‘Come on! Come on!’ The shouts and cheers from the local families were ringing in my ears. ‘Splash!’ Another bucket of water drenched me along with the sound of laughing and squealing from the group of local kids that had thrown it on me. The inaugural Ultra X Sri Lanka 250k over 5 days was like a week long water fight. I don’t ever recall being so wet for so long. The constant dousing from the locals and self drenching in the streams combined with the 85% humidity meant that all the runners were constantly wet and never actually dried out.
After a relaxing pre race stay in the picturesque beachside town of Negombo we were whisked away to explore the remote and untouched wilderness of the Sri Lankan jungles. I’d come to Sri Lanka for an adventure and the opportunity to run 250km through a country I’d only ever dreamed of and seen on travel documentaries was escapism at its best.
Awaking to the sounds of monkeys jumping from tree to tree and the birds sing songing the dawn of a new day, I uncovered my eyes from my eye mask and peered through my mosquito net around the camp. We’d arrived as the sun set the night before into camp and after squelching our way through thick mud we had all hastily made our little sleeping havens inside our 8-10 person gazebos that would become our home for the next 6 nights. Camp life can be noisy and erratic but its also a lot of fun and a great opportunity to get to know your fellow competitors better.
Anticipation and nervous energy was running through all of us as we congregated at the start line. It was only 8am but already the sun was sharp and I took shade beside the hibiscus plants enjoying the cooling water droplets hitting my body from last nights rain storm. After an obligatory start line photo we were off, the adventure had begun. Running through sugar cane fields and banana plantations, alongside waterways interspersed by herds of water buffalo and floating fields of pink water lilies and through rural villages with locals offering us fresh homegrown bananas and coconuts whilst never accepting any money, just a big smile and a cheer. This was running nirvana. This is what I had come for. Being the inaugural race there was no expectations as no-one knew what was to come, just surprise after surprise with the promise of more adventure around every corner.
Ultra X Sri Lanka took me by surprise with its toughness and brutality. I think it surprised every single one of the 31 starters with only a third of the field managing to finish the full distance without missing a leg/day of the route or having an IV drip administered during or after a stage. A mixture of attrition from heat exhaustion, dehydration, blisters and some existing injuries quickly demolished the field. The route was flat, and fast if you could cope with the heat & humidity raising your heart rate and pushing your limits. I realised early on that this was going to be a race of survival for me rather than a competitive race. I was far away from my comfort zone; heat, humidity, mud, insects, camping, iguanas and running on the flat; but the further I get away from that zone and the more challenging it is, rising to the challenge and taking the difficult road this is what makes my life interesting and gives it more meaning.
Even though we were running in some of the most remotest of areas, small villages dotted the course and with that meant small local shops where I certainly made use of cold coke to keep my thirst at bay and energy levels higher. During day 1 I’d found I was running a very similar pace with fellow competitors Alise from Latvia and Max from London and developed a rythym together that would mean we would run 95% of the race together and we would take turns in making purchases and trying out the eclectic mix of Sri Lankan treats for sale too.
Going into Sri Lanka I was concerned after my DNF at HURT 100 in January due to hydration and nutrition issues that the humidity would have the same effect on me. I worked on addressing these by trying to combat the humidity and the sun by wearing cooling arm sleeves and bandana around my neck which I wet as often as possible to keep cool, using a 1.5L camelbak for my electrolyte drinks (Active Root & Torq) on top of water in my usual 2 x 500ml UD Hydrates soft flasks and drying my feet out as soon as possible as well as having changes of socks for each day as the constant saturation of my feet turned them to white squidgy sponges and I actually got a couple of blisters which is unheard of for me. With this focus and attention I was able to handle the situation much more effectively and finish the race not only intact but with a big smile on my face.
There is magic at a multi stage race and this magic comes from the people, not only the runners, but the organisers, volunteers and the local people of the unique landscape you are running through. A multi stage race brings out a rawness in people that there is no hiding from, we see each other at our best, at our worst and everything in between and somehow this develops such strong bonds and friendships are forged for life.
Ultra X are the new kids on the block delivering a series of multi stage races across stunning, remote and of course adventurous locations around the world. Whether you fancy exploring the lush tropical rainforest jungle of Sri Lanka, through the valley of the moon in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, explore the volcanic islands of The Azores in Portugal or follow in the footsteps of the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico through the Copper Canyon with spectacular mountain trails as famously documented in “Born to Run”. Each race follows the same format of running 250km over 5 days, which is more kilometres in less days than the infamous Marathon des Sables, with the self sufficiency element made somewhat more appealing with the race organisers transporting your 15kg bag between camp sites for you so you only need to run with a day pack. Costing around £1k per race they are providing a more affordable option of multi stage racing making this more accessible to the running community. Check them out and find out what it means to have “The UltraXperience”.
Whilst the post race glow was immensely overshadowed by the tragic events which took place in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 28th April 2019, I left Sri Lanka with a deep affection and respect for the people and families I met along the way who live such humble and simple lives yet always had a smile and offered immense generosity from the bottom of their hearts.
Sri Lanka Multi Stage Kit – what worked for me:
Clothing – I wore Asics running kit which was light and had no chafing issues
Shoes – Asics Gel Sonoma – a rugged enough grip for the trails but still comfortable enough for road and hard packed dirt roads
Socks – Injinji toe socks (I only suffered with 2 rather small blisters on my heel from all the slipping around in the wet)
Sunglasses – ND runner are the perfect affordable sunglasses to wear, especially when you lose a pair in the river on the last day!
Veloforte bars – All natural bars that were the perfect consistency in the heat, not too dry or too soft, with big chunks of nuts in them too for that added crunch
33 Shake – Chia seed energy gels
Cruga Biltong – A great post race stage snack to restore the protein levels
Summit to Eat – Freeze dried adventure food (I had Macaroni cheese, Chicken Tikka and Rice, Beef and potato stew
**Earplugs and eye mask are an absolute must for communal camping**