The QT

Friday 19 July 2024

TernFit’s race is a marathon not a sprint

Fancy following in the footsteps of infamous Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbruk? Simon Rushworth grabs his axe and discovers more about the innovative North East start-up seeking to disrupt the fitness market
  • Completing the Great North Run inspires business combining exercise goals with fun and charity
  • TernFit aims to inspire beginners to elite athletes after overcoming its own challenges to launch
  • Founder hopes to expand into international market
a man holding medals
David Stubbs holding the suite of TernFit medals

David Stubbs doesn’t shirk the question when asked to put a challenging few years into perspective.

“It’s difficult, because you’re starting from zero,” he says. “But I wasn’t naïve to this. I knew what I was taking on.”

It’s easy to assume that David, a keen advocate for exercise as a means of bolstering mental health and wellbeing, is talking about his journey from Great North Run rookie to committed athlete.

But the founder of North East start-up TernFit — an exercise-focused business that seeks to match ambition with medals and fun with fundraising — isn’t referencing running. 

Running a business, more like.

Lamenting the slow pace of an obvious passion project, David points to the various bumps in the road that have hamstrung TernFit’s progress to date.  

“I thought I was ready to launch two years ago but I really wasn’t ready for how long it would take to reach this point,” he adds, referring to delays with website development and his determination to bring some of the UK’s biggest charities on board.

man running
David’s gateway into charity running was the Great North Run

“Now it’s about getting the name out there and building an audience. It’s a slow burn when you start from scratch but this is something I really believe in.”

David’s story is frustratingly familiar to the thousands of small business owners across the North East seeking to go from concept thru launch to a level of sustainability. 

But if the finishing line wasn’t always in sight for TernFit, David kept on going. Just like he did during his first Great North Run, in aid of the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF) based at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. 

“There’s a feelgood factor around TernFit with the charity element,” he adds. “And that’s where my own running journey started. I ran that first Great North Run in memory of my best mate and his wife in aid of CHUF and then it just escalated from there — always with that charity element front and centre.”

TernFit finally came to market in January. Its concept is simple as David seeks to ‘monetise motivation’ and set achievable targets for runners, swimmers and cyclists of all ages and abilities.

“You sign up and select a virtual challenge based on distance,” he explains. “It could be anything from a 5k to the 345-mile Viking Invasion — a route mirroring the path of Ragnar Lothbruk from Kattegat to Lindisfarne.

“You can choose to connect your challenge to the Strava app — we can track your progress and, once a challenge is complete, you can expect a medal and a printed collectors map in the post.  

“Each of our challenges is linked to a chosen charity. So, for instance, every time someone completes the Viking Invasion, Alzheimer’s Research UK receives 10 per cent of the entry fee.”

map showing route from Norway to Northumberland
Complete the 345-mile Viking Invasion route and this commemorative map — and a medal — is yours

Fortunately for those choosing to walk, run, ride or swim in the footsteps of Ragnar Lothbruk, none of TernFit’s challenges need to be completed in one go. Even the entry-level 5k challenge enables beginners to split the total distance into achievable legs.

“First and foremost this should be fun,” adds David. “I realise there are a lot of people out there who don’t get involved in organised events and yet they still like the idea of an end goal, a medal and something to show for their hard yards.

“I wanted to engage with those people and to create something inclusive. By adding a bit of adventure and benefitting good causes I’m hoping to capture the imagination of people who want to add a competitive edge to however they exercise.

“You might be an experienced marathon runner, a wild swimmer or someone who walks the dog every day. TernFit works for everyone.”

David, like most kids growing up in the North East, always wanted to be a footballer. Raised and schooled in Consett, County Durham, he was obsessed by the game and running rarely crossed his mind — unless there was a ball at his feet or a pass to intercept. 

“I was always drawn to sport and football in particular,” explains the Newcastle United fan. “That was my passion. It was never running. But I reached a point where playing football became less of a priority. Friends went their separate ways and I just wasn’t playing as much anymore. But I still needed to scratch that itch when it came to exercise and that’s when I got into running.”

The coveted Viking Invasion medal

David’s gone on to complete multiple marathons, half marathons and 10k events — all the time raising vital funds for CHUF. No surprise, therefore, that the Tyneside charity is one of six to benefit from TernFit’s first raft of challenges: Alzheimer’s Research UK, Red Sky Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Trust, If You Care Share Foundation and Young Lives vs Cancer completing the set.

“I decided to split the charities 50/50 between the North East and those operating at a national level,” he explains. “TernFit’s rooted in this region for a reason and it felt right to go down that road.”

Whether it’s the carefully considered business name — Arctic terns cover thousands of miles as they migrate to our region every year — its Tyneside base, or the fact that it shares its home with the Great North Run, TernFit is synonymous with the North East. 

And although David has already turned his attention to potentially lucrative markets further afield, he won’t lose sight of what inspired his leap of faith in the first place.

“There’s a reason why the Great North Run is the biggest and best event of its type in the world,” he adds. “It’s the people. The people of the North East are generous, selfless and inclusive and that’s the community TernFit belongs to.

“I go for multiple runs every week and there’s such a strong sense of community across our region.

“I feel supported by the running community but I also feel inspired from a business perspective. There are so many great entrepreneurs in the North East, doing so much positive work, that anything feels possible.”

TernFit launched with six challenges and six unique medals

For now TernFit exists as a side hustle. David’s day job as creative director with Newcastle-based marketing agency Allies Group opened his eyes to the potential of a powerfully branded online business but it was the passing of his grandmother which enabled a long-held vision to come to fruition.

“When my grandma passed away I was fortunate to inherit some money,” he adds. “I didn’t want it to just sit there and I’m not the sort of person who’s going to splash out on a new kitchen or bedroom.

“I wanted to use my inheritance positively. I wanted to affect some real, positive change. I’ve felt the benefit of running for so many years now and I see TernFit as a means of spreading the word.

“I’ve often asked myself why I love running so much.

“It gets rid of the brain fog and allows me to think clearly again. When I’m really busy at work, if I’ve had a stressful week, whatever’s going on family-wise, running is a reset. Even half an hour and I’m good to go again.”

As he approaches the second half of his first year at the helm of TernFit, David continues to target steady growth. Increasing monthly sign-ups will allow him to begin the development of an app and roll out a fresh marketing campaign — two priorities as he seeks to make himself heard within a famously competitive sector.

“Right now I’m shouting about TernFit to anyone who’ll listen” he adds. “Like any start-up we need a little bit of luck along the way but I’m always looking to the future and never standing still. 

David with the Gateway medal — dispatched to everyone who completes the entry-level 5k challenge

“I think there’s an opportunity to work with schools and community groups around mental and physical health and wellbeing and that’s a conversation I’ve already had with a few teachers.

“The nature of TernFit means it’s ripe for engaging and inspirational content and that’s another area of focus for the second half of 2024. I’m looking to work with creatives who can capture our blend of motivation, adventure and charitable giving.”

Having finally cleared the hurdle of coming to market — albeit more slowly than he had ever imagined — David accepts there’s no hint of the pace slackening in the weeks and months to come. 

“There’s a huge international market for what we’re doing and I do think Americans, as an example, would love the whole idea around TernFit,” he adds. “That’s something for the future.

“For now I’m a one-man band with a full-time job and just trying to develop the brand and grow our reach. If the sales — sign-ups — don’t come in then TernFit won’t last too long but I’ve been encouraged by all of the feedback so far and we’re already getting repeat business.”

Starting a new business has always been a marathon, rather than a sprint. Listen to David’s passion for his product and one thing becomes abundantly clear: TernFit’s race is far from run.

To find out about more about TernFit and to sign up for a challenge visit 


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