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.

Born Free: ten years of the Nike Free

I once heard someone say that the Nike Free is the best selling running shoe ever and whether or not that is true, this year Nike are celebrating 10 years of their iconic, floppy, flexible friend-of-the-foot.

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Sean McDowell, VP & Creative Director, Nike Running

As part of the celebration, Nike brought Sean McDowell, Vice President and Creative Director for Nike Running, over from Oregon to London and hired a space that they turned into a very cool museum and technology lab rolled into one in honour of the Free… and I was invited to check it out.

All cool and no fool either

It is undoubtedly the case that when it comes to ‘cool’ Nike are the kings of the runnerverse. Other brands might be purely dedicated to running or more likely to be worn by the fleet-footed speed merchants. But Nike will be on the feet of the trendy types and the fashion conscious.

And Nike also has some serious pedigree when it comes to running. The event that I attended last week really hammered that point home. The first and most immediate thing made it clear that Nike is a serious running powerhouse was the way in which I and my fellow invitees were made to wait on the pavement outside the space for quarter of an hour after the time we were asked to arrive, by big burly security men with ear-pieces. Apparently the Nike team weren’t ready for us… so who was getting themselves ready? None other than Olympian and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who was joining us for a run. And she would be accompanied by future stars Jessica Judd and Charlie Grice.

The irony was that once we were inside, Paula, Jess and Charlie were all absolutely lovely and down-to-earth: not a hint of the prima donna amongst them!

The running pedigree of the brand with the swoosh was also really brought home when we heard from Sean McDowell and he went through a brief history of the brand, illustrated with picture of Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, standing with his coach and business collaborator Bill Bowerman – the man who invented the rubber waffle sole that revolutionised running shoes.

Whilst Nike has fingers in so many sporting pies, there is no doubt that running is deeply ingrained in it’s DNA.

Experiencing the Nike Free

Charlie Dark, founder RunDemCrew
Charlie Dark, founder RunDemCrew

The Nike Free Experience that I was invited to, was being run by Charlie Dark from the RunDemCrew – a very important man in my life as well as being a brilliant public speaker and motivator. He was the perfect person to get everyone invited to the event relaxed and receptive and was also the perfect partner for Paula, who clearly finds Charlie’s antics quite amusing!

After a quick introduction, Charlie had all of us go through a warm-up so that we were ready to head out for a run in the new Nike Free 3.0 that we had been issued with. As Charlie exhorted us to grab a foot and lift it behind us to stretch out our quads, you can imagine my surprise when I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder steadying themselves and I turned to see it was Paula – one of my all time heroes!

Out on the run in the Nike Free 3.0

After the introduction and warm-up, Charlie and his team had all of the invitees back out onto the pavement and off running.

IMG_1854I must admit that I was feeling a little bit worried about running in the Nike Free 3.0 two days before the London marathon. They are – to put it mildly – minimalist. As we were to hear later, that is the point. I was worried that a shoe with a very minimalist sole and a zero heel-to-toe differential might give me some Achilles grief, especially as I had pushed myself in my last few sessions and was feeling typically sore in my calves already. But running with Paula Radcliffe was too good an opportunity to miss!

We ran for about 45 minutes and there were lots of stops due to traffic and waiting for the group to come back together so I was absolutely fine in the shoes and didn’t feel that I was stressing my foot or lower leg all that much. And in terms of how the shoe felt on, I think the Nike Free 3.0 is exactly what it sets out to be. As Nike say:

Our the most flexible and natural ride, the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit Running Shoe features a lightweight, supportive Flyknit upper and an ultra-flexible, low-profile outsole…

Personally I don’t enjoy running on hard concrete in a shoe with so little cushioning and I must admit that I was pleased when I found myself running along next to Paula and we got on to the subject of what she wears and she pointed out that while everyone at the Nike Free Experience was wearing the new Flyknit Free 3.0, she was wearing a pair of Pegasus. She explained that with all the foot problems she has encountered, nothing would dissuade her from wearing the best shoes given her injury and the Free was not the best shoe in that situation.

The science and the application of the Nike Flyknit Free 3.0

Me, Paula and Like the Wind magazine!
Me, Paula and Like the Wind magazine!

Perhaps inadvertently, when Paula was talking to me – and by the way, what a privilege to spend 10 minutes one-on-one, running and chatting with such an amazing athlete – she predicted everything that we would hear later: that the Nike Free is a great addition to a runners collection of shoes, but it can’t be the only shoe you run in. When Paula is running on hard concrete pavements she does not wear the Free.

Having returned to the Nike Free Experience space, we were invited to listen to Sean McDowell from Nike talk about the development of the Free. And what was so refreshing was the open and rational way that Sean talked about the shoe; the fact that one of the shoes that Nike developed and which ended up as the Nike Free was in response to Mike Parker’s challenge to make a shoe that fits like a t-shirt for the foot; the fact that the Free was developed after meeting a running coach who had his athletes do bare-foot strides on the grass after track sessions; the way that a series of shoes – the 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 – were developed to allow runners to choose the Free with the right amount of cushioning for them. It all made a lot of sense to me and there was very little of the bombastic “Just Do It” messaging that Nike can sometimes resort to.

My thoughts about the Nike Free 3.0

Personally, I think the Nike Flyknit Free 3.0 is a bit too minimal for the vast majority of running that I do. It was fine for 5km with lots of stops on Friday, but anything more than that and I think I would suffer from the lack of cushioning and the minimal heel-drop. I could adapt but frankly at my age and with as little time available to train as I have, I don’t want to put in the time required.

However I do think this shoe might come into its own when I was to want a pair of shoes to do strides in after a session or if I am looking for a really light shoe for track sessions.

The Flyknit upper is great – really light and highly breathable so these will also be a great shoe for the summer when feet can tend to get a bit sweaty, which can cause rubbing and blisters.

I would say that the shoe is a great addition to the shoes that you probably have at home and would be great for shorter stuff on forgiving surfaces where you want to give your feet a good work-out. For people who are dedicated to minimalist running, this might be an all-round shoe for miles and miles on the pavement, but that is most definitely not me.

And finally, to confirm what I have heard so many times before, Paula Radcliffe is really one of the most friendly, engaging, fascinating and easy to talk to people I have met. She is a great ambassador for the sport and for Nike and it was a real privilege to meet her – thanks Nike!




The Nike Flyknit Free is available now – here – for £125.

Copenhagen marathon 2013: my race review

As you may or may not know, my big target race this spring was the Virgin London Marathon on 21 April. In case you missed it, here is my race report. And after nailing my target I had the opportunity to then go to the Copenhagen marathon with the RunDemCrew and my friend Charlie Dark, to run for fun.

Pacing not racing

After my blast around London, I asked Charlie if he would like me to pace him around the Copenhagen marathon and to my delight he said ‘yes’!

Why was I delighted? Well three reasons really – the first was that I wanted to pay Charlie back for many hours of advice and support he has given me over the years. The next reason was that I was convinced that Charlie had a solid sub-4 hours marathon in him and I thought I might be able to help him achieve it. And finally I knew how much Charlie has poured into creating, running and leading the RunDemCrew and I felt that there should be a race that he had the opportunity to run for himself.

I have paced a couple of races before – my wife’s debut marathon in New York and a friend in the Bristol half marathon are two that stick in my mind. And this meant that whilst I felt confident that I could help Charlie, I also knew the challenges and responsibility that comes with being the man with the watch. Little did I know how much the course and the weather would make things more difficult than it was already going to be…

The Copenhagen marathon

Copenhagen Marathon © Signe Vest

The Copenhagen marathon is a relative old man of the racing scene in Europe, having been going for 34 years and has plenty in its favour – it is a capital city race. It is a flat course. It has a great headline sponsor in Nike and some other high profile supporters. The city centre course takes in all of the sights of Copenhagen.

But all is not perfect. I have to say that the race has a certain air of tattiness and gimcrack about it. The course seemed to be constantly crossing and running alongside roadworks. There are roads on the course that are open to traffic and on more than a couple of occasions the field was split and we were directed across a six-lane highway with a muddy median in front of impatiently waiting queues of traffic. The marshals were really not doing much and a number were sheltering in doorways out of the rain. There were just too many loose ends and rough edges to make the race great.

NBRO running

All the crews © Signe Vest

The highlight of the race though, was the NBRO Crew. This is the equivalent crew to London’s RunDemCrew that I am honoured to say I am part of.

And it was NBRO’s task to host the other visiting crews – from London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Hong Kong, Berlin and other cities. The NBRO guys, and Troels in particular, pulled off an absolute master-stroke, with NBRO branded beer, a great pasta party before the race and an immense after-party that I have taken a lot longer to recover from than the race itself!

The race

The race was tough. As I mentioned, the weather and course made an already difficult challenge – running 5 min/km pace for 42.125km – even tougher. After a baking hot day on the Saturday, the day of the race dawned grey and cool, which was perfect, but by 5km the heavens opened and the rain poured down. We were soaked from start to finish. Add to that, the very wiggly course, with lots of open roads, road works and pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, and we had a tough day.

Charlie Dark… battling © Signe Vest

Charlie and I were bang on for 3:35 or quicker all the way to 35km, but sadly an old knee injury of Charlie’s, made worse by a recent fall, meant Charlie was hobbling and soon needed to stop and stretch out a tight hamstring. The frustration for him was that he was still running well, but frequent stops to ease out his knee ate into the time.

Nevertheless, Charlie dug in very, very deep and managed to fight the desire to stop and walk, which mean that we finished in 3:48:03. Still a big PB and comfortably under the 4 hour mark.


Overall, I think that Copenhagen is a good race. I think that for those at the sharp end, the lack of people to run with could be difficult. And for everyone in the field the difficult course stops this being an exceptional race. But I had an amazing experience – I loved running with my friend and thinking that I was able to help a little. I enjoyed seeing so many other runners and witnessing their struggles and I really enjoyed the after-party.

Would I go back? Not sure… but then again, if Charlie wants to try that race again for a sub-3:30, then I might be tempted!



All images thanks to Signe Vest

Up, up and away, away, AWAY!

As some of you will know, some time ago I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful man who goes by the name of Charlie Dark (who can be found on twitter @daddydark). Poet, teacher and runner (amongst other things) Charlie is the founder and force behind the RunDemCrew (@rundemcrew), where I have been welcomed and made to feel part of the family, as well as having the privilege of helping a few of the runners there where I can.

This year the RunDemCrew, captained by Mr. Dark, took on the London marathon and in celebration of that, the design agency Rosie Lee, led by Mark Fleming (more commonly known as Chop and found on twitter as @chopbot) designed a book, incorporating photography from the amazing Tom Hull (who has a lovely website here and can be found on twitter as @tomhull) to celebrate the journey and the event.

The book incorporates six photo essays to illustrate the journey the ‘Crew took including regular RunDemCrew Tuesday night runs and track sessions (instigated by me and, to my surprise and delight embraced with fervent energy by many of the ‘Crew) as well as the big day of the marathon.

The book has a fantastic look and feel, really energetic and creative which is what makes it a perfect reflection of the people who appear in it. I don’t think I have seen such a creative treatment of a running group or a race before and this makes the book unique. Having checked with Chop, there are a few copies available so contact him via twitter (@chopbot) or at Rosie Lee on 020 7613 3752. I would love to hear the thoughts of anyone who gets hold of a copy.

Oh and if you’re wondering where “away, away, away” comes from… then you’ll just have to come along to the RunDemCrew for a run and find out!