How To Do A Multi-Stage Ultra For Less Than £1,850

Writ­ten By Chris Taylor

Chris is Oper­a­tions Man­ager at Ultra X and takes the lead on plan­ning new races and events. His interests include (and are lim­ited to): ultra run­ning, plant-based foods to eat whilst ultra run­ning, and ultra run­ning with dogs.

8 April 2020

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Read­ing Time: 11 minutes

Ultra X was foun­ded with the aim of mak­ing multi-day racing access­ible to all. Whilst this includes remov­ing bar­ri­ers to par­ti­cip­a­tion and demon­strat­ing that any­one is cap­able of run­ning a multi-stage ultra mara­thon, the simplest way we can make these exper­i­ences more attain­able is to make them more afford­able.

We there­fore pride ourselves in offer­ing regis­tra­tion fees that are gen­er­ally one third (or less) of the price of our com­pet­it­ors. We do everything we can to reduce this cost in order to extend the oppor­tun­ity to more run­ners. That said, race entry is just one of the costs asso­ci­ated with tak­ing part in these life chan­ging events and we wanted to find out just how cheaply a 250 km 5-day multi-stage could be done. Chris, Ultra X Oper­a­tions Man­ager, put it to the test.

Over­view

First things first, it’s worth address­ing the above fig­ure: £1,850. Still sounds like a lot, right? How­ever, it’s worth put­ting this into per­spect­ive. This cost cov­ers everything required for what is effect­ively an all-inclus­ive 9 day hol­i­day, includ­ing: flights, travel insur­ance, a week’s worth of accom­mod­a­tion and food, and run­ning kit that will last well bey­ond this race… and that’s all before you factor in the epic run­ning adven­ture that it’s all about.

What’s more, con­sid­er­ing there are oth­er multi-stage races out there of a very sim­il­ar format that charge upwards of £4,000 for entry alone (AND they’ll make you carry your own food and sup­plies around), £1,850 all-in starts to sound like the bar­gain it really is.

Although ultra run­ning can (if you let it) become a very expens­ive hobby, you don’t have to remort­gage your home to take part in multi-stage events. By shop­ping around for the spe­cial­ist equip­ment required and util­ising the kit you already have as a run­ner, you can save a lot of unne­ces­sary expense.

Note: the list below is not inten­ded to be a rep­lic­able for­mula that can be copied to achieve the same cost. Some items were bought well in advance or dur­ing a sale, so the cost may no longer be the same. The below simply demon­strates that, with some for­ward plan­ning and savvy pur­chas­ing, a multi-stage ultra mara­thon can be done for less than £1,850. Fur­ther, all of the items were pur­chased by me. None were provided as spon­sor­ship or for advert­ise­ment pur­poses.

Race entry

Unless you’re fly­ing from French Poly­ne­sia and your event is in the Yukon, race entry is likely to be your biggest cost. Regis­tra­tion fees are also likely to be the largest vari­able, so have a look what’s out there. Whilst some multi-stagers come with eye water­ing price tags, there are afford­able events too. It’s also import­ant to check what’s included — some entry fees are regis­tra­tion only with a mul­ti­tude of add-ons, whilst oth­ers offer much more bang for your buck. Step up, Ultra X…

Regis­tra­tion fee | Ultra X Jordan — £995.00

Red Bull described Ultra X Jordan as “prob­ably the best value multi-day sup­por­ted ultra you’ll find”, which says it all really. At £995, there are sim­il­ar races which cost in excess of four times this amount. What’s more, the entry fee includes a lot: accom­mod­a­tion for the week, trans­fers to/from the desert, world class med­ic­al and exped­i­tion safety sup­port, digit­al pho­to­graphs (the worst add-on, let’s face it), a fin­ish­ers medal, and more.

Fur­ther, if you enter as a team of 3 or more (no, you aren’t obliged to run togeth­er), the price is reduced to just £890. If there’s a bet­ter priced 5-day multi-stage ultra mara­thon out there, I don’t know about it.

Race admin

If you don’t live in the coun­try in which you’re com­pet­ing, you’re going to have get there, insure your­self, and sleep some­where before and after the race. These costs might amount to a lot, but the good news is some ser­i­ous sav­ings can be made.

Flights | Lon­don (UK) to Amman (Jordan) — £305.18

Unless you plan on run­ning in shoes with mul­tiple car­bon fibre foot­plates (pro tip: don’t), then flights are likely to be your next largest expense. There’s no real sci­ence to this oth­er than book­ing early. Once you’ve registered for the race, what are you wait­ing for? If you’re con­cerned about injury or com­mit­ting to travel plans, many air­lines will let you book a ‘flexi’ tick­et (or sim­il­ar) for an extra 10%. It cer­tainly pays to book early and spend an extra £30 on flex­ib­il­ity, rather than book­ing late and pay­ing twice the price. Giv­en the cur­rent travel cli­mate, flights should be espe­cially cheap if you fancy tak­ing a punt and lock­ing some­thing in down the line.

Insur­ance | Dogtag — £155.00

While the risk of ser­i­ous injury dur­ing multi-stage ultramara­thons is very low, these are extreme endur­ance chal­lenges and most organ­isers will require insur­ance. Require­ments aside, insur­ance is a good idea to cov­er for race can­cel­la­tions, loss of items, or injury dur­ing the build-up to the event.

Make sure you get a policy which cov­ers ultra mara­thon trail run­ning. Some of the com­pan­ies we recom­mend include Dogtag, ITRA Insur­ance, and the Brit­ish Moun­tain­eer­ing Coun­cil. If you’re a fre­quent face at these events (or plan on being one) it’s worth tak­ing out an annu­al policy, as it will often cost only slightly more than single trip cov­er.

Pre/­post-race accom­mod­a­tion | Amman Air­port Hotel — £96.00

Ultra X events are designed so that you can take as little hol­i­day off work as pos­sible. With the race tak­ing place Monday to Fri­day, you can fly out on the Sat­urday before and leave on the Saturday/Sunday after. Whilst accom­mod­a­tion is covered dur­ing race week, you will need some­where to sleep on the Sat­urdays before and after. Again, shop around. You won’t be there long but you will want a good night’s sleep (on both occa­sions!). Altern­at­ively, you can book a place in the Ultra X Race Hotel at check­out for just £48/night.

Nutri­tion and hydra­tion

One of the biggest expenses of any hol­i­day is keep­ing your­self fed and watered. Multi-stage ultra mara­thon adven­ture hol­i­days are no dif­fer­ent. Some self-sup­por­ted races require com­pet­it­ors to carry all of their own food and equip­ment for the week, thereby encour­aging par­ti­cipants to pur­chase expens­ive light­weight food sub­sti­tutes (whilst also shav­ing inches off their tooth­brushes) to save on weight.

How­ever, Ultra X events are sup­por­ted. We’ll trans­port your overnight bag between camp­sites each day, giv­ing you more free­dom in what food you choose to pur­chase. That said, weight restric­tions do still apply (you can leave the camp bed at home), so dehyd­rated food is recom­men­ded.

Food | Sum­mit to Eat — £130.55

The food you pur­chase is highly spe­cif­ic — both in taste and volume require­ments. It’s also some­thing you’ll want to test out before the race to make sure you can stom­ach it. For­tu­nately, some com­pan­ies offer sample pack­ets, which you can pur­chase at a frac­tion of the full price and test out. The price between brands also var­ies a lot, so there’s an oppor­tun­ity to save some money here.

Once you’ve cal­cu­lated your cal­or­ie require­ments, use a whole­saler (such as Base Camp Food) to com­pare brands — not just on pri­cing but also on cal­or­ie con­tent. I went with Sum­mit to Eat not just because they’re one of the cheapest but also because they offer the highest cal­or­ie-to-weight ratio, mean­ing you’re get­ting more food for your money. Check out our review of vegan freeze-dried food options as an example of what’s out there (the brands reviewed also offer non-vegan options).

Hydra­tion and snacks | High5 — £25.00

Wheth­er you’re racing in the desert or the rain­forest. drink­ing just water won’t cut it. You will need to take on elec­tro­lytes and pos­sibly get some extra energy boosts from gels and snacks. Once again though, this doesn’t neces­sar­ily mean pur­chas­ing top-of-the-range energy bars. Make sure you test them on your stom­ach (whilst run­ning — sip­ping gels on the sofa doesn’t count), but don’t spend extra money on an area where it’s not needed.

I went with High5 for both my elec­tro­lyte and caf­feine gel require­ments as they’re gen­er­ally a cheap­er option. By bulk buy­ing dur­ing a sale, I man­aged to get all my elec­tro­lyte and energy boost­ers for £25 (and my cal­or­ie require­ments were gen­er­ally on the high­er side). If you’re feel­ing extra thrifty, you can even make your own flapjacks/power bars at home.

Kit and equip­ment

Aside from food, kit is the next most per­son­al pur­chase. Depend­ing on your exper­i­ence, it’s likely you will have many of the items below. How­ever, for the pur­poses of this art­icle, let’s pre­tend you’re a run­ner but a first-time ultra run­ner. If you’ve nev­er ran an ultra before, these items are the min­im­um you will need.

The mes­sage here is, once again: don’t be a suck­er for advert­ising. If you’re on a budget, you don’t need the most expens­ive kit out there. Fur­ther, whilst there are cer­tainly addi­tion­al hyper-tech­nic­al items that may make the exper­i­ence more com­fort­able (com­ing soon: t-shirts that wick away sweat and fil­ter it into drink­ing water, and socks that actu­ally pop blisters as they form), they are far from neces­sary.

Hydra­tion pack | Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set — £60.00

A decent, well-fit­ting hydra­tion pack is a neces­sity. You could be wear­ing this for up to 12 hours or more each day, so it’s essen­tial that it doesn’t rub or aggrav­ate. There are quite lit­er­ally hun­dreds of these out there, so buy a few from com­pan­ies that offer returns and test them out. I tried three before set­tling on the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set and bought it in a half price sale (this par­tic­u­lar vest also comes with two 500ml soft flasks, which is a small win for the money con­scious). Start look­ing and test­ing way before your event and time your pur­chase — you might get lucky.

Gaiters | Raid­light Desert — £31.50

These are cer­tainly a spe­cial­ist item but if you’re run­ning in the desert, you’ll abso­lutely need them. There aren’t many mod­els around so your best chance of bag­ging a bar­gain is to com­pare dif­fer­ent stores. Warn­ing: a lay­er of vel­cro must be attached to the out­side of your shoes (which the gaiters in turn attach to). Although these typ­ic­ally come with glue for that job, you will want to stitch them securely in place (either by your­self or pay a cob­bler to do it) — this is not an area to cut corners on!

Headtorch | Ledlenser NEO4 — £24.95

Due to the length of the days dur­ing a multi-stage race, it’s likely you will do some run­ning in the dark. Again, there are some premi­um products out there, but you don’t need a head­lamp that can be con­trolled by your smart­phone to fin­ish a multi-stage race. At least 200+ lumens is gen­er­ally recom­men­ded but you can get away with less (red light cap­ab­il­ity for camp is also use­ful). If you’re run­ning through the Wadi Rum desert (the loc­a­tion for Ultra X Jordan is nick­named the ‘Val­ley of the Moon’) you’ll spend most of your time run­ning under the light of the stars any­way…

Hat | Raid­light Saha­ra Cap — £20.70

You may already have a run­ning cap but if you’re racing in the desert, you will want some form of neck pro­tec­tion. The Raid­light Saha­ra is a pop­u­lar choice — buy it along­side your gaiters to save on post­age.

Sunglasses | Siroko KS3 Lon­don — £20.00

As with the cap above, you will likely already have sunglasses. How­ever, your pet­rol sta­tion avi­at­ors won’t do. Unsur­pris­ingly, it’s fairly sunny in the desert so pan­or­amic glasses that cov­er your peri­pher­al vis­ion and polar­ised lenses that reduce glare are a good idea. Shop around! I found a great deal on these Siroko glasses and hav­ing left them in my bas­ket for 15 minutes whilst bar­gain hunt­ing, got offered a fur­ther 15% dis­count (though you didn’t hear that from me).

Jack­et | Gel­ert Storm­l­ite 5000 — £16.99

Yes, even if you’re run­ning in the desert you’ll need a waterproof/windproof jack­et. Though it’s extremely unlikely, if you do hap­pen to get lost and the pock­et-sized sun­cream runs out, it’s a good idea to have some­thing to cov­er up with. As this is the piece of kit least likely to be worn, you’ll want to get some­thing that packs away small and light. At 354g, this Gel­ert jack­et is a good option and can be found at a snip from many sports whole­salers.

Buff | Ultra X Multi-Func­tion­al Head­wear — £4.99

This one is in the name: multi-func­tion­al. An all-weath­er runner’s best friend, a buff can pro­tect you from a sand storm one week and keep you warm in the moun­tains the next. Ultra X have two great designs avail­able for less than a fiver (can­ine not included).

Kit you already have | Tops, Shorts, Socks, Shoes — £0.00 (addi­tion­al cost)

The astute read­er may have noticed there are basic items required for run­ning that aren’t lis­ted above: t-shirt, shorts, shoes, and the like. As stated before, although there are cloth­ing items tailored to each run­ning envir­on­ment out there, they don’t have to be bought. The mois­ture wick­ing t-shirt you wear on your week­end long run will do fine (though you may need some nipple tape for the long shifts), as are your shorts, socks, and under­shorts (if you’re that kind of run­ner).

One item that you might con­sider buy­ing new is a pair of run­ning shoes. Tech­no­logy has come a long way and there are now even shoes that will appar­ently do 4% of the run­ning for you. How­ever, for multi-stage ultras, com­fort is without doubt your biggest con­sid­er­a­tion.

Wheth­er you need a new pair or not will depend some­what on how knackered your cur­rent pair are and some­what on the ter­rain of your race. Although Ultra X Jordan takes place in the desert, much of the ter­rain is hard-packed sand and the soles of your shoes are less import­ant than the gaiters above them (both road and trail shoes will suf­fice). I decided not to pur­chase a new pair and they sur­vived the week and many more miles after. It is worth bear­ing in mind that your feet will prob­ably swell when ultra run­ning, so if you are treat­ing your­self to some new tyres for the big dance, then buy­ing a half or full size big­ger than you’re used to is advised.

Con­clu­sion

So, what’s the dam­age? The total cost of the above is £1,849.86. (You may also require oth­er sun­dry items such as vas­el­ine and sun cream but these haven’t been included due to their low cost).

This num­ber may still sound like a big whack and it is — as a lump sum. But remem­ber, with Ultra X you only need to pay a £300 depos­it upon regis­ter­ing. The remain­ing bal­ance is due two months before the race, so you can pay in instal­ments. Test your kit gradu­ally and you can fur­ther spread out the cost. The life-chan­ging exper­i­ence of a multi-stage ultra does not have to break the bank.

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