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!)
Ultra X was founded on a simple idea. We believe that multi-stage trail racing is the best sport on the planet, and we want it to be recognised as such.
When we began to map out the brand, there were a few clear goals;
1) To create a global community of like-minded individuals who loved pushing themselves and loved adventure.
2) To launch the largest series of multi-stage ultra races on the planet. In deserts, jungles, mountains, and on remote islands.
3) To make these experiences more accessible and affordable to those that wanted to take part.
4) To recognise and reward the phenomenal athletes that do these events.
The Ultra X World Championships 2021, launching on 27th June, is something that we have been looking forward to announcing for over two years. This race looks to bring the sport of multi-stage ultra marathon running into the spotlight.
Prize money can help ultra running
To encourage and reward the best runners on the planet to take part we are offering prize money. The pot and allocation will be announced on 20th June.
Few topics divide opinion amongst ultra runners more than prize money. For some, it represents the commercialisation of the sport, and with that comes the corruption of amateur principles and the erosion of a unique atmosphere, for others it is a natural and exciting process. For clarity and full transparency, we are laying out our reasoning for why we have introduced it in this article.
Despite huge growth in recent years, multistage ultra running is still a fringe sport and the way we see it, we are at crossroads between amateurism and professionalism.
The top athletes are full-time professionals, but rarely, if ever, are rewarded in cash for winning and only the absolute best are able to generate sufficient earnings to be able to focus 100% on being the best athlete that they can be.
As glorious as the notion of amateur values are, they are incredibly vague and exclusive. Without the promise of financial reward, only runners who can already afford to take time away from work can participate in the sport in the first place.
Those nostalgic for the days of amateur athletics can overlook the fact that it was largely the pastime of the well off. Only people with certain means can afford to devote themselves fully to an unpaid hobby.
Bigger prize money in ultramarathons can enable a wider pool of athletes to dedicate more time and be better prepared. As a brand that is all about accessibility, this is therefore an important step for Ultra X.
Prize money will improve competition and standards by enabling more full-time professionals. Preparation can be enhanced, be it high altitude training, heat acclimation, a proper support team, or simply more comfortable pre-race transport and accommodation.
There are some who are resistant to the introduction of big money into ultramarathon running and we hear your concerns. Change is never easy! Concerns around camaraderie, honesty, and sportsmanship are valid. However, we honestly believe this can be transformative and bring huge positive change simply by bringing more people to it.
As race organisers, runners, and avid followers of the sport, the prospect of watching incredible runners break records and push boundaries is exciting. Even more so is the idea of discussing Zach Bitter’s latest record breaking antics, Killian Jornet’s new nutrition partner, or Camille Herron’s crazy training mileage at the pub, in the same way that so many discuss the virtues and vices of VAR technology in the English Premier League.
To attract people to the ultra running scene, races need to be competitive and dramatic; there are thousands of epic events out there, sure, but those that offer competitive fields are actually few and far between.
We are offering prize money because prize money attracts competitive fields and competitive fields attract interest — this is good for the sport, for the ultra running communities, and for all the brands and charities that are supported by it.
Fifteen years ago, NASCAR, darts, IRONMAN Triathlon, and poker were fringe activities, with virtually no casual followers. Today millions participate and follow — in turn, the sports have never been stronger. Ultra running can learn from these events: we need new ideas, new ways of attracting the already committed runners as well as the casual sports fan to our sport.
Our sport is growing, and change is inevitable. Let us not forget the past — we need to preserve all that is good about it — but let’s look eagerly to the future. All of us who love it must begin viewing ultrarunning in the context of the larger sports and entertainment markets.
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The Ultra X World Championships, a 250km, 5 day race between the greatest multi-stage ultra runners in the world, is coming soon.