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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