What would it take?

The last few weeks have been really interesting. For a whole host of reasons I have managed to get out either cycling or running almost every day. This is a return of mojo like I have never experienced before. I must confess that for the last couple of years I have really been pretty pathetic, always finding an excuse for why I can’t spare the time or make the effort to get out for a run. In less than a month I have rediscovered a love of running that I thought had slipped away permanently.

How I lost my running mojo

I think that the slide started as soon as I ran my marathon PB in the London marathon in 2013. That was a glorious day. I ran 2:37:07, knocking nearly a minute and a half off my previous personal best. That year I was the 164th fastest male marathon runner in the UK. Even out of the 36,000 people who ran the London marathon that year, I would have been happy with 164th – but this is out of every result by a British runner that year. In that race I was just outside of the top 100.

The problem is that as soon as I finished I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to get back to that kind of performance again. Mrs. Freeman and I had just launched Freestak and we were already contemplating Like the Wind magazine. I felt that the inherently selfish pursuit of a faster marathon time could not be justified. We had work to do.

Immediately after the 2013 London marathon, I took off the two weeks that my coach always prescribed. I was always advised by him to do that – physically and mentally it was the right thing to do. But rather than getting to day 10 of that two week period and feeling like I wanted to get back to training, I was immersed in work and really enjoying having the time that I would usually dedicate to training for Freestak and other projects that I had put on hold.

I remember getting to the end of the fortnight’s enforced rest and thinking that I’d give myself another week. Probably the week after that I went out for a few miles easy running. It was almost out of obligation.

After a while I got back into running regularly. But there was not plan. No target.

I would go out for a run because I knew it was good for body and mind, but I found myself just running for its own sake and not to any sort of programme. That carried on for month after month.

Running, but not as I knew it

A month after I ran my PB in London, I went to Copenhagen and paced a good friend – Charlie – to his PB. Then in the summer I ran a couple of ultras – the main one being the UTMB CCC (100+km around Mont Blanc, this is the little brother race of the main UTMB). I set off with Mrs. Freeman and the intention was to run the whole thing together (she didn’t finish, which is another story for another time). It was a slog-fest (you can read about it here). I took over 24 hours. No sleep.

The following year I ran the London again – my PB from the year before had guaranteed me a place in the Championship start. But I felt like a fraud because I really hadn’t trained. My idea was to ‘run for fun’ and it was only after about 10 miles that I thought I really should try to finish under 3 hours (which I did, just). It was fun, but I didn’t get a massive thrill from running that day in 2014. And the result was totally ‘meh’.

Later in 2014, my wife and I went back to run the UTMB CCC again. It didn’t go well once again. I finished, but I wasn’t happy.

After that, I just sort of fell out of love with running.

The wilderness years

All through 2014, 2015 and last year I was feeling a nagging sense of loss: the marathon had been my obsession since my first one in 2006. Of all the running I had done, the marathon was the distance I had enjoyed the most. The challenge that I embraced the most.

I lost the training group who had been such a huge part of my life as I trained for my marathon. Some people – including my coach – moved away from London. Other seemed to give up on marathons or went to other coaches and I didn’t want to follow them.

I just sort of drifted along. Running felt pretty pointless. I have put on weight. Struggled with diet. Tried to start going to the gym (it is just not for me). I have started enjoying rock climbing and hiking and road cycling (actually that is really becoming a new obsession) but nothing has hooked me like the marathon …

Coming in from the cold

In the past few weeks – with my renewed excitement about training – I have realised that 11 years after my first 26.2 mile race, I am still in love with the marathon. I still feel the emotional tug to race again.

I have started looking at paces on the runs I am doing and equating them to the pace I would have to run in a marathon if I wanted to run a time worthy of training for. I have started thinking about how I could make the time to run if I really want to, considering that apart from work, there is not much that I would rather be doing than running. I guess my new-found love of cycling is something that could get in the way, but already I’m wondering how much cycling could become part of my training for a marathon rather than a distraction from it.

I think the improvement in the weather and the longer daylight hours is helping. I think about how I trained through winter after winter for spring marathons and I really can’t fathom how I did it with no loss of enthusiasm.

Ready for a new challenge …

So all of these thoughts have been swirling around my head for a while. I haven’t actually considered the logistics at all. Or wether my 42 years old body could handle training properly. But then again I know quite a few people who are posting really impressive training volumes and interesting results and I know they are not super-human. They are mainly just dedicated.

Sure there are a million excuses for why I can’t or shouldn’t think about trying to start training for a marathon. But why should I listen to that voice inside my (or indeed anyone else’s voice) that doubts I can or should give in to the temptation to run another marathon. Surely not being reasonable is the reason I got myself in a position to achieve one of the proudest moments of my life.

So I am going to take a bit of time. Have a think about what I would need to do to run another marathon and whether that is reasonable. I am going to research whether cycling can fit in to a marathon training schedule. And I am going to think slightly longer term than I have in the past. I probably need 6 months to reverse the loss of fitness and strength from the last 2 years.

Then who knows. I might give it one more go. I’d love to know what you think …

Hold on.

Alabama Shakes is my new favourite musical obsession. I tend to get fixated on a band (or sometimes just an album. I have occasionally ended up obsessing over a single track). I love their funky, soulful rock. And Brittney Howard’s voice … magical.

Anyway, they have a track called Hold On. It is about … well, holding on. The lyrics are;

Bless my heart, bless my soul.
Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old.
There must be someone up above sayin’,
“Come on, Brittany, you got to come on up.
You got to hold on…
Hey, you got to hold on…”

So, bless my heart and bless yours too.
I don’t know where I’m gonna go
Don’t know what I’m gonna do.
There must be somebody up above sayin’,
“Come on, Brittany, you got to come on now!
You got to hold on…
Hey, you got to hold on…”

“Yeah! You got to wait!
Yeah! You got to wait!”
But I don’t wanna wait!
No, I don’t wanna wait…

So, bless my heart and bless my mind.
I got so much to do, I ain’t got much time
So, must be someone up above saying,
“Come on, girl! Yeah, you got to get back up!
You got to hold on…
Yeah, you got to hold on…”

“Yeah! You got to wait!”
I don’t wanna wait!
But I don’t wanna wait!
No, I don’t wanna wait!

You got to hold on…
You got to hold on…
You got to hold on…
You got to hold on…

The track is well worth checking out.

But more than just the music, the lyrics really hit home with me. I am increasingly clear in my mind that the solution to most of the challenges I face and the success I want to achieve, is holding on. Also; Grit. Determination. Never-say-die. Bloody mindedness. Focus. But most of all, just holding on and keeping doing what needs to be done, over and over again.

I guess in that way, business and endurance sports share something – you need to persist to succeed. There is no overnight success – work is what is required. I love that. What it means is that luck plays only a small part. Much more important is the strength to just hold on, which comes from the belief that it (whatever ‘it’ is) will work out in the end.

So I’m going to listen to this Alabama Shakes track when I need to remind myself – you gotta hold on.

These are a few of my favourite things …

Unlike the characters in The Sound of Music, my favourite things do not include ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens’ but there are a few things that I have been consuming, wearing, playing with or working with this year that I wanted to briefly mention. This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the best stuff for me in 2016.

Running and cycling

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Soar Running

Iffley Road & Soar Running: fantastic new independent running apparel brands. There are an increasing number of small brands making a mark in the running world. These two are very different from one another, but both have the indie spirit and I really admire that. Not only do they have a great story to tell, the products are great too. I’m very excited that we are now seeing new brands emerge and I hope that in 2017 that trend continues to gather momentum.

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ashmei

ashmei: really amazing cycling and running apparel. I have long been a fan of ashmei. Since I started cycling a lot more, I have come to realise the value of top quality kit and this is top quality kit. Every detail has been thought about and the material and construction are second to none. The bib-shorts are nothing short of miraculous and the merino wool jersey is a wonderful garment. Now that the winter is closing in, the soft-shell jacket has become my go-to item for cold, sunny early morning rides.

361 Degrees: a running brand challenging perceptions. I’ve only just got my hands on a pair of their shoes, but first impressions are that they are a solid pair of everyday trainers. I run on pavement, paths and some trails in north London and these are pretty well ready to take ‘em all on. This brand has grown in the Far East and is now coming to Europe. Forget what you think you know about Chinese products – these deserve to be given a go.

District Vision: thoughtful, stylish, functional running tools for the eyes. I met one of the team behind District Vision recently and I immediately felt that this brand has the right approach to business, to running and to people. The products are spot-on – they look great and perform really well – but more than that, there is an amazing story behind them.

Ciele: caps that are great for running and that you’ll never want to take off. I’ve been a huge fan of Ciele since I discovered them a couple of years ago. The design and the way that the small team behind the brand innovates, really excites me. These are running caps that are perfect for pretty much everything. I’ve also heard that there are pretty exciting collaborations coming soon.

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Stance

Stance: the only socks you will ever need. Born in California and now taking over the world, Stance is everything you need for your feet. The running socks perform brilliantly with the added bonus that they look great. There are outdoors and cycling socks in the pipeline. I literally wouldn’t wear anything else now.

Focus Bikes: my first proper road bike still going strong. Rediscovering my Focus Cayo has been brilliant. It is getting on for eight years old now. I bought it when the Ride To Work scheme was announced and this was 1p under the £1,000 upper limit. It was described as an absolute bargain by cyclists in the know and now that I have started cycling really regularly I am discovering that it really is a great bike for someone getting into the sport. I’m so happy that it is getting a few rides out each week now.

Inov-8 Trail Talon 250: shoes built for wet conditions. A great shoe for muddy conditions from the masters of grip. Light, minimalist, flexible. And it looks good too!

Running Beyond by Ian Corless: a book that informs and inspires in equal measure. Ian is someone that I really admire – for his art as a photographer, his love of the sport and his attitude to life. He has worked incredibly hard to get his book published and it really is a master-piece.

Work

Apple MacBook Pro: the work tool that I use 12 hours a day. I upgraded my tech this year and what a revelation. My old MacBook Pro was 7 years old. It was slow and there were keys that didn’t work. It was slowing me down. This new one is a really great tool that is light enough and with a good enough battery for me to take it everywhere.

iPhone 6S: the piece of tech that I would be completely lost without. I was given the chance to upgraded my iPhone earlier this year (thank you for that Apple) from an old iPhone 4 and the difference is incredible. I live with my phone in my hand – it is essential for work and I also love using the camera for photos (especially Instagram) and video. To think about what mobile phones were 10 years ago really blows my mind!

The Stress Report by the team behind the Do Lectures: a timely reminder that as our work and lives intersect, there needs to be balance. This is a report that everyone who cares about the work they do should read. It is sometimes said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well I believe that businesses can be that village – business owners have responsibilities to the people who work together and this report should form part of the blueprint for how to build something that matters.

Radiomeuh: sounds for the office. This digital radio station has no ads and very little other than the perfect blend of (mainly) chilled music. This is the perfect backdrop for a business where deep work is essential. Talking of which …

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Deep Work by Cal Newport: the book that will convince you of the value of concentration. This book probably had the most profound impact on my thinking this year. I am massively prone to distractions (I don’t think I am alone in that – for example, some of the people I work with on a daily basis are the same). Distraction comes with the territory of being the CEO and all that entails, the person ultimately responsible for client happiness and the head of sales. But I realise that I cannot let my inbox become my ‘to do’ list. I cannot allow social media to suck up all the available time. The business needs me to concentrate and Cal Newport explains not just why, but how.

The Heretic: a mentor in my inbox. I can’t remember how I found out about Pascal Finette, but his emails about entrepreneurship and running a start-up are at times funny, thought provoking, challenging and insightful. And he has replied to many of my comments on what he has written He makes me realise that I am not alone on this journey.

Outside of work

British Journal of Photography: the best magazine I have found about the thing I love doing almost as much as work. I love magazines and I love photography. On that basis alone, this is a great title for me. It was established in 1854 and recently reinvented, so there is a great mix of history and modernity. Between the covers, there is always masses of inspiration, articles about great artists, technical advice and product focus pieces. This is the magazine that gets me fired up to make photographs. Speaking of which …

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Fuji X-Pro1

Fuji X-Pro1: my camera that I never leave home without. Since I started making photos again after a break of 20+ years, this was the camera that I really coveted. I love street photography and this is pretty much as close to a traditional range-finder as I could get my hands on. I use it with prime lenses, I love the fact that I can control all the settings manually and because of the amazing build-quality it has taken a battering and still takes great photos. The picture quality is great and it is easy to carry around. All in all, the perfect camera for me.

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Hiut Denim

Hiut Denim: exceptional jeans with an exceptional story behind them. I am really interested in the whole idea of ‘brand’ and this is one of my favourite brands in the world. Created by the same team as the Do Lectures (the people who were originally behind Howies) their mission is to bring jeans making back to Cardigan in south-west Wales. Great product and a brilliant ethos. What is not to love?

Alpkit: the stuff that makes going outside an even greater pleasure. This is another brand that I really admire. The enthusiasm from the people I have met there along with the great products they make and their approach to pricing means that I really hope Alpkit continues to grow and succeed.

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Brew Dog’s Nanny State

Brewdog’s Nanny State: an alcohol-free beer from a brand that re-launched an industry. A friend of mine said a few years ago that “we are all beer snobs now” and I think that is true to some degree. The great thing is that we can be interested in beer these days. Microbreweries and specialist retailers have allowed us to discover new beers from small producers which means that we can start to treat beer like we have long treated wine. However running a business along with other pressures means that this year I have cut my alcohol consumption to almost nothing (and for several months to absolutely nothing). So when I discovered an alcohol free beer that tastes great, I was delighted. The same has not been the case for red wine!

Meridian Crunchy Peanut Butter: crushed peanuts and nothing else. Amazing on toast. I have always been a fan of peanut butter but was put off a bit by some of the stuff that brands added (especially palm oil). So when I discovered Meridian’s range I was over the moon. It is literally a 1kg tub of crushed peanuts and nothing else.

 

 

This list is just a way of mentioning a few of the brands and products that have been part of 2016 for me. I am not overly attached to things, but I do think that a well made product or a brand with real soul is great and can make life a little more interesting. What have been your favourite things from 2016? Let me know in the comments or you can tweet me – @simon_freeman

Could this be a signal? LVMH (maybe) in talks to buy Rapha

This post is about signals. Two signals actually. One is the change of this blog from a personal obsession about running a marathon. The other is about how the endurance sports and lifestyle / fashion worlds are colliding.

First: changes to this blog

When I started this blog (initially posting anonymously as the Red Squirrel) it was because I wanted to record my attempts to change myself. From an overweight, unhappy smoker into a runner. I thought that being a runner would fix many of my ailments. I would get fitter. Be happier. Have more self respect. Look better.

Little did I know.

In fact my interest (some might call it obsession) with running has completely changed the direction of my life. Apart from giving me a love of participating in endurance sports, I have also co-founded two businesses linked to running – Freestak and Like the Wind magazine. Now, through running, I have work that I love, a circle of friends that I am so grateful for and a personal interest in sport as something to do and as a business.

The change from fat smoker to runner and then cyclist, climber, mountaineer and triathlete was charted on this blog. The development of my interest in the history and culture of endurance sports, outdoors pursuits and adventure has crept in. And now, I am going to start writing about the business side of my passion.

How the business of endurance and outdoors sports is changing

The first thing I am going to write about might possibly represent a really interesting change in the industry. It has been reported that LVMH (that is Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) is in talks to buy British cycling brand Rapha.

Now the fact that there are rumours about a LVMH x Rapha deal are just that – rumours. But LVMH has previous in this area. There is no secret that the mega-corp of luxury is interested in getting into the sports sector. Indeed as reported by Road.cc;

Earlier this year, LVMH together with the family holding company of CEO Bernard Arnault, took a stake in American private equity house Catterton, which specialised in investing in mid-market companies.

The new business, L Catterton, has investments in businesses including activewear brand Sweaty Betty and pet food manufacturer Lily’s Kitchen, while its holdings in the sports sector include compression clothing maker 2XU, the Peloton at-home fitness bike, sports drinks and supplements manufacturer X2 Performance, and the 360fly action camera brand.

And this is what is so interesting for me. Endurance sports have not traditionally been seen as sectors where luxury – or at least lifestyle – brands could play. It used to be the case that runners and cyclists wore kit that was all about function and as far from fashion as it is possible to be. Indeed the function-over-form mindset was ingrained to such an extent that there always seemed to be a race to the bottom as far as pricing was concerned. And it almost seem ludicrous to pay full price for kit, when everyone knew that at the end of the season there would be heaving bins of reduced stock that was no different from what had come before or what would come after, aside from the colour. And who cared about the colour, right?

Then over the last decade or so, the attitudes have started to change. Rapha started creating elegant (and still very functional) cycling apparel that allowed riders to express their love of cycling through the way they looked. Nike started creating running kit that looked as good as it performed – the Nike Gyakousu range is a case in point. Lululemon arrived with functional apparel that men and women wanted to wear all the time, not just at the gym. Other running brands that were as much about looks as performance have appeared; Soar Running. Iffley Road. Tracksmith. In cycling there are so many beautiful brands; Isadore. Huez. ashmei (which is in running, tri and cycling). For mountianeers and adventurers there are abundant brands that strike a perfect balance of style and function; The North Face. Arc’Teryx. Patagonia. The list goes on.

And the point is … ?

So why does all that matter? Well on a very personal front, this all means a couple of things. Firstly, I believe this signals a maturation of the endurance-sports-as-lifestyle trend. That people are looking for beautiful, stylish kit in which to do their sport has to be a good sign that they are going to continue with said sport. And that makes me very happy because I believe that the more people there are running, cycling, swimming and climbing, the better the world will be.

Secondly, as the co-founder of two businesses that need people who are passionate about endurance sports in order to thrive, the fact that mainstream brands and brand owners are looking to get in on the act is great. LVMH is a huge business – €35.6bn revenue in 2015 and 120,000 staff at the last count – and if they get involved in cycling, that is not just a signal that the sector is growing. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

So I believe that the rumours that LVMH and Rapha are in talks is great. Whether or not the whispers are true, there is no smoke without fire and it might not be long before we see other fashion, luxury and lifestyle brands getting involved with endurance sports and outdoors brands.

It might even end up the case that the MAMIL will become a fashion icon. Maybe.

A conversation and a coffee with one of my heroes.

The youngest, aged twelve, could not conceal her disappointment, and turned away, feeling as so many of us have felt when we discover that our idols are very ordinary men and women.

This quote is from Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott, 1886. It is similar to the Hollywood adage that ‘you should never meet your heroes’. I suppose we have all experienced that crushing feeling of meeting someone that we have long admired and realising that they are nowhere near as inspiring or super-human (or even just personable) as we thought they would be.

But I am a natural optimist and I still believe that surrounding oneself with great people is a sure-fire way to feel positive, get inspired and learn. And if it turns out that your hero is a let-down then it is better to know and move on than live in blissful ignorance that someone you look up to is, in fact, not nearly as inspiring as you thought they were.

I was once at a theater in London. I can’t remember what I was seeing there. What I do know is that I was leaving early. As I made my way down to the lobby of the grand old Victorian theater, the doors on the ground floor opened and Rod Stewart appeared. He looked as though he was leaving too, overcoat in hand. Moments later the doors again opened and a woman appeared. Stewart turned to see who was also coming out and she said something along the lines of:

Rod, I am such a huge fan. Could I have your autograph, please?

This was a grown-up woman. Probably in her forties. Her eyes sparkled and a huge smile on her face told me that she was totally smitten by this pop-superstar. Stewart didn’t miss a beat as he pulled on his coat;

No! You can’t have an autograph

And he walked out of the theater to a car waiting in front. What a total fucking arsehole. This was a lobby completely empty aside from me, Stewart and a fan who had left her seat early to ask for an autograph. The look on her face was utterly terrible and I will never forget that moment. She looked completely crestfallen and I hoped that something terrible would happen to the saggy-faced dickhead who had made that woman feel so small. I wanted to console her but if she knew that I had witnessed her humiliation, it might have made her feel worse.

So when I had a chance to meet one of my heroes, I really hoped that he would be as amazing and inspiring as I believed he was. Well, my story has a very happy ending.

David Hieatt is a very, very cool guy.

Why is David Hieatt one of my heroes?

14.03.12_Hiut_Denim_Factory_588_rtpI have a few things in my life that I am fascinated by; building a business; photography (especially street photography); denim culture; running; cycling; independent publishing. David is involved in quite a few of them (and a whole lot more). And it appears that my fascination with what he makes and does is not unique. Last week David sent me a pair of Hiut jeans and when I posted about them on my social channels the comments came flooding in. Here’s a selection;

“I’ve enormous respect and admiration for these guys in all their guises”

“The perfect storytellers”

“Love this company. Have you seen their year books? I have every one. Obsessed”

“I’ve been coveting them for ages too”

“They have such a good setup … a back story”

“YESSSS! I met David a few years back. The project is so beautiful. Community / social minded AND great design”

Start at the beginning

I am not sure when I first came across David. Almost certainly it was when I found out about the Do Lectures. This is a series of events that started in a converted barn on a farm in south-west Wales. The idea, according to the website, is to;

bring the DO-ers of the world together – the movers and shakers, the disrupters and the change-makers – and ask them to tell their stories. Under star lit skies, in a bind with nature, they would inspire others to go out into the world and DO, too.

The Do Lectures started in 2008. At the time I was toiling away, working for a marketing agency. I was living from month-to-month, earning and spending too much. Happily I was also starting to find meaning through running. I ran 2:51:52 at the Berlin Marathon that year. I had no idea that there was a world beyond trying to climb the corporate ladder. I spent all the money I earned to offset the pain of having to go into work to do something pretty meaningless five days per week.

At some point I am pretty sure I saw a video about the Do Lectures. It looked amazing. I realised that the misgivings I had about my lifestyle were not unfounded. David and Clare, the team behind the Do Lectures, had assembled a great cast of speakers, many of whom suggested that there was another way.

Before the beginning

Years before I stumbled into the intellectual clearing that the Do Lectures represented in the thick forest of obligation and stress that is work for most people, David had founded Howies with his wife Clare. They started the brand in 1995 and soon they were making waves as well as great clothes.

The Howies story is not all good. David subtly refers to that on the Hiut Denim website when he writes;

I learnt my lesson from the last company the importance of keeping control.

But I guess the problems that he experienced at one business are the foundations that are allowing David and his colleagues to build another business that is much stronger and resilient.

Meeting my hero

A few years ago, I started corresponding with David. It was the odd tweet initially. Then an email or two. I was voraciously consuming whatever I could that Hiut Denim and The Do Lectures were producing. There was a report called The Stress Report that I think everyone involved in building a business (not just the owner or senior managers but everyone concerned with the development) should read. I dreamed about the day that I could attend the Do Lectures in person (once Freestak and Like the Wind allow, I will be buying myself a ticket for sure!)

The Hiut Denim Grandmasters
The Hiut Denim Grandmasters

Then I had the chance to go to Bristol to speak at an adventure festival. In Bristol I was half way to Cardigan where David and Hiut Denim are based. I had the excuse that I wanted to visit a friend who also lives out that way – Chris (a great runner who works for a business taking visitors out into Cardigan Bay to meet the wildlife that lives there – check them out if you are ever in the area). So I contacted David and asked if he would be around. We agreed on meeting at Hiut HQ for a coffee on Sunday morning.

So that is how I found myself standing in front of a single storey unit on an industrial park on a cold Sunday morning, waiting for someone who from afar had inspired – and continues to inspire – me in my effort to build something.

Across the road from the home of Hiut Denim there were some sheep grazing in a field. Industrial parks in south-west Wales are not like those in north London where I live. I watched the animals work their way across the grass. Such a simple life.

I actually felt a bit overwhelmed at the time; by the struggles my wife and I are having trying to start a family. By the problems of running a business pivoting into a new area with huge promise, but not quite enough existing income to be comfortable. By my receding fitness and plummeting self-esteem. By the potential risk of driving over 100 miles to meet a man who might not be what I think he is.

The moment David pulled up in the car-park, I knew that meeting your heroes is the right thing to do. He had taken time away from his family on a Sunday morning to meet me – a complete stranger – and open up the Hiut Factory to make me a coffee.

Whilst he fired up the coffee machine (it is clearly an important part of the fixtures in the factory) David and I chatted without any awkwardness. David was interested in what we are doing at Freestak. Enthusiastic about Like the Wind. Understanding about the struggles. Encouraging about the future.

We talked about books we had read and loved. People we both admired. The greater purposes behind making jeans or connecting endurance sports brands and influencers.

Meet your heroes

All too soon we had finished our coffees and a tour of the factory. David offered to send me a pair of jeans (they are amazing – I am wearing them now as I write this). I gave him a set of Like the Wind from issue #2 to #10. We said that we would continue to stay in touch.

I had a few hours in the car driving back to London. Often I think that time in the car is completely wasted. I can’t send or read any messages. I can’t work on anything. But that Sunday afternoon was a perfect opportunity to reflect on what it means to meet people who have the power to inspire. There is a theory that each of us is the product of the people around us. Jim Rohn says that;

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Your heroes add to the equation. Pick them well because they will have an impact.

The addiction cycle reasserting itself

I have no evidence to say whether I am more or less inclined to get addicted than the general population. I used to think that I was much more susceptible than most, but that was probably me just giving myself an excuse for my vices. Now I tend to think that I am about as susceptible as everyone else – as weak-willed as the average man or woman.

Really that doesn’t matter – this isn’t about where I am on a scale. What I do know is that I am too easily addicted to certain things for my liking and I need to take steps to address this tendency.

My current addiction

Recently I have become frustrated by my addiction to social media and email. I have not measured, but I seem to be compelled to check one or both every few minutes. And I have started to understand why.

I read a fascinating article recently about reinforcement of behaviours – a nice way of saying ‘creating addictions’ – and how rewards play a big part in compelling us to click ‘refresh’ on our email accounts or ‘pull down’ the screen on social channels.

The basis of the article is that we are ‘rewarded’ when we refresh our social channels or our email inbox. And of course now we all have our emails and all the social channels on our phones – in our pockets, next to us on the desk, in bed with us – we can get the ‘hit’ of excitement that comes with a new email or an update on Facebook, all the time. Anywhere.

Distraction = Legacy Cancer

Now that I am focused on this as a problem, I am more aware of it than ever. As I write this, I have forced myself to quit the mail app on my laptop, but my phone is inches away from my left hand and the temptation to take a quick look – to see if the emails I have sent this morning have been replied to – is almost overwhelming. I feel like Gollum and his total fucking obsession with the ring.

To help with this I am reading a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport, which is all about how the act of focusing on something meaningful for an extended period in an increasingly distracting world is getting more and more rare. And as a result, more and more valuable. In the early chapters, Newport has set out, very clearly, how those of us who work in the knowledge economy are bombarded by distractions – emails, social media, instant messaging … and that in fact it is possible for people (just like me) to appear to be busy simply by reading, responding to, writing and shuffling digital messages around, which is surface or shallow work, which will not result in the production of anything meaningful.

The scary thing about all this, is that if I just keep shuffling digital messages and consuming minute snippets of entertainment, I won’t create anything meaningful. And that would be a terrible shame. In that sense, distraction is legacy cancer. If you ask a smoker, certainly in Europe or the US or Australia etc, whether they understand the risks associated with smoking, they will say “Yes”. How could they not? They will certainly know that smoking massively raises the risk of developing cancer. They smoke – I smoked – in spite of that knowledge. Perhaps they think the risks are acceptably low. Maybe they don’t believe the advice. Maybe the addiction is too strong. And the same is true for my addiction to the mini-hits of digital dopamine*. I know that distraction will kill my chances of creating anything meaningful. So I have to find a way to unleash the power of deep creative work. And to do that, I have to break an addiction. Just like I did with smoking.

I am sure there is more to come from this book. But the idea of focus – something that I discussed with David Hieatt, owner of Hiut Denim and the Do Lectures, when I met him recently – is one that I am increasingly fascinated by (more on meeting David in a future post). Of course, I think that social networks and being part of a hyper-connected world is a great thing – unlike smoking, which is ALL bad. However perhaps it is possible to have too much of a good thing and I need to create more balance in my life, with some deep work as well as shallow activity. So right now I have some deep work to get down to. No distractions for me for the next few hours.

 

 

 

* Wikipedia says: Dopamine (contracted from 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine) is an organic chemical of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families that plays several important roles in the brain and body. It is an amine synthesized by removing a carboxyl group from a molecule of its precursor chemical L-DOPA, which is synthesized in the brain and kidneys. Dopamine is also synthesized in plants and most multicellular animals. In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of reward increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity.

Stuck? Focus on the Passion (advice from an undertaker)

I woke up this morning with a topic for a blog post pre-formed in my mind. That happens quite often – my mild insomnia means that I am awake very early and I stare up at the ceiling working out the words that I am going to write, whether that is a post for this blog or one for Freestak (about influencer marketing) or a piece for Like the Wind magazine. Sometimes it is an idea for a social media post, but usually it is an idea that I know will require more words than twitter, Facebook or Instagram will allow or tolerate.

Today I woke up with the word ‘stuck’ in my head.

I feel stuck. Freestak is amazing, thrilling and hard work. And it feels as though we are constantly on the threshold of a breakthrough. At home, Julie and I have been trying to start a family and every month we’ve got everything crossed that we will find out that she is pregnant. So far, nothing. And in sport, I feel like every time I manage to drag my mojo out from its hiding place, something comes along to let it scuttle back out of sight. The latest setback is a cold that has gone on to my chest. Other problems (should that be excuses) have included a twisted ankle, the weather, mild depression, too much to do at work, insomnia… the list goes on.

So on three significant fronts, I feel stuck.

The post that I was forming in my head, as I lay in bed trying to put a positive spin on yesterday’s happenings and what I had planned for today, was about the idea of being stuck and getting stuck in. As Churchill famously said;

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

I was going to write about the importance of grit. Or of the Finnish word Sisu, that has no direct translation in English but loosely means stoic determination, grit, bravery, guts, resilience. I was going to write about the need to just keep going in the belief that eventually things would work out. Certainly I believe that a business doesn’t fail until the people in it give up. That if there is a determination to keep going no matter what, a company can always keep going – it just might be that it can’t pay people temporarily.

This being primarily a running blog, I was going to talk about the importance of consistency. Training no matter what. Just getting out there for the run. I would have written about the time that I went out for my 2 hour run on one of the few days that London was covered in snow. In order to get the session done, I found a 1km stretch of road in Palmers Green, a mile from where I live, that had been cleared and ran up and down that over and over again for 120 minutes. How in the same circumstances the great Charlie Spedding would go to a multi-storey carpark and run up and down the ramps to get a hill session done when the snow fell in his home town of Newcastle.

And then, on my way to the office this morning, I bumped into Peter. As usual, he was in front of his business, greeting locals that he knows as they hurried towards the tube station to head into work (presumably many of them just trying to get stuck in to get over being stuck).

Peter is a very successful businessman. He has a love of cars. All of them black and one of them worth more than a one-bedroom flat in London’s over-blown property bubble. Peter’s business is a funeral directors.

As is usual, Peter and I talked for a few minutes about business. He mentioned some struggle he was dealing with. We dwelt on that for a moment. He asked how I was doing. And it being so early in the morning and me being sleep-deprived, I confessed that I was struggling with a few things at the moment.

Without missing a beat, Peter looked me in the eye and said;

Focus on the passion

That was it. Bingo! Lightbulb moment! Focus on the damn passion. Get back to the reasons for everything I – we – are doing. Peter added: “I know it is hard. For a small business, you are always worried about cashflow and the future. Survival is a struggle. And that might relate to other areas of your life as well. But if you can focus on the passion, you will succeed. It is almost the start of a new month – spend November focussing on the passion. Then we’ll talk again – see how you are getting on.”

I can tend to be a bit insular or uptight about sharing problems. I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who is always moaning and complaining. Gary Vaynerchuk for one would not tolerate that.

But I am a bit stuck at the moment. And I think that perhaps I have lost sight of the whys.  The reasons for doing things have become clouded by the day-to-day pressures.

Why does Freestak exist? Because it is an amazing journey to try to build a business. Because we might be able to help people get into endurance sports and through that be better versions of themselves. Because I love people and I want to work with a team of really cool colleagues. Because I love working with my wife. Because businesses involved in sport tend to be full of wonderful people that I would love to work with.

Why do I want to be a Dad? Because I love my wife and I think that together we would be great parents. Because I am fascinated by the idea that I might be able to help a person become the best they can possibly be. Because I believe that I have much to share with – and I have more to learn from – a human being that I am intrinsically linked to.

Why do I run or ride or work-out? Because it makes me feel good. It helps me become a better person. Because it allows me to challenge myself and through challenges see that I am capable of more than I thought I was. Because of the health benefits and as my Grandad used to say, “health is wealth”.

So thank you, Peter. We hardly know each other and yet you said something this morning that instantly cut through all the noise and the fog. Straight to the heart of the matter. I’m ready for November – a month focused on the passion.

Brexit: what the future might look like

I am very proud to say that I voted to remain as part of the European Union in the referendum a few months ago. I am also happy to admit that I was utterly shocked at the result. Lesson one from the vote is that I realise that living in my bubble, surrounded by intelligent, rational, open-minded, liberal people is not representative of the entire population of the country. It is not even representative of the majority.

That realisation was a massive wake-up call. Any pride that I had in being British was washed away as I realised that the majority – at least according to the referrendum result – are not the intelligent, rational, open-minded, liberal people I thought and hoped they were. They are, in fact, people who believe what a man like Nigel Farrage says. So sad.

Anyway, now the deed is done and we are destined to see this through. We will be leaving the EU and dealing with the consequences of that. Well, those who choose to stay will be dealing with the consequences of that.

And this week, I had a little insight into what that means.

No more free trade

I have recently been in touch with a bag company called Crafted Goods. I met the Chief Designer at a trade show. I was immediately struck by the aesthetics and quality of the bags on show. More on the products in a post I am working on now.

One of the interesting things about Crafted Goods is that they are based in Colombia and Switzerland. The manufacturing takes place in South America. The CEO there offered to send me one of their bags to try and said that it would be shipped from Bogota.

Now, we live in a small world these days. DHL will collect a parcel (containing a bag) and ship it in a matter of a few days, 8,500km to London. Amazing.

However the package didn’t arrive when I was told it would. There was an unexpected delay. After a frustrating wait, the reason was revealed. The parcel had been stopped by UK customs. Before it would be delivered, I had to pay import duties on it.

I made the payment – which was a bit frustrating to be honest, but I had no choice – and the parcel eventually arrived. It had been opened by customs and (badly) resealed with HM Customs tape.

So here is the deal. If you want to send a parcel – say a birthday present – to a friend who lives in France or Spain or Germany, in a post-Brexit world you will have to declare the value and, if the customs people in whichever country you are sending it to, decide it has a value, your friend will pay the duty for it. Annoying, right?

Bigger consequences

Now imagine if you have a business that exports to the EU. Currently you pay … nothing. In the post-Brexit future, you will pay the duties that the EU decides you will pay. As a country, we export about £250bn of goods and services to the EU. Let’s write that again – £250,000,000,000 of goods and services are purchased by countries in the EU from businesses in the UK. Businesses that employ people and pay taxes. And who will be very unlikely to be able to afford to trade in that way once tarrifs are applied. After all, if you are going to buy a product or service, why would you choose the one that is 10% or 15% more expensive because of import duties.

So what will happen? Well, businesses that rely on selling to the EU, will move to the free trade area that will exist without the UK (and employ Europeans and pay taxes in Europe) and those that can’t will have to hope that the 60m people in the UK buy as much of whatever they make or do, as the 742.5m who live in the EU. Fat chance of that, by the way.

Probably most of the people who were too stupid to see this coming, don’t care. But the tarrifs on imports and exports are only part of this story.

A couple of weeks ago, my colleagues and I were able to travel to Chamonix in France for the UTMB. We had a great week there. Then one went off to Greece for a friends wedding. Another went back to the UK via Switzerland. Another drove back to the UK through France and I headed to Germany on a train via France and Switzerland.

All that could very well stop. EU countries will probably start to demand that UK citizens apply for visas to travel in Europe. No more impromptu city breaks. No more travelling to the Costa Brava if you have a criminal record (no matter how old). No more popping over to France for a bit of shopping.

Again, I guess that the tiny-minded Little Britain fuck-wits won’t care. But I do.

It was only a bag from Bogota. But this one incident has really highlighted for me, the huge potential damage that the Brexit vote will cause in this country. And I have to say that I am tempted to not stick around for the consequences.

Addictions and how easy / hard they are to break

My terrible secret is that I used to be a heavy smoker. It happens to a lot of us. In the 1990s, when I started smoking, 30% of the adult population smoked. Thankfully the minority of the population that smokes is falling, fast. By 2013 it was down to 19.3%.

But when I started, it felt completely normal. And thanks to a heady mixture of peer pressure, a burning desire to rebel and nicotine, I was soon hooked. My addiction lasted around 15 years – from the time I first tried cigarettes when I was 15 or so, until just before my 30th birthday.

The break came for me pretty suddenly. On the day before Christmas Eve to be precise. I had been out the night before drinking and smoking and when I woke up in the morning I felt truly terrible. I felt – and looked – like a fat, old man. I decided to quit smoking there and then. And I never smoked another thing.

The truth is, I found it really easy. Well, certainly easier than I thought it would be. I simply despised myself and what I had become enough that I wanted to stop smoking and within a couple of weeks, I couldn’t imagine being a smoker.

It’s not just about the cigarettes

The truth is, though, that cigarettes are not my only vice. And I am struggling with a few of them right now.

I am trying to stop consuming alcohol, caffeine and sugar, because that I what is recommended for couples trying to have a baby.

Actually, the first two are the substances that I am finding the easiest to avoid. It’s simple really to not drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Everything containing either is clearly labelled. So I simply don’t buy or accept them when offered.

The sugar is more difficult. That – as anyone who has thought about it knows – is in everything. And I mean everything. Only yesterday I picked up what I thought was a drink made of sparkling water and fruit juice (that also contains sugar, but I’m really concerned with the added stuff). But when I looked at the label, the second biggest ingredient, after water was … [drum roll, please] … sugar! Sugar is in so many processed foods that it is almost impossible to avoid if you need to eat on the go. Or use a sauce at home. Or have cereal for breakfast. The list goes on.

And sugar is also harder to avoid because it is so damn addictive. We have a lovely, innocent phrase for it – a sweet tooth – but in reality, it is a craving that is incredibly hard to ignore. And the sugar industry, like the tobacco industry, has a huge interest in people having the biggest and most numerous sweet-teeth possible. Global sugar production in 2014/15 was 175.1 million metric tons. With sugar trading at around $530 per tonne, it’s easy to see why our sweet teeth are encouraged and catered for.

The difficulty of ‘good’ addictions

One of the other addictions that I am struggling with, is to exercise. I have realised that I am somewhat caught between my innate laziness on the one hand and the darkness that I feel when I am not exercising on the other hand. As with addictive substances, exercise has the ability to make me feel great when I am doing it and miserable (guilty, depressed, worthless) when I am not. I’m addicted to the feeling of becoming fitter and – as an endurance sports fan – faster, stronger and capable of enduring longer. When my fitness is deteriorating, I feel as equally miserable as I feel high when I am training or racing.

Of course, apart from those at the very extreme end of the scale, an addiction to exercise is considered to be a good thing. Certainly my finding running meant that I replaced nicotine with endorphines and never felt the desire to go back. But when I fall out of the habit of exercising and I don’t manage to do it for a while, the downer that I feel can be pretty powerful.

The other addiction – perhaps this one could be called a compulsion – is the development of Freestak and Like the Wind magazine. I think that the hook here is that I see such huge potential in both of them and it frustrates me beyond reason when I feel as though the potential is not being fulfilled. Or at least striven for. That is why I find myself checking emails last thing before I turn the lights out and five hours later when my eyes fly open at the though that there is something I should be doing to drive the businesses on. I don’t appear to be able to switch off and at the same time, I am making myself too stressed out and tired to be as effective as I know I can be.

As with exercise, an obsession with the success of the businesses is usually considered to be a good thing. We’d probably call it being driven or passionate.

So what is the point of all this? Well, I guess I am just trying to understand what it is that drives me. I seem to get caught at times in a cycle of addiction / obsession / over-drive that means I am either incapable of leaving the thing alone that has become the object of my focus or I feel guilty for not focusing on those things. What I think I need is a more moderate approach. A middle way that means that I can do or consume the things I love in moderation, without falling into the same trap over and over again.

Wish me luck. So far my track record is poor!