52Posts (vol.1): Issue #4

I had intended that I would publish one email a week for a year. I think the second email took me 10 days and since then I have been struggling to hit any sort of deadlines. Another thing to feel guilty about. But … I am still trying. And I think that is the key – just keep on going. I’m going to keep going and if I’m a bit late, so be it. But I’m going to carry on. I hope anyone reading these are enjoying them.

Business

How long do you hang on? This is an interesting question. When one is involved in a business that is trying to do something very new and different, potential clients have a natural reluctance or scepticism. Selling the thing you are working on often requires selling the concept first and then the solution. Slow-old-process. For any business owner, the question becomes one of how long you think you can or indeed should hang on. Because it is very difficult to ascertain what is the expected slow-uptake and what is a problem of product-market fit (i.e. you have a brilliant idea that doesn’t solve anyone’s problem and therefore no one will ever buy it).

I’m an avid reader of business books, including some biographical ones – the kind that business people write when they have reached a point with their business that they can look back and say ‘this is how we did it’. The problem with those books, is that they often skim over the crappy bits. Admittedly it is not fun to forensically read about how close a business came to going under. But for anyone struggling to make an idea work, it is gratifying to know that businesses and leaders that you admire have had doubts and struggles. Knowing that success is almost always preceded by failure and disappointment encourages me to keep fighting. Steve Jobs probably says this best when he explains that creating something is really hard and requires you to do the hard things for a sustained period of time. So if you don’t love it, you won’t be able to keep going.

Nevertheless, it is a regular question in my mind; how long before the world starts to realise (in significant numbers) that they need what we do at Freestak? And can we survive long enough to reach that point? I don’t think for one moment that we have a product-market fit problem in the long term (for those that don’t know, Freestak connects brands with influencers and content creators in the running, cycling and outdoors sectors). The question is how long until the market realises. Answers on a postcard (or better still a social media post or blog post) …

Running

Can I run for fun? I have posted a few times recently about the marathon-itch: the feeling that I am not quite done with marathon running. In the last couple of years it has been easy to push the thought to the back of my mind. I have not prioritised running over other things in my life – which is what I really think I need to do if I want to run to the absolute best of my ability. But in the past few weeks a couple of coincidences have made me think that perhaps I should run a marathon in 2018. The question is, can I commit to the training to run a time that would feel like I have been really stretched or should I just run for fun?

Cycling

Le Col founder Yanto Barker cycles out of a trench and up a mountain. I met Yanto Barker – former professional cyclist, turned entrepreneur, a few months ago. I was lucky to be sat at a dinner on the same table as Yanto and then had the chance to meet him at his offices, from where he runs his cycling apparel brand Le Col. I am really impressed by Yanto; he is passionate, energetic, knowledgeable and clearly a determined and serious businessman. He’s also a very talented cyclist – as this video demonstrates.

In cycling there is a concept, known as Everesting – where a rider attempts to cycle up and down a hill until he or she has climbed the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest: 8,848m. But Yanto decided to take it to another level – he was going to attempt Trenching – climbing the equivalent of the depth of the Marianna Trench: 10,994 metres.

Yanto Barker’s Trenching Challenge from Le Col Cycling Apparel on Vimeo.

Photography

Is black and white the new… erm, black? Over the past few weeks I have started to shoot in black and white on my lovely Fuji X-Pro1. I don’t know what prompted me to make the change. But I have always loved black and white photography. I think that it focuses the mind – almost pushes the viewer to use their imagination a little. And I think monochrome focuses the viewer on the details, without colour to distract. And of course, the more I learn about photography, the more I admire the greats – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand, Vivian Maier, Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Walker Evans, Elliott Erwitt, William Klein, Helen Levitt and others – and so many of these shot on film in black and white. So if I want to learn from the greats, I would like to try to shoot something like the greats. Of course, I have a very, very long way to go to being even a competent photographer. But perhaps by experimenting a bit, I can get better. Anyway, here is a photo I took in Milan on a recent work trip:

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 17.34.24

And One Other Thing

There are no maps. Great advice from Pascal Finette (AKA The Heretic). In his last email he wrote about the fact that when you are building something new, there are no maps. If there were, it wouldn’t be new.

My former boss and Mozilla’s then-CEO John Lilly kept telling folks that there are no maps. He prefaced every presentation with this warning – and the note that “your mileage will vary.”

I guess some people love that – the uncertainty of exploration. The task of making up a way forward on the fly. The lack of path to follow. Others hate it. But no one remembers the person who followed in the footsteps of the first person. Who climbed Mount Everest second? Who was the second person to find the source of the Amazon? Who followed Christopher Columbus, using his maps? No one remembers the people who followed. They remember the leaders. Because going first and doing something different is very, very difficult.

If you are interested in the philosophy of business, then The Heretic is a great read. I get a lot from his thinking and writing.

Cheering for Slomo. In the film I’ve posted a link to below, a man that everyone knows as Slomo might actually have found a way to live that we all can learn from. And it is linked – in his case – to roller-blading. I’m really struck by the idea that his theory explains why riding a bike feels so good. The same as surfing or skating or skiing. The power of effortless (or nearly effortless) acceleration on our brains. Is that why riding a bike for hours on end just feels like pure pleasure?

When Dr. John Kitchin, who is Slomo, says “The people that love Slomo are cheering for one person who got away. That escaped. And got to real freedom where he skates all day”. Perhaps there is a very important lesson in that for all of us.

SLOMO from Josh Izenberg on Vimeo.

52Posts (vol.1): Issue #3

These posts were not supposed to have a theme. But it feels as though, from time to time, certain motifs come to the fore and everything ends up with the same hue. Recently there has been a word and a concept that has been bubbling up over and over again – relentlessness.

I’m not ashamed to admit that in recent months I have been feeling pretty depressed and crushed quite a lot of the time. I spent some time trying to tease out the reasons why I’ve been feeling low. I’ve come to the realisation that there are lots of things that, cumulatively, are dragging me down. Some of them are pretty significant. Some are rather trivial. Almost all of them are interconnected.

But I have also started to realise that none of my problems are life-threatening. And most of them just require some grit and determination. So that is what I am going to apply. I am going to narrow my focus and I am going to become relentless in getting things done. Because action is the answer and action is its own reward.

So without further waffling, here is email #3 of 52. I’ve had to knuckle down to get this done but as a poster that we have in the office says … “Done Is Beautiful”

Business

Adapt or die. Freestak is a new business that operates in a very nascent marketing sector – connecting brands with cycling, running and outdoors influencer and content creators. We are trying to facilitate something that 90% of the brands in our target sectors have never done. Or at least they have not done it in any meaningful way. We are pioneers, at the forefront of something that is misunderstood, badly done and a threat to the status quo. And as such it is a scary, challenging place to operate.

But. The reason we are here is that there is everything to win. There are no blueprints for what we do. We are having to work out what our clients want and need (often two different things that clients don’t understand themselves) and we’re working out how to deliver value when there is no benchmark.

One of the things that keeps me going is that we are finding more and more brands that understand that if they don’t adapt (their marketing), they will die. Working with brands that understand that, is really incredibly exciting. We need more brands that are the equivalent of Billy Beane!

The Heretic strikes again. There are a few email newsletters that I love receiving (anything from Hiut Denim or the Do Lectures, anything from L2 or Professor Galloway, emails from Alpkit or Patagonia) and chief amongst them are the emails that come from the Heretic – Pascal Finette. I would say that at least three-quarters of the emails he sends relate exactly to me and sometimes they arrive at exactly the moment that I need them the most.

Today’s email was entitled ‘Do The Right Thing (And Earn Your Thank Yous)’ and it was a good reminder that the best route to building a successful business and achieving our goals, is to remember that:

Doing the right thing will lead to profit. It does not work the other way around.

Pascal signs off with this: “Focus on two things – Doing the right thing and creating something which makes your customer want to say thank you.” Everyone at Freestak needs to absorb that and make it core to what we are doing.

Running

Why running is more important than sleep. Last week I went to Italy from Sunday morning to Tuesday evening. I was working with a new Freestak client (announcement coming soon). I spent most of Sunday travelling, with a little bit of time in Milan city centre taking some photos. And on Sunday night I had dinner with the client. It was midnight by the time I got to bed. But I really felt that I would benefit from a run, before a long day of meetings on Monday. I set my alarm for 6:30am, determined to run, even if it was only half an hour.

It was still really dark when I got up. And in the slowly brightening dawn, I could see that the countryside as far as I could see was cloaked in thick fog. Still, I was awake and I knew that if I didn’t run, I would be unlikely to manage to run on Tuesday or Wednesday (my diary was really packed for both days – one in Italy and one back in London). So I went. Truthfully, it was pretty horrible: it was cold, dark and foggy. I had no idea where to run, so I ended up sticking to some pretty uninspiring roads, with industrial buildings looming out of the mist. And I was tired.

However, the run was done. And this is the lesson that I need to teach myself. A bad run is always better than no run at all. Very often at the moment, I end up wimping out because it is cold / wet; I’m too tired; I feel too stressed; etc. But I need to become much more relentless about going out. I know that once I get into the rhythm of running regularly, it will become habitual and I’ll go without thinking about it. So here’s to prioritising running over sleep – I know it will pay dividends.

Cycling

Dusting off the Condor. Despite not classing myself as a cyclist for many, many years, I have still managed to acquire three bikes. A Trek hardtail mountain bike that I bought with a bonus I received ten or twelve years ago. My beloved Focus Cayo road bike. And a steel Condor Pista single-speed bike. Now, I am not going to suggest that I have a favourite – they all have very different purposes so it would be like comparing apples and oranges. But I will say that the moment I rode the Condor for the first time, I was in love. It is an incredibly simple bike to ride. It feels like it was made specifically for me – the fit is incredible. The steel frame is so comfortable that in comparison to my road bike, I feel like I could ride the Condor for ever and never suffer.

But recently I have not ridden the Condor. Probably not for months. To the point that both tyres were completely deflated when I checked last night. Part of the problem is that I commute about 800m to work, so there is no need to use the bike. If I go for a long ride I use the Focus, especially because that is what I am training to be able to ride faster and further. And if I go in to town, I usually take public transport. So the Condor hung on the banisters and collected dust.

Last night I had an errand to run. OK, I was actually picking up fish and chips for dinner. And I thought I’d ride – it is too far to walk back from the decent fish-and-chippery without ending up with cold food. I put some air in the tyres and jumped on the Condor. Within two pedal strokes I remembered how I love that bike so much. So I am going to try to find opportunities to ride single speed as much as possible. Maybe I’ll even ride the bike for some training rides. There is a purity to just pedalling without dozens of gears that must be great training. I’ll let you know.

Photography

Milano for a few hours. As I mentioned earlier, last week I flew to Milan for three days with a new client. My flight was at 7am on Sunday morning, so I had a very early start. But I was not required to meet the client until the evening for dinner on the shore of Lake Garda. So with the weather set to be really lovely, I decided to head into the centre of Milan, drop my bags off and take my Fuji X-Pro1 out for a few hours.

I have definitely learned that the way I am going to become a better photographer is – partly – by taking more photos. That way I can become better at the actual use of the camera I own, as well as experimenting with different ways of shooting and, perhaps, develop a personal style.

The first thing I decided was to shoot in black and white. I like B&W street photography and I think that it means I have one less thing to worry about. Apart from anything, shooting in black and white means that the editing is much simpler. And I know that complicated editing means I sometimes take photographs that I can’t find the time or energy to do anything with.

After that first decision was made, I thought I would head right for the middle – around the Duomo – and just start shooting people. As a heavily tourist-y area, it felt much less intimidating to be pointing my camera at people. And even the fact that I am a foreigner emboldened me.

I had a couple of hours. In that time I made around 120 photographs and I think two or three of them are OK. But most importantly, I have taken more photos and learned a bit more about how I prefer to take photos and what I want to shoot. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to a city where I can find some time for street photography.

And One Other Thing

Good Strategy and Bad Strategy. I have recently started reading a book by Richard Rumelt called Good Strategy Bad Strategy. It was given to me by a colleague. And from a Freestak perspective, it is a very interesting and useful book. I was recently talking to someone I know who owns a PR agency and he agreed with me that having a plan (which comes from having a clear strategy) is like lifting a huge weight off your shoulders. Suddenly you are not worrying about how to deal with enemies numerous, and often unpredictable, without a battle plan. Now you have a clear way forward. It might turn out to be the wrong way, but at least you have a direction.

As in business, so in life. Reading this book has really made me think that every aspect of life needs a strategy. The book describes strategy as a way to tackle a clearly defined problem. In business that is undoubtedly crucial. But I’m becoming convinced that it is true for everything else as well: health, relationships, personal wealth, the environment, education. Everything. In all these aspects of life and more, drifting along will not get you to the end destination that you want. To get where you want to go, you need a strategy. And from your strategy, you can develop plans that you, or other people, can implement. Certainly working out the right strategy is hard. That is why good strategy is so rare. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

52Posts (vol.1): Issue #2

The difficult second album blog post. Well, I have decided already that the first of my posts was too long. Apart from anything else, it takes a long time to write a couple of thousand words. And apart from a couple of people, it is unlikely to be read. So I’m going to be more succinct from now on. Anyway, on to …

Business

adidas and their PR efforts. This might be a coincidence but adidas seem to be having a very good time from a PR perspective. We have many magazines in the house that I always dive straight into as soon as they arrive. Amongst them are Wired UK and Monocle. Both of them this month have hefty pieces about adidas, focusing on the revival of the business through design and the technology they are using in footwear manufacture. Hats off to whoever is getting those pieces sold in to journalists.

China is leading but people want to be in the US and Europe. I love Professor Galloway and everything he produces at L2. I definitely advise you to sign up to his newsletters. In this video he talks to NYU professor Clay Shirky, author of Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream about the differences between China and the US. Mainly from the point of view of business and particularly payment systems. What I found really interesting is when – about 16 minutes in to the video – they talk about Chinese students, studying in the US and wanting to stay there. Despite the fact that the majority of opportunities are probably in China. What is it about the US and Europe that means that bright, ambitious people from growing, optimistic, exciting economies (which the US and Europe do not have to the same degree) want to spend their lives there?

Running

From hero to zero. And back again. I have been thinking a lot recently about whether I can get back to running the way I was four years ago (the year I ran my marathon PB). I had an idea to challenge myself with my own person ‘two-forty-something while I’m forty-something’ That idea has not quite gone away yet. I keep looking at 6’29” per mile (the pace for a 2:49:59 marathon) and thinking that looks pretty daunting. But then if it was easy, what would be the point.

I know that they key will be finding some consistency. At the moment my training is all over the shop – 5 runs one week and then 7 days of no exercise, followed by a weekend with 150km of cycling and then nothing again. I need to slowly work running back in, so that I am running 6 days per week. Then add in a couple of double days. Make three of the runs sessions and one of them a long run. Squeeze out a bit more speed and a bit more mileage. Et viola! We’ll see I guess.

Cycling

Tour route revealed. ASO, the company behind the Tour de France, have announced the route for 2018. And Team Sky – with leader and 4x winner of the tour, Chris Froome – like it. Back is the iconic climb up Alp d’Huez (this BBC film is a brief little history of the climb, recognising its importance in the race over the years). Commentators are saying that despite being a relatively short Tour – a mere 3,329km – it will be one of the toughest. There is even a stage with 22km of pavé. Froome himself says that winning a fifth tour will be a big ask, but then what is new about that. And Cavendish – who is trying to match or exceed Merckx record of 34 stage wins (Cav is on 30 right now) has described the route as “brutal”. Let’s give the last word to race director Christian Prudhomme “We especially wanted to emphasise stage variety and the routes that may prove decisive, whilst combining legendary climbs with brand-new ascensions or ultra-dynamic formats, to provide a vision of modern and inspired cycling”. From 7 to 23 July next year. Personally I can’t wait.

Photography

Photoblock. One of the great things about living in London (which I will miss when we leave!) is the plethora cultural opportunities that exist. Take Photoblock for example. For a week the old Truman Brewery is filled with not one but five or six different photographic exhibitions. All for free. This week has been very busy and on Sunday I flew to Italy for three days on a business trip (few hours in Milan on Sunday for some street photography – I’ll take that!) That meant I only had a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon free. But that was enough time to get super-inspired by all the amazing work that people are doing. I love seeing other photographers’ work. It is really inspiring and educational. I especially love trying to work out why a particular photograph appeals to me and how the artist managed to create it. If you get a chance to visit Photoblock next year, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And One Other Thing

Recent REI videos are next level. In case you don’t know, REI is an outdoor retailer in the US. Actually, scrap that – REI is probably the outdoor retailer in the US. Which almost certainly makes REI the outdoor retailer in the world. Happy to debate that.

What is really interesting is how REI is tackling some very, very important issues through videos they are creating. Two videos in particular have really grabbed my attention: this one about skier Caroline Gleich and this one about ultra runner Mirna Valerio. Both are pretty shocking and uplifting and thought provoking. Please take the time to watch them.

What I am really impressed with is the fact that a retailer is taking a stance about issues that it obviously believes are important. There is no need for REI to put itself in the firing line. No need to stick its neck out in this way. The team at REI could simply focus on creating beautiful content and no one would criticise them for that (indeed just doing that would, I would argue, put them in a very, very tiny minority of businesses that are creating content that people want to consume and share). But obviously doing something that could make a difference is obviously important to REI. Perhaps more important than selling more gear. I can’t be cynical about this – it is too well done and too important in the wider debate that needs to be had about body shaming, trolling and online bullying. Hats off to REI.

52Posts (vol.1): Issue #1

This is the first of 52 posts that I am going to write. The plan is one a week for the next year (that will be volume 1). I’ll be posting about four important areas of my life: business; running; cycling; photography.

The common theme with all of the above, is that I have a huge amount to learn and a fascination (actually probably an obsession) for all four that fuels my desire to get better at them. So I study and practice as much as I can. I believe that through hard work, persistence and luck, I can get better at these areas. And I want to share what I learn and discover as I go.  I also would like as much feedback as possible, so if you have anything to say or share, please let me know.

Business

Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore. I read business books more than any other subject. I can’t remember the last novel I read. But it is rare that I read a business book that seems to talk so directly to what we are doing at Freestak. I’m actually a bit embarrassed that I didn’t discover this book earlier.

The edition I have in by bag is only 240-odd pages, but it is pure business-sense gold. From describing a challenge that I knew we were facing and didn’t know why (the ‘chasm’) to proposing a very clear plan of action, that we have now started implementing at Freestak, I believe this is one of the most important and useful books I have ever read. Full stop. If you are involved in a tech start-up that is trying to make a dent in the universe (thank Steve Jobs for that little image) and you haven’t read this book, then you really should get a copy.

Running

Berlin Marathon 2017. I don’t think I will ever stop being fascinated by road marathons. I constantly feel the tug of wanting to train to run another one myself (in fact my friend Charlie Dark really pushed my buttons recently and I am seriously considering whether I can get in shape to race a marathon at the end of next year).

As much as I love running marathons, I equally enjoy seeing other people tackle them or learning about how runners in the past raced the 26.2 mile distance. So watching the Berlin marathon unfold a couple of weekends ago was a treat.

There were so many aspects of the race that I was fascinated by. In the end Eliud Kipchoge won in 2:03:32. That is just 36 seconds slower than the marathon world record. I think that having won 8 out of his last 9 races Kipchoge is definitely amongst the best marathon runners the world has ever seen. This race really showed Kipchoge’s class. Following on just a few weeks after running 2:00:25 at the Nike #Breaking2 event, Kipchoge could have been excused for feeling a bit knackered. But from the very outset when Kipchoge asked for splits from the lead car every 200m for the first 2km and every 500m thereafter, there was a sense of intent. He also showed an incredibly human side when, at one point during the race, Eliud told one of the other runners, Guye Adola, that he should follow the blue line to run the shortest distance. Then when it was just Adola and Kipchoge left in the race, Adola surged and took the lead at 36km. Kipchoge didn’t panic, he simply continued to run his race and within a couple of kilometers he had closed the gap and then went past the younger man.

As he ran the last 1,000m towards the finish beyond the Brandenburg Gate, in the pouring rain at something close to 4 min/mile pace, Eliud Kipchoge was smiling. Incredible and inspiring to watch.

Cycling

Saxo RLAP and L’Etape London from Human Race. My Dad was the person who made sure I could ride a bike. I have vivid memories of him running next to me while I was learning to balance on two wheels. After that I always had a bike – goodness knows how my parents afforded it. But there was a BMX for Christmas one year. Black and yellow. It was called a ‘mud cruncher’. I loved it.

But once I went to university aged 18, I lost my love of cycling until I was in my 30’s. Then I found two wheels was a great way to get around town, so I bought my beloved Condor Pista. And then in the last 18 months, I have really started getting into road cycling.

I had lost touch with running after my last London marathon in 2014. I needed something else. And long rides on a road bike seemed to fill the gap. I somehow found myself invited to be part of a programme called Ride Like A Pro organised by Saxobank. They kit out a team of 40-odd ‘friends’ of the bank and provide training over the summer. The aim is taking part in a big sportive. This year the target was L’Etape London organised by Human Race (now part of ASO, the owner of the Tour de France).

The SaxoSport team were all training for the long route – 190km – although on the day some of the team dropped down to the medium or even the short route. Less said about that the better. As  I stood on the start line, I was feeling more than a bit nervous. Training had been going OK, but very patchy and I had not ridden more than 100km in one go for months. I knew that the big ride would be difficult. In the end I got what I was looking for: 155km with a group of fellow Saxo riders. A few of us took turns on the front. The majority just sat in the whole time, but I was determined to get the full experience and take turns on the front. And then, after 6 hours, the metaphorical wheels fell off. I bonked. Met the man with the hammer. Truth is my lack of training caught up with me like the minute man catching the rider in front in a time trial. I went from OK – hanging on – to completely blowing. The last 35km were just a matter of turning the legs and looking for the end. Lesson learned? Simply that if I am going to ride those sorts of distances, I need to train more. But I knew that already, didn’t I?

The Climb by Chris Froome. In the hope that reading about great riders would somehow make up for a pathetic lack of training, I picked up a copy of Chris Froome’s autobiography. I started it one night when I was feeling utterly knackered and I barely got to the end of the first page before I realised I had not been taking in the words. I put the book down and fell asleep. But picking The Climb up again yielded a treat. Froome’s story is really impressive and David Walsh’s writing style (he is the ghost writer) is quite different from anything else I can remember reading. It certainly feels as though Froome has put a lot of himself into the book, being very open about some of the lows and frustrations he has felt in his cycling career. Obviously the book is now out of date, being published in 2015, but the back story is the meat of the book and that has not changed. The more recent successes are missing, but we know about them, don’t we. So I think this is well worth a read if you are a fan of cycling and biographies. Chapeau, Chris Froome.

Photography

Copywrite laws and Unsplash. It is often said that a picture says a thousand words. It can also cost a thousand dollars. And there is a reason for that. Photography is art. And the artist deserves to be paid for their work. But we live in an age where the image is seen as commoditised to the extent that it has no cost. Note, I do not say no value, because every image has value. But so many people forget that every image is owned by someone and as such they have the right (whether they choose to exercise it or not) to charge for the use of that image. This reality (and the emergence of software to police the use of images) also creates an opportunity. There is clearly demand for free images and this is something that Unsplash has decided to address. Unsplash is a website full of images that anyone is free to use for anything they choose to. There are no limits. Obviously it is important to credit the photographer, but there is no need to pay them. I’m going to use Unsplash or my photos for each of these posts.

I have uploaded images to Unsplash – you can see them here. Although I must confess that I have used a lot more than I have contributed. I need to upload more pictures to redress the balance. So if you love photography, join the party – give and take in equal measure. It’s the right thing to do.

Photoblock at Truman Brewery in London. I love seeing real photographers’ work up-close-and-personal. So I am really excited that Photoblock is back on. Last year I went and I absolutely loved it. There is a prize for press photography again, which I found captivating last time. I will be going a few times if I can make it down there. Details here.

And One Other Thing

Stance adventure socks. Complete disclosure – Stance is a client of Freestak. But that doesn’t detract from that fact that I love their socks. In fact, it was because I loved their products so much that we ended up working with them. Stance started out as a lifestyle sock brand (and their lifestyle socks are really the most amazing things you can put your feet into). When we got to know them, they were launching a performance range of socks and at Freestak we have been mainly working on their running range launching into Europe. But they are nothing if not a creative, growing business and they now have an Adventure Sock range. And let me tell you … they are sweet! I have only recently started wearing them and I’m kicking myself for not getting involved earlier. They feel and look absolutely incredible. The first time I wore a pair, I remembered a hike that me and my wife did in the Alps. One of the days ended in Zinal, Switzerland. I was wearing some crappy, cheap thick hiking socks that I had bought because they were in the sale. After 10 hours or so walking I was in so much pain, I literally dropped my pack and sat on it while my wife went to sort out accommodation for the night. I had to borrow trainers from the person whose house we rented because my feet were in such a state I couldn’t put my boots back on for 24 hours. I know that if I’d had Stance Adventure socks, I would have been fine. I’m going out on a limb here, but I really think that hiking will – for me at least – never be the same again.

Remembering Alex

One of my friends I have known for the longest time is Tom. He is a phenomenal person – a father to two wonderful children, that I am privileged to know. A husband to a wonderful woman who I am lucky enough to call a friend. Tom is an entrepreneur, a musician, a surfer. And more than anything he is the most supportive friend I could hope to have. I could write a whole post about him.

But this is not about Tom. This is about his sister Alex.

Now I have to admit that I did not know Alex all that well. Tom and his older brother had three step-siblings and Alex was one of them. They are younger, so that is probably why I didn’t get to know them well. But I have been to many of Tom’s family occasions to have met Alex quite a few times.

She immediately struck me as a quiet, shy and yet hugely friendly girl. She was – like all of her siblings – talented and creative. But modest and humble with it.

So it was a real shock when Tom told me one day that Alex was sick. She had cancer. I guess when he told me that, Alex would have been 20 or 21 years old.

As the years went on, Tom would update me on how Alex was doing. I seem to remember there being some better times. And some times when the news was bad.

And then suddenly last year the news got a lot worse. Tom and all of his extended family were coming to London where Alex was in hospital. She was sick and getting sicker. Eventually Tom told me that the doctors were of the opinion that there was nothing more they could do for Alex.

She was 27 years old and she decided that there was no more treatment that she wanted to go through. She would just face what was coming.

Alex passed away last year, in December.

There really isn’t much that can be said about the death of someone so young, talented and loved. There isn’t anything that can sugar-coat the loss that her family feel. But perhaps there is a little something that a few of us can do to try to help ensure that future Alexs have a better chance of beating this disease.

That is why three of my closest friends – including Tom – and I are cycling to Paris and hoping to raise some money for our efforts along the way. So I am unashamed in asking you to consider a donation – anything at all that you can – for the charity that Alex herself supported. Click here and please support the fundraising effort. 

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.

Looking at indie sports magazines through the lens of a Monocle

Midori House - nondescript outside, wonderful inside.
Midori House – nondescript outside, wonderful inside.

Last week I had the opportunity to do something that I have wanted to do for quite a long time: to see the inside of Midori House, the home of Monocle magazine and Winkreative, two businesses that are headed up by Tyler Brûlé.

I actually had the opportunity to meet Tyler many years ago when he was still running Wallpaper magazine and Winkreative was just getting started. My girlfriend at the time was working for Tyler on a project and I lent a hand, so there were a few trips to his offices, just off the Strand at the time.

But for quite a while now, Tyler and his team have been in Marylebone in Midori House.

I have admired what Tyler has built for as long as I have known about him. After Wallpaper, which was never really my thing, I was delighted to discover his next title: Monocle magazine. Every month I impatiently wait for it to be published and really enjoy the mix of content.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 19.40.47
Tyler Brûlé

Part of the Monocle publishing empire are a number of radio shows, covering subjects as diverse as entrepreneurship, foreign policy, finance and independent publishing – the latter radio show is called The Stack and it has become my favourite Monocle24 show since launching Like the Wind.

So I was really delighted to be invited to be part of Monocle24’s The Stack looking at independent sports and fitness titles.

Midori House is everything I expected of the HQ for Winkreative and Monocle – behind the fairly bland exterior are achingly cool offices and a waiting room that is as fitting for the businesses that it represents as it is possible to be.

After a brief wait, during which I browsed the Monocle books on the shelf in the reception area, I was joined by Andy Waterman, the editor of Meter magazine (published by Tracksmith, the running apparel brand). The two of us were shown through to the recording studio and Tyler jumped up to greet us and make us feel at home in what he clearly understands could be an intimidating environment. The studio is very dimly lit, with no windows, save for one that allows the production team, in the next room, to look in on us. Andy and I had a microphone and pop filter on the table in front of us. Tyler sat to the left of me, at the head of the table, behind his laptop with his own microphone and headphones on.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 19.41.16We had a couple of instructions from Tyler and then we were off. If you have a chance to listen to the recording on the radio show, I am sure it will be immediately apparent that Tyler is incredibly professional. His questions were well researched and he is clearly passionate about his subject. I stumbled early in the show with one of my answers, but Tyler just picked that up and turned it into another question, without missing a beat.

I hope that the show is interesting. I love talking about running and magazines. Personally I really enjoyed hearing Andy, from Meter, give his perspective on publishing in the running sector. In particular, his theory on how the English translation of a great cycling book, The Rider, launched a thousand ships in cycling including Rouleur and, indeed, Rapha, was really interesting.

All in all, being a part of the show was a huge pleasure.

Actually just being in Midori House was great for me – really inspiring. Tyler launched Winkreative 18 years ago. Monocle is nine years old. I really want Freestak and Like the Wind to be the best they can possibly be and looking at what Tyler has created inspires me to work even harder on what Julie and I have started.

And more than anything, I discovered that I have a great face for radio!

Paul Sinton-Hewitt: meeting Mr. parkrun

Photo © Strava
Photo © Strava

Today I had the pleasure of meeting someone that I have known about for many years and he turned out to be everything I hoped and more. Paul Sinton-Hewitt single handedly launched parkrun with one event in Bushy Park over a decade ago. He now oversees an organisation with 806 events (as of today) all around the world. Collectively since the first parkrun in 2004, the participants have run 67,000,000km.

This is a seriously impressive organisation that is having a huge impact on running participation all around the world.

And yet Paul is one of the most humble people you could ever hope to meet. Over a coffee today, he told me about his story (which I am hopeful will appear in a future edition of Like the Wind, so keep you eyes peeled for that) and the passion for running that drives him and his team to continue to deliver something so simple that it is easy to underestimate the huge amount of logistics and organisation required.

It really fills me with joy and hope when I meet people like Paul. He is doing something really important and yet there is a lightness and happiness that I am sure contributes to the success. If you are in any doubt of the importance and wonderfulness of parkrun, I urge you to get up on Saturday and go to your local event. You can register on the website if you need to (it is free to register and to run in any of the parkruns), so that your time will be recorded. But perhaps more importantly than time, I recommend that you just go and see what the phenomenon is all about (or, if like me, you are lapsed, go this Saturday to remind yourself about what parkrun is all about).

Certainly I think that the world is better because of Paul; his ideas, his openness and his passion. May there be many more Paul Sinton-Hewitts – we really need them.

Where is the next John Disley

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 18.31.30I was very sad to hear of the passing on John Disley at the start of this week. He was one half of the dynamic duo – along with Chris Brasher – who launched the London marathon. I never met Mr. Disley, but from what I have read about him, he was a man who lived life to the full, from his youth in the hills of Wales to building a globally renowned race. He competed in Olympics and international competitions along the way. You can read about his extraordinary life here.

My question is where is the next John Disley? Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the founder of Parkrun seems to be a man cut from similar cloth. Certainly he has created a running programme that is having a huge impact. And there is Charlie Dark, founder and leader of the RunDemCrew which is inspiring a whole generation of youngsters to take up a sport that they didn’t seriously consider before. But with so many millions of people running to some extent regularly, I wonder if there are other figures who are going to create something truly phenomenal? Something that will inspire people in the same way the ‘London’ has over the years?

If you know of someone, please let me know. Perhaps we can set something up to recognise such people and acknowledge their gifts to the world of running.

Great way to start the day

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 08.10.41You know it is going to be a great day when you can start with a really healthy breakfast – museli, yoghurt, peanut butter, dab of honey and you have your tea in a new mug featuring a brilliant illustration from the amazing hand of Richard Mitchelson. You listen to Prince covering Radiohead’s Creep. And you find a new pair of Nike Flyknit Racers in the cupboard that you had forgotten you had. All before 8am.

Had a massage last night so my legs feel great and today is a rest day to allow my body to absorb all the training for the last 10 consecutive days.

And now I’m in the office, excited about writing a presentation that I am making on Monday – a REALLY big presentation all about story-telling.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 08.10.54As for the weekend… well on Saturday I am going to the Stack Magazines for Good event for a couple of hours and then on Sunday morning, the great team behind Advent Running are hosting a Like the Wind x Advent Running (with a dash of adidas) run in Putney. There are still some places available if you want to come (and it’s free). Can’t wait for that. If you can make it to either of those two brilliant events, let me know – maybe via twitter (@simon_freeman)