The founders of ULTRA-X Jamie Spark and Sam Howard are on a mission to shake up the multi-stage scene rotating events through exotic locations; whether winding through luscious Sri Lankan jungle, exploring the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan or following in the footsteps of the Tarahumara Native Mexican tribe through the Copper Canyons of Mexico immortalised by Christopher McDougall in the running classic book “Born to Run”. All these courses are designed to tempt you and pique your fancy with other far flung destinations such as the Azores and China on the cards. The additional twist of a World Championship event from 2021 draws inspiration from the IRONMAN triathlon world with rumours of a healthy prize pot and the introduction of age group athlete competition into the ultra-running world.
Each race format is based on 250km over five days which is slightly longer than notorious Marathon des Sables but within a shorter time frame. However, for those who don’t like carrying too much when they are running, the self-sufficiency element is replaced by the luxury of the race organisers transporting a 15kg bag between camps. This removes getting cosy with the kitchen scales weighing out every calorie and cutting off the end of your tooth brush to save every last gram.
The most recent Sri Lanka ULTRA X event (15 – 19 Apr 19) offered a stunning glimpse into the remote and inaccessible parts of Sri Lanka; winding through endless neat regimented rows of sugar cane, glass like lakes which reflected the clouds strewn with water lilies, and cheerful crowds of locals dressed in bright colours out in the streets celebrating Tamil New Year. The flat and fast route is mainly on hard packed wide trails or tarmac road with the odd single track section which is perfect for bonafide road runners who can speed through the distance.
Let’s be entirely honest: flat and fast isn’t exactly my sweet spot. Give me the perfect mountain trail anytime. But I’m a glutton for adventure so I jumped at the opportunity to join the fun after a chance meeting with Sam and Jamie at Oman by UTMB in November. However, it became swiftly apparent flat, fast, hot and humid is even further removed from my happy place. The race slowly descended into a microcosm of pain where dormant demons stirred from within and awoke in full force to taunt me. The “enough” monster murmurs softly in my ear; “you’re not good enough, you’ve not done enough distance training, you’ve not prepared properly enough, you’ve not rested enough, you’ve not done enough speed work, you’ve not done enough strength work.....”. The voice is gently hypnotic and all encompassing.
My body and mind are sorely tested to their limits. It’s hard to avoid being sucked into this whirlpool of negativity when every physical step forwards feels like you’re walking on razor sharp needles. Both feet have been completely saturated for hours and my skin has progressed from the prune like wrinkles which form after staying in the bath for too long into a pale ghost like white colour which is clammy to touch and crisscrossed with deep painful rivets.