What do you get if you mix a camping trip, a bunch of ultra runners and a legendary South African with some good food, plenty of banter, arguably too much beer and lashings of inspiring adventure tales. Project Ultra headed to the first ever Ultra Festival to find out
James Adams posed a question that silenced the room. It was a short but meaningful silence. He asked us all to imagine that we were laying on our respective deathbeds, moments from crossing our final finish line, when our young granddaughter asked us what she should do with her life.
Apart from being a slightly morbid way to end his otherwise uplifting talk, the answer that he gave summed up the very first edition of the Ultra Festival beautifully.
He would tell her to find something that she truly loved doing and embrace it without hesitation. To throw herself into that passion with all the time and energy that she could muster within her daily life and, above all, to make sure she had some wonderful stories to tell and an awesome community of people to share them with.
The Ultra Festival was a true reflection of this sage advice being put into practice. We had come together in a stunning rural location near Westbury with a shared passion for adventure, for pushing beyond our limits and for supporting others who do the same. It was this obsession and commitment that had sparked the experiences behind the inspiring stories being told to our friendly gathering and which defined the weekend.
We had talks from experienced runners like Javed Bhatti. A man who, not content with finishing The Spine (an epic crossing of the Pennine Way in Winter and widely regarded as one of Britain’s toughest challenges), immediately turned around and went back to the start, completing an incredible 536 mile ‘double’. There was multiple World record holder, Mimi Anderson, and adventurers like Emma Timmis (who ran 1,425 miles across Africa in 57 days) and Aleks Kashefi (who completed LEJOG and is about to embark on an incredible attempt to solo run the E1 Euro Trail without any shoes). And, of course, there was the legendary, Bruce Fordyce, who not only treated us to a Comrades film and an excellent insight into his career, but also shared the weekend with us, getting fully stuck in to the banter during the Saturday night quiz. It was great news for all of us that he was in town, although bad news for anyone who had designs on winning the local park run that Saturday morning.
That was one of the stand out aspects of the weekend. Not only were all of these people (and many more great runners who also gave inspiring talks) there to tell us about their adventures, they were also around all weekend to chat and hang out.
The workshops were very useful and fun, with navigation skills from Nav4 and the most excellent, Jon Cowell, providing a natural running masterclass that got us all (literally) skipping and jumping in bare feet on the lawn. It was hard not to come away from his session with lots to think about in terms of footwear choices and running form. Jon’s advice is likely to have a lasting impact on Project Ultra.
The films (including the wonderfully quirky Barkley Marathons movie, featuring Ultra Festival speaker James Adams), the hilarious quiz and the occasional bit of actual running combined with plenty of time to meet other festival goers over good food and a few beers (or more than a few in some cases) created a welcome balance. As relative newcomers to ultra running, we felt truly welcome.
Credit has to go to Andy Nuttall for creating an event that felt relaxed enough to be enjoyable but packed enough to always be engaging; for keeping it simple and not corporate; for sticking to his beliefs that this should be an event where members of the ultra running community come together to share experiences in a chilled environment and meet people who they’ve previously only spoken to in hashtags.
We left with the realisation that, at some point in our lives, we had all posed the same question that James asked but in respect of our own lives. Then we had all decided that we needed something to engage us wholeheartedly and each of us had come to the same life defining conclusion. Bruce Fordyce put it best: the greatest gift that you can give to yourself is running.
Here’s to next year’s festival. We can’t wait!