Written By Jamie Sparks
Jamie is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. He enjoys rambling on about a variety of topics; motorbikes, cycling, adventure, and, of course, ultra running.
Today is Ultra X’s 2nd birthday.
It feels just like yesterday that Sam and I sat down for day one in the office. We had nothing but a pipedream and a whole load of enthusiasm. In reality, the work had started a full year before after a drunken night in a London bar. It wasn’t long before evenings and weekends were consumed with creating business plans and pitching to investors.
Ironically, I’m writing this off the back of what could be the worst year for business in our lifetimes. That said, it is SO clear to see how far we have come since those early days. This is obvious not just from the usual business metrics, but from the size and strength of our community, whom we absolutely LOVE. It is our community, by the way, who provide us with the constant motivation to get better and better.
Whilst many things have changed since day one, our aspirations for the business have not. We remain committed to offering life changing endurance challenges, in an accessible way to people all around the world.
Our first race under the new Ultra X brand was in Sri Lanka in March 2019. As is the case with every new business, it was a baptism of fire from an organiser’s perspective. We learnt more as an organisation from that one week than we have in the year and a half since. That being said, it was one of the most amazing weeks and many of the runners we spent that week with will be friends for life. Sri Lanka is wild – hot, humid and for those not keen on elevation, it’s pancake flat! The locals are some of the friendliest people we have met and if you’re joining us for March 2021, buckle up because it’s going to be one hell of a ride!
As momentum grew throughout 2019, our team did too. There are now five people in our office in Islington, London. Besides Sam and I, we have Chris who has been with us for over a year and heads up our race operations; Hannah who is our incredibly energetic Community and Partnerships Manager; and Jasper who is with us for a placement in between university years. On top of this core crew, we constantly call upon our army of loyal volunteers during race periods. Many of these individuals have crewed with us multiple times. We are forever thankful to them for their hard work and positive energy.
2019 was our first full year of operations and it was a great one. 2020 was all lined up to be an absolute corker. Pretty much the only thing that could have slowed our trajectory was a global pandemic. With air travel coming to a halt and borders closing we turned to the virtual world for the first time. For a business that is so ‘experience orientated’, we knew from the off that virtual races were never going to come close to simulating #theultraXperience, but we had little choice.
In April, we kicked off with Ultra X 14.1. We coined the phrase, ‘An odd distance for an odd race in odd times’. The challenge was fully virtual and we were amazed and delighted with the uptake. We had more than 500 runners from over 40 countries take part. Some of our community ran the 14.1km up and down their balconies! A gentleman by the name of Mr James Cooke even completed the distance around his flat – he did 640 loops! What must his neighbours on the floor below have thought?!
With the 14.1 going down well we thought it only right to up the ante, and so we launched the Ultra X Virtual Race World Series – made up of three qualifiers with distances ranging from 7 to 21km followed by a final. It too went down extremely well.
As the days of lockdown turned to weeks and then months, in August we made the difficult but right decision to cancel our winter races in Jordan and Mexico. It was a tough pill to swallow.
Desperate to host at least one race in 2020 we turned our attention to staging an event which didn’t require international travel. For us, being a UK based company, this meant launching in the UK, or more specifically, England, and the Peak District.
Thanks to the hard work of many, but especially Chris, Ultra X 125 England launched registrations just 8 weeks out from the race – an unusually short sales period. Accessibility is one of our four brand values and in order to honour this, we decided to launch the ‘Sunday Stage’ as a race in itself. We had great uptake, with 170 runners travelling the short distance to the Peaks for the inaugural race. With the single stage (50km) providing such a good starting block for those looking to get into ultra running, we have decided to roll out the ‘Sunday Only’ stage at all Ultra X 125 races. For now, this means just England and the Azores (which takes place in April 2021) but there are many more on the way.
2020 has been a horrible year for so many people. Lives have been lost, jobs have been lost and for many the fall-out from the pandemic – both in health and economic terms – is taking a heavy toll. Our attitude will always be to make the most of every situation. Ultra marathons teach you that after each dark period comes a bright one and we are looking forward to getting back to something close to normality.
Recent events have taught us a lot and given us an opportunity to focus on what is important, namely spending time interacting with our community, formulating a long-term strategy for the business, and working on really important areas such as our Sustainability Policy and our Diversity and Inclusion Policy.
We have our fingers crossed that maybe the worst is behind us and that we can look forward to racing resuming properly in 2021. To our amazing and passionate community: we thank you for your never-ending stream of support. And to our runners and volunteers: we cannot wait to see you at a real-life race again soon.
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