Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
It’s December. Along with colder weather, talk of Christmas and a breather from a busy calendar of events comes a time to reflect.
2021 has been a challenging yet ultimately incredibly rewarding year.
It was supposed to be bounce back time after the write off that was 2020. One week in and it became clear that this was not going to be the v shaped recovery we were hoping for. And so, it became a year in which Ultra X pivoted from an international events company to one which also offers several UK based events.
Thankfully, looking back, it is the highs that stand out rather than the lows. Despite the numerous challenges, we have put on seven physical events over the last year (four brand new ones), had over 1,000 runners through our blue arches, grown in every sense of the word and, even if I say so myself, given a few life changing experiences.
A lot has been and will be said about the effect of “uncontrollables” in 2020 and 2021. For us, whilst the business plan changed in respect of the circumstances, we were always busy. We were founded on an incredibly strong set of core values and having these “controllables” allowed us to move away from the plan with confidence because it was still authentic to what we believe.
I’m halfway through Denzil Rankine’s “Reinventing Live” which outlines the evolving role of event organisers.
In it he states: “Event organizers should not see themselves as pure organizers; rather their role is to facilitate – business, connections, education and advocacy”. We couldn’t agree more. Ultra X events are not just races – they are opportunities to disconnect and reconnect, inspire, and grow. They are holidays, challenges, and missions. Following this we’re not really event organisers – we are a team of people that want to have an impact on people’s lives through the medium of our events.
Following this, as this year comes to an end, rather than reflect on the year by talking about the performances of our competitors. We’re reflecting on how we as a brand have lived out our values and indeed our cornerstone value – Accessibility.
Accessibility is the founding principle of Ultra X. Multi-stage events are more than just races, they are journeys for transforming people and connecting individuals and we are adamant that everybody should have the best shot possible of getting involved in an event.
Running in the outdoors should be for everyone, but although trail running culture imagines itself to be inclusive, it is effectively for the few and it’s clear there are obstacles inhibiting certain groups to go out on the trails or sign up for races.
Something which is clear, but not often addressed, when looking at trail running, and ultra-running in particular is the lack of diversity in the sport. Only 23% of ultra-runners are women (https://runrepeat.com/state-of-ultra-running) yet even more alarming is the number of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) participants in the sport of trail running. Black Trail Runners collected data in the past year that suggests fewer than 1% of entrants in UK trail races are Black: around 1 in 167.
Since June 2020 we have collected ethnicity data across our events. We’ve found that 96% of competitors across all races were from white ethnic groups versus 86% of the UK population*, and that 59% of competitors were male versus 49% of the UK.
The purpose of research has been to understand and acknowledge the scale of the ethnicity gap and it’s clear from our data that there is a divide.
A lack of diversity prevents new ideas, new narratives and new growth entering the trail running culture and results in a self-perpetuating problem. Those groups that feel to be “outsiders” are less likely to get involved in the sport and thus less likely to promote inclusivity.
We are committed as a company to being a brand for all.
As we move into 2022, we want to continue to educate ourselves and our community on discrimination and its presence in the outdoors. We know that it’s not just about policy though. It’s about conversations, it’s about recognition and it’s about connecting with our entire community so that anyone and everyone feels the same levels of excitement, anticipation and belonging when they cross under that blue arch. We’re already starting to see some positive change at our start lines but there’s still a long way to go.
As we move into 2022, we want to encourage YOU, our community, to also acknowledge the lack of representation at ultra start lines and consider why that is. It is only through conversation that we can move forward.
In the early days accessibility at Ultra X was all about keeping our prices low but since then we have evolved our approach to focus more on education. By changing the narrative, developing representation, and promoting inclusion within out community we believe we can make steps to change.
We’ll make mistakes. This has been and will continue to be an imperfect journey but we are, we hope, moving in the right direction.
Any ideas or feedback and please do get in touch! We welcome suggestions on our Diversity and Inclusion page here.
* – In England and Wales, there are 18 ethnic groups recommended for use by the government when asking for someone’s ethnicity. These are grouped into 5 ethnic groups. Our 96% figure is based on those that identify in the “White” ethnic group as per https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/style-guide/ethnic-groups.
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