SETTING up any new business in today’s cut-throat marketplace is always a tough ask, but trying to get a new venture off the ground when the first lockdown hit way back in March 2020, made the hard, almost impossible for Crickhowell lady Ellen Wood. 

Yet if there’s one thing the founder of Limitless Trails, loves, it’s a challenge. 

Overcoming adversity, pushing self-limits, and making the impossible a reality are all traits that define both her and the company she has poured blood, sweat, and tears into. A company that has since earned global recognition for blazing a trail in more ways than one. 

“Starting any new business is always a daunting affair, but just as we were ready to hit the ground running, Covid struck and turned everything on its head,” Ellen told the Chronicle when discussing the origins of Limitless Trails -  a trail race organisation that she views more a labour of love than a corporate venture. 

“When you’re in the business of putting on events that rely on the participation of large numbers of people, the pandemic wasn’t exactly ideal, but we hung on in there, and by the time 2021 arrived we had thankfully turned a corner.”

Ellen is quick to acknowledge the stoic, serene, and timeless landscape of the Brecon Beacons as the inspiration behind Limitless Trails.

The Black Mountains
Running down a dream! (Tindle News)

She told the Chronicle, “I grew up in the Black Mountains, and I always loved, walking, running, and cycling in the hills, but like most youngsters, you tend to take the wonder on your own doorstep a bit for granted. So I moved away, but when I had children of my own, I wanted them to experience growing up in the area. I think you always carry a part of the place where you grew up with you, particularly when it’s as beautiful as Powys. So I returned.” 

Feeling the urge to get out and about in the mountains of her childhood, Ellen began running again and participating in ever-increasing distance runs. “I’ve always been a runner,” she explained, “And being in the mountains and pushing yourself is a great stress reliever and a way to focus your energies.”

As her stamina increased, Ellen decided to really challenge herself and signed up for a 200 ultra alongside her brother Mike. 

“Running 200 miles was a big step-up for me, but we were also doing it for charity and that was a real motivating factor. And after bringing up two kids on your own nothing really phases you anymore,” she laughed.

The months of training paid off and after raising six thousand pounds for Ty Hafan Hospice and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and participating in other ultras, Ellen began to consider the possibility of organising her own trails. 

Ellen told the Chronicle, “Not long after running the 200 ultra I began working for a large trail-running company. Life is one long learning curve and every day’s a school day. However, during my time there I began noticing things that I believed could be done differently to improve the participant’s experience. I’m not one to needlessly criticize but if there are pitfalls let’s fix them!”

Throwing caution to the wind, Ella decided to start a trail-running company that personified her own ethos and passion for trail running and the mountains.

“I believe if you’re going to do anything well, you’ve got to throw yourself into with complete passion and if you fall short of that as a race director, then the experience of the participants is going to suffer,” explained Ellen.

“I believe an RD must not only be familiar with every inch of the course they are responsible for, but they should also have experience of running ultras. By having firsthand knowledge of the sort of support and nutrition the runners need, and the specifics to look for in a course, you create a much safer and rewarding event.”

Ellen added, “At Limitless Trails it’s not money that motivates us but the experiences we give. As people who live in and love the area we are familiar with every inch of the trails we organise. Our ethos is to leave no footprint and so we keep the numbers low because we believe in quality over quantity. We liaise constantly with local farmers, landowners, and Mountain Rescue to ensure everyone approves of our routes.”

As someone who has run in plenty of events where the snacks are a bit beyond the pale, Ellen also makes it a point of pride to ensure Limitless Trails offers high-quality nutrition to cater to the needs of the runners.

She said, “We take plenty of time to ensure we get the nutrition right. We don’t believe in offering the same sugary snacks at every checkpoint. In the early stages, we provide a mix of fruit and protein snacks before switching to more carb-concentrated snacks towards the end. We always make sure we’ve got more than enough to go around because there’s nothing worse than running out and having nothing to offer the slower runners.” 

Although any event organised by Limitless Trails has a number of experienced local support staff, medics, physios, and back runners on hand to cover all eventualities, Ellen is a firm believer that all participants need an adequate race kit, self-navigation skills, and an understanding of what to do in an emergency. 

“When you’re in the mountains anyone can take a wrong turn and end up on the wrong route, but you need to be able to handle the situation when things go wrong, that’s paramount.”

As someone who is also an ambassador for the Brecon Beacons,  Ellen is a fierce advocate of giving everyone who attends her events the sort of Black Mountains welcome that will live long in their memories and keep them coming back for more.

Ellen told the Chronicle, “We attract runners not just from every corner of the UK but from all over the world. It’s important to me that they remember not just the epic scenery and terrain of the event, but also the hospitality they received and the little touches that make such a big difference when you’re participating in trail runs.”

Ellen added, “For example, we always make sure that we feed everyone properly at the end. If you’ve just finished a 50-mile run over the mountains, you don’t want to be just given a medal and sent on your way. We offer people hot food and if you want a beer we’ll have one ready. When people cross that finish line our job is to make everyone feel like a winner.”

The attention to every detail, the genuine passion that Limitless Trails pour into their events, and the amount of positive testimonials they have received have not gone unnoticed. 

They were recognized earlier this year by Racecheck - a company that checks hundreds of thousands of race reviews from all over the world and gives out awards accordingly to events that have delivered standout experiences. 

Their Top-Rated Award for 2023 went to Limitless Trails for their Tenacious Ten-Hour Endurance Challenge. 

A Racecheck spokesperson explained, “It’s always worth remembering that these are not awards chosen by the team at Racecheck. They are unique. The people judging the races are those who have participated and crossed the finish line, so the results are honest and genuine. This isn’t a popularity contest based on the number of followers — it’s all about the experience.  An award from those who have taken part is surely the highest accolade for an event organiser and a huge confidence boost.”

Just last week the Tenacious Ten, which as the name suggests is a ten-hour technical loop race of the Table Mountain was awarded the number one spot in One Stop Ultra’s list of the most gruelling ultra-marathons in the UK.

People on a mountain
High on a mountain! (Tindle News)

Turning her eyes to the forthcoming Beast of the Blacks 10, 20, and 40-mile trail running challenge, on March 9, Ellen told the Chronicle, “I believe the true strength of Limitless Trails lies in our passion for trail running and the local area. We’re an independent organisation who unlike a lot of the corporate companies out there, believe in the place we live and are not here to exploit it. Everything  we do is about giving back, whether it's raising money for charity or promoting the local area for the benefit of all.”

The trail hasn’t always been easy for Ellen, but beginning a brand new and risky venture later on in life never is. However, her story poignantly proves that if you’ve got a dream you need to run with it because the only limits in this world are the ones we place upon ourselves.