A Chat With Spartan Dan

Recently I took part in a Spartan training day, ready for the race I’m taking part in later this year; the Spartan Beast! It’s a 20km course containing around 20 obstacles, all designed to get you plastered in sweat and mud…  If you missed it, you can read my recap of the day here.

I was lucky enough to get ten minutes with Dan Tuffnell who, in March, took over as UK Director of Spartan Race.

Our chat started well, with Dan explaining how he had lost his voice while in Canada recently taking part in the Spartan Super, the 13km Spartan Race… I’m scared already!

So Dan, tell me what brought you to the world of obstacle racing?
I’ve always been involved in outdoor activities; climbing, canoeing, sailing and others with my Mom and Dad. As an 18 year old lad, I was looking for ways to continue to have fun while getting paid. The obvious answer was to become an instructor! I got paid to teach people to surf or climb, which was a perfect balance between earning a living and encouraging people to take part in the sports I love.
Congratulations on your recent appointment as UK Director! It’s got to be a big change from simply being a competitor…
Well, I’ve always been around adventure sports and training people. I saw this as an opportunity to provide people with a chance to find out for themselves how much fun this can be, and see themselves from a different viewpoint. It’s a great way to get the message across to tens of thousands of people that it’s possible to enjoy a healthier lifestyle and have fun while doing it.
Meet Dan, perfectly at home no matter what obstacles are thrown at him!
Photo Credit: Epic Action Imagery
  What are your plans for Spartan?
Thank you, I’m so excited about the times ahead! There’s going to rapid changes, and there’s a transitional period ahead of us as we work to turn Spartan into a great event for families.
I’ve been to too many races where there aren’t enough loos, nowhere to put your bags, you do your race, get your time and head home. I want Spartan to be the whole package; a great day out for the family where you can make new friends, take part in an amazing challenge and even your kids can take part in the children’s events. I want Spartan to be a real experience, not just a race.
There’s a lot of obstacle and mud runs around at the moment. Why Spartan?
Spartan offer fantastic value for money; we’ve got some amazing sponsors on board, including Reebok and we’ve got great product giveaways.
In addition, we’ve upgraded the obstacles so they have a real wow factor! We’ve got some really cool stuff coming out the next couple of weeks, though it’s top secret so I can’t tell you any more… (anyone else intrigued by this?)
We look at the obstacles we have with a sadistic hat on; how can we make people sweat?!
I recently did a global tour, looking to take away best practice from Spartan events around the world. I took part in a number of Sprints and Supers, listened to the community and found out what people want from the race experience, namely practice areas, water stops and seriously cool obstacles.
I want a photo of me doing this.  It just looks cool.
Photo Credit: Epic Action Imagery
The practice areas sound good, and Spartan is the first obstacle race I’ve heard of offering training days. There’s been a lot of press recently around safety in obstacle racing. How do you ensure the obstacles remain fun, whilst having to take into account health and safety?
My job is to run a hardcore event, but there’s a huge difference between perceived and actual risk. My number one priority is safety, my goal is to ensure everyone finishes safely and in this respect I’m a perfectionist.
Each obstacle is structurally engineered to do its job exactly, and all obstacles are checked frequently.
With regards to the training, I’ve found that by offering this people become more confident in their ability to finish a Spartan race. It’s all about technique; how to move your body over a cargo net, the rule of three points of contact, looking for footholds when jumping across a stream. Plus, the more obstacles people tackle, the more confident they become.
As race director I want to push people, but I want to push them in the right direction.
I understand that 42% of competitors are female, I was pretty surprised by this.
Ha ha, yes! Women are changing the way they work out. They’re not so interested these days in going to a gym to work on a cardio machine. People just want to get outside after sitting in an office all day. It’s all about the freshness, and the bragging rights!
Women, on average, will bring a team of five or six friends to this sort of race. Men to tend to just bring their best mate. We’re working closely with Reebok to capitalise on this and putting in female only training within the Reebok hubs inside fitness shops. Fun is the key.
Check out the bling!
Photo Credit: Epic Action Imagery
How do you get through a race, when you’re hurting and all you want to do is give up?
Last week in Canada, I found the Super absolutely brutal! It was on a ski slope and consisted of running up and down the ski slopes seven times. There were monkey bars, rope climbs, sandbag carrying, mud crawls. You name it. I got half way round when I got cramp. In times like this, I remind myself of something Edmund Hilary said; “to climb any mountain, you just need to put one foot in front of the other.” At the end of the day, no matter how long it takes and no matter how much it hurts, that evening you’ll be sat in a hot bath, feeling amazing!
What advice can you give to a chick entering the Beast as her first ever obstacle race? (That’s me, by the way…)
Ha ha, congratulations! That’s a huge race to enter. Do the training, talk to your friends and get them involved. Big yourself up too, don’t compare yourself to the elites – you’ve got every right to achieve this and you’ll have achieved something amazing when you cross the finish line and get that medal round your neck!
I really enjoyed talking to Dan, and one thing that really surprised me was the lack of conversation about fitness and strength. Dan genuinely believes than anyone can complete a Spartan Race. It’s all about the mindset, not how many pull ups you can do.
I’m now seriously excited about the Beast. Who’s joining me?  Check out Spartan Race here and give me a shout if you’re going to be there!  

2 thoughts on “A Chat With Spartan Dan

  1. I wanted to do this in Cambridge but it’s the same day as the Great North Run. :( Another year though…!
    Really interesting that so many women are taking part now. That’s great though!

  2. Pingback: Countdown to the Beast! | Laraine's World

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