I love obstacle courses. I’ve been doing them ever since I joined the RAF as a Physical Training Instructor back in 1995 but now the world of obstacle course racing is a big business and I fortunately got the opportunity to chat to Dan Tuffnell, a 36 year old water baby and outdoor adventurer who has just taken the UK reins of the fastest growing obstacle race series in the world…SPARTAN!
In my opinion, it’s evident that Dan is a great man for the job as from a young age he’s always been involved in the great outdoors, mainly thanks to his parents who had him regularly involved in kayaking. He also remembers fondly building ‘dens’ in the wood with his brother and when asked what attracted him to become the UK Director, he simply said “I realised that with the scale of the Spartan Race I could have a tremendous impact on providing great opportunities for great people!”.
So Dan, what is the Spartan race?
“The Spartan race is the fastest growing obstacle race series in the world and what we do is provide an opportunity for people to come and have an amazing experience. By running, climbing, splashing through mud, jumping fire, plunging into ice pits and tackling a 9 foot wall, you can mimic the many obstacles we experience in life and by putting him in front of us in a race situation, it gives the confidence to conquer whatever life throws our way.”
Who do you think should do a Spartan race?
“Everyone! I speak to so many people who say that it sounds terrifying, or I’m petrified but when they come and experience it, they say oh my word, it’s not easy but it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It opens up a whole new concept of lifestyle and workouts that is more than just a hobby or a habit or a diet, it’s a whole package of this is how I want to live my life in being surrounded by lots of positive people with great morals and values and it’s not just about chin-ups or strength but about improving myself whole bodily inside and out.”
What would you say makes Spartan Race stand out from all the other obstacle races?
“Community! The community spirit and family spirit are immense. The main feeling that you get when you’re in a Spartan race is it’s so much more different and fulfilling an experience and I’m saying that as a racer and in the position as Spartan Race’s UK Director. I’ve been on a tour of the world looking at the best bits of all the Spartan races in Europe, Australia, Canada and America and I’m bringing those best bits back to UK concentrating very much on the community spirit that I have seen in these countries where if you need a help, you can simply ask for it and everyone is willing you to get to the finish line.”
What is the Spartan race UK’s goals and aims?
“To provide a family experience. The family experience being all the way from the junior event to the grandparents or friends looking after the children whilst they’re parents are running. The races are going to be splendid. We’ve spent a lot of time and personally a lot of money, on improving the quality of the obstacles and the festival experience. We’ve got huge sponsors on board and they are excited about their venture in this new arena for them so we aim to provide everyone with a stand-out day. We are coming out of an economy that has been really tough on everyone and I fully understand more than anyone that we’re up against 2020 cricket and football matches or the PlayStation and such an experience has got to be a special one for the family or the individuals will be thinking, am I getting a return from my investment? I believe they are with Spartan race.”
So I’m planning to do all three races, the sprint, super and beast within one year and therefore eligible for the trifecta medal. What advice would you give me, a Spartan novice?
“I think it’s a brilliant achievement, I’m actually going from my first trifecta medal this year having done a few sprint and super Spartan races around the world and although it was really tough, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I always had it at the back of my mind that no mater how tough it is, I am going to finish this! It’s about taking the letter T off of the word can’t as you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. Sir Edmund Hillary said climbing Everest was about putting one foot in front of the other, so we can achieve whatever we want to as long as we take it one step at a time.”
My little boy is soon to be four and I want to enter him into the junior event. What is he likely to face?
“Quite simply, a mini version of the Spartan race. There will be some awesome little obstacles very similar to the ones that you will experience. You or his mum will accompany him around the course having a great time together… And obviously we get them going through mud. All kids love mud even big ones.”
He’ll do anything for a t-shirt and a medal like daddy’s one! Apart from his recent sports day the Junior Spartan will be his first official race…I don’t know who’s more excited!
How long have you been involved with Spartan race?
“I came on board as director of the UK this year (2014). I did a tour and I approached America to become the new UK licensee. We started talking , had many meetings and I finally signed a contract in Australia on Bondi Beach at the end of March this year.”
Wow, I think that must win a prize for the best contract signing. Do you have any interesting stories about People taking part in the Spartan race?
“Obviously I’ve met so many different Spartans including elite runners who are starting to become semi-professional. I feel in the future we will attract elite athletes from the footballing generation because of the similarities required for both disciplines, the distance they are running, the agility and fast reactions. Also L/Bdr James Simpson, a soldier who lost both his legs in a explosion in Afghanistan became such an inspiration in completing a course last year and I see this everywhere around the world but it’s not just about the elite and ex-servicemen really pushing themselves because that’s the type of people they are, it’s also the other 2-3 thousand people who I’m really focused on as everyone has their own obstacles that they’re encountering on the day and the last person across the line should have the biggest cheer. Although everyone is an individual, on the day we are a team and we want to support everyone coming across that finish line.”
Apart from the trifecta what is your personal fitness goals?
“Bearing in mind I’m obviously quite busy this year, I’m a water baby, I love surfing, kayak surfing in particular and if I get a chance I’d love to go and do some more climbing or mountain biking to raise the heartbeat with a bit of an adrenaline rush. I just love being out in the countryside.”
I seen people shouting and chanting on the Spartan Race YouTube videos. What does ‘AROO’ mean?
“I like linguistics, it’s actually a hobby of mine as you can change someone’s perspective on how they are feeling with linguistics. So AROO is actually a calling for the crowds and the Spartans to work themselves up . You could say it’s a bit of cheese from the movie 300 but it’s actually a bonding, like the fans at a football match or the haka prior to a game of rugby. So AROO bonds people together out on the course within the Spartan community.”
It seems that 30 burpees are standard punishment for not achieving an obstacle are there any others?
“Hang on, I don’t see burpees as a punishment…in the early days, people would do these type of events and see it as a military assault course but they would skip the obstacles. What we’re trying to do is to get people off of their couches to help them gain a better level of fitness, so the burpee was put in there to make everyone realise they’re going to have to work a little bit harder while you are here. If you skip an obstacle the only real person you are cheating is yourself. Anyway, I believe the burpee is one of the best fitness exercises you can do!”
I completely agree, I hate ‘pussy lanes’ as well where people have the option to opt out of obstacles.
“Yeah, there is a really interesting thing I’m looking at bringing in next year called the ‘rookie pass’ which is been trialled in Australia this year. Essentially, the rookie pass is a separate medal entirely which allows you to participate in a Spartan race without doing any burpees. We want more people to take part in obstacle racing so we’ll allow people this one time offer to come in and give it a go. However, people taking part in the rookie pass see the Spartan community doing burpees around the course and don’t want to feel left out so end up joining in! What has also happened is people doing the rookie pass in the morning want to enter the afternoon races to get the full medal and finishers T-shirt.”
Thanks to my chat with Dan I’m feeling more motivated and I feel a bit more at ease with the task ahead. However, I am tackling the sprint distance on Saturday 30th August and the Super on Sunday 31st followed by the Beast on the 11th October so it’s going to be a very tough challenge indeed. Do any of you guys fancy meeting up with me on any of these dates? Sign up now!
Next stop on my Trifecta quest is to meet up with Richie Pringle who has recently been promoted as UK operations director and conveniently he’s running a Spartan Race training course in Cambridge soon…stay tuned!
“Life is an emotional roller coaster and on the dips and the highs is how we build ourselves up and by working out we’ll obviously be better prepared to face any type of obstacle whether it be a health one or a physical one or a work one.”
Dan Tuffnell, Director of Spartan Race UK.