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In 2017 these are the brands that litter my wardrobes: Altra, Montane, OMM, Raidlight, Drymax, Rab, Ronhill, Decathlon, Ultimate Direction, Buff, Oxsitis, Raidlight, Runderwear 

But in 2011 at the start of my running journey the brands that I was using looked quite different: Adidas, Nike, Asics, Marks & Spencer, Rab, Decathlon, Buff, OMM 

And it made me wonder why I’ve evolved from certain brands to others and have I become something of a running kit snob?

The accusation and the defence. I have been accused in the past of being more interested in the kit of running than the running itself and while I was deeply offended by this statement there was a whiff of truth about it.

There is no denying that I love checking out new kit and usually buying far too much of it but I rarely buy things I don’t need and there has been a constant evolution in what I buy to accommodate the needs of the races I run. 

For example the SW100 requires as part of its kit a thermal mid layer and this has required lots of research, lots of testing and in the end the purchase of two hybrid jackets and one synthetic down jacket. However, I’m in no doubt that my (already owned) Rab Powerstretch thermal layer would have done the job perfectly well. But I wanted new kit.

I remember running my first marathon and my kit consisted of a neon orange vest, a pair of Adidas Adios racing flats and a pair of 5 inch Nike shorts (with mesh brief) and the piece d’resistance, a pair of cotton M&S socks, I thought I was the bollocks, sadly, I wasn’t.

These days I roll up to a marathon wearing much more kit, two tops, tights, liner socks, wicking outer layer socks, a race vest/backpack, sunglasses, buff, tissues, compeed, gaiters but at least I now know I’m not the bollocks.

Have I changed, has running changed or have brands simply switched on to the depth of the pockets of this market? 

I wonder if we all go through the kit gears, especially those of us who bang through the disciplines looking for that challenge that fits? Did we all go to a Sweatshop or a Sports Direct for our first pair of trainers? Did we all listen impatiently as the store staff ‘advised’ us? and did we all trawl round the high street shops looking for stuff that wouldn’t make us bulge in new and weird ways? I suspect we did.

Feeling a little uncomfortable. I recall being in John Lewis and trying on a pair of full length tights – Asics, black with blue trim – very understated. However, because it showed the clear shape of my gentleman’s region I refused to step out the changing room. The GingaNinja told me I was being foolish and that you couldn’t see anything (which obviously made me feel SO much better!) but that started me on a journey that has cost me a small fortune one way or another. 

A trinity of trouble. However, how did I go from the high street to really quite niche brands and kit? The answer to that is three fold, the first part is racing, the second part is social media and the third part is ‘I love shopping’.

Turning up to my first race after I returned to running (The Grim Challenge) I wore the aforementioned plain black tights with blue trim, a black t-shirt and some grey with orange trim Asics trail shoes (size 9). I did not feel out of place in this gear, many of my fellow racers had cotton shirts on and worse. However, my eye was drawn to several names I’d never seen before, ‘Zoot’, ‘Inov8’, ‘Camebak’, ‘Montane’ and ‘OMM’. My eyes were agog attempting to process all of this information – Sweatshop and the like had nothing like this and I resolved to find out more about my kit options.

It was around this time that I joined Twitter, the blogosphere and even developed a lazy relationship with Facebook – here I developed community relationships with my fellow runners, cyclists and triathletes who were providing a near infinite amount of new touch points for brands and kit.

But neither of these would have provided me with the drive to develop my unhealthy obsession with kit unless I loved shopping – and I have always loved shopping. Long before running I’ve adored bimbling round shops both for research (looking) and buying and weirdly it could be any kind of shopping too – shoe, clothing, craft or even grocery shopping.

This trio of elements left the perfect conditions for fostering an obsessive love of kit. Adidas and Nike apparel was quickly replaced by OMM, Ronhill, Rab and Montane. I tested dozens of sock types, changing my allegiance as new distances and challenges would change my race needs. It was in the shoe department though that I blasted through many types until I finally settled on Altra with hints of other brands. Vibram FiveFingers, Hoka, On, Scott, Salomon, Pearl Izumi, Brooks, Saucony, Inov8 and many more have been tested to destruction or been deemed completely inappropriate for my feet. I’ve owned more pairs of running shoes in the last five years than I have owned ‘normal shoes’ across the whole of my life.

Even when it comes to running equipment I make my selections only after extensive research and testing. When I first decided I would start RunCommuting I purchased half a dozen bags I thought might be suitable but none of them were ever quite right until I bought the OMM Classic 25 and the OMM 15 both of which still run a little bit today (though the 25 is definitely in its twilight years after being extensively abused). Recently I decided to look again for a RunCommute pack and while the OMM 15 was mostly perfect for my needs I felt the materials now used are nowhere near as good as it was 5 years ago and the classic has had the bungee cords removed from the side therefore removing a very useful component (in my opinion).

I started my research in December 2016 and bought a Raidlight XP14 in mid February 2017 after searching through every foreign language review I could find and then one day when I saw a runner wearing one (and I was in work gear) I gave chase. I caught up to him somewhere in Mayfair and drawing level I said ‘excuse me is that the Raidlight XP14?’ His reply initially was ‘what that fuck??’ but upon realising I was asking about his kit he stopped and let me try it on – very nice of him on a cold February morning. Job done, research over, purchase made.

Understanding yourself. What I’ve learned over the last five years is that the right kit is essential and that the right kit for each person is very different.

However, it’s important to note that the UK high street isn’t really equipped to deal with runners needs and that by expanding our search and looking at the brands that we might associate with outdoor adventuring rather than running and you’ll often find equipment more tailored to you – even on the high street.

It’s a shame that we can’t learn a lesson or three from our European neighbours who appear to have high quality high street sports stores much more readily available. (But the UK and it’s attitude to all things European is a contentious issue currently).

Should you be brand loyal? We also need to be wary of brand loyalty. Just because you love a particular item doesn’t mean you should buy everything they make! You’ll see brand ambassadors ‘head-to-toe’ in a manufacturers garb but the reality for us mere mortals is that we should be testing everything and always questioning whether something is right for us – none of us want draws full of ill fitting, unused kit just because Anton, Scott or Elisabet was seen wearing it!

Undoubtedly my kit choices cost me more and I could buy things much more cheaply but not necessarily more cost effectively. Cheap rip-offs from Sports Direct (and similar) are pretty much just that – put a Salomon shoe next to a Karrimor shoe and while they might look like siblings I believe you’d find the experience very different (and that is a test I’ve done). I could also do things more cheaply by not buying from independent retailers but I value the contribution and advice that these awesome retailers provide and want them to be there in the future.

Providing value for money. I should point out though that not all cheaper brands are bad. One high street brand name that has remained constant from day one of my running is Decathlon – the lovely French brand that covers just about every sport going. Decathlon proves quite simply that you don’t have to pay a fortune to get high quality, well developed and long lasting kit and it certainly gives a kicking to many of its more expensive rivals (though you don’t always have to ape Salomon in your race vests chaps!). I’d also give some credit to ‘Crane’ from one of the discount German supermarkets, though the lack of availability and sometimes questionable longevity make this kit a little hit and miss.

Importantly though, I don’t want to be unkind to major high street names like Asics, Adidas and Nike – they have their place.

In truth I still love my Nike commuting shorts (4 pairs, 3 still going strong) which I’ve worn pretty much every day for five years. I’m simply suggesting that there’s a great big world of exciting kit waiting to be discovered – don’t limit yourself.

The snobbery question? Am I kit snob? I like to think not as I try to find the kit that works – it’s true that I would love to see Sports Direct closed down because I feel they provide a path of least resistance to runners who can’t be bothered to look for more effective kit. So if despising Sports Direct makes me a snob then so be it.

So what am I asking you to take from this?

  1. Research extensively 
  2. Test extensively
  3. Evolve your kit and knowledge
  4. Ask questions…
  5. …but remember you’re only getting an opinion
  6. Question brand loyalty
  7. Support independent retailers
  8. Buy cost effectively not cheaply
  9. Avoid Sports Direct (it’s associated stores) and Karrimor
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There’s lots of really good running and fitness blogs out there, some more regularly updated than others, I’m a regular contributor to blogging not because I’m particularly interesting but because I like to keep a record of the things I’ve done and I believe at least some people get something out of my wittering.

When I started blogging (about design related things) I never imagined that I’d end up writing about my running adventures – now five years later the design blogging only happens when I feel the need to change jobs and the running blogging has morphed into a blog about my adventures in life and running. Three and a half years ago I started writing under the UltraBoyRuns moniker and I’ve never looked back, I find it therapeutic and I find it rewarding but the question I mostly get asked about it is, ‘How do you find things to write about? How do you find the time? Why would I write, surely nobody would be interested in what I’ve got to say?’

Everyone will have their own way of doing it, their own things to say – I can’t tell you how or what to do but I can tell you how I go about it. Below are they key stages I go through to bring a blog piece to life. Hopefully you’ll find something useful here.

Read lots: While I have ideas for blog posts that simply pop into my head I also draw on my environment, I read lots of blogs, newspapers, news reports, advertising, social media postings, business reports, research (and not just about health and fitness – that would be quite limiting). This quality research and inspiration time is the foundation of good blogging.

Adventure lots: You’ve got to have something to write about and the best way I believe to have something to write about is to go and do things. So in the last few months I’ve written about Haria Extreme, adventures in ice skating, Lanzarote theme parks, running in the Arctic Circle, trespassing on to the airfield at the Isle of Skye and a whole host of other stuff.

I genuinely believe that life should be filled with and fuelled by cool stuff. Life shouldn’t be a passive experience, it’s for living and your blog will benefit from a life less ordinary

Brainstorm ideas: You’ve done loads of research, you’ve had groovy adventures, you’ve sat down to write about something and it just won’t come. Jot a few ideas down in a list, on some paper, on your computer, watch some TV, listen to music, relax, let all the things you’ve seen and done roll round in your head and a title will come.

Join in social media (Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Reddit) conversations: Social media isn’t for everyone but amongst the crap there are little gems of ideas, conversations, arguments, very real people discussing serious and silly topics that might give rise to new posts to inspire you or might give you a thought for a post you can bend to your own experience. Twitter I find especially useful for insight into how individuals look at a topic even when expressed over 140 characters. Interacting in these conversations also allows you a mouthpiece to express opinions as well as get them which in turn can have the effect of supporting the building of a readership. It’s not rocket science – you’re engaging in community and the community might want to hear what you have to say.

Photograph your adventures: Nothing offsets a great blog piece better than a quality or narrative enhancing photograph. I very rarely add professional photographs to my site but then in my role as a graphic designer I do quite a lot of photography so I like to think that some of that experience translates. However, the acquisition of an action camera (GoPro Hero 4) and the use of my iPhone 5S have meant that I’m pretty much able to capture all the run and race photographs I ever need and they simply help me improve the telling of my tales.

Note down a list of working blog titles: As part of my working process whenever a new blog topic comes to mind and I’m happy with it I note it down and then add it to my working list to be expanded on and developed later. This can be anything from being inspired by a tangent in a post I’m writing, a post from someone else that I’m reading or something I’ve seen or heard.

Pick relevant blog posts to write about and know your audience: You’ve got to write about things you want to write about but you’ve also got to have a focus. My original blog mixed graphic design, art, running and general gubbins – but that proved too scatter gun and so the audience was never quite sure what they were getting. UltraBoyRuns is all about adventure, that said though, this year I’ve used it to discuss politics, refugees and my ongoing fears about the way Britain is headed. You just have to be careful not to stray too far from your original intention otherwise what you’re saying becomes confused and you yourself will lose interest in what you’re doing

Know where you are headed and understand the value of a structure: Try and know roughly where you are headed with a post otherwise it will ramble and be less coherent. It’s okay for posts to be long just ensure they have a structure and narrative that lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Be Interesting, be passionate: One of the hardest things to do is to believe that your life is of interest to anyone else. But everyone, no matter who they are does and witnesses interesting things. When you write, when I write, I try and look at the finer detail to bring out interest. For example in a recent post I could have written ‘I had 5km of pain and then found a bush to take a poo behind’ instead I looked at the detail of being ‘bent double in agony’ ‘stabbed by the protruding thorns of the bare bush I was cowering behind’. Adding colour and texture, while remaining true means your readers can join you on your adventures, even if they are about poo.

Find your most creative time: The only time I write is when I’m on the train, I’ll occasionally do backend blog maintenance at home but mostly it’s all done on my phone in the 50 minute (plus delays) train ride I have (usually the morning commute). Blogging requires me time and RunBlogging requires quite a lot of me time given that you’ve got to do the time on your feet too. I understand we all have busy lives but you may find that by writing something like this it allows you to blow off steam. Blogging shouldn’t be a distraction from the things you feel you just do but it giving it half an hour a couple of times a week is what I call ‘me time’.

Try not to care who reads it: If you’re writing as a way of getting Salomon to notice you so they’ll send you free kit then this blog post probably won’t be of any interest to you (and it’s quite hard I believe to get the big boys to be sending you kit). I tend to think you should write honestly about real experience and (much like a race) leave nothing out. This way not only do give an honest account of who you are but you’re audience will enjoy it all the more – yes you may never be as popular as Usain Bolt but does that matter? write for yourself and an audience will find you.

But your blogs seem so quick (post race)? My blogging post race may seem quick – usually the following day or two but that’s because I do lots of the preparation work before the race began and I have dedicated time on my commute to use

The writing of a blog post normally takes me between 45 and 90 minutes or two commutes. The pictures will already be on my phone and I will have already worked out the structure of the posting before I start. I still require inspiration to start and that may be an incident in the days leading up to an event or it might be a conversation had with someone or it might even be my thoughts as I’m holding my medal for the first time.

Then it usually just flows from there. 

Tell people: the bit I hate is telling people about my blog posts, I still to some degree assume nobody wants to read what I write, this years ‘hits’ suggest otherwise though and so each blog post goes out to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (although I think I only know a dozen people of FB so I can’t remember why I bother!). If I’ve posted late at night I might tweet a reminder in the morning so that those interested might see it and I’ll add relevant hashtags but ultimately that’s all I do. I write for me and if someone else is interested then I’m deeply honoured and humbled. You might find more interesting ways of telling people about your site such as in forums and adding it to communities such as The Running Bug but you’ll decide how far and wide you want to branch it out.

Have fun: The most important thing though is to have fun in your adventures and your writing and follow your own path – these suggestions above are just that – suggestions. They work for me but I’d be interested to hear about how other people do it. Enjoy

The key points

  1. Do Research
  2. Do Adventure
  3. Do Brainstorm
  4. Be Organised
  5. Be Passionate
  6. Be interesting
  7. Be True
  8. Be Confident
  9. Just Enjoy


Who am I talking to please? Am I talking to you or am I talking to a mouthpiece for a brand? To me it appears that it’s becoming harder to distinguish.

We all know about sponsored athlete – those that will be photographed and support the brands that provide them with the required cash or kit to ensure competing makes economic sense. They’ll do TV, advertising, etc while ‘on brand’. However, growing in that shadow there appears an underbelly of less visible brand development in the amateur athlete / excellent fun runner field and to me some of this seems a little less honest.

What do I mean? You see a picture on Instagram, Facebook or other platform and you ‘like’ it, share it, engage with it – that’s fine and I myself do it but usually because I enjoy the subject matter or I think it’s a well composed photograph – never do I knowingly ‘like’ brand promoting/advertising on social media. Unfortunately recent advances in brand development through new technologies mean it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between what a person really thinks and what might be swaying them in terms of ‘the brand factor’.

To be clear I’m a not against amateurs promoting brands in a paid for manner – I just want to avoid it because I don’t like what I consider to be brand duplicity.

Perhaps I’m sensitive to this because I work in the creative industries & marketing. I’m assaulted daily by a cacophony of brand and seemingly have become rather immune to it. But I see people in their everyday lives setting themselves up as guerilla brand ambassadors and find it frightening. 

Listening to an old episode of Robin Ince and Josie Longs Utter Shambles and hearing JL had been offered £4,000 to surreptitiously drop into a radio conversation ‘how good’ an unnamed coffee house is, proved somewhat worrying. She told the podcast she had turned down the offer. Easy money turned down in favour principles – I very much approve. 

In sporting terms though I’m increasingly suspicious of my social media interactions where a terrible photograph with no content interest is receiving hundreds or thousands of likes and when you take a closer look you see it heavily tagged and heavily hashtag branded.

In the grand scheme of world problems I’m sure that nobody would really consider this a serious issue but consider that we may soon be in a position were we are faced with a constant barrage of sales no matter where we are, what we do or who we interact with – our day to day lives will be underhandedly influenced by businesses that we may not want influencing our daily life. Some would argue that we always have been manipulated by influencers but now it’s on an unprecedented scale. Billions of people vying for attention – it’s terrifying.

In a world where social media is king we are seeing people like Kate Moss start up ‘talent agencies’ where the idea is to grow brands – personally I’d rather see people grow. As a branding designer with nearly 20 years experience it frightens me how we’ve adopted this phrase to create a self marketing culture that business is now tapping into on an unprecedented scale. Phrases like ‘Brand Beckham’ or ‘Brangelina’ are only the celebrity tip of the iceberg and part of the serious issues modern society is facing. I remember a time where talent was needed not fame. 

I don’t want runners to follow this trend and I don’t believe I’m alone in that thought. Yes we have famous runners and yes we are seeing the everyday runner adopting brands and promoting them but I’m hoping the talent and desire to do the running remains and it’s not just about leaping round in new trainers to show off on Instagram. And I would always want clarity on when a runner is promoting a brand or being incentivised to talk about it – it’s the stealth element I want weeded out.

Now I can hear you ask about OMM and the hypocrisy of this blog post in light of my application to be an ambassador. Let me address that.

It’s true that I made a very public request to be considered for the 2016 OMM ambassadorship and failed to be selected. Does this make me a hypocrite? I hope not, I had very specific and genuine reasons for applying. In my defence I was quite clear in my open letter / application / blog post to them that I was an existing user of their kit and would continue to operate independently in my opinions of their kit and their events – probably part of the reason I wasn’t selected. 

I wasn’t looking for kit supplies or reward I was genuinely interested in testing and using kit for the purpose of providing support to a brand that I really love using and the running community at large.

It’s worth noting that despite not getting the role of ambassador I still use OMM kit daily and have paid for it all myself. No freebies means there’s no compromise and never will be. 

Reviewing for free or a fee? It’s the same with every review I’ve written – be it for an event, piece of kit or some nutritional aid – I’ve paid for it.

Perhaps this is why I like DC Rainmaker so much – he makes a point of being thorough, honest and as a point of principal paying for the kit (eventually) that he uses. I believe it’s one of the key reasons he retains the respect of the sports review community, it’s not just that he writes tremendous reviews.

There are people who walk this line better than others with clear indications when they are ‘on brand’ and there is no deliberate stealth marketing but it’s a very murky area.

However, to my mind, brands would always be better pouring less money into ‘sporting galacticos’ or developing ‘social media superstars’ and spending more time in building genuine relationships and connections that will offer longevity.

Sadly we all know the power of names like ‘Beckham’ or ‘AirJordan’ sell product enmasse and I don’t blame brands for bringing them on board but you can blame them for buying ‘likes’ and ‘fans’ lower down the social media strata in an attempt to inflate sales or worse create illusions, this takes the idea of member get member too far.

Sadly we’re a material society and an endorsed product will sell. That an endorsed product will sell better than one that isn’t says much about ‘today’ but the fact that a brand feels the need to have members of the public hammer home these sales messages tells much about brand greed – it just feels a step too far into dishonesty.

It’s a marketing tactic that feels insidious and underhand. Perhaps that’s why I don’t fit the mould? When I add an Altra hashtag to an Instagram post it’s because it’s a photograph of an Altra product I’ve bought and love using – it’s not because the company is incentivising me to do so.

When I was asked by Mountain Buggy to write a piece for their blog I did so willingly and without any incentive because I liked the idea of promoting the ‘parent and child running in any environment’ angle. Mountain Buggy, to their credit, left my ramblings pretty much unedited and subsequently I’ve featured on their social media feeds several times – but interestingly my original review of the Mountain Buggy Terrain was written long before they made contact.

Would brands therefore be better cultivating genuine connections in the way Mountain Buggy did with me? I’ve spoken with hundreds of people (both real and digitally) about my buggy running adventures and I do the same every time, I give an honest recollection of my time using the running buggy.

It’s not all negative though, some brands are engaging with users via social platforms to create more honest ways to sell.

As an example we have an uplift in independent running shoe retailers (Hoka at George Fisher for example recently) offering test evenings for new kit – surely this is a great way of winning new converts without it feeling like you’re buying fans. Surely the smarter brands can develop more connected, less underhand ways of marketing and yet still hit the broad spectrum they need to achieve the required sales?

I’m still an idealist I guess – I like the Star Trek idea that we do things for the benefit of humanity but I know there is almost always a commercial imperative. But I’d hope that if enough people fall out of love with guerilla marketing we might see more genuine attempts by brands to engage with their current and potential customers.

So what now? Well if I don’t add you as a social media connection, if I don’t favourite your photograph or post some witless comment then it could be because I’m no longer sure who I’m talking with (although it’s more likely it’s because I just haven’t checked my requests recently 😀). Ultimately in conclusion I’m not against marketing (my job depends on it) but I want it to be a little more transparent about how it’s reaching out to you/me/everyone and who it’s using to reach out.

Adios for now

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