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.

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.

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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