My interview with Spartan Race’s Sam Lansdale, UK & Ireland’s General Manager

Spartan Race logo

Spartan Race logo

I know so many of you reading this will have already completed an obstacle race of some sort – I can’t quite believe that I haven’t. Hopefully that’s going to change really soon because I have had my eye on Spartan Race for a while now. Earlier this year Sam Lansdale challenged the country’s ‘couch potatoes’ to give Spartan Races a go; and with more than a million people in 30 countries lacing up, I definitely think people have done just that.

The 2018 UK season kicked off last week with the first race taking place in Kent. To mark the launch I was given the opportunity to interview Sam himself and as General Manager of Spartan Race UK & Ireland, he is the man with the answers.

Spartan Race UK General Manager Sam Lansdale 5

Spartan Race UK General Manager Sam Lansdale

Spartan Race challenges participants to really step out of their comfort zones. As a runner who usually does nothing more than run from A-to-B with maybe a few hills and a couple of traffic lights thrown in for good measure, the thought of navigating obstacles AND running is both exciting and terrifying. Spartan Racers have to wade through muddy bogs, scale ramps, and crawl under barbed wire, carry sandbags up hills. While this is daunting Spartan Races have created a community where everyone is welcome. This was one of the first things I asked Sam: how important is that atmosphere to him?

Sam Lansdale: I think at the heart of what we do, not just in this country but around the world, with Spartan Race is that we make it all about the community that we develop. It’s a community that expands way beyond fitness to values in life. This applies particularly to where the race, the brand and the company are trying to go in the future. Both online and on race day, we strive to develop a community that is united behind our values, be it race planning, customer service or in our social content. That sense of community is really developed at our core

Rosh Radia: The main misconception with obstacle races seems to be that it is exclusive and ‘not for me’. What is your response to comments like this?

SL: First and foremost, Spartan races are for people of all shapes and sizes and from all sorts of backgrounds. On race day, you may see people fundraising because they have a family member who is suffering from a particular illness, or they want to raise money for a good cause. You may meet people who have never done any particular physical activity before in their life. Maybe they are trying to lose weight. Then you’ll meet other Spartan racers who come back year after year. There’s a wide range and whole cross-section of people attending our races. They are for everyone.

Spartan Race 2018 Medals

Spartan Race 2018 Medals

RR: Obstacle races are becoming increasingly popular especially amongst women and 40% of your participants are women. What do you think has caused Spartan Races to become so popular amongst women?

SL: I think globally there’s a big shift going on right now, not just in sport, but in all fields, and I think Spartan Race gives women an opportunity to stamp their mark on a sport and show that they are no different to guys. They are put on a level playing field. They race in the same heats. And they race the same course. It’s not like a three-set tennis match, with a five-set game for the guys. It’s the same distance. What we stand for as a brand gives women that opportunity to show their strength not only in terms of character but also in terms of fitness as well.

RR: With all obstacle races there has always been controversy over how the obstacles and forfeits are being completed, ie are the obstacles being completed fairly by all contestants, are the burpee forfeits being handed out equally and are they then being completed fairly? I do think this is a difficult format to police but with the aim for it to be accepted as an Olympic sport, do you still see this as an issue which needs to be addressed?

SL: Yes, I do and it does. I think as the sport develops and entrenches itself in standards and rules, not just in this country but all across the world – and also not just Spartan races but all the other obstacle course races – all this is essential. At Spartan Race, we are already leading the way in this area. This year, we are installing officials across all our regional series races, (which in the UK consists of five races: the South-east Sprint, the Ireland Super, the Aston Down Super, the Marston Lodge Sprint and the Windsor Beast). We have a burpee zone where racers will have to show their headband number for the elite and age group heats where there is a level of competition installed (because there is qualification for the Euro championships and the World championships). And in these burpee zones whey will be officiated, and anyone who doesn’t meet the required standards will be penalised accordingly. That means there are certain time deductions and point deductions and potentially disqualification.

A female Spartan Race competitor

A female Spartan Race competitor

Spartan Race competitors navigating an obstacle

Spartan Race competitors navigating an obstacle

Spartan Race Phil

Spartan Race Phil

RR: You must have first-time Spartan racers asking you for advice all the time; what are the three things you always tell everyone?

SL: Firstly, pace yourself on the running side of things. Secondly, don’t under-estimate the strength demands of the course. Like, you can be fit. I can run 5k easily, but the obstacles add a whole different challenge and dimension to it. And thirdly, don’t go into your event with any fear. Sometimes, if you set off in a race and you are a little fearful, you might push yourself in the first kilometre, and maybe feel a little jittery. You might slip over an obstacle. But it’s best to not approach the challenge with any fear. You can do it!

RR: Compared to other obstacle races, Spartan Races are timed events. Was this element of competition something Spartan has built its foundations on?

SL: Correct, yes. From the earliest opportunity, we have tried to lead the way in becoming a sport. And to be a credible sport, we have to introduce standards and timing. We have to introduce an element of ranking so that people can understand where they are placed against elite racers and within their age group.

RR: Is there one obstacle you absolutely hate doing?

SL: That’s an easy question to answer: 100 per cent, it’s the rope climb. There’s definitely a technique involved and I definitely haven’t got it – yet. I’m a terrible rope climber!

Thank you so much Sam for taking the time to answer my questions!

And as someone who can’t remember the last time they did a rope climb, I am also pretty sure that’ll be the obstacle I hate doing too.

As I mentioned right at the beginning I would love to do a Spartan Race. And if it does become and Olympic event? How cool would that be! If you’re like me and thinking of signing up to a Spartan Race for the first time or a fully seasoned participant and want more information, check out their website here, www.spartanrace.uk – maybe I will see you soon!

Spartan Race UK General Manager Sam Lansdale (left) completing the course

Spartan Race UK General Manager Sam Lansdale (left) completing the course

A female Spartan Race competitor

A female Spartan Race competitor

Thank you so much Spartan Race for letting me use these wonderful photos – they are all courtesy of Epic Action Imagery

Also my huge thanks to Alec Lom for setting this interview up!

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