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Stage Racing for Everyday Athletes: The Ultra X Experience

An ultra endurance athlete and Entrepeneur, Sam aims to make stage racing accessible to everybody.
Sam Heward
Year started: 2016
Next race: Next Race Directed - Ultra X Tanzania Next Personal Race - London Marathon
Favorite gear:
  • Nike Alphafly (I am a trail guy really but it’s always fun to have a pair of magic shoes)

In 2016, Sam Heward signed up on a whim for the Marathon Des Sables, a grueling multi-stage ultramarathon across the Sahara Desert. An avid team sports player growing up, Sam had never considered himself a runner. But at 22 years old, he felt drawn to what seemed like the most extreme endurance challenge he could find. This challenge would start Sam down the path of stage racing as both an endurance athlete and an entrepreneur. 

A Passion He Didn’t Know He Had 

“I chose what seemed like the most challenging and scary thing at the time,” Sam recalls. “I thought it would just be a one-time experience.” During the six-day, 150-mile race across the desert while battling the elements and his own physical limits, Sam discovered a passion he didn’t know he had. Crossing the finish line left him wanting more. “When I finished, I found it so rewarding,” he says. “It was a slippery slope.”

A Network of Endurance Athletes 

To prepare for Marathon des Sables, Sam trained for and ran a marathon, as well as a single-stage race. Nothing could fully prepare him for the grueling Sahara terrain. Out on the course, doubting his ability to finish was not an option. As Sam says, “You can’t think about what could go wrong.”  Over the next two years, Sam threw himself into the world of multi-day stage races. Over time, Sam built a network within the stage racing community. 

A Transformative Experience 

A 5-day race through the deserts of Jordan in 2017 left a particularly strong impression. At this race, Sam met Jamie Sparks. It was over breakfast after the final 34 KM stage of that race in Jordan where Sam struck up a conversation with Jamie, one that continued well beyond the finish line. They shared a conviction that multi-day stage racing was more than just a novelty for the ultra-extreme. It was a transformative experience, one that could be made accessible to athletes of all levels.


Ultra X Was Born 

Shortly thereafter, Sam and Jamie’s friendship evolved into a business partnership. In 2018, they co-directed that same race in Jordan. By 2019, it had been rebranded as Ultra X Jordan, the foundational event of their new company, Ultra X. “During a participants meet up in London where we had a night out, I got to talking to Jamie again about the idea of a business in the endurance sports space,” Sam recalls. “Ultra X was born.”

The Perfect Fusion

For Sam, Ultra X represented the perfect fusion of his dual passions for business and endurance sports. Certainly, it has come with no shortage of challenges, personally and professionally. Sam works hard every day to grow as a leader and manager. “There’s a huge benefit to doing something that you’re passionate about. I am fortunate to love the business side and the endurance sports side.” Ultra X was just gaining momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in 2020.

Stage Races That Are Accessible to Everybody  

Virtually all in-person racing ceased, leaving the Ultra X team to pivot to shorter distance events just to stay afloat. Only now, in 2024, has Ultra X returned to the experience Sam and Jamie first envisioned. This year, Ultra X will host twelve events spanning multiple days. Sam hopes these races will inspire more people to attempt the improbable. “My reason is I know a lot of people who could do a multi-day stage race, but don’t,” Sam says. “We want to provide stage races that are accessible to everybody and provide a transformative experience.” After finding multi-day stage racing in 2016, Sam Heward has helped bring others to the space. Now, Sam hopes to give as many people as possible the opportunity to enter the space.