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Honesty



Life, the universe and then? 
Sometimes you can guide your life in such a way to make you believe that you have control and other times life simply asserts its dominance over you and gives you a bloody good kicking. I think I’ve had a charmed life, certainly over the past 10 years or so. I’ve been very fortunate that it’s morphed into something I consider very happy but it wasn’t always like that.

Finding happiness? One of the big pieces in the happiness puzzle was running, but unlike others who may have been Olympically or middle-age inspired, I came to running because I was going through the darkest period of my life. 

I’ve said before that I started running in late 2011 but that’s not strictly true – I’ve always run.

At school I ran the 100m, 200m and 400m, I was a decent cross-country runner and I enjoyed it much more than football, cricket or rugby. I was then an intermittent/lazy runner until around 2003 when I took a 3 month stay in sunny Scarborough because I needed to recover from what was effectively breaking down.

I suppose the truth of the matter is that I really arrived at a life filled with running because of this serious lapse in my mental health. I’d been in a relationship with a woman that had turned sour a year earlier and despite an a acrimonious break-up when she came calling, with serious issues of her own, I stupidly returned to try and help her.

This act of affection broke me into a million pieces, the problem I had was that I wasn’t qualified to help with her problems and she dragged me down beyond the point of being able to see clearly enough to prevent myself from drowning. I’m sure I’m not alone in such situations but at the time I felt at my lowest ebb and unable to see anything ahead of me – it felt a lot like I imagine the end of a wasted life would feel.

Though I don’t have a definitive recollection of everything that happened I do recall considering ending my own life, although I had framed it in thoughts such as, ‘what would happen if I wasn’t here?’ ‘Who would care?’ and ‘could a train ever not kill a human being in a direct hit situation?’

However, in reality, suicide wasn’t really on the cards as an option but it lurked as a concept. 

Thankfully I didn’t do that and I made a desperate decision that plays a huge role in influencing my life to this day…

I’d called my uncle.

He and his family lived in North Yorkshire and they kindly offered a place to stay and support. Little did I know his help would manifest itself best in reviving my love of running.

My uncle in his younger days had been a decent runner but as age, life and pies get to you then you let yourself go a bit and he had. It seemed we both benefitted from the fresh Scarborough coast line as we ran daily. The hilly roads and hillier cliff trails of North Yorkshire providing ample respite from my own stupidity. I even saw Jimmy Saville running up and down my hill a few times in the days when he was still ‘Saint Jim’.

My uncle was (and assume is) a pragmatic man and his approach of seaside air combined with exercise might seem a bit Victorian but actually I hadn’t gone so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t be reached and his solution was the right remedy for me.

We didn’t really talk in any detail about what went on, (stereotypically) men don’t, northern men don’t and we didn’t – other than a brief chat on a late night stroll up the hill to his home. I think this left us both a little uncomfortable and neither of us ever really returned to the topic other than in one heated argument (the point at which I knew I was recovering and knew it was time to leave).

But with limited exchanges over my mental wellness I felt the need to balance the support provided by my uncle and his wife by adding in talking therapy as a way of exploring what had brought me to my knees. Unfortunately I found a therapist determined to focus on my parents as the root of the issues I had rather than the slightly more obvious ex-girlfriend fucking around in my head. Thankfully I found the therapist and I got on very well and the conversations quite stimulating which in turn opened up my own ability for assessment with a renewed clarity.

In the weeks that followed I was able to reconnect with myself and through my newly acquired active lifestyle I began to feel physically and mentally stronger.

I started to set out some basic life rules* that (mostly) to this day I live by, but at the heart of that was a promise to myself that I would be active – this would form the cornerstone of ‘me’. I also came to understand that my life rules must be fluid and flexible because it was my own dogma that had made me fragile and vulnerable. However, in my dealings with the ex-girlfriend I had compromised myself and no amount of flexibility should allow that to happen again. 

And so armed with words to live by I did just that and the past 15 years have been (mostly) the best of my life. And in all that time only once have I had a scare that it might all come tumbling down and that was last year during my very public retirement from running.

The Risk of Return? With the GingaNinja disagreeing about how much running I do I found myself in something of a quandary. After many successful years of both good mental health and running I found myself in a position where I was being asked to curtail some of my active exploits.

The danger of this was an immediate downward spiral back towards being less mentally happy which would ultimately (I believe) have endangered my relationship.

I tried to explain this without the context of my experiences in the early 2000s and feel that withholding this information made the problem worse than it needed to be. Thankfully a solution was achieved where I neither compromised the security of my health or my relationship. No easy feat but it was the right outcome.

Times and people change. In the years since I first encountered a mental health problem I’ve become a very different person, so much so that my near 40 year old self would barely recognise the younger me. And even though I’m still a reasonably anxious person it now fails to overwhelm me, I’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘everything will just keep happening so I’ll just get on with my bit’ and this is just fine, but it felt like it was a very long road to get to this stage.

Concluding. I never thought I was a candidate to struggle with mental health and I never believed it would take nearly 15 years for me to talk about it in a public way but perhaps I simply no longer care what anyone else thinks. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen lots of blogs and forums on the topic and feel that my experience may be of use to someone or maybe I just like talking about myself.

However, having discussed other peoples challenges and resolutions in search of greater understanding I’ve come to realise that no two issues or answers are the same. I’m a big advocate for an adventurous, running lifestyle to give yourself breathing space and time to think but I am very aware this isn’t for everyone and need only look to my ex-girlfriend who helped bring my own problems to the fore. Running was not the solution for her but it was for me.

What I would urge anyone who finds themselves in a difficult position, anxious, depressed, sad or some other form of mental illness is to seek support (support information from Mind, click here). There are options and most of all there are ways to navigate around or away from difficultied but your journey will be as unique as you are and recovery takes effort and nothing in life is guaranteed.

But ultimately stay happy and as Bill and Ted said, ‘Be excellent to each other’.

While you’re here below are a few facts from mentalhealth.org.uk 

  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem.
  • In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression – a 1.5% increase from 2013. This percentage was higher among females (22.5%) than males (16.8%).
  • Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide
  • Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use) are reported to be the primary drivers of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.
  • Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

And these numbers from Mind make sad reading (the full survey and information can be read here);

  • Generalised anxiety disorder 5.9 in 100 people
  • Depression 3.3 in 100 people
  • Phobias 2.4 in 100 people
  • OCD 1.3 in 100 people
  • Panic disorder 0.6 in 100 people
  • Post traumatic stress disorder 4.4 in 100 people
  • Mixed anxiety and depression 7.8 in 100 people

*For those interested and still reading I earlier mentioned the ‘Life Rules’ I established nearly 15 years ago. Having found the original list I wrote I have down exactly as was in my sketchbook. It was a good list then and it’s a good list now.

  • Be curious
  • Keep moving
  • Look up
  • Question
  • Listen
  • Fight
  • Never compromise yourself
  • Work hard, earn everything
  • Stand up for your beliefs
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Give people what they need not what they want
  • Have faith in people
  • Live the life fantastic

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


I started my cost assessment of the past 12 months when I felt confident I could take out the expense of going to the UTMB festival last August, which I felt had unbalanced my costs.

However, on reflection it seems it doesn’t matter and my 2016 costs have been just as high despite running less than in 2015. But why is that? The first thing I needed to do was break down my spending over the last 12 months and see where the primary cost centres have been.

For the purpose of the post costs will be broken down into a number of sectors to help identify where my money goes;

  • Race entry
  • Kit
  • Travel & accommodation
  • Nutrition
  • Medical

Race entry has been reasonable in the last 12 months with very few races reaching the £100 point. This has helped to keep the overall total down and this combined with less racing being done means my race costs have actually reduced themselves.

It breaks down something like this – since October 2015 I’ve done or entered Ranscombe (3 times), Country to Capital, the Green Man, Skye Trail Ultra, Brutal Enduro, Endure 1250, Vanguard Way Marathon, Ridgeway Challenge, High Weald 50km, World Vegan Day Challenge, Haria Extreme, Madeira Island Ultra Trail.

This of course covers some races that have yet to take place and I’ve started booking in 2017 races so that cost is absorbed in 2016. I don’t mind paying a decent amount for a great race but I insist on value for money.

Foreign races almost always tend to cheaper than their UK counterparts, SainteLyon was about £48 and even Madeira with sterling slumping badly to the Euro came out at about £75 and Haria Extreme about £60 – all significant and well regarded races – all cheap as chips.

Racing can be a very expensive hobby but I hope I’ve shown a modicum of control in my outlay and you certainly won’t be catching me entering a ‘Rat Race’ or ‘Race to the…’ anytime again!

Total cost: £1100 (approx).

Running Kit
2016 was the year of major running wardrobe refreshing. Some kit had worn out and some I’d fallen out of love with and some kit I wanted to add options to.

A new Ultimate Direction Waterproof and Suunto Ambit 3 were expensive bits of individual kit but I also bought nearly 20 pairs of socks (testing Ashmei, Darn Tough and new Injinji liners bulked out my orders).

Running tops, shorts and even race bags all were updated. There was also the addition of bike trailer so that I could do cycle training with UltraBaby.

And for an exciting change running shoes were at the lighter end of expenses this year with only a dozen new pairs brought in but with 5 pairs of Altra, On Cloudrunners and some other random oddities there was still enough to add over a £1000 to quite a significant total.

What is important to note though that other than the Altra (which I usually buy the moment they are available) I tended to get very good prices on most things, rarely paying over the odds but always supporting the independent retailer. I tend to find that when you buy from brands such as OMM, Rab, Ronhill, Raidlight and Ultimate Direction you won’t always get cheap kit but you’ll usually get a bargain because the kit lasts and does it’s job properly (another bloody good reason to boycott Sports Direct).

I digress… ideally these purchases mean that 2017 will be less new kit intensive and more a case of topping up if I need something specific. Fingers crossed.

Total cost: £3000 (approx).

Travel and accommodation
This is always the one that’s most difficult to measure but this year there has been a marked increase in me going to races alone and therefore I’ve seen an increase in travel and accommodation costs. Lanzarote, Madeira and the Isle of Skye have been the biggest costs but it’s difficult to break the numbers down for trips that also include a holiday element as I’m more extravagant when family travel with me.

Skye though I travelled alone, used the sleeper train and bus and stayed at a local youth hostel, that came in at about £275 for 3 days on Skye with food as extra. Infact I think food at Skye was my biggest expense but then I didn’t exactly scrimp – eating at every opportunity at the excellent and reasonably priced Cafe Sia.

This is probably now the most expensive part of running, especially when you’ve exhausted all your local races and you’ve got to start travelling to avoid repetitive race injury (or boredom as I think of it). I do try and limit my foreign racing to just a couple per year (to avoid over stretching my families patience) but there’s always another one. Upcoming from my base in sunny Kent I’m committed to Surrey, the Brecons, Madeira, the South Downs as race destinations and I’m liable to add the Pilgrims Way and at least one race in France.

Perhaps though it’s the biggest travel expense I’m already thinking about and that would be a trip to Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee if I can figure out how to get on the list – but that’s buried in the future.

So what’s included here then? Accommodation costs, flights, train fares and approximate petrol costs.

Total cost: £3000 (approx)

Nutrition
I’m glad I don’t spend a small fortune on expensive running food as a) I don’t really like it and b) it’s way too expensive – I’m happiest with a big slab of cake and a mug of sweet tea or a chicken cup-a-soup. However, I’m usually not a big fan of the food provided at aid stations and so I normally spend anywhere between £10 and £45 per ultra on food including chocolate milkshakes, Reece’s cups, Biltong, pasties, chicken, chocolate and even pizza.

Medical
I’d love to say my medical bill was zero but it isn’t – thankfully my physio bill has been much lower than normal and my doctor charges a very sensible £10 per signature. Under medical though we also have to add all the potions, lotions and bits of rubbery neoprene I’ve used to try and keep my legs fit – there was also the TENS machine (a very good purchase I might add) and lots of other bits and bobs that just add up.

Total cost: £700 (approx)

This isn’t a post designed to say ‘oooo look at me and how much money I spend on running’ not at all. Actually it’s designed as a two-fold post, the first is a reminder to me that running can be a very expensive hobby and also it’s worth looking at your costs to ensure you aren’t being too wasteful.

There’s no doubt for example that I own too many pairs of trail shoes and that I probably don’t need to consider buying the GoPro Session 5 and the Karma drone when they arrive in the UK but as I’ve stated before running is my primary (and often only) hobby. This ultimately means I’ve always been comfortable with my spending, when I compare it to the cost of smoking four packets of cigarettes a week (around £2,500 per annum) then running/racing is comparatively cheap with lots of added benefits – it’s the same with booze, if we take the average cost of a pint of lager as £3.15 (asked Google – more like £4.00 in Greater London) and assume a person drinks his/her units maximum per week then the annual cost of (just the) beer is around £2,000 – an expensive habit, I’d rather run.

For me, the cost of running is never allowed to spiral uncontrollably either as ultimately I’m a bit of a tight arse and it never takes priority ahead of the more important things in life such as chocolate but I do keep a sensible eye on it.

How do I make sure I keep costs relatively consistent while at the same time ensuring I’m doing the races I really want to do, in the kit I want to wear, in places I want to go? Well that’s become easier because it’s increasingly become about finding quality and happiness. Both the Isle of Skye and the SainteLyon could have cost a lot more but it wouldn’t have improved my experience.

Maybe that’s the key, when you’re doing something brilliant or epic or both it becomes only about that tremendous journey and not all the glitz around it.

Any tips?

Book early
Flights and accommodation especially, this become harder to find and more expensive the closer to race day you get and if you have specific needs it’s best to get these done as soon to your entry as possible.

AirBnB
Although I haven’t stopped using hotels I’ve found using AirBnB to be a very useful service. For trips to Perth, Chamonix and now Lanzarote and Madeira I’ve taken to hiring a home. For a runner there are a number of benefits – the main one being space and facilities. Obviously for an overnight then a travelodge or similar are often fine but the AirBnB option has made family race travel particularly accessible.

European running an option?
Pre-Brexit European running was/is very much an option. Cheap flight to somewhere nice, a bit of wild camping and for £50 and an inconvenient take-off you can have a weekend of running in the trails of somewhere fantastically exciting. Alternatively as I’ve indicated there are a world of great races out there – as an example the Istanbul Marathon is about £25 to enter! Seems like a bargain to me. This isn’t to say that you can’t run in the UK or wild camp up in the highlands of Scotland BUT our petrol prices are stupidly high as are our rail fares and most weekends (when many of us doing our LSR) have severe delays and cancellations making many locations inaccessible. Although I would draw everyone’s attention to the London to Cardiff option I came across last night while researching travel options for the SW100 – train (London Paddington – Cardiff) £75, 2hrs or bus (London Victoria – Cardiff) £6, 3.5hrs. So there are options here too. Something to consider for an adventure.

Shop around for kit
Kit is a big expense but there are ways of maximising our money to ensure we make the most of our spend. The first is to browse through sales – we often love our kit but as it’s original release date gets further away the cost becomes less because manufacturers want to sell us the next iteration. Therefore last seasons colours become cheaper. Bingo.

This leads into the point about buying the best, most suitable kit you can. I split my kit into two distinct piles, the first is race kit, the second is training kit and while there is crossover there is quite a distinct line between the two. For example my SLab Exo Skin shorts never get used for training because they wouldn’t offer anything more than my favourite pairs of Nike twin skin shorts do but on race day they feel like uniform and at 50 miles in I’m grateful for the mild compression. This also means though that the £100 Salomon shorts although much more brittle than the Nike shorts will probably last the same amount of time. It’s true that the Nike shorts (3 different pairs) get worn every single day and the Salomon have been used less than 50 times but it’s an efficient use of kit and resource.

Remember the best kit doesn’t have to be the most expensive it just has to be right for you.

To that point I’d also give a mention to companies like Decathlon who do inexpensive, well crafted outdoor and running gear. No it doesn’t have a swoosh on the side and all the kit had stupid names but it’s excellent kit and well thought out. I still own base layers I bought from Decathlon 12 years ago and they are still going strong (4 short sleeve, 1 long sleeve – £15 the lot). Bargain. The most important thing not to be sucked in by is the ‘Sports Direct Discount’ it’s not real and you’ll get significantly harder wearing, better cut,equally priced kit from more reputable retailers who bring them good sporting knowledge.

Avoid events?
This one would make me sad but you could if you so wished simply not do the events or only do social ultras/social runs or LDWA events – cheap and brilliant ways of getting together with like minded people at a fraction of the cost.

Conclusions
So my total cost for running in 2016 was £7800.00 (approx). It seems like a decent whack of cash when you commit it to blog but it’s a number I can live with and believe it to be fairly in line with expectation – although I suspect I’ve been kind to myself in where I’ve drawn the line on what is a running cost and running/adventuring is very much part of the family lifestyle – so it gets a bit murky.

As a final point and to encourage people and remind them RUNNING DOESN’T HAVE TO COST ANYTHING. Remember all you need is the will and determination to get out there.

I’m curious to know how much you lot out there spend on running and do you think you’ve got the balance right in your spending?


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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