Best Ultra Marathons UK 2021: The Ultimate UK Ultra Races List

Written By Jasper Johnson

Jasper is a new member of the Ultra X team. A keen middle distance runner who is looking to up the distance to an ultra marathon, Jasper enjoys writing about all things running.

29 October 2020

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Somehow it is already nearly 2021! Where has this year gone? 

To help you keep motivated and give you something to look forward to for next year, we’re going to be spending the next few weeks previewing the ultramarathons that we are most excited for in 2021. We’ll showcase what we think the best ultras are in the UK, Asia, the US, Africa and everywhere else!

To kick things off 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.

Ultra X England 125/50

Ultra X England is our first race in the UK, set in the beautiful yet challenging Peak District. The 2 day event has 4349m of elevation and follows the same format as Ultra X 125 Azores, being 125km over 2 stages. There is also the opportunity for runners to take on a single stage 50km with 1906m of elevation on the Sunday, an easier option for first time ultra runners.

However, do not make the mistake of underestimating this course, while the Peak District would not be described as mountainous there is a lot elevation due to the constantly rolling terrain. The course takes runners through some of the most challenging parts of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District and some of the well-known beauty spots like the spa towns of Castleton and Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District.

Where: Peak District
When: 4-5 September 2021
Distance: 125/50km
Elevation Gain: 4,349/1,906m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £245

The Surrey Hills Challenge

The Surrey Hills Ultra is a fun, varied point to point race which takes place alongside a number of other races starting at 1 mile all the way up to the 61km ultra.

The route will test your stamina and strength, starting in the beautiful town of Haslemere, it takes you down the Greensand Way towards the infamous Devil’s Punch Bowl, a large natural amphitheatre, through National Trust land. The 61km route is almost entirely on footpath with some road crossings. There are some technical patches with narrow paths and gravel underfoot. We recommend sturdy trail shoes to get you up and down the Surrey hills.

You will finish at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, where medals and prizes are awarded and is also the main hub and meeting point for all our participants and their supporters.

P.S I will be doing this race in full Ultra X kit come September so come over and say hello!

Where: Surrey
When: 27th September 2021
Distance: 61km
Elevation Gain: 1,656m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £80

The Pilgrims Challenge – XNRG

Like many races The Pilgrims Challenge has had to adapt to Covid so that they could put their event on, however they are persevering to ensure the 2021 race and 12th edition can go ahead.

Set up in part to offer training races for the growing contingents of MDS 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.

Many competitors come back to race the following year due to the community feel of the race and expect the 2021 edition to be no different.
A great one for a first multi-stage event!

Where: Surrey
When: 6-7 February 2021
Distance: 106km
Elevation Gain: 2,374m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £145

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

Centurion North Downs Way 100

There are many Centurion Events to choose from, but the North Downs Way was the original and perhaps the best. The route takes you from Farnham in Surrey all the way down to Ashford, Kent. This nonstop 100 miler has plenty of aid stations along the way, meaning that, whilst you can bring along a crew, you definitely do not need one.

Race Director James Elson set the series up in 2011 having realised there were not enough ultra marathon races for the number of runners in the area, looking to bring some of the aspects from the more established US trail running scene across the pond. The race attracts top runners with Mark Darbyshire holding the men’s record in an impressive 15:18:41 and Debbie Martin-Consani holding the women’s record in an a speedy 18:34:54. Overall a hugely popular race that will sell out in minutes, definitely a must do experience for every UK ultra runner.

Where: Surrey
When: 7th August 2021
Distance: 167km
Elevation Gain: 3,050m
Terrain: Trail 
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £185

North Downs Way Trail Ultra Marathon Route

Threshold Trail Series

Threshold run a 4 leg trail race series to get first time ultra runners into the sport. Threshold focus on making the races as accessible and fun as possible, persuading the everyday runner to attempt something that seems Impossible. With plenty of aid stations, well manned with medical support and as much food as you can eat, these are a few races that are definitely worth giving a go.

Bamburgh Castle Threshold Trail Series

Ultra Tour of Arran – Rat Race

It is said the Isle of Arran is a miniature Scotland with dense forests and coastal scenery in the South to crumbling castles and dramatic mountains in the North, the Isle of Arran delights at every turn.

The Ultra Tour of Arran is our pick of the bunch of Rat Race Events, a 2-day weekend race with competitors racking up 60 miles and some serious elevation.

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: 10-11th April 2021
Distance: 93km
Elevation Gain: 2,794m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £349

Marathon Des Sables ultra marathon Sahara

Self Transcendence 24 Hour Track Race London

Popularly known as Tooting 24 (first started in 2000) attracts around 40 people each year. This race is not known for its beautiful scenery, you will not be running through one of Britain’s many areas of outstanding natural beauty but around a 400m running track in London. This is not the reason we like it so much though.

The race was started followers of the late Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, who believed that running was integral to a spiritual life. This is a personal one, a battle against your self instead of others.

How far will you go?

You have 24hrs to find out.

Where: London
When: 18-19 September 2021
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

Many events claim to be the “Glastonbury for Runners” but Endure24 was definitely the first to do so and probably the best. 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.

All kinds of runners take on this race, with no pressure to run any further than you want. 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. While those doing it for a fun day out, there is a huge community feel with group yoga ups and all the beer in the world to tempt you away from the course at base camp.

It’s undoubtedly the first step for many a budding runner looking to take on their first ultra.

One to put in the diary.

Where: Reading
When: 3 July 2021
Distance: 5 miles as many times as you wish
Elevation Gain: Depends how many loops…
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Entry Price: £95

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

Montane Spine Events

Montane Spine races are characterised by extremely challenging weather conditions, so we thought it would be best to recommend their most extreme UK race.

The MONTANE Spine Challenger is a non-stop, 108 mile race between Edale and Hawes with a time limit of 60hrs. 60 hours probably seems like bags of time to complete this race, don’t be mistaken the Challenger race is a notoriously difficult event in its own right and should be considered as having a similar degree of difficulty as the longer MONTANE Spine Race. Storm force winds, snow, extreme ice, bogs, fog, hail and mud are part of the deal when taking this beast on so make sure you are adequately prepared. Oh and did we mention the challenger is the shorter, more accessible version…

Where: Pennine Way
When: 10 January 2021
Distance: 429km
Elevation Gain: 13,374m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Brutal
Entry Price: £975

Pennine Way- Montane Spine Race

Run Jurassic – White Star Running

With their 2020 edition cancelled due to Covid. White Star Running have put everything into the 2021 event which looks like it could be a good one. White Star Running organise a series of events, but the Run Jurassic festival is our favourite.

“Run by runners for runners” is the phrase you will hear repeated by anyone who has run at their events, such is their lasting effect. These events are fun and social if not the most competitive you will have experienced. The weekend includes a 52km race right down to a 10km and kids race. With free flowing cider to be had at the end of the race and perhaps half way through too. This is one of those races you will regret not doing.

Where: Jurassic Coast
When: 26 September 2021
Distance: 52km
Elevation Gain: 995m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Entry Price: £50

Jurassic Coast- White Star Running

Grand Union Canal Race

The Grand Union Canal Race is part of the original UK ultra’s. The race takes you 233km down the Grand Union Canal Towpath from the heart of Birmingham to Little Venice in central London. This makes the race an easy to navigate and flat route. Certainly not the most beautiful race in the UK but the GUCR deserves a mention having become an institution of British Ultra running where participants can expect a bit of “old school”.

For such a long race, a £60 entry fee is certainly appreciated, equaling a mere 26p per km, this is without a doubt the best value for money ultra out there. Just make sure you complete the course in under 45 hour cut off time, making it one of the toughest races out there too.

Where: Grand Union Canal
When: 29 May 2021
Distance: 233km
Elevation Gain: 1,380m
Terrain: Canal Path
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £50

Grand Union Canal Race

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, such is the magnitude of these race. This is a brutal 5 day, 380km course with 17,400m of elevation up and over the mountainous terrain of Wales from north to south.

This Biannual race is a must have inclusion for the 2021 race calendar.

Where: Wales

When: 6-11th September 2021

Distance: 380km

Elevation Gain: 17,400m

Terrain: Trail

Difficulty Level: Brutal

Entry Price: £1,199

Lake District- Bob Graham Round Route

Special Mention: Cape Wrath Ultra

For a race where you will have genuine uncertainty of even finishing, this could be your next big thing. 8 days, 400km and 11,500m elevation, this ultra will take some serious preparation so it may be a blessing in disguise that you missed out on the 2021 race. The Cape Wrath Ultra is right up there when it comes to its sheer toughness. However, you will be well looked after, receiving breakfast, afternoon snacks, and evening meals at base camp to keep you going through a tough days racing in Scottish weather.

The route starts at Fort William, ending at Cape Wrath – the most north-westerly tip of Scotland. You will be taken through the full range of the Scottish landscape, including mountains, beaches and lochs alongside more than a few bog/river crossings.

Where: Scotland
When: tbc confirmed 2022
Distance: 400km
Elevation Gain: 11,500m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Brutal
Entry Price: £1,399

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 is a bit of a different one. Relay teams of 4 or 8 will battle it out over 228km from the West to East Coast of Scotland, along the John Muir Way. The event will mean teams will be on the go for 24 hours but fortunately for you it held on the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

Team Ultra X headed up there last year and for anyone that can break their record there are some serious prizes up for grabs!

Check out the video below for a preview of what is in store!

 

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