After seeing phenomenal growth in the UK, Spartan Race is set to make its debut in Ireland with its first race weekend on May 26th-27th in Punchestown, Naas. I spoke to Sean Meehan, Regional Director for Spartan in Europe, and the Middle East who is heading up the project....
Spartan has been around in the UK for quite some time now, why are we seeing a race now in Ireland?
Ireland was a pet project, I’ve wanted to see a race in Ireland for some time but we had to wait until the time was right, OCR hasn’t really taken hold yet here but there is a growing trend towards fitness.
There will be a Sprint (5km) and a Super (13km), there’s still time to sign up, bring your friends, make a team. Anyone can do it, I know people don’t think they can but they can. It’s tough, it will test you but that’s the idea, and you will finish.
There’s a good market for adventure racing, road cycling, and marathons such as Dublin and Belfast. People are becoming more health aware and active, but it’s not yet been in tandem with OCR, and we hope to change that. There’s been some [ocrs] here, like a great local brand called Hell and Back which have been around for a few years and done some of the ground work, which makes our life easier, because when there’s been no experience in OCR it’s very hard to explain to people what it is. We’ve had that problem in the Middle East, where we explain to people about running through mud, crawling under barbed wire, and carrying a sandbag, and they’ve said “And I’m going to pay You to do this??”.
Who do you expect to see at the race?
I would say 75% of people registered are living in Ireland, they may or may not have done a race before but we estimate a large proportion be first timers. We also have a good few sign ups from the UK, and also from the East Coast of the US. It’s a series race so we’ll be having a few of the Elites coming over [from the UK], but that’s probably a fairly small contingent.
How do you strike the right balance so that it’s accessible enough, but also enough of a challenge, for the first timer and the more experienced racer?
It’s a tough balance. You can’t just make it a colour run or that just defeats the point of the brand, and the idea of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. People are more resilient than they realise, and even if on the race day they complain it was too hard, the next day they’ll be telling their friends and family “I did this”. So we’ll definitely try to put in enough challenge. The difficulty is getting people to actually believe they can do it. Anyone can do it if they put their mind to it.
I’ve had experience of running Elite when and also running in open waves when in not great physical form and I’ve found the two experiences well balanced. It’s almost like they are two different events.
You’ve got to strike that balance where you can’t be militant on rules just for the sake of it, when you’re in the afternoon waves it’s more about people running for their own individual reasons, and there’s more of an honour system on the obstacles and burpees and rule enforcement. I mean if you’re out there and you care about getting fit then you are going to push yourself as hard as you can. It’s not about some marshal saying you’re disqualified, give me you're timing chip.. That’s not what we want.
But on the flip side, first thing in the morning when we’ve got an elite wave then we do need that. We’ve been pushing that now with the cameras and proper rule enforcement and the community has endorsed that and like that we’re being pretty tough. It’s not easy on a decision to decision basis, but if we want to run proper competitive events it has to work.
You’ve got to keep the two communities catered for and engaged, and in the space of one day give everyone a good experience. This is how we become an entry sport, the accessibility for the ones who are new, with the scope for progression and the strict sporting side available. It’s cool to have such a diverse customer base, we’re excited about that and want it continue that way, we want to continue being able to do both things.
Can you tell me about the location?
The venue is Punchestown. It’s the first venue I thought of that could work and we stuck with it. For an event in Ireland you really want to be within distance of Dublin…There are some beautiful locations on the West Coast, where we could do an incredible race *one day*, but to start we’ve got to attract people, and really people want to be within an hour of Dublin.
Punchestown hosts a lot of big events, it’s had an event called “Oxygen” which I would describe as the Glastonbury of Ireland, so in terms of operationally and functionally it’s a great venue. It’s Huge.
There’s the huge grandstand where we’ll place the finishing strait, so spectators [who come for free] can watch everyone finishing, and doing the iconic fire jump, which will be epic for racers and spectators alike.
It’s a bank holiday weekend, we have an amazing events space already which we’ll put our Spartan stamp on, so it’ll be a great day out for everyone, stick around after the race and make a day of it.
The terrain is classic rolling Irish countryside, it’s not very rugged, we don’t have a big mountain but there’s natural mud, open fields and lots of ponds. It’s great for a good sprint location, and for a first event it’s not going to scare people away. If we put it in, say, the Wicklow mountains, then people might think “oh…I don’t know about that!”. It would be amazing for our existing racers, but here we’re catering for our 75% who have never done a race, and the classic thing I always hear is “that sounds too hard”. We’ve just got to break down that barrier.
It sounds like you could put on some amazing races there, and we do all love to travel.
Travel is becoming more central, on any given event, the majority are coming from a two hour radius but there’s now a big phenomenon in Spartan Races where people want to travel. People are so mobile they can do it so easily, so we’re starting to think more about that and how do we make it easier for people and make these really cool destination races. Across Europe you could race nearly every month of the year. In fact we’re working with a guy called the “Spartan Nomad” making travel packages, there’s still some left for this race (click here). You get a hotel, a tour guide, some activities, see some of Dublin. It takes the stress out of it, makes a weekend of it, and if you’re travelling alone it’s a great way to meet new people, which is actually a huge part of OCR, the community.
This is the first Spartan Race in Ireland. Do you have big plans going forward?
I’m not sure we have the audience in Ireland to become as big as it has become in the UK but we will repeat this race for sure, we know people want the time to train and prepare. They sign up in advance and put it on their Aspiration lists. Even if they're not ready yet it gives them a goal to work towards, so it’s important for the community to know we will be back. I have ideas for a second or third races, there’s more epic terrain to go after, it would be amazing to get a Beast over here but we’ll have to look at how it fits in with the UK calendar, and possibly a stadium race which is a thought we’re looking at right now. We want to grow here, we could do two or three events, so let’s hope this one is a success!