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 #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.

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

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

First: changes to this blog

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

Little did I know.

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

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

How the business of endurance and outdoors sports is changing

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the point is … ?

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

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

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

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

A conversation and a coffee with one of my heroes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No! You can’t have an autograph

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

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

David Hieatt is a very, very cool guy.

Why is David Hieatt one of my heroes?

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

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

“The perfect storytellers”

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

“I’ve been coveting them for ages too”

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

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

Start at the beginning

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

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

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

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

Before the beginning

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

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

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

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

Meeting my hero

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

The Hiut Denim Grandmasters
The Hiut Denim Grandmasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet your heroes

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

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

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

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

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: