Autumn and winter may well be a time where you take stock, recharge after a long summer of races and build up your base fitness. However, there are some really good races around to consider doing to keep your head and your body in the game if, like many of us, you need a goal to keep motivation high. There are, of course, hundreds of races all round the world – many in temperate climes – you can have a crack at, but here we are concentrating on the mud, the rain, the hills and the pain that the UK has to offer the keen ultra runner over the next few months.
Photo credit: The Druids Challenge, XNRG.
The Druids Challenge
4th November 2016
This really is a great British classic. The route, devised and full recced by the extremely experienced and popular Race Director, Neil Thubron, takes you from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Swindon in Wiltshire over three days, with two overnight stops in Watlington and Wantage. The Druid’s Challenge has been classified as a qualifying event for those aiming for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (one qualifying point awarded to finishers).
The organisers say, “This event will suit those who want a new challenge, people looking for an alternative to running marathons, those training for events like the Marathon des Sables or anyone who loves seeing the beautiful English countryside.”
The good news is that the Ridgeway, which this race follows, is a National Trail and has excellent markings in the form of signposts or post discs, so you can be a navigational numpty and still do it. You also get a route card which is designed to help on any tricky sections, to provide information on any route changes and to indicate where the checkpoints are.
If you want to do a classic winter race that provides plenty of challenges and takes you through some beautiful countryside and is also great preparation for big races like MDS, this is a good one.
The Glen Ogle 33M
5th November 2016
Quite simply a lovely Scottish race. The Glen Ogle run is 33 miles long. It starts and ends at the village of Killin and is raced on a variety of surfaces, mostly forest trails and cycle paths. The race is marshalled in the first stages as it is run on country roads.
Water is provided approximately every seven miles and there are first aiders and medical supplies available throughout the race and at each checkpoint.
The race is really ideal for all levels of runners as there is no cut-off time.
The Tollymore Trail Ultra Marathon
The Tollymore Trail Ultra Marathon in Northern Ireland also includes marathon, half marathon and 10k distances. For the big event of the day – the ultra – runners have to complete three loops of a 13.05-mile route.
The route is fully way marked and located within the spectacular forest trails of the Tollymore Forest Park. Support and feed stations are located en route. All participants will be chip timed.
The Spine Race
15th January 2017
How tough are you? That is a question you really need to address before you sign up for the Spine® Race. It is a 268 mile, non-stop, winter challenge which traverses the entire Pennine Way. The Pennine Way will test you but it really does cover some of England’s most stunning countryside including the Peak District, Cheviots, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland National Park – finishing on the Scottish Borders.
Be prepared for wild weather, proper climbs and treacherous ground underfoot. You will need to pack everything you could possibly need and be ready to face very difficult conditions.
The MONTANE® Spine® Race is open to anyone with appropriate experience who wishes to test themselves and compete in a truly demanding race. As the organisers say, “Expect to race through extreme weather, deep snow, ice, mud, bogs, strong winds and rain in a gruelling non-stop, seven-day race from Edale to Kirk Yetholm.”
If you want to test yourself and push through those limits you can still apply to be on the waiting list although the roster is full.
The Pilgrim Challenge
4th-5th February 2017
Another of the favourite races on the calendar is Pilgrims. The current course records are held by two of the most popular racers on the circuit – Danny Kendall with 07:50:23, and Elisabet Barnes with 09:56:47. This UTMB qualifier (4 points) is a two day ultra over 66 miles of the North Downs Way national trail.
This is a great multi day one for beginners as it is not as intimidating as some of the other challenges but gives you lots to contend with. You can really race it or you can focus on finishing according to your personal goals.
The race follows the route across southern England once trodden by pilgrims heading for Canterbury. Overnight accommodation, evening meals, showers, breakfast, food and drink at checkpoints, free parking, and even guest speakers in the evenings are all included.
The three days, fully supported including accommodation and all food is £140.
Photo credit: The Thames Trot, GB Ultra.
The Thames Trot
4th February 2017
This is a lovely race and pretty good value at £49. You run right along the Thames from Oxford to Henley. As you pass the changing scenery on the river, don’t forget to look up in case you catch a glimpse of the red kites that inhabit that area.
The organisers are justifiably proud of their route and say, “Using the banks and towpaths of England’s largest river as well as footpaths and bridleways we have created an ultra distance course that will always keep you interested.”
Added bonuses are well-stocked feed stations and enthusiastic support all along the route. The Thames Trot really is a good day out … with a lot of running thrown in!
The Arc of Attrition
10th February 2017
If you fancy something a bit tougher then this next race may appeal as it is a 100-mile coastal path route. The clue to the difficulty of the Arc of Attrition can be found in the fact that it carries six points for UTMB qualification.
The Arc is a point-to-point extreme coastal race from Coverack to Porthtowan taking in 100miles of stunning and dramatic Cornish Coastpath with competitors running in challenging winter conditions. Runners will complete an arc around the entire south west foot of Cornwall. The race has a strict 35-hour cut-off with additional checkpoint cut-offs on route. With checkpoints approximately 20 miles apart, competitors will need the ability to be self-sufficient for long periods of time.
The organisers say, “As safety is our primary concern, competitors will need to carry mandatory kit at all times and will be subject to random kit checks throughout the event. We would strongly recommend and advise the use of your own support crew. The cost of entry includes the hire of a compulsory GPS tracking device which allows race HQ (and your friends and family) to track your progress online throughout the event.”
Photo credit: The Brecon to Cardiff, Run Walk Crawl.
The Brecon to Cardiff
Brecon to Cardiff is a 42 mile, one-way race that starts off from Brecon and follows the River Taff. You are lucky enough to start off in the Brecon Beacons National Park which is a feast for the eyes with mountains, waterfalls and reservoirs.
But the landscape really changes as you head south and start to come in to Wales’ industrial heritage.
The race sets off at 08:00 from Canal Wharf, Brecon. Here you join the Taff Trail which you follow all the way to the finish. The trail goes along an abandoned branch of the Taff Vale Railway and the Glamorganshire Canal built in the 18th and 19th centuries to transport coal and iron ore from Merthyr Tydfil, the Cynon Valley and the Rhondda valley to the docks at Cardiff and Barry.
From Brecon the route heads east towards Llynfrynach and the Talybont Reservoir. Here the route climbs to Torpantu, and then from this point it is downhill all the way to the finish!
There are, of course, lots of other races going on across the UK, and you can find details of them here.