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.

Beget: to cause or bring about.

I can’t remember who first said to me:

Money begets money

What I know is that when they said it, there was more than a tinge of bitterness in their voice. And I guess I believe that it is true – if you are lucky enough to start out with a big pile of cash, it is generally easier to make a bigger pile of cash. Donald Trump, I’m looking at you.

But recently I have realised that there is another – much more positive – side to the idea that doing something can bring about more of it. I am currently experiencing it.

Fitness begets fitness

In the past month or so, I have really hit my stride. In fact I have written about little else on this blog. The reasons I have gone from struggling to get out for a run more than a couple of times per week are many, but include;

  • Discovering that I actually really enjoy cycling
  • Getting better at cycling (or at least less scared of going fast on the bike)
  • The arrival of spring – especially the warmer weather and longer days
  • Realising that my physical fitness is an essential part of being the best husband and colleague I can be

What has really become apparent though, is that the more I do, the more I want to do. It is almost as if now that I have invested some time in exercising, it would be a bigger and bigger waste to let the hard-won fitness go.

Transformation

The transformation has surprised me. I’ve gone from feeling like going for a quick run was far too much effort to waking up excited about a 3 hours solo bike ride. I have been getting out for a run or a ride five or six times per week. And I am starting to think about some challenges for later in the year (Chiltern 100 and the Etape London are on the menu for cycling. Might also chuck in a trail race).

So what does all this mean? I think that the old adage that “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” (attributed to Jim Ryun, US track and field athlete who won a silver medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the 1,500 metres) is the key here. I was motivated to try something new – cycling – and now it is becoming a habit (and a bit of an obsession) which makes it easier to make it stick. And that has increased my motivation to run as well.

Long may this new motivation last …

What would it take?

The last few weeks have been really interesting. For a whole host of reasons I have managed to get out either cycling or running almost every day. This is a return of mojo like I have never experienced before. I must confess that for the last couple of years I have really been pretty pathetic, always finding an excuse for why I can’t spare the time or make the effort to get out for a run. In less than a month I have rediscovered a love of running that I thought had slipped away permanently.

How I lost my running mojo

I think that the slide started as soon as I ran my marathon PB in the London marathon in 2013. That was a glorious day. I ran 2:37:07, knocking nearly a minute and a half off my previous personal best. That year I was the 164th fastest male marathon runner in the UK. Even out of the 36,000 people who ran the London marathon that year, I would have been happy with 164th – but this is out of every result by a British runner that year. In that race I was just outside of the top 100.

The problem is that as soon as I finished I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to get back to that kind of performance again. Mrs. Freeman and I had just launched Freestak and we were already contemplating Like the Wind magazine. I felt that the inherently selfish pursuit of a faster marathon time could not be justified. We had work to do.

Immediately after the 2013 London marathon, I took off the two weeks that my coach always prescribed. I was always advised by him to do that – physically and mentally it was the right thing to do. But rather than getting to day 10 of that two week period and feeling like I wanted to get back to training, I was immersed in work and really enjoying having the time that I would usually dedicate to training for Freestak and other projects that I had put on hold.

I remember getting to the end of the fortnight’s enforced rest and thinking that I’d give myself another week. Probably the week after that I went out for a few miles easy running. It was almost out of obligation.

After a while I got back into running regularly. But there was not plan. No target.

I would go out for a run because I knew it was good for body and mind, but I found myself just running for its own sake and not to any sort of programme. That carried on for month after month.

Running, but not as I knew it

A month after I ran my PB in London, I went to Copenhagen and paced a good friend – Charlie – to his PB. Then in the summer I ran a couple of ultras – the main one being the UTMB CCC (100+km around Mont Blanc, this is the little brother race of the main UTMB). I set off with Mrs. Freeman and the intention was to run the whole thing together (she didn’t finish, which is another story for another time). It was a slog-fest (you can read about it here). I took over 24 hours. No sleep.

The following year I ran the London again – my PB from the year before had guaranteed me a place in the Championship start. But I felt like a fraud because I really hadn’t trained. My idea was to ‘run for fun’ and it was only after about 10 miles that I thought I really should try to finish under 3 hours (which I did, just). It was fun, but I didn’t get a massive thrill from running that day in 2014. And the result was totally ‘meh’.

Later in 2014, my wife and I went back to run the UTMB CCC again. It didn’t go well once again. I finished, but I wasn’t happy.

After that, I just sort of fell out of love with running.

The wilderness years

All through 2014, 2015 and last year I was feeling a nagging sense of loss: the marathon had been my obsession since my first one in 2006. Of all the running I had done, the marathon was the distance I had enjoyed the most. The challenge that I embraced the most.

I lost the training group who had been such a huge part of my life as I trained for my marathon. Some people – including my coach – moved away from London. Other seemed to give up on marathons or went to other coaches and I didn’t want to follow them.

I just sort of drifted along. Running felt pretty pointless. I have put on weight. Struggled with diet. Tried to start going to the gym (it is just not for me). I have started enjoying rock climbing and hiking and road cycling (actually that is really becoming a new obsession) but nothing has hooked me like the marathon …

Coming in from the cold

In the past few weeks – with my renewed excitement about training – I have realised that 11 years after my first 26.2 mile race, I am still in love with the marathon. I still feel the emotional tug to race again.

I have started looking at paces on the runs I am doing and equating them to the pace I would have to run in a marathon if I wanted to run a time worthy of training for. I have started thinking about how I could make the time to run if I really want to, considering that apart from work, there is not much that I would rather be doing than running. I guess my new-found love of cycling is something that could get in the way, but already I’m wondering how much cycling could become part of my training for a marathon rather than a distraction from it.

I think the improvement in the weather and the longer daylight hours is helping. I think about how I trained through winter after winter for spring marathons and I really can’t fathom how I did it with no loss of enthusiasm.

Ready for a new challenge …

So all of these thoughts have been swirling around my head for a while. I haven’t actually considered the logistics at all. Or wether my 42 years old body could handle training properly. But then again I know quite a few people who are posting really impressive training volumes and interesting results and I know they are not super-human. They are mainly just dedicated.

Sure there are a million excuses for why I can’t or shouldn’t think about trying to start training for a marathon. But why should I listen to that voice inside my (or indeed anyone else’s voice) that doubts I can or should give in to the temptation to run another marathon. Surely not being reasonable is the reason I got myself in a position to achieve one of the proudest moments of my life.

So I am going to take a bit of time. Have a think about what I would need to do to run another marathon and whether that is reasonable. I am going to research whether cycling can fit in to a marathon training schedule. And I am going to think slightly longer term than I have in the past. I probably need 6 months to reverse the loss of fitness and strength from the last 2 years.

Then who knows. I might give it one more go. I’d love to know what you think …

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:

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.

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.

I run marathons. Everything is a result of that.

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the start

As I get older I have a growing sense that life loops back on itself over and over again. I suspect that this is because of deeply ingrained habits that mean that no matter how hard we try, we often end up doing the same things over and over again. I also think that if you can recognise this circularity, it is possible to adapt and manage our behaviour – even make a virtue out of the process.

Going back to my running roots

So here I am, almost back to where I was 10 years ago when I first started running: trying to find the love and the habit of running. In fact the circle almost returned on itself completely on Sunday. I went to Bristol to run the half marathon there with my best friend Rob. It was a decade since Rob and I ran our first proper race – the Great North Run. I struggled – and I mean really struggled – to a 1:57 finish, delighted to have dipped under 2 hours. Rob was there all the way and in fact it was he who encouraged me in the last mile or so when I was whimpering and trying to find excuses to stop. He wouldn’t let me give in.

Fast forward 10 years and I had the honour of returning the favour and supporting Rob as he ran a very pleasing 1:44 as preparation for an assault on a sub-4 hour marathon in a few weeks.

To get the reward one needs to do the work

Florence MarathonThe weekend in Bristol really made me realise how much I love road running. The Bristol course has a 6 mile out-and-back section along the gorge under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This means that as most runners are heading out at mile 3 or 4, the lead runners are returning on the other side of the road at mile five and six. It is a great opportunity to see fast runners doing what they do so well. I was captivated to see the elite men and women fly past. And even more so I loved seeing friends such as Jamie Smalley from Runderwear and Andrew Levison, hammer past at sub-6 minute/mile pace. I thought:

That is where I want to be

I love running fast and free. I love racing others. I love chasing times.

I also know that in order to get to a point where I can race at the level I want to be, I need to put in the training. I am not getting any younger, but I have a feeling that the last 12 months of relative inactivity might have done me the world of good. My body has rested and my mind has had a chance to focus on other things. The downside is that I have got out of the training habits that I think I need. But I can get back to habitually running. I did it before, 10 years ago, and I was coming from a much lower base then. This time I am older (but not too old), wiser (but still suitably naive) and definitely determined. Plus I still have this blog, which was set up as a way of recording my journey to try to become the best runner I can be.

I guess I haven’t quite answered the question I started with yet: how good can I be? Here’s to continuing to find out.

Bringing the Marathon Majors to your garage (if you have one)

A few years ago – after I’d run a few sub-3 hour marathons – I got the idea into my head that I would try to run all of the Majors, that was London, New York, Berlin, Boston and Chicago (before Tokyo was added to the group) in under three hours each. I loved big city marathons, I had already ticked London and Berlin off the list and I had a job that would allow me to travel long-haul to run races. I thought it would be a great little challenge to set myself.

Before I got started on that plan though, I worked out that for environmental and financial reasons it was a bit silly and I shelved it. Apart from anything else, Julie and I had launched freestak and we were ploughing every ounce of effort and every penny into building the business.

Having resigned myself to abandoning the plan, I was rather interested to hear recently about a new app that is making big waves at the tech–running interface and which allows people to virtually run a whole range of race courses from wherever they want.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 06.38.48RunSocial has just announced the launch of a new version of its software that allows runners to transport themselves from a treadmill to the streets of a major city or iconic race route via their super-high definition 3D renderings. And best of all, you can race other people on the same course.

I have to say that I am not someone who uses a treadmill. That is mainly because I don’t have a gym membership. But I know that there are many times when if I had a treadmill in the garage (which would, of course, require having a garage!) I would jump on that for a quick recovery run or a threshold session rather than battling the crowds and the traffic around central London where I live. I would definitely spend less time faffing is I knew that all I had to do was pop down to the garage-that-I-don’t-have for a run.

However I have run on treadmills before and what I do know about them is that there is one big problem – after three minutes of staring at the wall or watching the numbers slowly ticking up on the display, most normal people are bored to tears.

So I like the idea of RunSocial for people who do love their treadmill or who believe that running indoors is the best option for them. They can start the app and rest their tablet on the front of the machine (obscuring the statistics which has to be a good thing!) or connect to a TV screen if their treadmill set-up is that well appointed! The 3D rendering of the course moves at the speed of the runner and if you can find someone else who wants to run the course ‘against’ you – no matter where they are in the world – you can actually see their avatar and race them (disclaimer here – RunSocial do not talk about racing using their app due to the propensity for people to fall off the fast moving conveyor belt and brain themselves before trying to sue RunSocial for their own inability to stay upright).

Obviously there are many ways in which this virtual running could be developed. I imagine that GPS tracking technology could allow people on the RunSocial app to run with or against the avatar representing someone actually doing a race somewhere in the world. Or there could be global running challenges where runners all over the world start a course at the same time and see who would be the fastest.

Personally, I’m not sure that I would fancy running a marathon on a treadmill. But I do like the idea of being able to explore a course somewhere in the world that my environmental and financial concerns won’t allow me to actually visit. That could be the Boston marathon as four 10km legs. Or the London marathon broken into 30 minute chunks over a week or so. Or how about a Rollapalooza-style race on a bank of treadmills between teams? So many opportunities. I guess all that is missing for me is a treadmill.

And a garage to put it in.

Check out RunSocial at www.runsocial.com and on the iTunes app store. And if you have already run using the app, please let me know how you got on.