the Best Ultra Mara­thons in the UK — 2020

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.

When: 1–2 Feb­ru­ary 2020

Dis­tance: 106 km

Elev­a­tion Gain: 2,374m

Ter­rain: Trail

Dif­fi­culty Level: Inter­me­di­ate

Entry Price: £160

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.

When: 9 August 2020

Dis­tance: 167 km

Elev­a­tion Gain: 3,050m

Ter­rain: Trail

Dif­fi­culty Level: Inter­me­di­ate

Entry Price: £165

THRESHOLD TRAIL SERIES

Like it or loathe it, the Threshold Trail series now offers four well atten­ded trail ultras around 100 km 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 that you can eat (from 5 km in!), med­ic­al staff galore and lots of dif­fer­ent races and pack­ages. One thing is for sure, these are great first-timers-ultras.

Cape Wrath

If you are look­ing for a good mix of tough­ness, beau­ti­ful loc­a­tion, length 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 400 km 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.

When: 24–31 May 2020

Dis­tance: 400 km

Elev­a­tion Gain: 11,500m

Ter­rain: Trail

Dif­fi­culty Level: Bru­tal

Entry Price: £1,399

 

RAT RACE ultra tour of arran

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 ends up as a £400 plus week­end but we still think it’s money well spent.

When: 4–5 April 2020

Dis­tance: 93 km

Elev­a­tion Gain: 2,794m

Ter­rain: Trail

Dif­fi­culty Level: Inter­me­di­ate

Entry Price: £329

Self Tran­scend­ence 24 Hour Track Race Lon­don

Pop­ularly known as Toot­ing 24, this race, which attracts around 40 each year and 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…

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

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 1. One to put in the diary.

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

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 (429 km) 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 vet from Edin­burgh became the first women 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.

When: 11 Janu­ary 2020

Dis­tance: 429 km

Elev­a­tion Gain: 13,347m

Ter­rain: Trail

Dif­fi­culty Level: Bru­tal

Entry Price: £975

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 50 km 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!

When: 26 Septem­ber 2020

Dis­tance: 52 km

Elev­a­tion Gain: 995m

Ter­rain: Trail

Dif­fi­culty Level: Begin­ner

Entry Price: £50

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

SPECIAL MENTION:

berghaus dragons 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, 315 km race with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, track­less, remote and moun­tain­ous ter­rain.

Paddy Buckley, Bob-Gra­ham and Ram­say 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!

 

TRIBE RELAY ACROSS SCOTLAND

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! Com­pet­it­ors will cov­er 220 km 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! You can find out more here.

 

Want to see where the best ultra mara­thons across the world are? Check out the list below:

Best ultra mara­thons in Africa

Best ultra mara­thons in Asia

Best ultra mara­thons in the US

Best ultra mara­thons in South Amer­ica

Best ultramara­thons in Europe