History, take us back, when did Ultra X start?
Ultra X was initially a stand-alone race called the Wadi Rum Ultra. A multi-stage race in the stunning Jordanian desert. It was originally formed by Jamie Sparks in 2015, however, having run the event in 2017 as a competitor, Sam came on board and the two started plotting. Both had a passion for adventure and a desire to make the space more accessible, with the rise in demand for endurance sport in general there seemed to be an opportunity.
After a year of juggling their day jobs and planning Ultra X on the side, in November 2018, the Wadi Rum Ultra became Ultra X Jordan and the series was launched. Sam and Jamie went full time and the rest is history.
Let's get down into the why! Why does Ultra X exist and what makes you different?
Ultra X was created with the aim of making multi-day racing accessible to all. We know that ANYONE is capable of completing one of our events and genuinely believe that by participating people will be changed positively. There is nothing quite like the experience of spending five days in a beautiful part of the world, pushing limits that you were not aware existed in the company of inspiring people.
Despite there being several incredible races out there, there are few recognisable brands or series, the average age of competitors is mid 40's and the price point is high. We are looking to formalise the multi-stage space with races of a set format and attract a more diverse audience by making the price as low as we can, whilst ensuring a quality experience (our events are up to a 1/3 of major competitors). We also focus on marketing to those who have not yet done an ultra and as such over 50% of our finishers had not done a marathon before signing up.
Who is behind the business and what makes them tick?
Ultra X was co-founded by Jamie Sparks and Sam Heward, both having had some of the best, and character forming, experiences of their lives when pushing themselves to their limits during extreme events. Jamie, rowing across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans whilst still at University and becoming the youngest double ocean rower to ever do so, and Sam taking part in the Marathon Des Sables and finishing as the top under 25 year old at the age of 22 (as his first event).
Having met, discovered a shared passion for adventure and a desire to go into business, as well as seeing a boom in the endurance space they set about creating a brand which in their eyes would reduce some of the currently existing barriers to entry and Ultra X began to take shape.
How does Ultra X stay inspired, stay energetic and keeping looking to the future?
We’re a young and ambitious team and we’re building something which we really believe in. Staying inspired is easy! The endurance sport space is growing everyday and it’s an incredibly rewarding place to be. As a small team we’re able to be dynamic, reactive and move quickly when we need to. Our mentality is not of a race organiser, more Silicon Valley start up and the focus is always on moving fast and growing in a way that will better serve our competitors.
As we have grown, we have all developed personal relationships with so many of our previous competitors and the desire to continue offering a better experience to our customers, many of whom are our friends is hugely motivating.
Ultra X is known for taking endurance to the ends of the earth, let's talk about why that's important to the brand.
Ultra X is all about the experience. It’s about giving people the opportunity to spend 2 or 5 days in an environment that can change them. We seek out some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the planet to offer our competitors a taste of the sublime.
Given the remote nature of your locations, have you got some stories about wild animal encounters or UFO sightings are anything?
Hahaha, sadly we have not had any UFO sightings. Yet! However, we have run into trouble with a herd of Sri Lankan elephants forcing us to change the route last minute.
Who are the people signing up to be physically abused at your races?
Everyone and anyone! We have had from 20 to 70-year olds, all backgrounds, sexualities and ethnicities. We are immensely proud of the diversity of our competitors. All are ambitious and up for a challenge, but there is no common background, and most would not consider themselves “runners” (more than half will not have done a marathon before signing up).
Ultra running is growing rapidly as a sport and, whilst 10 years ago could have been discussed as a nice hobby restricted to a few “nutters”, this could not be more wrong now! A marathon is simply not enough anymore…
Has the Covid monster come out from under the bed and scared the business, or have you been able to pay no attention to its beady little green eyes?
COVID19 has had a big impact on 2020 for sure. Being an events organiser in these times is tricky, being an international events organiser, where participants and organisers travel long distances to get to the start line, is a double whammy. We have had to cancel all international events this year and 2 domestic ones also.
Having said that, we have pivoted the business to offer more to our community online, kept ourselves busy with long term strategy and have even held several virtual events. In a time where it would have been very easy to sit still and wait, we have managed to grow our audience and as a result we are incredibly optimistic for what the future holds.
What's next for Ultra X, what are you looking forward to?
We have our first (and only) physical event of 2020 next month – a Covid-secure 125 km 2 day race in the Peak District, where all competitors will be domestic.
Next year, we are hoping to get back to a full calendar, which will include the Ultra X World Championships – the pinnacle event in multi-stage racing, where 250 of the world’s best ultra runners will race over 5 days to see who the undisputed multi-stage king and queen are. It will be the 1st of its kind, truly bringing together the world’s best ultra-runners to compete for the largest prize pot in Ultra running history, £50,000. As I write this, I am in a departure lounge in Frankfurt on route to Slovenia for a course recce where the event is to be held! It’s going to be incredible.
If Ultra X is throwing out gratification, who should be catching it?
Our community absolutely. We are constantly inspired by their feats and their stories; they give us the motivation to keep building the business and we love hearing from them. At the end of the day without them we would be laying a route and setting up a start line – they are those that create #theultraXperience!
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