Q & A: Human Race founder John Lunt

21st October 2016

John Lunt founded Human Race in 1990. As an innovative, professional race organiser, he initiated and developed many multisport events that have contributed significantly to the growth of the sport at all levels. He sold Human Race in 2012. We announced last week that Tour de France organisers the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) have now acquired Human Race, and to mark this new step forward for the company, we take a look back at its beginnings with a special Q&A with John.

Talk to us about what the market (triathlon, running and cycling) was like in 1990 when you founded Human Race?

Triathlon and running events were very basic and disorganised. We did have the running boom which meant mass participation was becoming more mainstream but it was for the real long distance people. I ran the New York Marathon in 1990, ’91 and ’92 (plus lots of marathons (45) in the UK) and that give me lots of ideas. The Americans were always ahead of the curve – very innovative and great at putting on well dressed events. Sponsorship was beginning to make inroads as brands could see the benefits of sport and healthy lifestyles.

How have mass participation events changed since 1990?

They have evolved massively and are now far more professional, properly managed and far better marketed. The industry is growing and continues to grow. Enhancing people’s expectations and experiences are now at the forefront of all event organisers’ strategy. Competing for the leisure pound continues to drive innovation. Races were advertised with flyers and in triathlon magazines such as 220 Triathlon, a supporter of Human Race for many years. Entries were done by post and the Human Race office (our home) was filled with boxes of entry forms and race information packs which were printed and sent out to competitors before the events – we certainly kept the post office and lots of postmen busy! Most triathlons in the ’90s were pool based, with transitions in the car park or grass area, often with no racking for bikes. There were a few open water swims but they probably didn’t have the risk assessments etc that we have today. Race Timing was done manually using a variety of methods, and results were sent out by post up to a week after the event, after they had been typed up, photocopied and put into stamp addressed envelopes.

How have you kept your passions burning for such a long time in this industry?

After 32 years in the sport (my first triathlon was in 1984 and first marathon in 1985 – I have finished 9 Ironman distance events), I still love it. I guess doing long distance endurance events give you a certain tenacity to never give up on things… I’ve made some great friends and the sport has taken me around the world from Hawaii to New Zealand, from Hamburg to Madeira, Mexico to Beijing.

Triathlon especially attracts some really great people and we all must work hard to keep it that way. Various major events along the journey also fuelled the passion – for example, Sydney 2000 when triathlon joined the Olympic family. This raised the bar for the sport at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 and gave us the vision to deliver the best ever Olympics in 2012. It’s been an honour to have played a small part in that journey.

Which has been your favourite ever Human Race event and why?

It has to be very close between Windsor Tri and the BallBuster but I think it must be the Box Hill BallBuster which wins. It began in 1990 with 20 hardy souls from the very top of Box Hill. It’s very much back to the pioneering days of the sport set in an iconic National Trust venue. I wanted to create a event where the lead would change after each discipline and given the very nature of the terrain, it was going to be tough. The weather always played an important part, and we had all sorts of weather, snow, ice, fog, torrential rain…! What people don’t realise is that the declines are tougher than the inclines. Lots of people have tried to copy the event but none have succeeded. Many big names in triathlon and duathlon have raced the BallBuster.
The Damp-Dash was another favourite – a swim/run aquathlon based at the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Kingston on a cold Feb Sunday morning. It was Daphne Belt’s first ever event and she has gone on do 20 Ironman races.

If you could see Human Race do one new thing in the future, under the new ASO ownership, what would it be?

Seeing the Human Race business and brand evolve is pleasing to see. Linking up with such an iconic brand such as the Tour the France can only be a good thing for the sport in the UK. The French have a certain flair (i did the Nice triathlon 9 times) and they have a style of doing things which is pleasing to the British. The sport has always taken the best aspects from other sports and adapted them for triathlon and multi-sport. I’m sure many new innovative things will come from the ASO partnership especially with the presentation and TV/Media aspect.