Ultra X 125 Eng­land 2020: Race Director’s Report

Writ­ten By Jam­ie Sparks

Jam­ie is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. He enjoys ram­bling on about a vari­ety of top­ics; motor­bikes, cyc­ling, adven­ture, and, of course, ultra run­ning.

24 Septem­ber 2020

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Read­ing Time: 7 minutes

After 10 months without a race we were delighted to be able to wel­come over 170 run­ners on the week­end of the 19th Septem­ber for the inaug­ur­al Ultra X 125 Eng­land.

The event had a very dif­fer­ent look and feel from the off­set. We, the organ­isers had taken every meas­ure pos­sible to ensure that run­ners and crew were socially dis­tanced through­out the week­end. PPE was worn by the crew and on arrival into camp, run­ners were greeted with a health screen­ing and tem­per­at­ure check. Run­ners had to bring their own accom­mod­a­tion in the form of tents and only mem­bers of the same house­hold were per­mit­ted to share.

The Race Brief­ing was delivered via video link and kit checks were com­pleted at ran­dom on the course. Even the start was staggered, with two run­ners set­ting off per minute. Did this take away from the over­all buzz and start line mass excite­ment? Sure, per­haps a little, but in real­ity it was a small and neces­sary price to pay for get­ting back to what we love… racing!

Ultra X Jordan Briefing

By 19:00 on Fri­day even­ing the vast major­ity of run­ners had arrived. There was a palp­able feel­ing of excite­ment and appre­hen­sion in the air. This is the usu­al mix of emo­tion we have become accus­tomed to at the start line of an Ultra X.

For us, it was sur­real to see so many of our com­munity back togeth­er after such a long time apart.

The weath­er was on our side from the start and thank good­ness for it. The Peak Dis­trict is not some­where you want to run when the weath­er Gods are against you. Luck­ily though, we were greeted with sunny clear skies and warm tem­per­at­ures through­out.

The make-up of the field was typ­ic­al of any Ultra X — 40% had nev­er run an ultramara­thon and for us, the high­er that num­ber, the bet­ter. We are always look­ing for new ways to bring new­bies into the sport.

Hot water was avail­able from 04:30 on Sat­urday morn­ing and bit by bit the num­ber of small lights from head torches began to mul­tiply as sleepy run­ners rose from their warm sleep­ing bags. For the vast major­ity, this was their first race of 2020.

From 06:30, with the fog lift­ing and tem­per­at­ures rising, the first 2 run­ners set-off to cheers and loud elec­tron­ic music from our event part­ner, Red Bull.

Saturday’s stage con­sisted of 75km and 2,443 metres of elev­a­tion gain — punchy for a UK ultra. With Check­point 1 sta­tioned just 5km into the course, 95% of the run­ners passed right through without stop­ping for re-sup­ply. The lead­ing male at this point — Tom Joly de Lot­bin­iere, covered this first sec­tion in just 19 minutes! Need­less to say, he felt it later on in the stage.

As each minute passed back at camp anoth­er 2 run­ners were released from their hold­ing pen. With­in 30 minutes, the 60 or so run­ners who were tak­ing on the full week­end race were out on the trails.

Ultra X Jordan Briefing

Up, down, up, down, up, down. The Peaks are beau­ti­ful but they are pun­ish­ing, and the con­stant elev­a­tion and des­cent made it dif­fi­cult for run­ners to find their rhythm. We are in the busi­ness of tak­ing people to their lim­its so it was only nat­ur­al that as the day grew longer and the sun began to set, bod­ies began break­ing down. This is where our cap­able team of osteo­paths from Osteo Adven­tures began their work in piece­ing bod­ies back togeth­er. It is our sin­cere belief that without the help of this group of pro­fes­sion­als we would have a much high­er drop-out rate. At every check­point, osteo­paths in full PPE could be seen stretch­ing muscles, tap­ing joints and gen­er­ally mak­ing people feel bet­ter.

Oth­er than the obvi­ous distance/day vari­ance, there is one char­ac­ter­ist­ic in par­tic­u­lar which dif­fer­en­ti­ates Ultra X from oth­er race organ­isers. Our crew. Our army of volun­teers are quite simply the most ener­get­ic, friendly and sup­port­ive group of indi­vidu­als on the race cir­cuit and we make it our mis­sion as a brand to do everything with­in our power to get all our run­ners to the fin­ish line.

In the men’s race, Tom Joly de Lot­bin­inere crossed the fin­ish line in first pos­i­tion on Day 1 with Mark Peart, Andrew Brodziak and Mark Darby­shire right on his tail. Day 2 would tell a very dif­fer­ent story though.

In the women’s race Katie Sloane took a com­mand­ing vic­tory with Marta Vigano in 2nd and Tess Eli­as in 3rd.

The final run­ner to cross the fin­ish line on Day 1 would end up tak­ing double the time of the first fin­ish­er. One thing we love to see at our races is the huge mix of abil­ity. We value the race win­ners just as much as those that decide to walk the entirety. To us you are all cham­pi­ons and as we often say, Ultra X’s are not so much races as they are adven­tures. 

As the sun­light and mer­cury dropped, sunglasses and tee-shirts were quickly replaced with down jack­ets and woolly hats, and soon it was time to hunker down once more for anoth­er night under can­vas.

Ultra X Jordan Briefing

Sunday’s 50km stage com­menced one hour later at 07:30 and, as had happened the day before, run­ners were once again set off in 1 minute waves of two.

At 08:30, with the full race run­ners out bat­tling the course once more, the 50km run­ners arrived. After their health screen­ing, bib num­ber and track­er alloc­a­tion it was time for them to take their places on the start line. Not before long we had over 150 run­ners out on the course. How long would it take for the first 125km run­ner to be caught!?

The sun shone once more and Sunday’s stage was, from what we have heard, even more beau­ti­ful than Saturday’s.

The 50km race:

Sarah White­head came in first in the women’s race with an impress­ive time of 5 hrs 23 minutes. Not long behind her was Irina Tatarinova, and less than 5 minutes behind her, Mar­ina Ranger. Many con­grat­u­la­tions to all podi­um fin­ish­ers.

In the men’s race Arron Lar­kin crossed the line first in just 4 hrs 40 minutes(!), with Laurence Ball in 2nd and Matty Bren­nan in 3rd. Con­grat­u­la­tions all!

The 125km race:

The men’s race was well and truly shaken up on Day 2. Mark Darby­shire blew away the com­pet­i­tion to win Ultra X 125 Eng­land. Dave Phil­lips fin­ished less than an hour behind him with Mark Peart cross­ing the line in 3rd, just 5 minutes behind Phil­lips. A spe­cial men­tion must go out to Max Rusby, who after a crack­ing race, fin­ished in 4th just 12 seconds behind Peart.

The women’s race stand­ings remained the same from the day before. Katie Sloane took vic­tory, Marta Vigano came in 2nd and Tess Eli­as in 3rd.

There, wait­ing for the run­ners at the fin­ish, were medals, cold beer and one hel­luva pizza truck. Run­ners from both races crossed the fin­ish line for hours in the mid-after­noon sun, and apart from the lack of hug­ging and use of face masks, things felt just how they used to.

Ultra X Jordan Briefing

To all of you 125 and 50 run­ners, we want to con­grat­u­late you thor­oughly. This race was no walk in the park, the elev­a­tion and tech­nic­al sec­tions made it tricky even for the most exper­i­enced ultra trail run­ner. We can’t wait to see you all again soon in 2021.

We would like to end this race report with the words of run­ner num­ber 38;

Have you ever been so proud of some­thing you can’t put it into words?

Ultra X 125 eng­land was simply one of the most amaz­ing things I’ve ever done. The emo­tion­al roller­coast­er was real — excite­ment, pride, con­fid­ence, frus­tra­tion, anger, tears, joy, hun­ger, naus­ea, laughter, fear, hope, des­pair — it all came in waves… I truly know now that I can do any­thing I put my mind to and no-one can ever take that away.… If you are think­ing of try­ing some­thing new whatever that may be I say go for it — it just might change your life.”

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