Minimum Complexity = Maximum Results

I read a piece today in a fashion magazine published by the Guardian. I was having a relaxing 15 minutes on Good Friday with Julie. We were in the new local coffee shop on the same street as the Freestak x Like the Wind offices (check it out if you ever happen to be in Bowes Park / Bounds Green – it’s called Hot Milk).

The piece was about having a signature look. One of the writers said that Steve Jobs had a signature look: black polo-neck, Levis 501 jeans, New Balance trainers. But I take issue with the author’s assertion that Steve’s choice of clothes was about fashion. I have read a few times that he chose to wear the same clothes day-in-day-out to reduce complexity (as well as liking what he wore – that is important). I have read that President Obama did the same thing – he wore the same grey or blue suit every day to reduce decision fatigue. I got this from a Fast Company piece that covered a few of the ways Obama reduced complexity.

Thinking about this small detail in the lives of some of the most driven and successful people in the world got me thinking. How complex is my life? How can I reduce that complexity. And what impact will it have?

Definite Decision Fatigue

I am now sure that I suffer from decision fatigue. I start work at 7am or 8am most days and often by 5pm or 6pm and I feel pretty drained. I usually try to fight that feeling with a coffee, but it rarely gives me back the ‘pop’ that I have first thing in the morning.

And I have been monitoring the amount of decisions and questions I have to manage during the day. When I have a day with lots of distractions, questions and demands I definitely get to dinner time with less energy than if I have been left alone to get on with a few important tasks or I have been out pitching all day.

Over the last few weeks I have been making a note at the end of each day about how much (on a scale of 1-10) I have been dragged into making decisions. Anything above a 7 and I usually want to collapse into bed by 9pm.

I guess that is natural.

Reducing the Complexity

So what is my plan? Well I am still experimenting so I don’t have a definitive answer yet. But here are a few of the things I am actively doing to try to reduce my decision fatigue, at least when I can:

  • Planning my exercise in advance: I know that a day when I don’t manage to exercise is a day when I will be wracked with guilt and boiling with frustration. So every day I make a decision about when I am going to exercise the next day. As far as possible, I stick to that plan. Most of the time that means deciding to get up at 5am and just getting a run or ride done. I also book in with friends to go for a run or ride and that takes away the negotiation that can happen – it’s agreed so I just go.
  • Wearing (mainly) the same things most of the time: I am not going to pretend that I can do a Steve Jobs or a Barak Obama. But I have bought four of the same Uniqlo shirts in grey and blue plus I have a couple of other shirts that I know fit and look good (in my opinion, of course!) I make sure there are always a couple washed and ironed (a good job for Sunday evening) and I wear them with the same selvedge jeans or chinos plus one of three pairs of trainers pretty much every day (plus one of three sweatshirts I have if I know it will be cold). I have made sure that this capsule wardrobe would be perfectly acceptable if I suddenly had a meeting or a client turned up at the office.
  • Blocking out time – this is one that I am struggling with. I have put time in the shared work diary when I would like to be left alone. The problem is that if I am in the office, no one takes any notice of that and just asks me whatever they want. It would probably be easier if I had an office, but we are all open-plan at Freestak, which is great most of the time, but this is one limitation of that set-up.
  • Expecting colleagues to work it out for themselves – as Freestak and Like the Wind both grow up, both Julie and I are looking for people who can take responsibility and work it out for themselves. Empowering people to take risks and use their initiative not only means the business can really grow and thrive, but it also allows each of us to focus on the few things that really matter and that we can have a big impact on. Gary Vaynerchuk apparently talks about his business like a federation – i.e. there are independent states that govern most of what they do and then a collective entity that each state contributes to and relies on for certain things.
  • Planning food in advance – this is much like the clothing thing: if I know on Monday what I am going to eat each day for the working week, then there are 15 fewer decisions / negotiations to navigate. It is hard to do this, of course. But I have noticed that on the days when we have left-overs for lunch and dinner is planned (usually because something needs to be eaten before it spoils) my decision fatigue score is a lot lower.

I am sure there are many other ways that I can help myself to be more productive by reducing the complexity day-to-day. I have a lot of requests from people asking me for little favours (quite often from clients) and being the kind of person I am, I really struggle to say “No”. But perhaps I need to a little more.

If you have come to the same conclusions as me and / or you have any suggestions for how I can improve my results by reducing complexity, I would love to hear from you. Especially if you have seen results. Of course, I realise that you might decide to reduce your own complexity by not replying to this post. I would totally respect that decision …

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

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.

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.

Time and curiosity is all you need

I was watching a video of my good friend Charlie Dark recently, talking about how he set up the RunDemCrew,  his ideas, the basis of entrepreneurship and his philosophy on life. So much of this resonates with how I feel about co-founding Freestak and Like the Wind magazine

When I met Charlie … oh probably 7 or 8 years ago, at a dinner being hosted by a brand, we talked about where we were in life. Charlie was a few years into RunDemCrew and it was growing fast. I was working for an agency, trying to pay the bills and keep the boss happy, whilst putting as much of my time and effort as possible into becoming the best runner I could be and recording the experience here on this blog.

It was a very fortuitous meeting for me. There was a clear connection.

One thing that I think that Charlie and I shared, was the idea that what drove us to keep doing what we were doing in running was curiosity. I wanted to know how good a runner I could be. I think that Charlie was curios about his own running and also what the RunDemCrew could become; how many people it could reach (although I might have to ask him for verification of that).

In this video Charlie returns to that theme, when he says;

time and curiosity for the incubation of any idea is wonderful

So right. So, so right. It is as if curiosity is the spark that lights the gunpowder of time to create results. One without the other has potential but won’t work. You need the two.

I would add to what Charlie says and say that ‘time’ itself requires a dose of grit and determination. If you are going to really make something work, you need to find the strength to put in the time. You will have to make choices about what you want to do more

/party every night or train to run /

/sleep in at the weekends or launch a business /

/splash out on some new stuff you want or save your money to make your dream come true/

I think that Charlie has got it spot on with his assessment of what it will take to make something worthwhile. He starts by saying that if you are starting something purely to make money, you should stop. I think he is right – you should be curious about what you can do in your life, not what material wealth you can accrue. Can you represent your country in the Olympic Games? Build an incredible business? Discover something that changes our understanding of ourselves, the world or the universe? Be curious about that and you are well on the way to achieving it. Then, perhaps, fortune will follow. Certainly you will know that you have used your time wisely.

Thanks for the words, Charlie.

Life changes and all that matters is movement

Meetings vs. Movement
Meetings vs. Movement

I recently stumbled across an article on Explore Magazine online. It was written by Will Gadd and it explored the idea that as we get older – as time passes – our interests change and the physical activity that we engage with changes. This article really resonated with me. Gadd expressed something that I have been feeling but not able to understand – that I have been so obsessed with running, and specifically marathon running, that everything else feels like a compromise rather than a new interest to be embraced. I felt as though if I wasn’t specifically training for a marathon then I was cheating and there really wasn’t much point. WRONG.

Here is a section of Gadd’s article (you can read the whole thing here);

The third truth is that your sports and interests will change over time, and fighting that natural arc is counterproductive to staying fit. I used to travel with a pull-up bar and a piece of wood with small finger-holds on it. I’d hang the fingerboard in hotel room doorways; that exercise mattered to me more than anything. I haven’t done it in 20 years, and I’d likely shoot myself if I had to do it today. Hanging on to what was important in the past isn’t conducive to lifelong fitness. It’s more important to follow your interests, stay active and explore new physical skills and ideas. A little or a lot of obsession is essential for high-performance competitive sport, but life changes, and we have to change our physical expressions as well, or we’ll get bored. People who are bored with moving, stop moving. When I see a pack of elderly folks busting a move through the mall wearing coordinated track outfits, I cheer them on, and use their motivation to get my own sorry ass to a workout. Those folks probably weren’t doing that in their 20s, but they look and feel better than the other elderly people reclining in the food court.

So now I think I might be able to see everything I do, as far as physical activity is concerned, as an end in itself. As something to be cherished and enjoyed. Whether that is lifting weights, doing press-ups, running, cycling, climbing … all activity is good. And as Gadd rightly says at the end of his piece

The final truth is that fitness is worth sacrificing less important things for, and most things are, long-term, far less important than fitness … There is very little that exercise doesn’t help alleviate, from depression to diabetes to osteoporosis. Find a movement that feels good and do it with regularity. Thirty minutes of running through the streets and a fast bowl of soup is a far better use of an hour than looking at new sofa fabrics or whatever else we do at lunchtime. Blow off that work meeting to hike up a hill—when you’re 70, still being able to hike up a hill will be far more important than the meetings you missed.

It’s all so simple. Right?

My runners prayer

Recently I was talking about the words of the Lord’s Prayer – something that I don’t think about all that often, but having sung the words every morning at chapel in school from the age of 11 to 18, I had no problem recalling them.

In the prayer there is a line

thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

This line popped into my head today as I was on a group ride – my second such morning in the last week – as I considered the spirit of cycling versus running.

Back on the bike

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 12.14.32It’s been many, many years since I have been on a bike for fun. A while ago I dabbled in triathlons and I used to ride to get fit for them. But I was always more into the running and to be honest I have always been very nervous about cycling. Or more accurately, nervous about falling off a bike, at high speed, whilst wearing thin Lycra kit.

But since the London marathon three years ago, my focus has moved away from racing marathons. I have run some trail ultras and loved them, but I didn’t have the drive and motivation to train intensively for them. So I have lost my way. In the last few months, however, I have really started embracing variety. I’ve been running, certainly, but I have also been hitting the gym. And trying yoga.

Then last Sunday I joined a local group of cyclists for a group ride. It was very friendly and we waited for the group to come back together several times. We managed 43 miles in a little over three hours. Then a friend, Ben, suggested that he would organise a ride for today – Good Friday – out to Essex, followed by a couple of hours at the Olympic velodrome, watching a track race meet. I was super excited about this, not least because I knew the riders today would be of a higher standard and the planned route was longer than last Sunday.

Despite my enthusiasm, though, my concerns about cycling remain firmly in place. A faster, longer ride with better cyclists would only serve to increase the chances that I would either hit the wall (or bonk in cycling parlance), get dropped by the group, crash… or all three.

If it’s so scary, why do it?

So if cycling is so scary, why do it? Well I think that part of the answer to that lies in the way many cyclists are passionate, knowledgable and excited about the sport, not just the activity. Undoubtedly I am drawn to cycling because I love the physical challenge – that is what got me so excited about running. But I am also drawn to the way that seemingly so many cyclists are into the sport of cycling, not just the activity.

Certainly there will be many, many people who cycle for fitness and leisure and have no, or only very superficial, knowledge of the sport of cycling. The same is true of running. But today on the ride, the other members of the group I was with all had matching jerseys. I saw dozens and dozens of similar groups, all proudly sporting the same kit as one another. I don’t see groups of runners out on a Sunday long run, all wearing the same tops to identify them as a group.

I also loved the way that the group I was riding with talked about past and present athletes. They seemed to know their sport quite intimately. I wonder how many runners care about heroes of the road and track from the 1950s and 60s or in fact from any era in history?

In running as it is in cycling

So this is my fervent wish – I would love many more runners to get into the intellectual and spiritual side of the sport. It would be fantastic if  runners knew about the history of the sport and celebrated that. I would be over the moon if retailers used their intimate interaction with runners to educate them. I would love brands to spend far more of their time and the invaluable attention that they have, on what it means to be a runner and why running is such a fantastic sport. Of course, these fervent wishes are the basis of Freestak, where we spend all of our time telling brands about storytelling, and Like the Wind, where we try to reach more and more runners with stories about why we run, rather than how to run.

So here is to cycling – I hope that the sport of running looks at its two-wheeled cousins and decides to take a leaf out of its book.

Ancient history to the present day

LtW_tshirt_photoOne of the things that prompted me and Mrs. Freeman to launch Like the Wind magazine, was the proliferation of great cycling magazines – the Ride Journal, Rouleur, Bone Shaker. Now there are more popping up (and sadly some disappearing… for now. Au reviour Ride Journal) such as Rapha’s Mondial.

What these magazines seem to do so well is capture the spirit of cycling, looking back at the glory days and at the present day sport. They reflect an interest that many people in cycling have for the glory days of cycling and for the elite end of the sport today. And this is despite the sport being riddled with cheating. In fact I almost get the impression that the extent of the blatant cheating is in itself an attraction to the sport – as if the risks that the cyclists were (and are) prepared to take in pursuit of a win for themselves or the team are somehow heroic (try telling that to Pantani as he lay in his own drugged addled filth in a hotel room, drifting towards death).

But there is undoubtedly a love of the sport amongst cyclists, rather than just a love of participation.

Does that exist in running? Well, I hope that the increasing numbers of sales of Like the Wind indicates that there are runners who love the spirit of the sport and are interested in stories. Interested enough to spend the time and money on a magazine like LtW. I also think that the growth in film making by people such as Joel Wolpert and The African Attachment and the number of books about running that are selling well beyond they would have done a few years ago, is a good sign.

What I hope is that the LtW team can be part of a move towards celebrating the greatest moments in the history of running and also the magnificent achievements of runners nowadays. Running is a glorious sport and a fantastic way to spend time – in our imagination we can all be racing with Kilian and Emilie up a mountain, in the pack with Farah on the track, pushing at the head of the lead group with Mutai and Kimetto in a flat and fast marathon or settling into the blocks with Bolt next to us and 100m of track stretching out ahead. Lets all celebrate the glory of running. Just like the cyclists do!

If Larkin had written about running

When I was at school we had a very impassioned English teacher who loved Philip Larkin. He instilled in me a love of one of the least lovable men in English literature. And possibly his most famous poem inspired me to pen a parody this morning. I give you “This Be The Session” not by Philip Larkin!


They fuck you up, your coach’s plans.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They give you all the sessions they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and tracksters,
Who half the time were banging on
About how it used to be in their day.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
So get out and do your session today,
And put it on Strava to prove your worth to yourself.


For proper poetry from a proper runner (though not all about running, of course), check out Blah Poems.