Following the high profile exit of Richard Lee from the role of UK Spartan Race Director four months ago, we've been anxiously waiting to find out what would become of the UK franchise. After such a turbulent year, getting somebody in the hot-seat to take control of the operation seems absolutely key to the future of the brand.
Thankfully Spartan have now appointed their new UK leader and, having bumped into him on a couple of occasions now, he seems like a jolly nice chap! Dan Tuffnell is 36 years old and is from Farnborough in Kent. According to the press release, he's an "adventurer, in work and life, a communicator and a pioneer in alternative education, training and events". Sounds like my kind of guy! I phoned him up to get the down low on his plans for developing Spartan in the UK...
So, tell us about how life has brought you to this point...
When I was 18 I liked taking people surfing and kayaking, so decided to get an HND in Sports Science and Outdoor Pursuits. I did some instructing and it just grew from that; working with young offenders, adults, the military and charities, just helping people to change their ethos and give them an opportunity.
Had you taken part in a Spartan Race before this opportunity came up?
Yes, I took part in the Edinburgh Sprint last year. I went along to the Beast with a friend as well but couldn’t do it because I had a bad ankle.
What were your thoughts when you crossed over the finish line?
You dropped our tag line in there, I like that! Well, I was just looking at everyone else and we were all high-fiving. It was a cross between an adrenaline rush and a sense of achievement. It was like a drug and I knew I would be doing it again.
At want point did you decide to put yourself forward for this position at Spartan? Was it at the same time as Richard Lee’s resignation?
Well, it wasn’t a great situation and it is very regrettable, but I threw my hat in the ring by approaching Spartan HQ in Boston in mid January. Since then I’ve been in meetings over there, over here and on Skype – it’s been quite a formal process. I’ve also been doing some due diligence, visiting other races around the world. Eventually they offered it to me and I signed on the dotted line.
I couldn't be any more excited about it. There’s an awesome format here and I can’t wait to meet the Spartan community more and put together some amazing events for them.
Are you inheriting the team that have worked on Spartan Race in the UK for the last couple of years or are you starting from scratch?
The wealth of experience that Richard and Selica’s team had is exceptional, so I’d be foolish not to utilise them. I will be bringing some of my own team to work alongside them though and putting my own stamp on it. I’ve got my own vision and I think that’s part of the reasons why Spartan went with me. I’m looking to put on a similar kind of event as them; not just this year but going forward as well.
So are we going to see something different to what we’ve seen before?
This year our main aim is to prove to the community that Spartan Race is here and that it’s number one. I absolutely believe that is the case; we’re globally the biggest series and we’ve been getting some amazing feedback. This year I’m going to put out some really cool events, hopefully throwing in a few surprises.
I’m absolutely aware of them. I’ve done a lot of research and I’m not doing this on a whim. I’m financially backing it and I’m fully committed. I’m very passionate about putting the past behind and putting on some great events. Whatever I’ve done in the past, in business, charity, education or personal life, I’m an observer and I listen. That allows me to make great decisions and deliver what the community requires.
I really want to smash the community’s expectations and show that I’m committed to the six events planned this year and moving forward.
On that note, with the Midlands race being dropped, I'm guessing that there are unlikely to be any more events added this year. But do you think you might expand back into Middle-England in the future?
Absolutely. My licence is for the UK. I currently have three months to make these six events a massive success, which I have absolute confidence in. The event in Birmingham was tricky. There are so many obstacle races around the country and it just wasn’t working out financially. Next year though we’re looking to expand and we’re looking at some amazing venues.
In the US, there’s a big ladder of races, including Ultras, the Death Race and Spartan World Championships. Can we expect to see a new format of race over here?
I would say yes. And when I’ve got that in place you’ll be the first to know because you’ll be running that Ultra to let me know how it is.
So going back to how crowded the obstacle racing market is, how do you feel about the many, many event brands that there are now?
Good luck! Catch us if you can, we’re number one. I believe the more people involved in obstacle racing, the better it is. Look at where we are compared to five years ago. The more people we have running every weekend, the better it is for all of us. It’s a sport that’s not going to go away any time soon.
Spartan Race certainly seem to champion the competitive side of obstacle racing but, for me, the race format often seems to cause controversy. Common issues include: Are exercises being completed properly? Are all obstacles being completed by all participants as they were intended? Are forfeits being given out consistently? Are burpees being completed correctly, in terms of form and quantity? There seem to be a few grey areas. Overall, I think it’s a difficult format to police. In many other race formats those grey areas don’t exist – you either complete obstacles or you cheat and go around them – the division between the two is easy to understand and spot – and often forfeits come naturally through the failure of obstacles without relying on burpess. Do you see that as an issue and one that needs to be addressed if Spartan are going to continue to push the competitive side, especially as you are aiming for it to be accepted as an Olympic sport?
Great question; this came up in Atlanta when all of the international licensees were having a discussion. I think this is where I draw the line between my elite runners and the rest of the Spartan community. The elites have to be managed fairly and consistently; umpired essentially, so that there are no grey areas. We need to make sure that they’re doing the forfeits. We’re timed, we’re ranked and we’re judged because we’re pushing for this to be a sport and then hopefully an Olympic sport.
We will be insuring consistency. Training marshals is an absolute must and I’m also looking at videoing the elite racers.
Then when it comes to the rest of the community who are doing it for a challenge, it comes down to them judging themselves. The marshals will be out there encouraging them to do their burbees, etc. but people do this for different reasons. The only exercise that you regret is the one you don’t do.
What have you learnt from visiting other Spartan Races around the world?
I went to a few in the US events and they gave me a great perspective on how different events are run and to help make the events consistent across the globe, which is the aim. I then went out to Australia because they’ve got a great crew out there and their junior events specifically have a great reputation. I’m really passionate about making the junior events really special so that the whole family can have a great time.
I’ve learnt a lot about making the festival work and how to make the registration, bag check, etc. pain free. It’s all the behind-the-scenes stuff that make it a better experience at Spartan. I’m sure I’m going to nail that this year.
There are some superstars making a name for themselves in the US Spartan scene. We’d love to see them going up against our growing group of top-flight racers. Is there any interest amongst the US racers to come over and have a play at some of our races?
Absolutely. It’s not “if” I think it’s “when”. It’s a matter of working it into the format. You’ve got the Mudstacle League, which I think it brilliant, and it’s what we need as a sport to keep on growing – these kinds of competitions to test the elite. I think the more we do that, the more we’re going to entice people over.
European Spartan Races are really taking off as well. Last year we were in 9 countries globally , this year it’s going to be 22 countries with over 130 races. The numbers are there for us to turn this into a Spartan European Championship and World Championship.
I look forward to seeing how the overseas racers stack up in the Scottish highlands or the Pippingford estate – throw in the bitter wind and lashing rain and they’ll know they’re in the UK.
What would you say to somebody who’s thinking about doing an obstacle race for the first time?
It’s awesome! Come to a Spartan Race. Their obstacle at the moment is that they’re thinking about it. Imagine that feeling as you’re going over a massive cargo net. That’s a physical obstacle but the only real obstacle is thinking about it. Sign on the dotted line and you will know at the finish line, and it’s just a tremendous feeling.
Thanks very much for your time Dan. We’re all really excited to see how Spartan develops in the UK this year.
Find out more about Spartan Race at their new UK specific website: uk.spartanrace.com
Thanks to Epic Action Imagery for the pics.