My On-and-On Love of Photography

I have loved photography for as long as I can remember. I have really early memories of my Mum taking me through boxes of old photographs on the landing at home. I can still easily recall the smell of the 4 x 6 inch prints in their paper envelopes. I found the little plastic pots that the films were stored in absolutely fascinating – it was because I knew that they contained unseen stories. But more than anything, I loved being able to see history, even basic stuff like my parents or grandparents when they were young. I remember asking for the big cardboard box that housed all the photos to be taken down and just going through them for hours.

olympus-trip-35By the time I was 16, my interest in photography had changed but not diminished (though I was much less comfortable in front of the camera – good old body issues starting at that age). I somehow ended up talking about photography with a teacher at school who was, herself, interested in the art and science. She told me that there was a darkroom in the science block that I could use it if I wanted to. So armed with my parents Olympus Trip 35, I decided to do a GCSE qualification in the year before my A-Level exams.

It was great. The course – I was the only one in the school doing it – was overseen by the teacher who had introduced me to the dark-room. I had to study for an exam (which I sat on my own), learned some of the basic technical aspects of photography. I had to take photos, develop them and present them in a portfolio alongside descriptions of what I had shot and why. I took close-ups of tree bark, reflections in show windows, portraits of my brother and went to shoot the 1991 London marathon.

All the photography was in black and white. I still have the portfolio.

After that I let photography slip away. I had other interests. I didn’t have a camera for many years and I had not enough interest in photography to invest in one. Eventually in my late 20’s I bought a cheap point-and-shoot. It was pretty rubbish and only good for taking snaps at events. By the time I was in my mid-30’s smartphones all had cameras. I went to Peru with the woman I would later marry and we bought another point-and-shoot but one with a really impressive zoom, which was really useful for trying to capture the mountains.

In the last few years, however I have really fallen back in love with photography. Both learning about great photographers and photography technique, as well as taking as many photos as I can.

fujifilm_x-pro1For my 40th birthday, I invested in a really lovely camera – a Fuji X-Pro 1. It is a four-thirds mirrorless camera and I have a couple of prime lenses (18mm and 27mm) which came with the camera. The 27mm is 41mm equivalent on a full-frame camera and as a result, seems to be the perfect focal length for pretty much everything I want to shoot.

Because I believe that you learn by doing, I try to shoot as much as I can. And I particularly enjoy trying to make photos of people on the streets. Obviously I now have the benefit of a digital camera so there is really no limits to the number of photographs that I can take. However I like the idea of having to think about the composition and setting on my camera before I start shooting and then only taking a small number of photos (rather than putting the camera on burst mode and adopting a ‘spray and pray’ approach).

I also really enjoy getting inspired by other (often, but not always, well known) photographers. My current obsessions are people like:

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson – the original and still the best!
  • Bruce Gilden – I don’t really like how Gilden shoots on the street but I love that he has such a recognisable style
  • Garry Winogrand – shot in New York in the 1950’s / 60’s / 70’s capturing the spirit of the city
  • Martin Parr – I love the fact that Parr’s photos are so recognisable. Sadly he’s got a reputation for being a challenging person
  • Rebecca Lepkoff – another New York photographer who took amazing street photos in her neighbourhood
  • Joel Meyerowitz – an early adopter of colour film, Joel’s career continues to be amazing
  • Boogie – this guy really has guts and takes some incredibly challenging photos. I’d love to be 1% as brave as Boogie
  • Helen Levitt – starting in the late 1930’s, Levitt took amazing street photos on her Leica
  • Lee Jeffries – simply amazing photos of people living – rather than hanging out – on the streets.
  • Diane Arbus – the tragedy of Arbus’ life is perhaps reflected in the marginalised and ‘un-beautiful’ subjects of her work
  • Saul Leiter – yet another New York photographer who is really only recently getting the recognition he deserves

So that is me and photography. There has always been a thread of photography in my life. I never really pursued it so as a result I have never really been very good. But I’m trying to take photos as much as I can now. And my ultimate aim? End up having taken half a dozen really good photos in my life. That would be fantastic.

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.

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!

It’s not meant to be easy. Or a solo effort.

I am sat in a lovely apartment in Chamonix, with my Freestak colleagues (including my wife, who co-founded the business). The weather is glorious. The town is full of amazing athletes challenging themselves in the stunning mountains. We are planning for a party on Sunday to celebrate all the amazing runners and the launch of the tenth edition of Like the Wind magazine. And yet …

What I am involved in with Freestak and Like the Wind is really hard. Emotionally and intellectually challenging beyond anything I have done before. I feel completely drained most of the time and despite being a natural optimist, I really find myself questioning whether all ‘this‘ is going to work out (I’m not even sure what working out means right now, but I guess it certainly means getting easier and more fun).

The thing is, I know that it is meant to be hard. I think back to when I was training for marathons and I loved the challenge. I didn’t enjoy the early morning runs in the rain or the cross-country sessions in the snow. I didn’t enjoy every minute of the long tempo sessions or missing out on social occasions because I had a long run to do the next day. But I understood the purpose of what I was doing and I embraced the pain for the rush of wonder that I was sure would come in due course.

I guess now my life is similar but just a bit more complicated. Certainly there is a challenge around getting other people to be part of what I am trying to achieve – my priorities and the things that I think are right, don’t always tessellate with hat other people think. So unlike with the marathon, me just working harder won’t improve the results. Everyone involved has to put their back into it.

I guess that is the point of all this – I am having to learn that I am not the owner of the success or otherwise of Freestak and Like the Wind. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a company to create, deliver and sell a successful business. I am having to adapt to that idea and it is taking time. I am certainly making enough mistakes along the way, but so far none of them have killed me (or the two businesses). So now I have to start accepting that other people have opinions and experience and they must be allowed to do their thing. Now I am leading a team of runners, not just acting as a runner in isolation. I’m sorry for all the toes I have trodden on so far. From now on I will be more careful.

Vive le team.

Oh and this little film by Apple and Rapha is rather interesting, on the subject of resilience and why embracing the toughness is important:

Saxobank to the rescue

If you read my last post, you will know that I have recently been in withdrawl from running – mourning the loss of an addiction that took me from hatred of what I had become to one of the proudest moments in my life.

But in the last three years, running has slipped away from me. I’m still not sure why, but I can take a guess. Running is hard – that is part of the attraction. But running faster than you ever have before gets very, very hard the faster you go. Partly I think I knew what it would take for me to better my time in the marathon and simply didn’t fancy it. Plus Julie and I had launched a business and I wasn’t up for dedicated the same amount of time to my running as I had been to achieve my PB.

I thought about focusing on ultras, but they are not where my real passion is. I think that without real passion, it is impossible to excel at something. I don’t have the same love of running in the mountains that Julie does and so I am always happy to run with her in ultras, but I am not going to dedicate weekends to finding hills outside of London to train on. And if a long run turns from two and a half hours (which was what I was doing for the marathon) to six or seven hours, that hardly solves the time-challenge I have with Freestak taking priority.

So I have been drifting. Getting slowly tubbier and less fit. And at the same time, less happy.

What I need is a gift from the Gods

Me in my Saxobank Ride Like A Pro kit after today’s ride

Maybe I have just been given exactly what I need. Not quite from the Gods, but it was certainly unexpected and from a source that I would never have expected; a bank. Saxobank in fact.

Some time ago I received an email about a cycling team project that Saxobank were organising, called Ride Like A Pro. It sounded amazing – a team of normal people riding and training together with a big target at the end of a programme that would last all summer.

With my increased focus on cycling, I thought something like this would be perfect. I also thought I had no chance of being part of the programme. But nothing ventured, nothing gained… I filled in the application form.

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by the person behind SaxoSports Ride Like A Pro to be invited to join the team of 50. First step would be to come to Saxobank offices in Canary Wharf, the financial district in the east of London. That is how I found myself outside a vast glass and steel building, on a cold blustery evening wondering if this was all a cruel joke or a big mistake.

I was welcomed into the building and met some of the other riders in the team. They were all lovely – some had been part of the programme last year, but many were first-timers like me. Then Matteo Cassina – the man at Saxobank behind the Ride Like A Pro concept – introduced the programme to us. Oh and we were give all our team kit. The idea is really quite simple; we will get together once a month between now and September to ride as a group and learn from a team of coaches and experts. We will also start meeting up for rides with other team members when we can. We can have subsidised training and analysis. And at the end of the summer, we go to Spain to ride a stage of the Vuelta a España with Alberton Contador, whose foundation we are supporting through this programme.

I have found the next thing… or it found me.

So like a gift from the Gods, I have been presented with the thing that I was looking for. A bit of structure. A target to aim for. A group of people to be responsible to. And perhaps most importantly, a way to test myself that doesn’t allow comparison with things I have done before.

I have been out riding more and more since getting the call, already excited about the chance to go from a very low base to Riding Like A Pro. Obviously I’m incredibly grateful to the Saxobank team for inviting me to join. I already have a feeling this could be the start of something. Obviously, running will always be my first love. But when the Gods deliver a chance like this, it would be foolish to not fall in love all over again, right?

Past glories and finding a new addiction

LtW_tshirt_photoToday is London marathon day and whether I like it or not, this is the day that reminds me that I’m not really a runner any more – not in the way that I once was and not in a way that I can feel proud of. I go out a couple or a few times per week, but I don’t really train – I don’t have anything to train for. No races in the diary this year. None.

One there was a time when I built my entire year around the races I had in the diary. Everything made way for them – holidays, social life, work. Everything.

But today, as I sit in the kitchen, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, waiting for the tea to brew, there are thousands of people on Blackheath or making their way there, ready to run 26.2 miles in pursuit of their dreams. Obviously there are races all over the world, every day. But the London has a special meaning for me. Not only is it my home town race and one that I consider to be amongst the best I have ever tackled. But it is also where I ran my PB three years ago. So when the London comes around, I get a greater twang of… I guess it is regret or sadness or loss, than on the day of any other marathon.

So, I know what I need to do. When I stopped smoking, drinking too much and eating badly and I started running, people wondered how I had made the transformation I did. The answer, in my mind, was the transfer of addictions.

Me being very, VERY happy!
London 2013 and 2:37:07 on the clock

From fags to miles. Now I need to do the same thing – find my new addiction and embrace it 100%. The only candidate – the only thing that gets me fired up and means that I am happy to put myself in difficult and uncomfortable places, is Freestak and building a business. The problem is that building a business doesn’t have the additional benefits to health and well-being that running does. But there are other benefits – building Freestak means building something that has a positive impact on the world and that will provide an income that means that I’m able to do the things that I want to do in the future. Me running marathons was never going to give me those things.

So today, I am going to look at the teeming thousands running the London and wish them all well. It is an incredibly hard thing to do, certainly if you do it properly. It is fantastically rewarding. You will be part of an amazing community of people. And you will always be able to look back and know that you did something special.

And me? I’m going to the office and once again I’m going to get my head and my heart into my new challenge. It is a longer race, but there are goals, there is pain and there will be challenges and successes. Sounds just perfect to me!

Three punctures, one culprit: the story of a ride

This week the weather has been – as we like to say in the UK – changeable. That means shit in almost every other place on the planet. I guess there is truth in the myth that April brings showers and we have had a shed-load of them this week. But the weather predictors – those brave souls upon whose words avid BBQers and wedding planners wait with baited breath – said that today would be sunny, dry, still and cool. Boy, were they right.

In fact it is probably fair to say that they could have said “it’ll be a perfect morning for a bike ride” as shorthand for what the weather was going to do.

So I contacted Kaz, a friend of many years standing, who I met at the Mornington Chasers running club (he was the team captain for one year, dontcha know) and asked if he would be up for a ride. Since the heady days at the ‘Chasers when me, Kaz, Marc, Alex, John and a gaggle of others all dueled it out to see who was the fastest, who could find the most effective training plan and who would go ‘sub-3’ first or get a London Championship qualifying time, we have changed. Fatherhood for some. Moving away for others. Old age for most of us. And Kaz started dabbling in triathlon (I say ‘dabble’ – he actually represented Hong Kong in the ITU World Champs) and now he’s always up for a cycle.

Kaz suggested a 70km loop that he knows into the countryside north of London. I though that sounded much nicer than endless 3 mile laps of Regents Park.

As I opened the door this morning, it was spectacular. The cars were still dusted with frost at 6am and it was cold. But the sun was already high in the clear, blue sky and there wasn’t much more than a gentle breeze. Perfect.

I was very fortunate to receive a parcel earlier in the week from ashmei, who have recently launched a cycling and tri range to complement their running apparel. We agree a contra-deal for some work and they had sent me three items from their bike range – bib-shorts, merino carbon cycle jersey and cycle softshell jacket. After following instructions about washing the bib-shorts before the first ride, this three-some was my kit for today. It was perfect. Actually I will write about my first impressions in a review that I’ll post soon. But for now, suffice it to say, this kit is amazing.

So there I was – breakfast eaten, tea finished, all kitted up and ready to ride. Well almost…

The back tyre on my bike was flat. As flat as a pancake.

Actually two weeks ago I had a flat on that tyre on a group ride. The guys I was riding with had helped me change the tube and used a CO2 canister to fill the tyre. One of them warned me that I should deflate the tyre and refill it with air when I got home, because the CO2 would escape over time. I forgot.

So no drama. I used the track pump to get the tyre up to 100psi and off I went.

Kaz and I cycled to Hertford. About 25 miles. It is a flat ride out with a couple of tiny hills. But I was really blowing from around 15 miles onwards. It felt like I was peddling through treacle the whole time. And the bike felt squishy.

When we arrived in Hertford, I found out why. My back tyre was soft. Not flat – I would definitely have felt that. But it completely depressed under my thumb. That is why it felt so hard to pedal at my usual pace.

We had a coffee and then I changed the inner tube. I thought that maybe it was the CO2 from a couple of weeks ago causing problems (although the tube was completely full of air since I’d pumped it up). We set off.

Five miles down the road and that squishy feeling was back and I was better tuned in to it. We stopped and once again, the back tyre was like marzipan.

A second tube come out and this time, in the absence of a friendly Halfords that would lend me a track pump – as we had in Hertford – I was reduced to pumping furiously with a pump that looked like a biro.

This time, though, I did what I should have done the first time the tyre was flat. And the second time. I checked really, really carefully for anything stuck in the tyre. And sure enough, there it was – a tiny splinter of glass. Almost too small to see and actually so small that it was barely piercing the inner tube, so the puncture was a slow depressurisation rather than a dramatic psssshhhht that usually happens when glass meets pressurised rubber.

Finally after a few minutes, we were on our way again.

Sun was still out. The temperatures were still low and the sky was blue. The roads were dry and – thankfully – for the majority of the ride, the drivers were not all reckless, aggressive idiots. It was in fact, a perfect day for a ride. Just a shame that the rider was such a novice! Lesson learned. Let’s hope that there are more days like this for me to find out ways to develop as a cyclist.

I run marathons. Everything is a result of that.

kettlebellMy first love – as far as running is concerned – is, and will always be, the marathon. When I started running, I didn’t really know about anything else. The marathon was the pinnacle of running as far as I knew and once I had run my first one, I knew that I had to find out what I am capable of.

Since I started running, I have tackled all sorts of races and distances; triathlons, duathlons, ultra-trail races, half marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, mile races, cross-country… even a 3000m track race. But my favourite – and the one that I wanted to be the best I could be at – was the marathon.

However I am hugely grateful that the marathon has given me the confidence to do so much more. My friend Charlie Dark, founder and leader of the RunDemCrew, talks about the way that running gives people confidence to do so much more with their lives and I completely agree with that. Through running I have had the confidence to have a go at swimming, rock climbing, mountaineering, yoga, surfing, cross-country skiing, ski-mountaineering… the list goes on.

Now, as I get older and busier with the businesses I am involved in, training for a crack at my marathon PB is a commitment I am not prepared to make. So I am exploring other areas. Luckily a gym has just opened up next to the offices that Julie and I operate Freestak and Like the Wind from. So I have been going there to do circuits – press-ups, weighted squats, kettlebell swings are my particular favourites. I’m enjoying doing something different and getting stronger in new ways.

I don’t think I will ever get over my love for marathons. But whilst I know I’m not properly training for 26.2 miles, I am making sure that I’m always fit enough to run one and bringing new aspects to my fitness. All thanks to marathons.

Finding intensity

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Dennis Kimetto – a man with intensity

Recently I posted about happiness (or lack thereof) and I have to say I was pretty overwhelmed by the response I got to that – friends contacted me by the dozen to offer advice and ask if they could help (to those who asked if they could help, just asking if you could help, helped!) And I am really pleased to report that I have started to find my happy again. I’m not all the way back to unbridled joy – will I ever be? – but I am certainly above the line that divides happiness from unhappiness.

Now I feel as though I need to capitalise on the positivity and see what I can improve upon. My current thinking is about intensity.

I will admit that most of my life I have considered myself to be a lazy person. I don’t judge my laziness by any empirical measure and I don’t spend any time trying to compare myself accurately against other people. But the feeling that I am lazy is more like a nagging guilt that hangs around in the background.

I have thought about this long and hard and I now believe that the answer to feeling lazy is in finding some intensity.


We were having a conversation in the office recently about how we view ourselves and I tried to make the point that it can be difficult if the people you aspire to be like – the people that you consider to be your peers even – are actually outliers: those who are the best in the world or at least those who dedicate themselves to doing one thing at the exclusion of all others. For example it would be stupid for me to compare myself as a runner with Dennis Kimetto. But I do have friends who have run 2:20 marathons (and faster) and I think that I am more like them than I really have any right to because they are, and have been, more dedicated to becoming the best runners they can be that I am (and have been). When I find that I don’t have the motivation to go out running and I know that they are training, I blame myself for being lazy. Actually I believe that when it comes to running, those people just have more intensity than I do.


So what do I mean by intensity? Well I am defining it as a state of mind where there are no excuses, where the focus is completely on the thing at hand. Intensity to me means that the person has a clear goal and a plan to get there. And importantly, the discipline to make sure that they are not distracted.

In my life I feel like I struggle to maintain focus and that means that I don’t have the intensity that I need to succeed to the degree that I want to. I certainly get distracted too easily. So what do I need to do? Well here is a list that I have been thinking about (but if you can add anything to this, please chime in and tell me);

  • Have a goal or two and make them the priority. Don’t let other people prioritise things for me.
  • Have a plan – whether that is running or business, I know I need a plan to get me to the goals I have set.
  • Clear the decks – get rid of all the distractions that take time, emotions and energy away from the goals that are important.
  • Throw off negativity, especially people who want to drain my energy or focus.
  • Review regularly.
  • Have fun doing what I am doing.

Looking at that list it all seems so obvious. But in the last few months I have realised that the important things to me at the moment – especially my running – have suffered because of a lack of clear goals, a lack of a plan, too much mental clutter, the unwelcome distraction of negative people and – possibly as a result of all of those things – a feeling that there is not much fun being had.

I also know that when I look back on my running a couple of years ago, I had all of the elements I am now saying I need to put in place: I had intensity.

So, thank you to everyone who reached out when I was in a slump. Some of you know more about what was actually happening than others, but everyone I spoke to or who wrote to me or sent me a message was a massive part in helping me pull myself together. I am really grateful and humbled by the support.

Thankfully I feel that I have managed to clear the mental fog, I am back on track towards some clearly defined goals and I feel like I am regaining the energy and focus that I was missing.

Now is the time to bring the intensity.

National Cross 2015

Yesterday I went to the National Cross on Hampstead Heath to watch thousands of runners do battle with the hills and mud. What became pretty obvious, was that I prefer to be behind the camera than pulling on my spikes and struggling around. I should probably have been running, but I’m really happy with the shots that I took and to be honest I’d have probably been last had I been running, so I probably swerved a bullet there! Hope you enjoy the pics (click on them to enlarge) …

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