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Do you remember in 1997 when the Blair government swept into power and it filled the country with hope. Do you remember? We talked of tolerance, building great things, a global, connected UK, part of something bigger with our European partners but owning special relationships that would cement our post as a leader on the world stage.

Do you remember this?

I’m not saying it was all rosy, far from it. The invasion of Iraq will always be considered something of difficult point from this period and the Labour move right gave too much power to those who believe that ‘Greed is Good’. But it was an interesting time that was underpinned by attempts to move the UK forward in devolution, into a 21st century knowledge based economy and into an important global state punching well above our weight.

I entered adulthood at the beginning of this period and am grateful for it because all that I’ve built personally came out of my belief in the UK and its future. 

I roll forward less than a decade and I see the mess that the UK has driven itself toward. How did we become a country so inward looking? How did we hand over the reigns of our country to those that will govern for the few? When did reality television and beauty pageants permeate our politics? I’m not blaming one political party – they’re all pretty manky but we’re now at crunch time again.

I spent my weekend poring over the manifestos of the main parties that I might consider voting for and some I’d be unlikely to vote for. I was looking for the things that I could be confident will make a difference to the future of myself, my family, my country and our place in the world.

The truth is that all the major political parties concern me, the Tories look set to further turn the thumbscrews in the UK on all but the rich and powerful. Labour are struggling to break down a perception of ineptitude and the smaller parties carry no weight.

Castle MaySkull might be saying it’s taking nothing for granted but her manifesto says she is very much taking votes for granted assuming that the grey vote and the leave voters will simply agree to her need for an iron fist in the battle with the EU. Sadly though when you drill down into the Conservative or Team May manifesto it look out of ideas and is just too vague. I wonder who would be fooled by this?

Perhaps it’s worth remembering that when our backs are against the wall we aren’t all in it together, are we Theresa? 

On the opposite side we have Labour this time with some really interesting ideas but they are beset by the problem of a leadership that looks unelectable.

However, they’re the only party that says it, ‘will guarantee no rises in income tax for those earning below £80,000 a year, and no increases in personal National Insurance Contributions or the rate of VAT’. Can Labour really do this and protect the income of those that need it most?

They believe they can commit to their manifesto spending promises in ways other than raising personal tax, corporation tax seems a good start and let’s be honest there are a couple of projects they could probably bin to help them achieve it (HS2 anyone? Although I like the idea of a northern Crossrail).

The Labour manifesto actually looks like it was written for everybody and while people will quiz the numbers (even an old Trotskyist like me isn’t 100% sold on the numbers) this is a manifesto designed to give hope.

The question is can Team Corbyn win over the doubters or at least hold back a Tory landslide, because May went to the polls to wipe Labour out and win back the UKIPpers and if that doesn’t happen then what does that say about her position?

As for the Liberal Democrats, well they might as well be offering unicorns for votes, the manifesto has interesting ideas, tax rises, student maintenance grants and of course the second referendum on the deal the UK is offered on leaving the EU. However, the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to trouble the UK electorate greatly and therein lies the problem with them. People don’t trust them and as a consequence people may not vote for them.

So what does it come down to for me? Well I had originally been very conflicted over this election, concerned by Labour, appalled by the Conservatives and underwhelmed by the Liberal Democrats.

However, having read the bulk of the manifestos I’m confident that the best of the options is the vision being put forward by Labour. No it’s not perfect and in an ideal world I’d have another option – one that was steadfastly against the stupidity of leaving Europe but that option doesn’t exist. I’m still disgusted at the EU referendum result and I still hugely disappointed in the Labour/Corbyn level of support for remaining in the EU. But I have to support a Labour manifesto at this election because the other options are simply too terrifying to contemplate.

And if I want to be part of Europe? Well maybe I’ve got to stand myself at some point – no point bleating on if you’re unwilling to get your hands dirty.

But…

What am I asking you to do? I’d urge you all to ensure you register to vote, I’d urge you all to listen carefully to the words of politicians, read their manifestos and when you get the chance, question them.

Too many broken promises from all sides have been made and look at the UK now, it wasn’t the EU that made this mess – it was us and a succession of lying, cheating governments. I do care who you vote for because I have an opinion but all I can ask of you is that you make the most informed decision that you can. 

Forget party lines, look at yourself, your family, your work and everyone else’s situation and select the option that will give all of us a better, fairer quality of life.

And if you think that Theresa May and her vision will do that then god* help us all.

*Other fictional characters are available.

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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

Do you remember a time before the referendum when we were all worried but knew it would be okay?

We’d stay in Europe and we’d have at least another 4 years of a democratic White House in the US. The world seemed unstable but that common sense would prevail.I’d been participating in the debate for the Referendum, very much on the side of remain and although it looked perilously tight we should pull through.

I tell this as a true story – I had not intended to as it upsets me greatly, it is told from my perspective but it is very much what I witnessed and in light of the horrific results in the US presidential election and the ongoing referendum fall-out it seems appropriate to try and put into perspective why this image summed up the referendum for me.

A battered Y registered, turquoise Opel Astra with a near collapsed suspension thundered up behind me. In the car was a rather grubby, drawn faced looking man with the stench of tobacco and weed about him I noted as he pulled up beside me, his one arm driving technique making me take a step further back on to the pavement. In the back of the vehicle three children sat, but I barely had time to notice them as the driver bawled at me ‘where’s this fucking polling station mate?’

I offered the information he was looking for, ‘first left and a couple of hundred metres up on the right, it’s the local church centre if you know it?’

He pulled away without saying a word and by the time he had driven up I had pretty much arrived too. There was a queue and he was before me, turned out his name was ‘Michael’ and he had been speaking to some of the others about his vote. I listened because here, in this man, I could hear the voice of discontent and also the level of ignorance that hadn’t just invaded my community but much of the country.

‘Kick ’em out,’ he said, ‘I mean not all of ’em – Alvin at the Chinky does a lovely lemon chicken’. Michael was making me want to vomit, partly due to the smell, partly due to his quiet tirade. Perhaps he didn’t realise that the pizza he had recently ordered is more famously associated with Italy or that his Opel Astra has long standing German links. The people around him didn’t shuffle uncomfortably at his words, they merely smiled politely, they were older and tried at least not to encourage him.

Michael eventually voted, I’ll assume ‘Leave’ and I voted ‘Remain’ we both left.

He opened the door to his car, telling his children it was time to pick up the pizza (that’s how I know what was on the menu that evening) and he left, driving as wildly as when I first encountered him.

I returned home in dismay, worried about the result.

I can’t know for sure but Michael didn’t appear to be a regular voter – his lack of knowledge of the polling stations location despite his local accent suggested he had made a special effort to vote. But the things he said while waiting where hideous and given the evidence of the months since the referendum result we can see that he really isn’t alone.

I know not everyone who voted ‘Leave’ is a Michael, but I wonder if we really want to hand the keys of the UK to people like this? If they get what they want where do they stop? Michael didn’t mind Alvin at the Chinese takeaway but I wondered how he felt about the local barber who is actually an Iraqi refugee. A young man who fled conflict in his own country and has made a good life for himself here, married to a lovely Polish lady and now with a British born child. How far does the anti-immigration view go? How far has hate in England and Wales engulfed our nation and our national identity? 

Last night I was told by the lovely Lesley that ‘we’d lost’ but to everyone who thinks it’s okay to just accept defeat then I’d ask you to look again.

Do you know a Michael? Do you want the future of the UK to be determined by a vision built on fear and loathing. I want my daughter to know I fought every single day to give her an inclusive, tolerant future and if that means being less tolerant of the ridiculousness the people of the UK and the Westminster elite have brought down upon us then so be it.

Being an ultra marathon runner you come to realise that the starting gun or vote is just the beginning of the race and I’m hoping that those who want to be part of the EU feel like endurance runners because this race has a steep profile, lots of evil elevation and big fast downhills but by holding steady, getting our nutrition right we might just finish this. Let’s hope those who dream of an EU-less UK have gone out too quick and blown up at checkpoint one.


What kind of world do you really want?

One ruled by a Putin or a Trump or both? Businesses run by people like Philip Green? Weak political figures ruling our country like David Cameron and Theresa May? The media run by the ‘double D’ of Dacre and Desmond the likes of the ‘triple M’ Maxwell, Murdoch and Morgan? And our circus run by Simon Cowell, Ant, Dec or Alan Sugar? Maybe you want the good of days of Margaret Thatcher and Bernard Manning? Or maybe you dream of a time when Oswald Mosley was bumbling around and the Daily Mail cried ‘All hail the blackshirts’.

Perhaps you’re the type of person that goes shopping and wishes that all accents sound like yours or that the only skin tone different to yours comes from two weeks in Magaluf.

Maybe you feel that refugees are someone else’s problem, that The Daily Mail, The Express and the Murdoch Empire have a point.

Maybe you worry more about people with names like Kardashian rather than people who will probably die with no name.

Perhaps you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind foreigners who take over football clubs and big business but you mind them in the NHS and your local takeaway.

Maybe you’re the person who thinks fame is better than talent and that any religion outside your own is wrong and probably dangerous and full of hatred towards others.

Maybe you don’t care about Sterling and it’s dramatic drop against the dollar and the Euro. You were probably unmoved by its terrible performance as a currency and you probably don’t care about the fact it rallied (a little) after the result of this weeks high court ruling.

You probably don’t care that people, post referendum result, are being abused for being from other countries and you’re the kind of person who thinks Al Murray isn’t a character.

Maybe you’ve just buried your head in the sand, you probably deny global warming and think Fracking is a good idea.

You probably think the banking industry considering pulling out of the UK is a positive and that devolution is something that turns Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish into Neanderthals rather than the opportunity of greater independence.

You might be the kind of person who looks at Donald Trumps ‘Wall’ proposal and think that would be handy for keeping Johnny Foreigner out.

If any of that looks familiar then the chances are you voted to ‘Leave the EU’.

Sadly not all of you are like the people I’ve described above, some of you who voted Leave are the clever, the wise and the witty. I really should despise you for taking a country I love into the darkest of possible futures. But… you’re the people who can now make a difference to our country.

You have the opportunity to look again at a refugee and see a person, you can look at the deep fear in the country and uncertainty and choose to change you view on our future. You can see the rises coming in the cost of living that are only just beginning and say enough is enough.

Maybe you can do me a favour and have a little look outside and ask yourself if ‘that’s a place I want to live?’

It’s never too late to stop something stupid, it’s never too late to help your fellow man, it’s never too late to stand up and be counted. Greed, hate, envy, mistrust – these are the new cornerstones of our future. I want you to look at yourself, your neighbour, your fellow man and ask what the future holds for each of them. Are you prepared to make a tough decision to improve the future for everyone and fight for our right to be a European?

Don’t listen to hate, don’t listen to the Trumps or the Farages of this world, they are wrong about the future. Remember the EU didn’t create our problems we did, the UK did and only together with the EU, working together, being stronger together, can we achieve our maximum potential.

It is togetherness, positivity, innovation and curiosity that will drive our future. In light of the High Courts ruling that Parliament must be involved in the process of leaving the EU we have a genuine chance to re-evaluate our position (on all sides). I want to urge us all, be you a politician, business leader, cultural icon, religious leader, media magnate or person on the street – get involved.

Fight for the future – this one really is worth it

And in a related matter I’d urge Americans to do the right thing, we might have screwed up but you do not have to. Vote Clintonyes she’s not perfect but she will not take the world into the abyss and she will help to progress our world.

And to everyone else, take on board the Bill and Ted mantra, ‘Be excellent to one another’.

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