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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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