LAST UPDATED: 17 April 2023

Spotlight: HYROX

A look at the world's fastest growing mass-participation fitness concept with HYROX USA & UK Managing Director, Douglas Gremmen.

Douglas GremmenDouglas Gremmen

Spotlight: HYROX

It isn’t that often these days that an entirely new mass participation racing concept emerges that can take the world by storm. But, that’s exactly what’s happened over the past few years with the rise of HYROX, a new racing format, combining functional fitness and endurance in an indoor mass participation race.

Launched in Germany in 2017 by veteran multisport race organizer Christian Toetzke with the help of co-founder Moritz Fuerste and a select team of colleagues, HYROX has exploded in popularity to become the fastest growing mass participation fitness concept in the world.

So what is HYROX? What makes it so special? How does it relate to other race formats out there like obstacle racing? And, how does the highly lucrative business of HYROX work? Well, we’re going to be going through all that and more today with the help of my guest, HYROX USA & UK Managing Director, Douglas Gremmen.

In this episode:

  • Combining fitness and endurance in coming up with the HYROX concept/format
  • The history of fitness racing before HYROX
  • Bringing mass participation racing to gym goers (and giving gym goers something to train for)
  • Rolling out HYROX in Europe, the US and the rest of the world
  • Obstacle races vs HYROX: differences and similarities
  • HYROX in the Olympics?
  • Designing a scalable race format: making workouts accessible, safe, easy to monitor and easy to transport between venues
  • Race timing in a HYROX race (it's complicated!)
  • Getting thousands of people around an indoor racing course
  • How large can a HYROX race get?
  • What it costs to enter a HYROX event (and what you get for it)
  • Involving spectators in the HYROX race experience
  • Growing HYROX internationally through franchisees
  • HYROX' gym partnerships driving growth and secondary revenue
  • A look at HYROX' growing competition

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:10  
Douglas, welcome to the podcast!

Douglas  2:13  
Thanks for having me, Panos. Really looking forward to it.

Panos  2:15  
Well, thank you very much for coming on. Where are you joining from today?

Douglas  2:19  
Cool Chicago, but it's not as cool as I thought it would be - still the middle of the winter here.

Panos  2:25  
Well, it's actually mid-December - we should tell people. And yeah, I would expect Chicago must be getting quite chilly by now, particularly with this storm Axel - or whatever I was reading about all this - like winter snow and stuff coming through.

Douglas  2:37  
Yes, all my friends are talking about it. In Toronto, I was getting messages and, apparently, not in Chicago. I only moved here six months ago and my wife and I were like, "Ooh, the winter's coming. This is gonna be a long winter." But so far, we can't complain. So, no storms, no snow, just a lot of wind.

Panos  2:54  
That's great. My sister lived for a couple of years in Chicago and she used to tell me that people spend a lot of their winter in Chicago moving, sort of, between buildings through tunnels, underground, and things because it's that cold. So I don't envy you. I don't envy you. I've been to Chicago in the summer. It's the most amazing place. But in the winter, I feel it might be quite challenging - let's put it that way. 

Douglas  3:18  
I'm still finding my way with all the elevators and pathways, and I took the wrong turn and, all of a sudden, ended at the wrong side of the city. So, I feel your sister.

Panos  3:28  
Let's not keep people guessing. They're picking up this accent. Tell us where you're from.

Douglas  3:33  
It's a really strange mix, to be honest. As you can tell, I'm 100% Dutch, Dutch-born and raised but grew up all over the place. I was born in Augusta, Georgia in the US, but didn't live there very long, and then spent a lot of time in the UK, and, in the last 141-5 years, I have literally lived everywhere in Europe and in Asia as well. 

Panos  3:52  
And what have you been doing in your career? I mean, you should tell us, firstly, I guess, for the purpose of the episode. Your current role is at HYROX. Also, give us a little bit of a quick overview of what you've been doing in the industry up to that point.

Douglas  4:06  
I was a Managing Director of HYROX UK & US - one of our two most important markets outside of Germany. I've been with HYROX for almost two and a half years now. And previously, I actually started very young in the industry. I was interning at IMG at the age of 18 and 19 already in London - very much in the sports agency landscape. I was getting big agencies for almost 15 years - seven from IMG to Sportfive Lagardère. Made a slight detour into the equestrian world of showjumping, which is definitely a very interesting one from an events production point of view but also just from a sports and an amazing sport of shaping hundreds of courses around the world from amazing locations, and that are rekindled with HYROX Christian Toetzke, who I worked for at my time at Lagardère Sportfive. We're in the triathlon business together and, subsequently, we partnered up together to help grow and expand HYROX around the world.

Panos  5:06  
Do you want to also maybe tell us - because I think it's quite an interesting backdrop to this discussion today - a little bit maybe about Christian Toetzke who is the founder of HYROX - because he's been in what most of our listeners today would recognise as a traditional race director role before he came up with the HYROX concept. So do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Douglas  5:29  
No, I mean, absolutely. I think Christian is one of the veterans in the mass participation sports industry. He's always been, I think, from the early 80s, really looking at mass participation and figuring out how do you build events around that, whether that's the traditional marathons or really the creation of the Cyclassics, which was the first elite/mass participation cycling events. He organised and owned the tour of Germany for a long time. He was responsible for the Hamburg triathlon, which was a very famous mass participation triathlon with, I think, north of 10,000 participants. And from that, he constantly starts evolving his business mindset also on how you make these mass participation events more scalable. And in 2008 or 2009, we partnered up with Lagardère Sportfive to build the ITU World Triathlon Series, which became this eight or nine series - professional triathlon series - which is now the ITU World Triathlon Series. So he was constantly in that mindset of, "Okay, I love the business of mass participation in sports events. I want to figure out how I can scale it better and more." And subsequently, that's also where his final vision for how HYROX comes from.

Panos  6:43  
So yeah, I mean, he sounds like a very restless guy. He's achieved lots in his career. We should say that the Hamburg Triathlon, etc eventually became part of the Ironman brand of events. So, definitely Christian is someone who's done lots of amazing things in Europe on running and multi-sport events. And then, he goes on, restless as he is, and he comes up with this HYROX concept which, according to the website - and I think it's a very fair description, as people will realise as we go through this-- the website says HYROX is the fastest-growing mass participation fitness concept in the world. And I think the words there are chosen wisely and they're all very true. HYROX is a mass participation event, so it's not an elite thing. People can show up and participate. It is a fitness concept. It is not exactly what people would recognise as an outdoor race because it's all run indoors. Why don't you give us, like, a description of what the basic format of the event is about?

Douglas  7:51  
The description-- I think there are a lot of words there, of course. It's also a very innovative new concept. So we've taken a lot of time to figure out how to best explain it as well. But from a sports concept point of view, it's really where fitness and endurance sports meet. We tried to create something, which is mass participation, which actually means it's accessible to everybody of all shapes, sizes, all ages, and all genders, so that was really the outset. And the format was really created around looking at the triathlon market, looking at the fitness market, looking at the marathon market, "Hey, what is a good mid-sized endurance event? A midsize endurance event takes one and a half hours. So let's create a format around that." And we really tried to combine the fitness and strength components together with endurance and running components. The HYROX format is actually globally the same, so it's universal. It's eight times one individual kilometre of running interchange with one functional natural movement workout. So come into the start zone, you run your one kilometre on an athletic track, let's put it like that. And every time you finish a one kilometre, you go into what we call the Rox zone, and you go to one of the eight workout stations and you complete your workouts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. And every time you finish your workout, you go back on the run course and run one kilometre. So if you look at it holistically, it's about three soccer pitches or three football pitches big indoors, 15,000 square metres of high-energy fitness and endurance taking place.

Panos  9:23  
And just for people to, I guess, get an idea - particularly the non-gym goers amongst us - of what those workouts are about in between the running stints, what kind of things that we're talking about?

Douglas  9:35  
So we'll go a little bit more into that and why the exercises were chosen, but the whole focus was on natural skilled movements. So movements that were not technical, that are not things that you have to learn in the gym, but that you're naturally able to do as an able body. So we started with an endurance exercise which is called the skier which is like a bioflow concept to machine which is getting more and more popular in the gym space. Then, it's a little bit of a power exercise, which is the sled push. You're literally pushing a sled with weights on it forward 50 metres and constantly running, of course. You have a sled pull, so you're pulling that same sled toward you with weight. Then, you have burpee broad jumps. I think a lot of people are familiar with burpees, but you're literally doing a burpee, a jump, a burpee, a jump, which gets the heart race nice and high. Then, we have one kilometre of running, so very traditional endurance strength component. You then go over to the farmer's carry, which is literally carrying two kettlebells or two weights for a specific period for a specific distance. You then have 100 metre sandbag lunges, so the traditional lunge where you're putting your knee on the ground, and you finish with what is probably our most skilled exercise, 100 wobbles, which is a mini squat with a ball that you throw to a three metre high targets, and then you've crossed the finish line in, on average, 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Panos  11:00  
And I mean, just listening to this, you must be absolutely wasted by the end of this having done all of that stuff. I know running for an hour and a half can be challenging for people. But yeah, I think minute by minute, doing all of these burpees and stuff-- I mean, it must be exhausting.

Douglas  11:16  
It is absolutely exhausting. It's a good challenge. It's absolutely up there with half marathons, no, a fast half marathon, as a lot of people would know, is probably one of the most challenging workouts there is because you're high in speed and high in heart rate, and this is literally what happens in HYROX. Obviously, you can pace yourself. The world record is 55 minutes and the slowest is probably three and a half hours. So, like, a marathon or half marathon, there's a wide variety of times taking place, but everybody's doing it in their own ability, so everybody is suffering to the same extent, whether you're a pro athlete or whether you're an average mom or dad.

Panos  11:55  
Is there an actual time limit to this? You mentioned three and a half hours being the slowest. Is there a cutoff for the event?

Douglas  12:02  
No, there's absolutely no cutoff. So it happens to be that the slowest ever has been three and a half hours, but there's no qualification and no cut-off. So we're really trying to, once again, get that message that it's accessible to everybody as widely accepted as possible.

Panos  12:17  
To me, when I first heard the concept and I watched some videos, it looks amazing. I encourage people to just go online and just check out the HYROX video. The event looks super great. I can definitely see why it would be appealing to a certain kind of fitness audience. And I was watching an interview with Christian who mentioned, at some point, that basically there was no event like this before that would combine this would appeal to the fitness crowd and the gym-going crowd. Is that really the case? Was there nothing, sort of, like this before HYROX was introduced?

Douglas  12:56  
Not to this scale, right? Not to the scale of-- once again, we talked about the accessibility of-- obviously, CrossFit paved the way for us and I think CrossFit is getting more mainstream and more accepted as the years go on, but it was never from a mass participation point of view. There was never a fitness event that everybody could participate in. There are a lot of CrossFit events taking place around the world with maybe 300 or 400 athletes, but that's it. So, the ability to really build something in an indoor venue that can host anything up to 5,000 people with the logistics, the transportation, the judging, the timing, and all those components-- absolutely. It was never done before and there was never anything done before that really emulated what happens in a normal gym. Yes, it's what happens in a CrossFit box, but that's very much a niche, elite format already. But if you go to local Fitness First or David Lloyd, what you're actually doing in that gym on a daily basis, there's nothing that has translated into a mass participation sports event, and I think this is where Christian vision when it started evolving in 2014 or 2015 when he was-- while fitness is actually the biggest organised sport in the world, there's no mass participation concept around it, and that's where he really felt the gap in the market of various people who were running and subsequently doing marathons. Millions of people are going to the gym every day, but don't have anything to train for. And that's literally where I think the opportunity and the growth are absolutely coming from.

Panos  14:26  
And I guess, the innovation in all this-- you say fitness is a sport. I mean, before this, I wouldn't really have thought of fitness as a sport. The way I used to think of fitness like going to the gym is you get stronger, so you go out and do other stuff, potentially, which are sports, right? You go out and then you enter a triathlon or something, or you go and do boxing, right? And then you also go to the gym. And I guess, part of the innovation here is making a sport out of fitness in a way that CrossFit sort of started doing a little bit earlier as well, right?

Douglas  15:01  
Like I said, CrossFit absolutely paved the way in making a competitive format out of fitness. I mean, obviously, their fitness is very much based on gymnastic movements, on powerlifting movements, so very specific in what they do. But generally, this notion that running wasn't a sport probably in the 60s and the 70s either - apart from maybe the Olympic level, of course, but not as a mass participation sport. So to be able to make that notion and get people to understand that you can train with purpose, yes, you can train and go to the gym to help your tennis career or your triathlon career. But also, a lot of people stop their triathlon career or stop their swimming career after, definitely, in the US after collegiate years when they go and do a sport at university in their age of 20-to-23, and don't have a sport anymore to compete. And actually, fitness is what replaces that daily activity, but bringing that competitive element back into fitness is what is turning - what we call - fitness enthusiasts into athletes. And creating athletes is actually what's building a really interesting commercial ecosystem just like runners in marathons have created an amazing ecosystem for endurance brands - the watch companies, the heart rate monitors, the shoe companies, etc. Same for cycling. Why all of the sudden are people investing thousands and thousands of pounds in extremely expensive carbon bikes? Because they take their normal Sunday ride extremely more seriously because they're now participating in a race or in a triathlon. And I think turning fitness into a sport is going to be beneficial for the whole ecosystem of fitness.

Panos  16:34  
Yeah, I guess that's the key. It's interesting - the point you made about running and marathons and the way people used to run in the 60s and 70s, or get the bike out and go for a ride. You need to have the competitive element and you need to have a kind of golden objective, which is where the race element comes in. That's what sort of, like, brings it all together. So basically, the basic innovation - apart from many other things that we'll go into about HYROX - is actually building, like, a gym race essentially, like a fitness race. And it may seem straightforward to people doing that, but when we'll go into some of the operations and the technical difficulties you guys had to overcome, it's anything but simple, actually. I mean, the format now looks obvious, like, "Oh, yeah, of course, it works." But arriving at that must have taken lots of iterations and thinking. When did the first event ever take place actually - the first HYROX?.

Douglas  17:34  
So in the first one, I actually participated as a normal athlete since 2017, exactly five years ago - I think it was November 26 in 2017 - which was proof of concept. Build it. Does it work? Are 99% of people getting across the finish line? For me, it was super interesting. I signed up with my company Sportfive at the time 10 weeks before. I've never seen any of these exercises before. I mean, I was in the gym a lot, but I've never done burpees to that extent, I've never done sled pull, sled push. I've never seen a skier before. So we were going in blindly at the time. And it's interesting to see how a lot of these exercises in this format of training have become far more mainstream as gyms are accommodating what we call functional fitness, in general, which is combining all those strengths and endurance. But when I was, in 2016-2017, going to the gym, I was doing my traditional weightlifting and my traditional endurance completely separately. So 2017 was the first race and then 2018 was the first full season.

Panos  18:35  
It's interesting that you actually took part in that first event without having an association with HYROX back then. What was your first impression like? Did you get it? Did you see what the whole thing was about, why people were getting excited, and why they ended up reaching the heights that it has?

Douglas  18:50  
There are a couple of components that probably stood out. I mean, going to the gym, apart from CrossFit, it is kind of a very individual thing that you do. You go to the gym on your own time, you put your headphones on, do your workout, you shower, and you get the heck out of there. And all of a sudden, with my company, we're 20 guys, all of a sudden, doing combined workouts, all abilities. We were training together and going to the gym together. Preparing ourselves for these workouts was already half of the journey because I think that brought people closer together. Because in HYROX, you can train together. It's not like you can do the exercise at your own pace, but you're all in the same environment doing the same stuff. I think that was probably one of the biggest game-changing things that were bringing a social component to the gym. This is something that CrossFit has a very strong and very tight-knit community, but most mainstream gyms don't have that tight-knit community. It's very individual. So this, I already thought, was a really interesting notion. And then, we will meet HYROX and, once a week, Christian or Mo or one of the other founders would host the workout - which I just thought was truly inspirational to have a 3-time Olympic medalist in Mo Fuerste - and Christian being, literally, the godfather of endurance sports to help us through the journey. I thought that was super interesting. And then, on race day, first of all, the nerves-- I mean, I was honestly super, super nervous, not knowing what to expect. But then you get into this race mode and, I think, the race connection is really important. You just sold in and all of a sudden, it's one and a half hours, extreme pain and a bit of competition - competition with my colleagues, competition with myself - and also just the fact that my girlfriend could come and watch me at the time. That was a big thing because if you do a marathon or a triathlon, you'd probably see your loved ones at the end of the finish line. But here it was, literally, the whole way through the workout, your friends and family cheering you on through one and a half hours of what I call hell. But then, the dissatisfaction when you cross the finish line with your colleagues and with your friends and family in an indoor environment was a really truly unique experience. So having it come to life in an indoor arena with music, with lighting, with great branding-- that was very unique because an outdoor event is amazing when it's beautiful weather, but you cannot really capture that high intense energy that you could in an indoor venue and this is really what gave a lot of Goosebumps, I guess, to a lot of people. Just competing in that sort of a high-energy environment was truly addictive for those 750 athletes that were there the first time, and that literally laid the foundation for the growth in Germany at the time for the next year and a half prior to COVID.

Panos  21:35  
Yeah, and I think there are great things that come out of HYROX taking place indoors, as should be obvious to most of our listeners who are professional race directors. The logistics that come without are a lot more straightforward in some regards - in others, a little bit more complicated, which we're going to get into. And the other thing you were mentioning there that's also quite important to HYROX also as a business venture, I guess, is the training element, is the fact that by having this gym dimension, you can do so many things in promoting the event and bringing people together beforehand as they try for these kinds of events. One question I've never asked you, actually - an obvious one - is where does the name come from - HYROX?

Douglas  22:22  
Actually, I didn't even know. To be honest, "What?" Because it was first Coolrox. And I was like, "Okay, Coolrox is a very random name, but it resonates. Now, like you I was still listening to all the podcasts of Christian and Mo, they wanted to do something with the name "Rock stars." They really felt that people who have come across the finish line are rock stars. So they wanted to do something with ROX and then everybody who finishes is a rockstar. Sadly, Red Bull did not allow us to use the name Rockstars afterwards because it's a competing drink and Red Bull is a sponsor. There you go. So they started with Coolrox, got sued nine months later saying, "Hey, we cannot use the name Coolrox." So they literally tried to figure out the best two letters to come before ROX and HYROX then actually became a natural extension, which I think is a great name. It's universal. It's global. And I think it resonates well with the audience, and we still obviously have that rock zone and a lot of what is around the ROX part of the name.

Panos  23:18  
It's a great name and it's a very strong name. They did a really great job putting that H and Y before the ROX there. Where is HYROX today? What kind of footprint does it have globally? How many countries are you guys in? How many races are there out there? How many participants do it, I guess, annually? And what's the growth rate looking like right now?

Douglas  23:38  
So it was really amazing transgression over time, right? So 2017 - first events. 2018 - first real event season in the DACH region, so Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. 2019 as well. Christian and Mintra had the vision, "If I want to be big in fitness, I need to conquer the US." I think that was always, "Yes, I can go country by country in Europe. But if I missed the boat in America and somebody copies me, then I missed, potentially, the opportunity to build the biggest global fitness company in the world." So he went to America, probably in the late 2019, and launched events in 2020. Obviously, COVID came. So we were probably at 16 to 18 events prior to COVID. Like everybody that's probably listening to this podcast, we've all been in the same boat waiting, waiting, and waiting. Christian was extremely vocal and trying extremely hard to allow for events to take place, right? Why can we not do fast testing? Why can we not create a bubble? Why can I not create-- and he was very busy with that notion for almost one and a half years and the HYROX business was at a standstill. And it actually was my new markets - the UK and the Netherlands - which were going to be the first markets to open up just because we had slightly fewer restrictions. Definitely, the UK opened up slightly before the other markets and Holland was a little bit more ahead of its time compared to Germany. So it wasn't until September 21 that we had our first events outside of DACH and America. So we had Amsterdam, London - 700 participants. Birmingham happened - we went to Madrid as a first market in 2021. Then, all of a sudden - Christmas came - almost a year ago now, massive restrictions were lifted in the UK, and we saw our participation numbers skyrocketed in Manchester in January 2022, which is still not long ago. If we think about our history, it's 11 months ago, all of a sudden, 2,500 people-- like, I think we had 1,600 signups from December to January. We're like, "Whoa, where's this coming from?" And that was really the moment where we were like, "COVID was an absolute dampener on the growth, of course, but the people are dying to get out. People are dying to compete. People are dying to get back into the gym. People are dying to go to events." Did Manchester. London, 4 months later, sold out within literally six weeks after Manchester - 4,000 participants. And this is when we started getting the goosebumps from, "Hey, we're really onto something." We all knew it or assumed it could be but now to see it really coming to life in Amsterdam this year, almost 2,500 participants in Madrid, 3,000 participants, etc. So in the last 11 months, we've opened up nine countries. And this year alone, we're doing 45 races with 90,000 participants globally. So we've literally grown from 15,000 participants to 35,000 participants to 90,000 participants with the ability to double again next year just due to the velocity of new markets coming on board like China, like APAC, like Australia, like Eastern Europe, like Mexico. So it is an extremely scalable copy-paste-able model, which means we can literally promise to deliver the same event experience all over the world. 

Panos  26:52  
Okay, so let's take a closer look at the concept a little bit and the race itself. To me, it should be fairly obvious to people listening in as well, HYROX looks like a kind of evolution of the obstacle course concept, so sort of like the races that people may be familiar with like Spartan and Tough Mudder and that kind of thing because those races also, in a way, of course, they're outdoors, but they combine these elements of running with doing obstacle type stuff in between. I've done a couple of obstacle races - they're also pretty exhausting, I should say. And to me, it seems like they share a lot of common themes with HYROX. Is that how you guys see it?

Douglas  27:40  
It's interesting because it wasn't until I started speaking to you-- obviously, I've always thought about it being the same type of audience, right? It's the same guys that look for competition, sign up for events, and have the ability to run and do obstacles. But for me, obstacle racing was quite far away from what's actually happening in the gym space, right? So I actually never made that natural association to Spartan Race or obstacle racing in the last three to four years because I believe that we're trying to emulate what happens in the gym and not necessarily what happens actually in the OCR community. What we did see - and I think this is really where one of the key success factors have been - is that a lot of the OCR community, during the offseason, have really switched towards HYROX. They still love obstacle racing, and I think it's in your blood, and people just love that element of training outdoors. That will always stay and that's the thing. We're tapping into that community, for sure but, obviously, the biggest community that we've built it for was the gym community and there's actually not really a big overlap between those two communities. So yes, maybe the notion is the same, but I think we're closer to a marathon or triathlon, which is actually globally the same standard, always the same workout, comparable global types, really the ability to have training programmes dedicated to that format that we have in place. So in that sense, actually, I truly believe we're closer to that marathon space than we are, potentially, to the obstacle racing space, just from an event concept and competition point of view as well, but maybe you'd beg to differ. It'd be interesting to see, when you do your first HYROX, if you do see a strong overlap.

Panos  29:24  
Yeah, I mean, I'm not planning to do a HYROX. I mean, I'm in my 40s. I don't think it's for people like me. I'll stick to running and other bits. But one of the reasons I made that connection-- I mean, generally, I think it's interesting to see sort of, like, common DNA in different events, even if HYROX clearly has its own position in that it is quite distinct from the obstacle courses. But the interesting thing that led me down that path was also that, when I was researching HYROX, I saw that this guy, Hunter McIntyre, who apparently was a World Champion of HYROX a couple of years back was an obstacle course kind of, like, athletes, and that made me start thinking about definitely being a common audience, if not necessarily a common format there.

Douglas  30:13  
Probably, a common skill set, right? So the ability to combine the strength component with the running component is something that's very evident in obstacle racing, and Hunter McIntyre is a premium example of a phenomenal athlete that probably carries 85 to 95 kilos and can run a marathon in two and a half hours, and is, I think, five times obstacle racing world champion. So he really has that body type, which is what we now call the hybrid racer, which is probably going to be an OCR racer, it's going to be a HYROX racer, or these guys that are bringing strength and endurance together better, which I think is probably the common denominator in an overlap. Definitely, an elite level in athletes.

Panos  30:53  
But as you said, one of the great differentiating factors about HYROX is that the format is standardised. So every event you run across the globe, it's going to be the exact same format, it's going to be endorsed, which allows you guys to do lots of interesting stuff with ranking people even globally, which is a great thing. And then, I have to wonder because OCR, I think through the Spartan CEO and a couple of other people, are actually lobbying to make OCR an Olympic sport for the 2028 Olympics, which I think is going to be held in LA. So like, has it crossed your mind? I know it must be, like, way down the line. But do you have similar aspirations of, maybe, one day, seeing HYROX as an Olympic event?

Douglas  31:39  
I would be lying if I said no. Definitely with the vision from Christian and Mo Fuerste who's won two gold medals, and is an affluent figure in the Olympic community as well. And I think we have that belief that we can be. I don't think the Olympics is necessarily the end goal. It's not the end or be all of sports, as we do see a changing landscape in the affinity to the Olympics as an example, but I do believe that fitness and the community that we're talking about deserves a place in the Olympics, as it's literally-- I think there are more than 200 million people that are members of a gym participating in some sort of fitness. I mean, I think we can name a few sports that don't have 200 million people participating that aren't in Olympic sports. So I think it's about finding the right formats, the right ecosystem, also the right professional structure for it. I think HYROX can accommodate that professional structure, and that's all the way from timing to, potentially, drug testing and all the things that need to be done - I think we can facilitate that but it has to go organically in that direction. And I think time will tell if we can get it to that level but, I think, behind the scenes, we absolutely have that aspiration to be perceived as a true sport and if that means the Olympic, then that will be the cherry on the cake, I think.

Panos  32:56  
I think it would be really interesting to see that come to fruition because there's something special about multi-sports disciplines, both inside and outside of the Olympics like the triathlon, the heptathlon that they have in the Olympics and stuff, and it's always great. And I heard Hunter actually making that point. It's great because, like, you see, for instance, endurance running in the Olympics, or you see sprinting, or you see long jumping, and all of those events, they have athletes who are specialised in one thing, and you see one type of athlete. It's always great to go into the heptathlon and other events where you have to be a more rounded athlete, and you see people who just need to be great across many things - endurance, running strength, upper body, lower body, flexibility, all these kinds of things. I think it would be great to have more events like that in the Olympics.

Douglas  33:49  
Yeah, look, I think, first of all, we don't know yet what that perfect athlete looks like. Right? So now, we assume it's Hunter, but we're seeing the evolution of the HYROX athlete - is he tall? Is he short? Does he have strong upper body? It's very interesting to see how people are training for it and we're seeing continuous improvement in the times, which is phenomenal to see as our athletes are getting smart in how they train. But secondly, I think something we should not underestimate is it being an indoor event. We can create head-to-head racing as we're presently doing, which means that the top 15 athletes are going head-to-head in a one-hour format, which we strongly believe is very attractive for TV audiences as well. It's very attractive for a spectator audience on site because there is a start, there is a finish, there is a very clear winner, there are no complicated rules, there's no complicated counting, and you really see this head-to-head racing going on where Hunter's extremely strong on the sled push but we've got a lighter athlete that's coming through in the burpees. And you constantly see this kind of catching up with each other, different strategies, working in different heart rate zones, and that's what makes sports really-- I think this is really what's important. This is why we truly believe in, hopefully, a media appetite for HYROX racing because what's being done in that 55 minutes, first of all, resonates with me as a gym goer because they're doing stuff that I'm doing and I can do that same stuff in, maybe, an hour and a half or two hours, but I can aspire to that level. And secondly, it's great television because there's something happening all the time in 55 minutes, which, sadly, cannot always be set up in Ironman or even an Olympic triathlon, right? They're not easy to attract a good TV audience for two, three, and sometimes even eight hours.

Panos  35:35  
We’re talking about HYROX today and this is yet another episode where I’m reminded of the power of brand. You heard Douglas earlier discuss the attention the HYROX team put on coming up with the right branding for their concept, and we’ll hear a bit later in the episode how that focus on branding carries through all the way down to the HYROX event barriers and gym equipment. 

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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… Let's look a little bit at the nitty-gritty of the event and how it ended up arriving at the format it is today. So let's talk about the workouts. So we said that the basic format is you do eight stints of running - one kilometre stints. And then, in between those, you do a functional workout - burpees, pushing sledges, pulling sledges, all kinds of horrendous stuff. So basically, you have a whole universe of workouts, I guess, to source from. How did you arrive at these particular eight ones? Because as we said, the format is standardised, it's not changing, so quite a lot of thought must have gone into that.

Douglas  38:11  
I think this is credit to where credit is due, right? So, Christian searched for somebody with the vision that he and his head to create a global fitness race - whatever that meant, right? He was like, "There's got to be something out there." So he partnered up with Mintra Tilly, who literally did the architect of the race concept, and she has a phenomenal sports background. She was training Navy SEALs. She had a really good notion of what endurance strength training was all about. And they literally started in 2015 already drawing up plans. And there were a couple of key components and Mintra very much looked at the accessibility of the exercises. So how can an able body that is able to move and function in a proper way able to complete these exercises? So that was absolutely key. So no technical movement standards, no complicated movements that you would not use on a daily basis. So we looked at the seven natural movement, which is pushing, which is pulling, which is lunging, which is squatting, which is hinging. So that was really the outset - really looking at natural movement standards and creating exercises for it. So that was really, really important. No, you don't need to learn how to do a pull-up. There's just no practical use for knowing how to do pull-ups in your daily life. So pull-ups was one of those exercises that is a very attractive, very interesting exercise but not relevant for the masses. So that's just one example. The second thing we have to look at in terms of what type of exercises are those that are truly accessible to everybody. It's absolutely important. We could look into exercises. Are they safe to do? We could do box jumps. Jumping is quite a relevant exercise. But people jumping over a box-- the more tired they get, the more likely they're going to fall which means we have injuries to deal with. So probably, all exercises have to be safe and I think we pride ourselves that 98% of our people finished the race. That was extremely important. We had to look at the judging components and that's probably the biggest difference from CrossFit where literally every rep needs to be counted. The judging is absolutely something that is limiting a lot of fitness events to scale up, and this is why we specifically chose exercises that are for distance. So apart from the wobbles at the end, every exercise is a distance you need to cover, which makes it very easy for us to see if people are at the start line and if they're at the finish line. The only thing that we need to adhere to is that they apply the movement standards. The difference is we don't have somebody counting every rep, but we have somebody observing multiple people in that workout area to make sure that they're not cheating or taking shortcuts, etc. So that's enabling us to put, instead of having 500 judges, maybe, 100 judges. So that was an important factor. And the fourth component, which we should never forget about is transportation. A really great exercise is lifting these massive truck tires up and down. You turn them over. You do that for 50 metres. But how do you ship 50 big tires from city to city? So we really had to think about exercises that were easily transportable, easy to set up, and easy to load back into the trucks. I mean, at this moment, we're travelling with six trucks from city to city, and our build-up is 18 hours. And those are all things that you need to look into when you look at the whole economic system of, "Yes, it works for the sport. Yes, it works for the accessibility of athletes, and it is transportable, which means it's scalable." So those were the three components or even four components that we looked into, or that Mintra and Christian looked into when building out those movements standards. And then, you realise, and you're absolutely right, there are hundreds of exercises to choose from. But those hundreds of exercises, you can do in the gym because they will all contribute to you getting stronger, faster, better, but it just happens to be that we have one standard of exercises that we want to continuously pursue in our events. We're not going to change it.

Panos  42:10  
I think it's easy to underestimate the achievement of this part of the HYROX innovation in everything. I think lots of people, I'm sure, would have thought about building a gym race or a fitness concept similar to HYROX, but making it scalable, as you say, and making the business side of things work with something like this is extremely difficult because you set up a marathon, you have 20,000 people running, they go from A to B, they can run however they like - some of them wore like gorilla costumes - you don't care, and then, all you have to do is have a timing mat at the finish and then take downtimes, whereas with a concept like high Roxas, you have to be doing these functional workouts and you need to-- because it's a race at the end of the day, you need to know that people are hitting the milestones of the race correctly. And if you had someone, as you say-- if one of the exercises we're doing was doing push-ups, you'd have to have one judge per athlete seeing that they go all the way down or whatever, and then counting reps, whereas with pushing a sledge, you can have one judge observing 20 athletes potentially and all you have to do is go from A to B and back and, then, I guess they can decide to push the sleds however they like, right? I mean, I don't think there's any rule around that. It just happens that the easiest way to do it is with your hands pushing forward, which helps you, which is an aspect of this and an achievement that I think is easy to overlook, and it's probably the one thing that has unlocked HYROX's potential to become a scalable race that can travel around easily, be put on in subsequent locations, like, weekend after weekend with thousands of people going through?

Douglas  43:59  
Honestly, it's unbelievable because of the simplicity of what it looks like. And the simplicity is absolutely not there because of the thought that has gone into it. That's where I do believe that Christian and the team is-- and I'm absolutely not on that side of the business, but if you look at how they look at every detail from how we package things up into the trucks to how we unload it from the trucks, to how we position it on the racecourse to win an extra few metres because yes, it's great to be indoors, but indoors has limitations because there are walls. There are walls and there are pillars and we cannot be cannot just put things up where we want them to put up. So every course design is unique and we always need to be able to keep that customer journey in mind that we want to give as equal an opportunity or as equal a race experience to everybody around the world. And this is where a lot of time goes into the planning. The course design is absolutely key. But once we're on the venue, it's like a machine that just goes unpack, boom, boom, boom, boom, and within 18 hours, there are probably 30 to 40 guys up and running. That's the beauty of the whole system.

Panos  45:04  
And in terms of the participants, is there any difference to the event that a male or a female athlete might do in terms of weights, I guess, on the slides or that kind of thing? So basically, they do the same stuff, but different weights.

Douglas  45:17  
Yeah, exactly. So we have 8 divisions to make it, once again, truly accessible to everybody. So there's obviously the male and the female - lesser weights, same exact workout, same distances, just less weights. We have the same at the pro level. So we have pro men and pro female - higher weights, again, for both. And we've introduced something from day one already, and this is why, Panos, I would challenge you to participate. The doubles is one of those things that is a great entry into the sport of HYROX, which means that you're running together, but you're splitting the workout load, which means that you and I could do it. We run the one kilometre together. We go into the workout situation. I do the first 600 metres on the skier, and then you do 400 metres and you might be a little bit stronger on the sled push so you do a little bit more or we do it 50-50, and we really saw that as a really important contributor to the growth as 50% of our people sign up to doubles - one of the social component of doing it with your training buddies, which is just a really nice thing to do. The accessibility of doing something new together with somebody, I think, is also lowering that barrier to entry. And thirdly, we've introduced a relay concept really as a variable entry point like a relay for four participants, where each one does 1/4 of the course. So we're trying to accommodate. Still, at every level, it's a tough workout, but by having pro, open, doubles, male, female, and mix, you and your wife could do it together. So the next component is there as well, which I think is a very nice contributor. And then, we have the relay component, which at the end means, and I think this is probably what we're most proud of, 50% of our athletes are male, 50% of athletes are female, which is quite unique in the endurance space, and specifically in the strength fitness space. 

Panos  47:01  
Yeah, I think that's great. And actually, the whole these kind of, like, really, events or the events where you get to share the load or, like, generally team-type events, they're also getting bigger within traditional endurance sports, within marathons, and stuff like that. Logistically, they're a little bit more complicated as I guess they would be for you as well, but they are great entry points and people love doing them because of the team element. And also, because they're not as intimidating having to pull the entire event. So I think having those things, whether it's your concept or a traditional endurance race, that helps bring new people into the concept and help them take those first steps, which is great. A great complication about HYROX, which just occurred to me after you mentioned it in one of our calls, was the timing. So talk us through the timing. I think that's the one area where things get stupidly complicated compared to, like, a traditional marathon. So how does timing work in HYROX?

Douglas  48:02  
I think you're absolutely right and I'm so, sometimes, gobsmacked with how complicated the timing system is and how many people we need to set up the timing because, literally, we have-- and that's the difference. In a marathon, you're travelling from point A to point B, and it's very easy to set up your timing chips across-- as people cross their timing chip, you get their time. But here we have hundreds of people at a different parts of the course doing a workout. So we have a lot of people crossover the same timing chips, but we're running laps. We're going in and out of workout stations. You have to follow the right order of workout stations. So to put it simply, you get a timing chip, and you put it on your ankle so that you cross over the mat as closely to the mat as possible because we need to have a very narrow field, I guess, of data capture. And people have to run laps, right? You run two laps or three laps. So the timing is already monitoring you, as an athlete, how many laps you're running and it's telling you're in lap one, you're in lap two, you're in lap three, oh, it's time for you to go into the workout area, and it tells you which workout you have to go to. So you've crossed the IN arch. The IN arch is literally the barrier between the running course and the workouts in the workout stage. Coming to the area at the IN arch, this is what we call the ROX zone. You can get water there. There's an energy station. And from there, you go into your workout station. So you have a timing mat at the IN arch. And then, you go into the workout station that's let's say rowing. You arrive at the rowing arch timing mat. You come into the rowing. You do your one kilometre row, you go out of the rowing, which is timed so that we know exactly what your rowing time so if we see a discrepancy also because the judge didn't pick it up, saying, "Hey, this guy is running at seven minutes per kilometre, but he did the row in 1 minute 52 seconds, which is three minutes quicker." Timing is picking that up and saying, "Hey, this guy did not finish the row. He's getting a five-minute penalty. Gets out of the rowing, goes out of the out arch, gets back on the wrong course, and does his running. Right? So we're talking about probably 40 to 50 timing points that are in the space of 15,000 square metres, which means that all the signals are getting very convoluted. We have a lot of people crossing those points. So the timing system is, first of all, extremely expensive and highly complicated, but it's also-- and I think this is the beauty about it. I think it gives the highest satisfaction to our athletes because being able to know all your split times - your run time, your time in the ROX zone, your time on the different workout stations was getting them so addicted to improve and train differently. They're like, "I can get 20 seconds off my sled, I can get 30 seconds." And that's maybe the big difference with obstacle racing that the measurability of our sport and the subsequent ability to improve on specific areas is what gets people really addicted. 

Panos  50:50  
Yeah, that's really interesting. Have you ever had a failure on your timing system that, maybe, it didn't record people as it used to? Because in a marathon, you have a backup, you have a camera. It's fairly straightforward to get some kind of time. But in your case, it must be very complicated if the timing system goes out. I don't know what you do. Has it ever happened?

Douglas  51:11  
Yeah, we obviously sometimes have connectivity issues, that's for sure. The funny thing is we have a lot of people complaining about that. That happens all the time. They come over the finish line saying, "Why did I get a penalty?" And they're like, "I did all my laps. I did almost, like--" let's go look at your time. And you go, "Well, this time, you ran a 3.30 kilometre and, here, you run a 7-minute kilometre. You probably did one lap short." "No, no. I didn't do a lap short." So that happened probably 97% of the time where people are just in the middle of the action, they go out of the wrong arch or they do something wrong just because, under pressure, we all make mistakes. It is obviously the case that, sometimes, there could be a timing failure or chip that doesn't work - luckily, it's probably 1% to 2% at worst. But we've had timing failures. Of course, WiFi has gone down but, normally, there is a bit of a backup system so, at least, we always know the overall time because we know exactly when people start, but it might mean that we lose a couple of split times. I think this is maybe the German thing that has been built - the German sense of accuracy - and also one of the big USPs compared to CrossFit events. Every athlete starts exactly on the minute - 8am, 8.10am, 8.20am. There's never been a delayed start and I think this is what's making it relatively easy as we have a very well-oiled machine to, at least, be able to find out what people's times are, knowing what their start times are, and what their finish times are.

Panos  52:38  
So let's talk about, actually, that starting sequence. In Manchester, you said you had something like 4000 people. How does that 4,000 people field go through the course? How long does the whole thing take? And how do you start them off? Is it, like, one by one? Is it in waves? How do you do that?

Douglas  52:59  
A couple of components. We are dependent on the size of the venue. So the bigger the venue, the more room we have for a bigger run course, etc. So obviously, the availability of our equipment depends on how many people we can have. And then, subsequently, we decide how many people can start in a start wave. So we have, every 10 minutes, one start wave. In smaller events, we have start waves of 20 to 25. In our big events in London, we have 50 individual starters, and 90 double starters. So we have literally 90 people in the start chute at 8am, which is the first race. We start with men's doubles. We then go to mixed doubles. Then, we have men's open, which are all on the same weight. So we don't need to make any changes to the course. Then, we make the switch to the women's racing. We take off some weights. We do all the work that needs to be done to get the race ready. And then, we move to the pro race and put more weight on the sleds, as an example. So, every 10 minutes people are starting and the only limitation we have is that 50 or 90 people can start per 10 minutes. And in London, we started at 8am. And the last start we have is a quarter past 9 - 20 past nine, sorry - which is a long event, which means our last finisher came across the finish line at quarter to 11 which is new for people in your industry where you're probably in the marathon space and your latest start is probably at 11 in the morning or something. So we had a lot of eyebrows raised when we were saying, "Hey guys, we have 5,000 people. Your start time is quarter past 9 or 20 past 9." You're like, "I need to be at home." But yeah, this is the only way we got to put people through the course. We cannot put more people through the course. We look at the density of the run course. We look at the overlap on the machines, and do we have enough machines. Obviously, in the first workout station, all 90 people get to that first workout station at the same time. But as they race, obviously, people drop off a little bit, some people are faster, so we might have 40 mobile stations instead of 50 mobile stations, for example. So it's all very mathematically calculated of where people are at what specific time in the day because the wrong course can get very busy, which could have a very negative experience. The event experiences of the running is a very big component of it.

Panos  55:10  
Well, it's interesting. As we were coming out of the pandemic, probably a year now or probably more, I did a podcast episode with Marcel Altenburg who is a professor, I think, in Manchester Metropolitan University, if I'm not mistaken. 

Douglas  55:24  
He sounds Dutch. 

Panos  55:26  
He is German, in fact. So he's German and his expertise is in simulating participant flows through events - choke points, bottlenecks, and stuff like that. For instance, he simulates the New York Marathon and how waves get off the start line, and then maybe what the narrower part of the course may be at the eighth station, how people slow down, and all of that stuff. Like, I think it'd be terribly interesting - Marcel, if you're listening - to do something like that try to simulate HYROX. I mean, it must be orders of magnitude more difficult with the stations and how people come in and out. You guys must have done a great job, even, empirically working that out to not have had any issues.

Douglas  56:13  
And we still get it wrong sometimes. 

Panos  56:15  
You do. 

Douglas  56:16  
Always. Sometimes, there's still a bottleneck, right? Why? Because we're going to new venues, we have a crossing point, so people are trying to get from the lobby of the big expo hall into what we call the workout area where all the spectators can be. You need to cross the run course at some stage because there's a lot of courses that's going literally on the periphery or the inside of the venue. So, in order to get spectators in, we need to get them across the run course. We also have to really think about how do we get people safely across. In an ideal world, you'd build a bridge, but you cannot always build a bridge. 1) It's super expensive. 2) You don't have the space for it. 3) Is a bridge safe - people going upstairs? So we had to create an island mechanism. So actually, people cross part of the run course, they wait in an island, and then they cross the second part of the road course, and then we're actually trying to shift the athletes to one side or the other side, and that's an invention we did six months ago. It was Christian's incredible brain that thought, "Hey, we can solve this. We just need to make the run course a little bit wider, put an island in the middle - it's a holding station for spectators - and then they get shifted in and out. And these are all things that we're constantly having to improve as the number of spectators grows, the number of participants grows. And I think that's our biggest challenge. It's also the biggest opportunity, right? Because if we get it right, we're truly getting it right, and I think we're gonna get right. In the eye of the athlete, we're getting an absolutely right. In the eye of us as an organisation - where we put resources, where do we put passing, where do we put resources, staffing, where do we put security - those things can improve as we try to become more efficient as well as an organisation.

Panos  57:54  
So let's talk business for a minute. Economics. How do you guys make money? What kind of money do you make? And basically, what the business model is? Again, going back to Manchester, the sold-out events you guys had in the UK were around 4,000 participants. Is that sort of the ceiling to where HYROX can be as a day event or could you potentially have a 10,000-participant event?

Douglas  58:21  
Christian is always telling me, "More is always possible." According to him, they can always be longer. We're the guys underneath it all saying "Hey, Christian, but..." that's a fun discussion because he truly believes that the sky's the limit, which I think is, also for us, really inspirational. But I think, if you look at the venue size in London ExCel, which is 15,000-16,000 square metres. We can go bigger. We can rent 20,000 square metres. We can do stuff. So yes, there is that moment. There's also a moment in capacity where we're saying, "Ok. 4,000-5,000 is a really nice number. Let's do a second day." So we will do London Olympia two days. New York, for example, we have a very small venue with a maximum capacity of 1,700. We're now at a level in New York where we sold out, for one event, 1,700 people. So yes, it's time to introduce the second day. So it's an interesting component because we still want to have that element of competition. So what we do is men's open is on Saturday, but then men's double is on Sunday so that you can have people participating in both days as an example. So we're also thinking about how we best structure a two-day event. But I think 5,000 is a really good number, knowing that a lot of venues are too small where the threshold is 2,500 to 3,500 people. So at this moment, in our ecosystem or in our economic landscape, we're averaging 2,000 athletes per event.

Panos  59:47  
And what fee do you charge for participants to enter?

Douglas  59:51  
Big difference between the US and Europe. Europe, probably, on average, 80€. US, on average, $120. 

Panos  59:57  
How come the difference there? 

Douglas  59:59  
The purchasing power in the US is significantly higher. People are willing to spend more. It's pure economics also. Our costs are obviously a little bit higher in the US than they are in Europe.

Panos  1:00:08  
Okay, makes sense. And from the participant's point of view, what am I getting for my $120? Do I get, like, the medal, the shirt, stuff, and other things? What am I getting out of it apart from obviously taking part in the event?

Douglas  1:00:22  
Just some really good race experience. Now, it's something we discussed over time and time, and we started with a T-shirt, and we started with a discount. And now, we work with the patches. We have our big championships where we also give up medals, but we really want to invest our money in creating the perfect athlete journey, right? So we rather invest in creating a better start zone, creating a better recovery area. I mean, that's got to be our focus. We obviously gave a few discounts away in our merchandising area that we do to get a referral or we do it together with Puma, but yeah, for the traditional triathlete or marathon or obstacle racing, we're not giving up free T-shirts, but we have an amazing merchandising collection. So we prefer people spending money in our shop, but that's maybe a little bit of an arrogant statement, but it's what we truly believe. We tried to keep the costs-- I think it's a fair price. €80-€100 is a fair price, definitely, compared to some of the outdoor events, and the nature of the production that we have. I think people don't realise how big the production setup is. Like, everything is own-brand. It's all, it's all really own-brand. All the barricades are custom-made in China's for easy transport, but they're also 100% in line with our brand colours. So it's really that true event experience. And I think that's what's going to make the difference over potentially a budget T-shirt. People beg to differ in that topic and I'm also happy to be challenged by your listeners, if we should be giving out free T-shirts.

Panos  1:01:47  
No, actually. I mean, first of all, you should definitely-- this is my opinion. You should definitely not be giving out budget-anything because I'm on the receiving end of budget T-shirts in some races I enter. And to be honest, all that happens with those T-shirts is they go into the bottom of my drawer and I never see them again. So giving away budget-anything is not the right way for you guys to do it, particularly for a brand like HYROX where, like, the brand, the visuals, everything you do, sort of has that upscale feel to it. Giving away budget-anything is not necessary. And anyway, lots of people, lots of races as well are moving away from, like, giving out a tonne of swag. There are lots of alternatives like Trees Not Tees, I keep mentioning, where people forfeit the T-shirt in favour of something a little bit more sustainable. So it definitely makes sense and it's the kind of race where people would look to go and perhaps purchase a nice merchandise option on the side that they can wear in the gym quite proudly, which is great. And I do agree that the fee generally is very reasonable. It's sort of around the half marathon, kind of, like, cost comparing it to a running event, and you get lots of stuff. I'm sure people don't overlook your participants-- how expensive it must be to set out the course like London ExCel, which is a fantastic venue. It's the only one I know personally. So yeah, it's definitely not cheap. In terms of the spectators, I know there was a-- going back to OCR again, there was a little bit of a trend a few years back to start charging spectators to come and attend Spartan Races, for instance. Is that something you guys do for spectators or maybe have a plan to do in the future?

Douglas  1:03:43  
Now, we move to paid spectators since COVID. It is a revenue but, obviously, the revenue potential is limited, but revenue is revenue. Also, it was a chance to get people into the marketing funnel. Obviously, with COVID, there were a lot of other compliance issues. So all in all, it made sense to move to a minimal fee. It's 7€, 50€, 10€. I mean, it's minimal. We're obviously working hard to improve the spectator experience. We do believe that moms and dads and kids just love coming to the event to watch their loved ones participate. I think that's the beauty, at the end of the day, of the energy that we're creating. So we're building grand stands - for example, a grand stand around the global station - which can host up to 600-700 people sitting there enjoying the experience. So once again, we're seeing it as a revenue line but, at the moment, it's absolutely an investment side for us to increasingly improve the athlete experience. It's not easy in big venues like London ExCel where we're having to deal with a lot of catering contracts and we cannot just bring in our own food sponsors and create, like, a healthy food court or the things that we really want to do, and that will probably take a little bit of time before we find the exact show right content for spectators. But, at the moment, our spectators are loving the fact that they can see you race for an hour and a half and really be at the point of sweat and see you suffer and see you laugh, see you cry, and be there at that moment when you finish, which I think is, probably, the most important part of this whole journey because I think that emotional connection at the finish line is what gives me, probably, the most goosebumps of delivering these types of events.

Panos  1:05:20  
And again, I keep making these comparisons also for some of our listeners, which I'm sure have the same thoughts in their heads, between HYROX and the kinds of events we're more familiar with like marathons and stuff. I know that when I go and sign up for a marathon, we have a plan with my wife. You're going to turn up in three points, and then she gets the car, all the roads are closed, you jump on the underground, and you have to move around and all of that stuff whereas with HYROX, everything is just there, right? I mean, your family can be there and they can be watching you do the whole thing within a few dozen metres.

Douglas  1:05:59  
Yeah, I know. My wife did the Chicago marathon this year and Chicago marathon is actually quite unique because you have a lot of bridges that are quite close to each other, so we could pick her up quite a bit. I took my parents with me to the finish line or a mile away from the finish line, and she said that she finished, like, 55 minutes ago. Where is she? Did something happen or her telephone battery's dead? Like, is she okay? You're, like, in this mindset of-- so that doesn't happen at HYROX. You're right there when the tears and the smiles come out at the finish line. It's also why we have the recovery area and the ability to just be with friends and family, which I think is what we all do. We don't do it for them, but it's nice that they can be part of that journey as we dedicate so much time to running, we dedicate so much time to training. But it's a marathon or triathlon or a HYROX in that matter, so I think it is a really important factor of the success.

Panos  1:06:50  
Speaking of the success of HYROX, which has really been, sort of, exponential, you mentioned earlier how many new countries you're opening up and all the types of different events you're doing globally. I'm guessing, like, the actual HYROX organisation is not financing all of that growth? Like, do you use franchisees for some of these events or do you actually put on every single event yourself around the globe?

Douglas  1:07:16  
No. So we have obviously moved to a franchise model in order to accelerate growth because we're a 40-people organisation. We've identified the core markets that we want to own, which is the US, which is the UK, which is DACH. We have joint ventures in certain markets where we take a little bit of combined risks, and we've taken other markets where we believe other people are able to accelerate the business quicker, they have boots on the ground, etc. So Spain was our first licensee, as we call them, that have their own equipment sets. So they invested in, literally, the same setup that we have, and they operate completely independently. Obviously, we have our back-end support using the same ticketing system, the same timing, etc. But they literally execute our event manually. They obviously have their own strategy in marketing and sponsorship sales. And now, we're obviously finding more and more strategic partners around the world that can tackle multiple territories. So we'll probably have one partner in Eastern Europe that can take the Baltics and that area. We can have one in Hong Kong at the moment. We had our first-ever event in Hong Kong. They invested in their own set. That set can now go to multiple countries around Asia. We'll probably have a set in Australia. We'll have a set in South Latin America, probably in Mexico. At the moment, with one set in Europe, we're doing 29 events, which is probably the bare maximum as our colleagues are travelling from weekend to weekend, which is strenuous. In the US, with one set, we're doing 11 events, so we could probably do Canada on top, but the biggest investment is them literally buying the HYROX production. And then, we're trying to grow as rapidly as we can. That's why we believe we can be at 100 events next year and 200 events within three years, which could get us close to 400,000 athletes, which is-- I cannot compare this platform to IRONMAN, but I think that's a significantly higher number of athletes than IRONMAN, as an example.

Panos  1:09:15  
Out of curiosity, what does a-- I guess, by set, you mean all of the stuff you need for an event, right? The bits that travel around from one event to the next. Like, roughly, what kind of order of magnitude are we talking about to purchase a set like that?

Douglas  1:09:32  
You're probably talking about 250,000€ just in branding, finisher stage, and start tunnels - everything that's related to the look and feel of the event that is excluding all the fitness equipment. Fitness equipment is obviously a commercial relationship or can be a commercial relationship with brands like Concept2, but it's also not always the case that Concept2 is giving us endless free products as we grow exponentially. So you could probably think about another significant investment just on having 60 rowers, 60 ski ergs. I mean, we all know how much the price of steel is, but we're having tens and tens of kilogrammes of weights being shifted around, so that's a massive investment as well. We've now actually started producing our own equipment line for the weights, which is then something we purchased directly from the factories in China. We build out our events and we also sell that equipment to gyms, as an example.

Panos  1:10:29  
And this is, now, I guess, where things business-wise start getting really interesting for HYROX, and this is where the business model potentially can go much further than the business model of a traditional endurance event, which is where the training that we mentioned earlier, and the partner gyms that you guys work with come into this. Do you want to tell us a little bit about both the thinking, the vision, and the practicalities of that aspect of HYROX - all of the HYROX business outside of race day, so to speak?

Douglas  1:11:09  
I think all you of guys are very familiar with what a mass participation economic model looks like. Right? And I think Christian absolutely build it with the notion of, "Hey, this is a mass participation events business." All of a sudden, HYROX became very successful. And naturally, gyms started asking us "How can I train for HYROX", right? So this kind of grow organically. We're like, "Hey, gyms are asking us. Why don't we sell them a licence? A licence they can use our brand name, a license they can use our training manuals, a licence that we can certify our trainers to understand the movement standards and how to programme." And all of a sudden, we had 300-400 gyms signed up in Germany that paid us 750€ at the time, which was revenue that was completely unaccounted for. Obviously, it's post-COVID as we're growing our presence in more markets. Partnering up with James is absolutely key because 1) it's our biggest marketing driver because we realised that pretty much 90% of our athletes who participate are a member of a gym somewhere. So the more gyms that partner with us, the more we're tapping into our core audience, which is super, super interesting, of course. And we strongly believe that this model where we've actually been very open in our model. Unlike CrossFit where you buy the name, and then you build your own CrossFit Athens or CrossFit Amsterdammer, we're literally allowing people to integrate HYROX in no matter what type of gym you have whether you have a global David Lloyd gym or you have a CrossFit box, or you have a franchise gym like an F45. So we've really created a model that's accessible for every type of gym and every type of digital platform as well. As we know, a lot of people are shifting away from gym training and might be training at home, and have downloaded an app. So we're selling licences to digital apps that are allowed to use our name and training programmes, etc. So we truly believe now we have around 750 to 800 gyms around the globe that pay us a licence fee, that this is something that could easily tenfold in the next five years as we grow, as our events grow because there will be an absolutely organic expansion plan to our gym partnerships. This is something we're figuring out, and then the next evolution will be, "Do we start building our own gyms and build our own franchise model?" I think we're not quite there yet, but it's very interesting to see how we came from an events company to potentially becoming a global-leading fitness company, which we could have never imagined. We have all the components. We have mass participation sports events. We have an elite TV series. We have a gym programme. We have equipment. We have apparel. All of a sudden, that's like an economic system that, like I said, we could have never imagined growing organically out of mass participation. I think Ironman showed us the way a little bit, of course, in what is possible to be made on licencing or products on training programmes, etc. But I think we're taking it one step further due to the connection to gyms and physical locations.

Panos  1:14:05  
And you mentioned the TV rights there, the elite component that gets broadcast, how far have you taken that aspect of the race? Is that a big part of your revenue right now? Or what are your ambitions for the future for that - for the broadcasting element?

Douglas  1:14:22  
No, at the moment, it's a marketing driver, right? So it's an awareness play. We have a cool documentary out on YouTube at the moment, which was aired exclusively on ESPN in the US. That was our first real, a little bit more premium investment into content. We're constantly challenging each other, "Hey, what type of content do we need to create?" Because we have two things to do. We need to serve our community with great content and we need to create content that raises the awareness of the sport. We're working now with a Greek company called Icarus Production Hub that are going to help us create a little bit more awareness on, "Okay, we're going to be inserted into the Great Outdoors Sports Show, which apparently is something where Xterra are all into sports enrollment, etc. So we're gonna have a mini episode on that. We're going to have our own TV series, six episodes every month, The World of HYROX, 30 minutes, to be shared within our community, but also could be broadcasted. Let's see what the appetite of broadcasters is. It might also be shared on airline TV programmes, but it gives us a little bit of credibility. And we're building out weekly mini-episodes on the elite racing because, like a marathon, I think there's a big difference between what the community is doing into mass participation and what our top 15-30 athletes are doing. I really want to create a separation between those two aspects because the mass participation is extremely, extremely important. But sometimes, focusing too much on the elite is thinking-- Panos is thinking, "Actually, I'm not a Hyrox. That's only for elite athletes." I'm trying to really balance those two content lines out and we're building elite 15 events, with significant prize money - significant prize money being $125,000 at the Manchester World Championships this year to be shared across 30 athletes, which is absolutely not bad in the endurance sports space, as we all know. I mean, to be able to pick up $35,000 as a winner of HYROX is a nice start in the evolution of trying to become more professional, of course.

Panos  1:16:25  
And I'm sure all of this great success you guys have had so far, as happens with everything - it's happened with Ironman and obstacle racing and everything - it must have attracted some competition, I guess. What's the competitive landscape looking for you guys? Are people copying the concept or are they coming into this broader fitness racing world with their own concepts? How's that looking for you? And what do you see the challenges coming from that, now that people have realised what a prosperous position this is to have in the market?

Douglas  1:17:00  
I think it's it's great that people are potentially copying it. Right. I think it's credit to what we build and what we're doing. We're obviously very aware that Spartan with Joe De Sena have literally created something called DEKAFIT, which is, as we would say, a half HYROX. It is what it is and I think it's great for us in the sense that the more people that are enjoying fitness racing and seeing that as a terminology and a sport that they could get accustomed to and addicted to a certain extent, that's better for us, right? So the more athletes that are out there or the more competitors that are out there explaining fitness racing as a concept, that's great for us because that's the difficulty we had in the first two years. What is HYROX? What is fitness racing? What is a fitness event? It's not like we could just throw an ad on Instagram and go, "Hey, sign up now for a 5K marathon or sign up for a triathlon." These people know what that is. We were literally having to explain, as we did in this podcast, what actually is HYROX. And obviously, the more that becomes mainstream, the better it is for us. Obviously, our core challenge is to make sure that we're the Champions League of fitness racing, which is the most premium event, the best global community, the biggest global footprint, and the best athlete experience with then the medialization components. I do think we are ahead of the game due to the investments that we've made and where we are as an organisation from logistics, to marketing, to the community of 90,000 athletes. I hope we have a bit of a head start. But never say never. there's always competition around and I think we just need to be working extremely, extremely hard to make sure that we always deliver a great event experience and I leave it up to the other people to do what they need to do, and if we're all successful, even better. If a few survive, a few don't, that's also part of business, right? We've seen a lot of triathlon series come and go. The Ironman is being challenged left and right as well, but Ironman has been there now for probably 30 years. So I hope that HYROX and fitness racing is going to be there for the next 30 to 40 years as well.

Panos  1:19:07  
Well. Spartan is an interesting player to have come into this - a bit of an obvious one. I mean, I think a couple of years back - two or three years - they also started their own trail running series. So they're going into trail running, which is growing very fast. They're going into this area, which is also growing very fast. And I guess the interesting point about Spartan is that-- I mean, they're a corporation now. I mean, they're big, they have investors, they have growth targets they need to hit, and I wonder whether they started diversifying into other areas because - and some obstacle course race directors listening in would probably know this firsthand-- obstacle course racing also had a huge, very steep upward trajectory for a few years and, then, it sort of, I guess, plateaued a little bit. It was going a little bit sideway - not the traditional endurance event running and stuff are not doing that. But, I guess, with obstacle racing-- I did my first obstacle races when it was very trendy to be doing obstacle races. I haven't done any since. I can't say I miss them necessarily. So I wonder, again, drawing on the parallel, at least, that exists in my mind between obstacle racing and HYROX, if you guys also feel there might be a risk of HYROX being a trend that may dissipate in the future and, maybe, in a few years time, some people would have done a few HYROXes, but then it goes back to being a more niche thing in the same way that obstacle course racing ended up being a more niche thing. Is that something that's on your radar at all? I mean, obviously, it would happen in many years. You guys are on the steep end of your growth. But is that something you guys have discussed or think about?

Douglas  1:20:52  
I think it's always good to ask that question, right? Because you have to ask that question as you're trying to build the longevity of the brand and longevity of the sports. I think we would be foolish not to challenge ourselves internally to figure out, "Hey, how do we stay on top of our game and how do we make this not trend-sensitive?" And I do think that this is probably the biggest difference that the gym space is not really going to change. Gym space is only going to grow over time. Even within the gym space, we're not trend-sensitive because we're talking about common human movements that we actually truly believe that this will benefit the livelihood of people, as in they will train smarter, they will train better by having a goal to train for. I believe that this racing is there to stay because it will resonate 100% with what you do in the gym and we all know that there are hundreds of thousands of gyms out there and hundreds of millions of people that participate - the core community - and we're only tapping into 0.5% of that community. There's still so much to gain in that sense. And I do believe that OCR is a little bit more than a niche of a certain individual that doesn't have necessarily access to hundreds of millions of people. And if you maybe are them hundreds of million of people, you might be doing a Spartan Race. Once you tick the box, you never do it again. It doesn't really come back to your day-to-day life. And I think the HYROX way of training and, hopefully, fitness racing as a whole is going to be reflected in how people live and train from Monday to Friday. And I think that is, hopefully, the sticking point like running is always gonna stay around as long as people keep running outdoors because I think that's just a natural habit, which has been very stable for 50, 60, 70 years already. So that's why we truly believe that if fitness and natural movement fitness becomes more mainstream, and gyms start accommodating it more, we have a very long stable future ahead of us.

Panos  1:22:45  
So what's the future of HYROX? What kind of plans do you guys have? Is there any chance you may be adding more distances or more event formats to the race? Where does the concept go from here?

Douglas  1:23:01  
I think the concept itself-- I think we're happy with what it is at this moment. I know we talked about mainstream a lot in this podcast, but there are still a lot of people that need to learn about HYROX fitness racing. So changing too early and diversifying too quickly, I think, will hamper our ability to grow. We can, of course, in due course, introduce an endurance version or a short sprint version. We've just introduced a GoRuck division, which is the weighted vest. So a few crazy individuals, if I may call them, are putting on a 10 or 6 kilogramme vest and do HYROX with the vest, which is absolutely gruelling. So there are going to be always small alterations that we can do. We're going to be at FIBO this year, we might do a relay-only day. So obviously, there are going to be a couple of marketing angles that we want to pursue. But I think it's very important that the core product-- same as triathlon, same as marathon - that we stay true to that. The training programmes will change, the way we deliver training programmes, the way we build out our digital ecosystem is something obviously that we will invest heavily into, but I think it's very important that we just constantly improve the athlete experience at our core product. You also have to think about what impact every change has on the organisation, right? Let alone on the market. Like, changing things around, changing structures around, we're having to then inform 20 licensees to change things. I think at this moment in time, just getting the basics absolutely right while we go in this very aggressive growth plan is really important. Otherwise, you'll make mistakes on the way and you don't stay true to who you are, and I think that will hamper you. And I think we can strongly believe in the quality of our product that we don't need to make drastic changes yet to how we deliver it. So it's maybe using a little bit of common sense in that approach.

Panos  1:24:49  
That has been super interesting. I hope people find it interesting. I think today's discussion took us a little bit away from the things that would be immediately familiar to the audience of this podcast. But I think it's great to introduce people to the HYROX concept. I consider it to be part of the extended kind of, like, mass participation sport family, and I think there are lessons here to be drawn from the way you approach logistics and the business model and the ambition, and just the sheer scale of putting a completely new concept on the ground. So thank you very much for coming on and sharing this with us. Is there any way that people might be able to get in touch with you if they want to be discussing anything we may have touched on today, or maybe potentially becoming a franchisee, or I don't know what, or a partner gym? 

Douglas  1:25:44  
No, absolutely. I mean, we're open to all conversations, right? So please hit me up on LinkedIn, or And obviously, for friends of the family like Panos and all our fellow event organisers out there, I would love you guys to just come and see the event and participate. So hit me up. You are able to do it, no matter what your age is. So Panos, I will get you to the start line. And please, absolutely do so because I think we've got to spread the word a little bit. We got to bring in that endurance community more and more as well because they're a little bit afraid sometimes of the weight lifting part or the strength component of HYROX. I do think that you will really appreciate the athletic nature of the event as well as, obviously-- we've asked fellow professionals, just the way we've tried to build something, which we believe is truly unique. So any of your feedback and thoughts are much appreciated.

Panos  1:26:33  
Absolutely. I'll try for 2024. I just started on my strength.

Douglas  1:26:37  
Panos, I have bad news for you. We're coming to Greece. So there's just absolutely no way to not do it in Greece, or let alone in London. Of course, you're always welcome. 

Panos  1:26:46  
Okay, I'll do it in one of those because strength training - and I think I'm not alone in this - is something that, as a runner, I've struggled with for years. It's like the struggles people have with trying to quit smoking. So I started, then I just can't carry on with it. But now, I found a nice app on the phone that sort of, like, offers these kinds of programmes and I'm sticking to it. Hopefully, in a year's time, I should be in good enough shape to come and do it.

Douglas  1:27:13  
Well, it's 50% running, guys - that's what I keep telling everybody. It's 50% running, 70% cardio, 40% strength, and I think, us ageing men 40-plus, we're all getting told by our doctors that a little bit of strength training is going to be good for bones and muscles and all of that. So I think that's part of life as well, of course - getting a little bit older.

Panos  1:27:34  
Yeah, definitely. As we grow older, strengthening is really important. Awesome. So Douglas, thank you very, very much again for taking the time. It was fascinating. All the best to all of you guys, Christian, and the team in rolling this concept out to the rest of the world, hopefully, bringing it to a venue near every one of our listeners. And I do encourage them as well to give it a go. Thank you very much again for speaking with me today. 

Douglas  1:28:01  
Thank you, Panos. 

Panos  1:28:02  
And thanks to everyone listening in and we'll see you all on our next podcast.

Panos  1:28:12  
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on HYROX with HYROX USA & UK Managing Director, Douglas Gremmen.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about HYROX, the business of races or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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