are the best ultra marathons and races in the UK?

Over the last ten years the sport has exploded in the UK and there are now enough races to spend every weekend of the year racing, and it seems that many practically do! As such, there are a host of incredible races under the ultramarathon category: single stage, multi stage, 100 mile races and many more. Here we name some of the best ones out there to consider when planning your race calendar.

The Pilgrims Challenge – XNRG

Now in its 11th year, XNRG are one of the older players in the UK scene. Set up in part to offer training races for the growing contingents of MDS (see Best Ultra Marathons in Africa article) participants from the UK they offer a series of no-fuss, multi-stage trail races. The team take care of accommodation, food, and all the little bits so that contestants can focus on the running.

Pilgrims is the standout event and maxes out around 300 each year, with many returning for more action. Noticeable at these races is the sense of community that Neil Thubron (race director) fosters so that events often feel less race and more social gathering amongst old friends.

Where: Surrey
When: 1-2 February 2020
Distance: 106km
Elevation Gain: 2,374m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £160

XNRG Pilgrims Challenge Ultra X Best Ultra Marathon in the UK Review

Centurion North Downs Way 100

We could have chosen any of the Centurion Events, but the North Downs Way was the original. The races all contain the same basic elements: 50 or 100 miles non-stop and on foot. A load of well-stocked aid stations, hugely enthusiastic volunteers and staff and medical support on hand at all times, up and down the course, throughout the race.

Race Director James Elson set the series up in 2011 having realised the ultrarunning scene was not big enough for the number of runners springing up in the area, looking to bring some of the aspects from the more established US trail running scene across the pond (see best ultra marathons in the US), even awarding a belt buckle to finishers. The first races were a huge success and as the series grew Centurion added both a 100- and 50-mile grand slam, James’s UK iteration of the American Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Now there are 11 events each year which often sell out in minutes. Definitely a must do experience for every UK ultra runner.

Where: Surrey
When: 9 August 2020
Distance: 167km
Elevation Gain: 3,050m
Terrain: Trail 
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £165

North Downs Way Trail Ultra Marathon Route

Threshold Trail Series

Like it or loathe it, the Threshold Trail series now offers four well-attended trail ultras of around 100km in different parts of the UK and brings a lot of first-timers into the sport. The series might lose out when it comes to epic courses and old school ultra runners may well complain about all the bells and whistles which come attached to the event, but Threshold pride themselves on making their events as inclusive as possible by offering an impressive support package.

Expect more food than you can eat (from 5km in!), medical staff galore, and lots of different races and packages. One thing is for sure, these are great first-timers-ultras.

Bamburgh Castle Threshold Trail Series

Cape Wrath Ultra

If you are looking for a good mix of toughness, beautiful location, distance, and an uncertainty of finishing, this should be on your bucket list. The Cape Wrath Ultra ticks all these boxes and more. Scotland’s answer to the Marathon des Sables (see our review of best ultra marathons in Africa) is a unique 400km 8-day multi-stage across the Scottish Islands with the added benefit that participant’s equipment is transported each day and tented accommodation and half board meals are provided at overnight camps.

Starting in Fort William and running to Cape Wrath — the most north-westerly tip of Scotland — it takes in mountains, wilderness, beaches, lochs and a lot of bog and river crossings. If you are after a multi-stage race but don’t fancy the long haul flights, then you need to check this one out.

Where: Scotland
When: 24-31 May 2020
Distance: 400km
Elevation Gain: 11,500m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Brutal
Entry Price: £1,399

Cape Wrath Ultramarathon West Coast of Scotland

Ultra Tour of Arran – Rat Race

Anyone who thinks of Rat Race as a not so serious, OCR, and mixed event company needs to get their head out of the sand. These guys have stepped it up in the last couple of years and are now offering a crazy number of amazing events all over the world, including some pretty epic ultra marathons.

The Ultra Tour of Arran is our pick of the bunch, a 2-day weekend race on the beautiful Scottish Island where competitors will rack up 60 miles and some serious vert. It doesn’t come cheap for a 2-day race and cheekily does not include camping (or a 6% admin fee) in the price tag, so can end up as a £400 plus weekend but we still think it’s money well spent.

Where: Isle of Arran
When: 4-5 April 2020
Distance: 93km
Elevation Gain: 2,794m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £329

Marathon Des Sables ultra marathon Sahara

Self Transcendence 24 Hour Track Race London

Popularly known as Tooting 24, this race, which attracts around 40 each year, has been going since the turn of the millennium with a growing following despite being situated — not on some of world’s most remote and scenic landscapes, such as the Wadi Rum Desert or the Copper Canyons — but instead on a 400m running track in London. This is not the main draw though, something else is going on here.

The race was started almost 30 years ago by followers of the late Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, who believed that running was integral to a spiritual life. This race is not a battle for places, rather a battle against your mind. It’s just you versus you. Crazy? Yes, maybe, but we can’t help but wonder how we’d fair and there’s only one way to find out…

Where: London
When: 21-22 September 2020
Distance: 400 metres as many times as you can
Elevation Gain: 0m
Terrain: Track
Difficulty Level: You set the bar
Entry Price: £65

Running track

Endure24

There seem to be various events now that call themselves the “Glastonbury for Runners” but Endure24 was undeniably the first to do so. Endure24 is a 24 hour solo or team relay race run over a 5 mile trail that loops on private country estates, now with a South and a North version. Runners come together to take on the challenge whilst surrounded by camping, a festival village, yoga and more.

Virtually anyone of any standard can take part and there is no pressure to run any further than you want, so there will be those who run 100 miles, and those who run 5. Solo runners can join the elite Endure24 100 Mile Club by completing 20 laps within the 24 hour time limit… It’s undoubtedly the first step on the ladder for many ultra runners claiming their first 26+ mile scalp — that is if you can keep yourself away from the BBQ and beers after lap one. One to put in the diary.

Where: Reading
When: 13 June 2020
Distance: 5 miles as many times as you wish
Elevation Gain: Depends how many loops…
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Entry Price: £93

Best Ultra Marathons in Europe - ultra trail du mont blanc utmb

Montane Spine Events

The Spine is widely registered as one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world. This epic challenge has summer and winter editions, but for us, if you want to really test yourself, it’s got to be the winter version that you put in the race calendar. Do bear in mind though that this is not for beginners!

The event is an unsupported, 268 mile (429km) race along the entire Pennine Way National Trail from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, tracing the backbone of England. It crosses some of the finest upland landscapes in the country, from the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales, across the North Pennines and over World Heritage listed Hadrian’s Wall, on to the remote Cheviot Hills and, finally, the elusive village of Kirk Yetholm.

It attracted significant publicity in 2019 when Jasmin Paris, a 35-year old veterinarian from Edinburgh became the first woman to win the race outright, breaking the course record in the process. The 2020 edition has already been and gone but for those wanting to do it in 2021 registrations are open and places do not usually last long.

Where: Pennine Way
When: 11 January 2020
Distance: 429km
Elevation Gain: 13,374m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Brutal
Entry Price: £975

Pennine Way- Montane Spine Race

Run Jurassic – White Star Running

White Star’s headline claim is “by runners for runners” and if you ask anybody who has ever experienced one of their events then you will hear this reiterated. These will never be the most competitive of races but for those who are after a fun, sociable and value for money weekend of running then look no further.

The Run Jurassic Festival is our pick from the series. The weekend incorporates a 50km ultra as well as a marathon, half marathon, 10km and children’s races all along the stunning Jurassic Coast. Expect to head home with a hangover to combine with DOMs as these events are famed for the cider on aid stations!

Where: Jurassic Coast
When: 26 September 2020
Distance: 52km
Elevation Gain: 995m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Entry Price: £50

Jurassic Coast- White Star Running

Grand Union Canal Race

Definitely not the most glamorous of races but the GUCR deserves a mention having become an institution of British Ultra running where participants can expect a bit of “old school”. The 145 mile route runs from the centre of Birmingham to the centre of London along the Grand Union Canal and competitors are required to complete the distance within the time limit of 45 hours.

It’s great bang for buck, working out as 43p a mile and even cheaper if you organise your own crew and is the first of a three-race series, “The Canalslam”, totalling over 400 miles. Each race can be entered as a one-off, but competitors completing all three receive a special award. Tempted?

When: 23 May 2020 Distance: 233 km Elevation Gain: 1,380m Terrain: Canal Path Difficulty Level: Intermediate Entry Price: £50

Where: Grand Union Canal
When: 23 May 2020
Distance: 233km
Elevation Gain: 1,380m
Terrain: Canal Path
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £50

Grand Union Canal Race

Special Mention: The Dragon’s Back Race

The first edition of The Dragon’s Back Race happened in 1992, but due to the lack of finishers it took 20 years until they staged the second event!

The legendary race would be a dead cert for inclusion in the above list if it weren’t for the fact that it is a biannual event and the next edition is in 2021. The savage course, so called for following the mountainous spine of Wales from North to South, is a 5 stage, 5-day, 315km race with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain.

Lake District- Bob Graham Round Route

Special Mention: Paddy Buckley, Bob Graham, and Ramsey Rounds

British ultra running is perhaps most famed internationally not for its races, but for of its “Big Rounds” – the Bob Graham, the Charlie Ramsay, and the Paddy Buckley. These are grand, circular tours of the Lake District, Snowdonia, and Lochaber where those brave enough will attempt to “tag” several preset peaks as fast as possible. Each of the three rounds is presented as a 24-hour challenge, or a week-long backpacking circuit, with none for the faint hearted.

The Bob Graham is the best known — a 42 peak loop starting and finishing in Keswick — and gained widespread attention in 2018 when world famous ultra runner Killian Jornet broke a 25 year old record to complete the challenge in a mind boggling 12 hours 52 minutes! Despite the rise in popularity of the challenges, we can’t see this one being broken for a very very long time!

Lake District- Bob Graham Round Route

Special Mention: TRIBE Relay Across Scotland by Ultra X

This one is admittedly a little different, and not all those who enter will have to run ultra distances as this is a team relay! TRIBE Relay Across Scotland by Ultra X competitors will cover 220km over 24 hours in teams of 4 or 8. Taking place on the longest day of 2020, participants will relay through the day into the night, and there are some incredible prizes on offer for anyone who can beat the course records!

10 Comments

  1. WomenfitnessWatches

    Very good info. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved it for later!

    Reply
  2. Lanora

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous
    blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    Reply
    • Jamie Sparks

      Thanks Lanora! It was written by Sam, one of the Co-Founders of Ultra X.

      Reply
  3. Boris

    Wow, this article is nice, my younger sister is analyzing such things, thus I
    am going to convey her.

    Reply
  4. Clyde

    Thanks for sharing such a pleasant thinking, piece
    of writing is nice, thats why i have read it entirely

    Reply
  5. Rebecca

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to understand a lot approximately this, like you wrote the guide in it or
    something. I think that you just can do with a few p.c.
    to force the message home a little bit, however instead of that, this
    is great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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