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.
Let’s hope that this year allows us a little more opportunity to travel and discover breathtaking ultramarathons around the world. And if not, then you can still get these races on the bucket list for 2022!
Ultra X 125 Scotland
Beginning with a lap of the athletics track at Queens Park Stadium in Inverness and finishing on Loch Ness Beach in Dores, runners follow a geological fault line formed more than 400 million years ago along the Great Glen Way.
With a manageable 3,363m of elevation and accessible terrain (a mixture of hard-packed trails and forest paths), this race is perfect for anyone taking on their first multi-stage ultra. As with all Ultra X 125 events, there is also the option to run the “Sunday only” 50km (Ultra X 50 Scotland) as a single-stage race. The 2021 race will be the first edition of Ultra X 125 Scotland and we are expecting big things! Not one to miss.
Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc
If you don’t feel ready for the full challenge, there are a myriad of races available from an entry level 50km to a mountain crushing 350km team event.
Unfortunately, this is an elite race with a tough entry criteria. You must collect at least 10 precious UTMB points by running well in other UTMB qualifying races to be able to enter the main event.
Fire & Ice Ultra
Accommodation is sorted for you, as is navigation with the entire route marked. However, the rest is up to you! This is a self-suppored race, with competitors carrying everything they need: food, water, clothing etc. It certainly lives up to its slogan – “Iceland’s toughest footrace” – and is more an adventure than anything else.
Ultra X World Champs
Nestled between the towering Julian Alps to the north and the Adriatic coast to the south, Vipava Valley is located in western Slovenia, just a few miles from the border of northern Italy. The steep slopes and high plateaus of the hills surrounding Ajdovscina provide stunning views over the bucolic winelands for which the area is famous.
The course takes competitors from the vine-laden landscapes of Vipava Valley north, to Soca Valley, named after the emerald green River Soca, considered one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe. From Tolmin, the route explores the rocky mountain trails of Soca Valley and the summits of the southern Julian Alps, situated within Slovenia’s largest protected area, Triglav National Park.
With a huge prize purse on offer, King of the Mountain and Sprint Champion segments, and the best names in the sport competing, this one is for the spectators as much as the competitors.
Taupo Great Lake Relay
New Zealand is certainly a detour for most, but this race provides the opportunity to explore one of the most remote areas of the globe. Runners take on a single loop of Lake Taupo in teams of up to 10. Runners can organise their teams to the strengths of their runners and the route has varied elevation and terrain with some speedy short legs mixed in with longer hilly sections so there is something for everybody.
The winning team will likely be the one with the best strategic plan.
Marathon des Sables
The race was started in 1986 by French concert promoter Patrick Bauer, after walking the route two years earlier had had a profound effect on him. Now in its 35th year the race is hugely oversubscribed and, coupled with a costly price tag of over £4,000, this is not an easy race to get into. We recommend going for one of the many charity places to secure your spot on this desert adventure.
This is a self-supported race so you will have to plan your equipment and food as much as your training to ensure you make it through the 30-degree heat. Not to worry though, you will have almost 1,000 fellow competitors to help get you over the finish line.
This is a bucket list race for most ultra runners and certainly has a wow factor when you explain what you did to your non-running friends down the pub.
Salt Pans Ultra Marathon
On the face of it, this is probably the best value-for-money ultra out there, costing just £320. However, getting to the start line isn’t the easiest in the world. Race instructions tell of a 6.5 hour drive through the rural countryside with not much in the way of road markers. Following on from that, the race itself is unmarked, making a GPS watch a necessity. Be sure to prepare for the logistics of the event as well as the training.
Do not let that put you off though. You will have the privilege of exploring one of the largest salt flats in the world alongside Africa’s only breeding ground of the greater flamingo and the location of Wilbur Smith’s famous novel, The Sunbird.
Gary Cantrell (a.k.a. Lazarus Lake) is somewhat of a legend himself and the race is heavily influenced by his quirky personality. He named the event after his neighbour (for no apparent reason other than to annoy him).
The Barkley Marathons went under the radar for many years until the Netflix documentary “The Race That Eats Its Young” made it running folklore.
Supposedly a 100 mile race, competitors complete five 20 mile loops However, it is known competitors will do at least 130 miles to complete the race. The route changes each year and is kept a closely guarded secret until a few days before the race. Competitors are told last minute when exactly the race will start, with race start times ranging from midnight to noon.
Runners must self-navigate their way through the wilderness, picking up pages from books hidden in the wilderness. Competitors only finish if they have pages from every book and make it back within the 60 hour time limit. Not surprisingly, only 14 runners have ever completed the race.
Grand to Grand Ultra
For the runners that make it to the finish line, they are greeted by the site of the Pink Cliffs of the Grand Staircase, one of the world’s most iconic geological formations and the rumoured burial site of Aztec gold.
While this may be the race of a lifetime, it has a price tag to match. However, considering the unbelievable panoramic views from the top of the canyons to the two-billion-year-old rock formations and isolated slot canyons in the valleys it’s easy to see why the $3,550 is worth it for many.
Western States 100
Following the same route since 1986, runners start from the valley floor up to ‘Emigrant Pass’, climbing over 2550ft in the first four and half miles. From the Olympic valley (site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games), runners go up again. Following the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850s, runners travel west, climbing another 15,540ft and descending 22,970ft before reaching Auburn, a small town in the heart of California’s historic gold country. Most of the trail passes through remote and rugged territory.
Runners have 30 hours to complete the route, which, despite the considerable elevation, is generally considered ‘runnable’ (by the elites, anyway). The range in elevation means some miles are run on snow and others on scorching hot trails.
Western States attracts some of the most elite competitors as well as being a Mecca for keen trail runners the world over, making competition for places fierce. First time entrants to the lottery entry have just a 1.3% chance of landing themselves a spot. Better get those entries in now…
Ultra X Mexico
This is a magical event, which weaves through a stunning landscape with a unique cultural setting. There are always several local Tarahumara runners competing and despite wearing traditional leather sandals you will be doing very well if you can keep up with them!
Ultra X Jordan
Wadi Rum’s nickname is “The Valley of the Moon” and participants will quickly see why. Its landscape, characterised by unique towering rock formations, is truly mind-blowing, as is the challenge. As locations go, this place is unrivalled in its beauty.
You may also like…
The ultimate list of the best ultramarathons for beginners in the world, including races in the UK, New Zealand, Botswana and Kenya.
The ultimate list of the best 100 mile ultramarathons in the world, including races in the USA, England, Wales, Colombia and Nepal.
The ultimate list of the best ultramarathons in Canada, including races in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.