Nike nailing the zeitgeist?

New year: new ambitions or resolutions. That is the way many, many people mark another revolution of our planet around the sun. I have read hundreds of blogs and tweets and facebook updates listing plans for 2012 as well as quite a few people criticising the glut of new year’s resolutions. Those cynics might have a point, after all 1 January is identical to every other day so why decide that this is the point to get fit or save money or get a new job. But as regular readers know, I am a strong believer that as much as training is crucial for becoming the best runner you can be, motivation is equally important and if people find that an arbitrary date is enough to convince them to take on a challenge that they have shirked for the last 364 days, then I am all in favour.

I also think that the Christmas and new year period is a great opportunity for many people to take time to think about what they would like to do in the future – so many new careers, relationships or hobbies are formed in the crucible of a couple of weeks without work. Sadly however, many of the good intentions are also dead and buried by the time January comes to an end.

Softly, softly or GHOGH*?

The issue of broken resolutions in sport and fitness is one that I know many people are concerned about – from the government to personal trainers and from health professionals to gym owners, they are concerned by the initial rush of enthusiasm for getting in shape followed by the plunge in numbers as the reality of what it takes to change from a sedentary life to one gilded with sport comes into sharp focus. So what seems to happen about now is donning of kid gloves as those with a vested interest in getting the nation in better shape try to gently guide people away from returning to their old ways:

  • just exercise for 30 minutes a couple of times a week
  • if you can have two alcohol-free days a week
  • maybe try a 5km jog

But does the softly, softly approach work?

Make it count (or #makeitcount for the twitterati)

Nike seems to think that a more direct approach is required, which I am 100% in favour of. The new Make It Count campaign seems from my point of view to be a continuation of what, in some areas, Nike has been doing for a while: baring its teeth!

Sure there is still the slightly saccharine side to their marketing, most notably the advert of the girl who never stops running from dawn until dusk, foregoing all personal relationships and refusing to stop running even for a coffee (check out the ad here), while not breaking out in a single bead of sweat, let alone exhibiting any of the symptoms that someone running non-stop for days on end would suffer from. But this silliness has been rebalanced with a brilliant new campaign around making it count in 2012, following on from the #historystands campaign from last year.

Nike has taken a range of athletes – including two of my absolute idols: Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe – and built a campaign around what they are going to do to make it count in 2012. And then Nike wrapped this uncompromising message around the Metro newspaper. I love that idea. Take a tough medicine, refuse to wrap it in a sugar coating, use unusually challenging imagery and stuff it down the throats of slightly hung-over, depressed and podgy-from-Christmas commuters. That’ll give them something to think about. Indeed when I saw the campaign I had a very strong urge to ask the people sitting around me what they were going to do to make it count in 2012? Eh? Yes, you… what are YOU going to do in 2012 to make it count?

So Nike, my cap is doffed to you. Please, I implore you, keep on with this style of challenging advertising. Sure, you might alienate the terminally-lazy and uninspirable, but I think that there are many people who will have looked at the steely gaze of Mo or Paula and thought to themselves

maybe this year it would be great to do something that means when I review the year at the dawn of 2013, I have done something to make it count

And what about me? Well I am doing everything I can to make sure that I achieve the marathon time I want in 2012. That will certainly make it count for me.

*Go Hard or Go Home – adopted from the excellent RunDemCrew which you can check out here


Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald

First and foremost I am a runner. But I never considered myself to be good enough to be totally one dimensional and so I have dabbled in sports alongside running, most notably the two seasons that I competed in triathlon. I was not very good at triathlon (arguably my best result was 10th in an Olympic distance race in Seaford, on the south coast of the UK) and I especially found the swim, or at least the start of the swim, very challenging. After a few attempts, I decided that my focus, at least for the mean time, would be on improving my marathon time. I am ashamed to say that it has been months since I went for a swim and longer still since I went for a bike ride.

Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald

However I did enjoy my foray into multisports: I most definitely developed a respect for triathletes and to this day I am an avid follower of standard and ironman distance events. So it was that whilst shopping (by which I mean rushing into a shop, already scoped out as one having the item I wanted to get, and then rushing out again as fast as possible – I hate shopping per se!) I picked up Matt Fitzgerald’s new book, Iron War: a book that takes the 1989 Kona Ironman race, which came down to a duel between two legends of the sport – Mark Allen and Dave Scott – as a canvas onto which to explore the very nature of endurance and the things that make those that are great, great!

As happened with Open, Andre Aggasi’s book or Matthew Syed’s Bounce, I was captivated by the end of page one, in fact possibly by the end of the opening paragraph. Fitzgerald is a great writer and this means that not only is the book brilliantly researched and executed, the prose is also beautifully crafted and this makes the book a genuine ‘page turner’. I for one couldn’t put it down.

Inspiration and motivation on every page

Iron War has had such a huge impact on me, that I intend to explore some of the main themes in the book in more detail in upcoming posts, so I won’t write too much here. But I will say that the incisive discussions in the chapters that surround the narration of the increadible race that Allen and Scott took part in at the 13th Ironman race in Hawaii in 1989, cut to the core of many of the theories that I have been thinking and reading about recently relating to the power of the mind in endurance sport. There is no doubt at all that immense feats of endurance are built upon a basis of supreme physical fitness, but more than that is necessary to drive the protagonists of this book (and indeed many other stories) to achieve what they did. Fitzgerald uncovers research in fields such as neuroscience, spirituality and psychology to explain how in truth we are all capable of much more than we think we are and that indeed we often fail to be the best that we can possibly be, not because we reach a physical limitation, but rather a mental one that too few of us are prepared to push beyond.

So I cannot recommend highly enough that you buy a copy of this amazing book. We all know that the New Year is a time when motivation could do with a boost and this book should be just the thing to energise (or indeed re-energise) you and challenge you to push yourself that little bit further in 2012. I know that I will have passages rattling around in my head during tough training sessions in weeks to come.