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February 19, 2018 Comments (0) All Posts, Athlete Stories

5 Ultra Races Every Runner Should Add To Their Bucket List

Ice Ultra by Mikkel Beisner

If you could run any ultra distance race in the world, which would it be? That’s the question we posed to UK inov-8 ambassador Damian Hall, who as well as being a globe-trotting outdoor journalist is also a top international ultra runner. Here’s the top-five that make up his bucket list, including those he’s already ticked off or plans to do in 2018 & 2019:

1. Ice Ultra (Sweden)

As you read this I will have just arrived in Arctic Sweden for Beyond The Ultimate’s 2018 Ice Ultra (see image above by Mikkel Beisner @Beyondtheultimate to get a – very cold – feel for what it’s all about). I’ve never been to a polar region before, or Scandinavia, which always sounds perfect in every way (apart from the beer prices). And this race is exactly what I love about the sport. It’s primarily an adventure, in painfully beautiful wilderness, for 230km. I’ve long fantasised about cold places. I’ve obsessed for years over Captain Robert Scott, and my favourite scenes in Star Wars are on planet Hoth, so I’m beyond excited about visiting the Arctic.

I find that starting the year with a multi-stage race (this event has five stages) is a great little training block, too, even if the last two years have seen me in the marginally less frostbite risky Sahara Desert (for Marathon des Sables) and Costa Rica (for The Coastal Challenge). We’ve been warned our water bottles will freeze in day-time temperatures that could plummet to -20°C. Plus what’s not to love about a race that includes glow sticks and, er, tampons (good kindling for fires in the huts at night) on the mandatory kit list.

Amongst the kit I’ll be using for Ice Ultra will be the 25-litre pack ALL TERRAIN 25, the RACESHELL waterproof jacket, plus the EXTREME THERMO MITTS, MERINO WRAG, and one of my all-time favourite bits of inov-8 kit, the MERINO HOODED BASE-LAYER.

*Beyond The Ultimate’s 2018 Ice Ultra starts on Tuesday 20th February. Follow the action live.

The vital statistics:
Lapland, Arctic, Sweden.
When: February.
Distance: 230km (split into five daily stages).
Terrain: Snow fields, mountain tundras, ice forests and frozen lakes.
Number of finishers in 2017: 16 (plus 3 on a shorter course).
More information: Event website
Shoe choice: Something with spikes for ice and snow, so OROC 280 V2 or ARCTICTALON 275.

top 5 ultra races by damian hall, inov-8

Author of this blog post, Damian Hall, on his way to 12th place (and first veteran aged 40+) at the 2017 UTMB race. Photo: Matt Brown.

2. Ultra-Tour du Mont-Blanc (France, Italy & Switzerland)

I’ve done UTMB for the last three years and before each one I tell myself, “I’ll just do it this one last time, it’ll be out of my system and I can move on”. Then afterwards I find it’s most definitely still lodged very tightly in there, somewhere between my second and third vertebrae. It’s the biggest trail race there is. The fact it’s in big mountains and it’s 100-mile distance makes it all the more appealing. Then there’s the hugely generous crowds and the chance to test myself against the world’s best mountain runners. It all adds to the allure.

So, yes, I’ll be back again this August and all of this year’s racing and training is again geared towards it. Nicky Spinks, who I was hugely fortunate to have crewing for me last year (even if she did steal some of my macaroons), advised me against plateauing there. But I kind of want to. Then I’ll know I’ve given UTMB my best effort. I was 12th last year, 15 minutes from the top-10. Each year has been an improvement on the last…

*Read last year’s behind-the-scenes report from the UTMB and also check out Nicky’s top tips for crewing an ultra race.

The vital statistics:
Where: Starts and finishes in Chamonix, France. A circumnavigation of Europe’s highest peak (Mont Blanc). Route crosses borders into Italy and Switzerland.
166km with 10,000m of ascent.
Alpine mountain trails – lots of hard and rocky ground, some softer sections.
Number of finishers in 2017:
More information:
Event website
Shoe choice: My favourite, the TRAILTALON 290. My shoe each of the last two years at UTMB.

3. Tor des Geants (Italy)

Every year when I tell myself it’ll be my last UTMB for a while, I look forward to doing the epic Tor des Geants instead – they’re too close together to do both well. I only ever hear great things about this 338km race, about the scenery and atmosphere especially. To my mind it’s kind of like a Spine Race but in real mountains. Big hurty ones. That said, running the South West Coast Path in May 2016 fatigued me for the rest of the year and has made me more cautious about the really long stuff. I’m loving the 50-100 miles distances at the moment and want to make the most of that while I’m as competitive as I’ll ever be. I definitely will do TdG, but it might not be for another year or two.

*Read Paul Tierney’s account of last year’s Tor des Geants – What It’s Really Like To Race Tor Des Geants

The vital statistics:
Where: Aosta Valley, Italy.
338km with 24,000m of ascent (GPS trackers register is at 31,000m – that’s almost FOUR times the height of Mount Everest!)
High mountain trails, with maximum altitude at of 3,300m.
Number of finishers in 2017:
461 finishes (another 406 withdrew).
More information:
Event website
Shoe choice: Possibly the TRAILTALON 290 (same as for UTMB) or if more grip needed, the wide-fit X-TALON 200.

western states. brendan davies photo for inov-8

The iconic silver Western States buckle, awarded to all finishers who complete the course in under 24 hours. Photo by Brendan Davies.

4. The Big Three US 100s (United States)

Almost everyone who loves the 100-mile distance wants to do Hardrock and Western States in the US. Hardrock just sounds nails (in English: really tough) but with a special atmosphere, while Western States is the original trail 100-miler and very competitive. I’d love to test myself against those courses and the runners. But with such small fields, especially Hardrock, it’s easier to gain entry to the Freemasons! Leadville, the third of the US’s big-three 100s, is a little easier to gain entry to and that’s high on my radar for 2019. This legendary ‘Race Across The Sky’ takes you on a high-level route through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was first run in 1983 and has gone on to gain iconic status in the ultra running world.

The vital statistics:
Where: Rocky Mountains, Colorado, US. Route follows a 50-mile out-and-back dogleg, starting at an altitude 3,100m.
When: August.
100 miles (160km) with 4,800m of ascent – including two climbs of Hope Pass (which tops out at 3,850m).
Hard-packed trails and dusty dirt roads at high altitude.
Number of finishers in 2017:
More information:
Event website
Shoe choice: The TRAILROC 285 is well built for hard and rocky trails in the US.

5. Madeira Island Ultra Trail (Madeira island, Portugal)

As well as UTMB, my other ‘A race’ for this year is the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) in April. It’s 71 miles with 7,200m of ascent, so I see it as a two-thirds UTMB, but again it’s somewhere new for me and sounds really dramatic. As it’s an Ultra-Trail World Tour race I’m excited to pit myself against the world’s best again, too. I feel very lucky to be able to do these races. That’s what I need to remind myself when they start to get a bit ouchy. The race goes from one side of the island to the other, taking in lots of high, exposed mountain ridges and vast areas of woodland along the way. It looks epic.

The vital statistics:
Where: Madeira – an island in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,000km south-west of Portugal.
When: April.
114km with 7,200m of ascent.
Narrow, twisting, turning mountain trails with exposed sections higher up.
Number of finishers in 2017:
More information:
Event website plus more information on Madeira
Shoe choice: Possibly the TRAILTALON 290 (same as for UTMB) or if more grip needed, the wide-fit X-TALON 200.

inov-8 ambassador Damian Hall has placed on the podium at the Spine Race, Dragon’s Back Race (5th OA) and the most recently UK Ultra Trail Championships. The outdoor journalist and GB trail-ultra runner has completed UTMB three times, placing 12th (1st Brit; 1st Vet) last year, and ranking 17th in the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour. In 2016, he set a Fastest Known Time on Britain’s longest National Trail, the 630-mile South West Coast Path. He blames it all on his midlife crisis. Follow Damian on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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