Personal Statement from Race Director Paul Armstrong

I first had the seed of the idea of creating a trail ultra along the Suffolk Heritage Coastline (my home backyard) back in late 2015, shortly after signing up for the inaugural Cape Wrath Ultra scheduled for May 2016. The camaraderie I subsequently experienced as part of the intrepid group of 95 of us who set off from Fort William in hope and shared endeavour then cemented the idea in my head. The Suffolk Coast isn't quite as wild and hilly as the West Coast of Scotland, but it is a bit of a hidden gem, being largely unspoilt and surprisingly "away from it all" for somewhere in the highly populated South East of England. It would therefore make a great venue for a true ultra adventure, without having to travel vast distances to reach the start line!

So, a fine vision, but how to make it a reality? That was a journey that took nearly six years to complete. It would have been only three years, but for one little word 'Covid', which scuppered efforts to bring the event to life in both Sep 2020 and May 2021. Covid aside, there was so much work to do to convert vision into practical reality on the ground...

Recceing and optimising the prospective route, identifying suitable checkpoint venues, creating maps and GPX routes, arranging GPS tracker hire, medals, food and drink logistics, sourcing professional medical cover, buying promotional banners and flags, building an event website, promoting the event on social media, working out event day logistics, finding 20 willing volunteers to deliver those logistics etc etc. One of the best sources of online advice was Race Directors HQ, but there's no substitute for practical experience so I'm extremely grateful to Giles Thurston of Darkside Running for letting me "shadow" him on one of his own ultramarathon events on the Norfolk Coast in summer 2021.

The first Five Rivers Ultra took place on 14th/15th May 2022, with 63 entrants, 52 runners actually crossing the start line and 41 of them making it to the finish line. For me, the weekend was a totally exhausting but totally exhilarating experience. Staying awake and dealing with unfolding events on the ground for 40 straight hours with just one brief 1hr nap was really tough! But great fun too, monitoring competitors fast and slow making their way along the course and seeing the joy and relief on their faces as they reached the finish line to receive their finisher medals. The unsolicited feedback from so many competitors after the event was a joy to receive. Probably my favourite was this one:  "I just wanted to thank you for organising this stunning race. I've seen a lot of the Suffolk coastal paths but this was absolutely beautiful! It was also so well organised and looked like this race has been going on for years. Absolutely great experience and really nice and helpful staff."

The second event took place on 6th/7th May 2023, but with disappointingly smaller numbers on the day - only 36 of the 52 entrants turned up at registration (perhaps due to the damp weather, perhaps due to the King's Coronation?). The race itself went very smoothly - almost like a well oiled machine based on experience from the previous year! But the failure to grow entrance numbers (and in fact a slight decline) was disappointing in terms of my goal of improved fundraising returns for my chosen Charity Beneficiaries (Back Up, H4H, Mind & Outward Bound). The 2022 event raised a total of £2,600 divided equally between them. The 2023 raised only £1,600 as a result of the smaller entry numbers and significant fixed cost elements of putting on this sort of event.

With the 2023 Five Rivers Ultra done and dusted I turned my focus back to my own unfinished goal of completing the Cape Wrath Ultra event. In 2016 I had failed due to heat exhaustion after 6 days on the trail (in Scotland? - yes it's true and can happen!). In late May 2023 I returned after a 7 year gap and succeeded in finishing all eight days of the event. I became the oldest finisher this year at 62 years of age.

So, I'm not getting any younger, and the subsequent very slow take-up of entries for the 2024 Five Rivers Ultra has made me realise that the event clearly needs some fresh younger blood and new marketing ideas to help develop and grow the event further. I continue to believe that this is a great event concept in a part of the UK that would benefit from more, not less. trail ultra events.

I would be really sad to see my 'baby' die completely, so I'm hoping that I can find someone else to take it on and develop it as they see fit, whether as a fundraising endeavour, a commercial enterprise, or some sort of combo of the two. If this might possibly be you, please do get in touch with me at and let's have a chat. I'll be happy to offer help, advice and event kit free and gratis, and would love to continue to have some future involvement as a support volunteer, but free of the pressures of being a Race Director!

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram