Saturday, September 21, 2019

On The Families We Choose Ourselves

Families and communities are funny things. There’s the traditional notions of both which we belong to by virtue of our existence, but sometimes it’s the ones we choose for ourselves that can make the most impact on a point in our lives.

We all have families and communities that we choose for ourselves. Some of those have a more permanent presence in our lives such as partners, extra parents or your favourite 'aunty'. Some are more transient like work colleagues, friends associated with a particular time or place, or the people who make up the fabric of an activity. For me, running has been a lot like that.


I joined a running group back in 2015 in Cambridgeshire and shifted to a running club in a similar area in 2016. I still have friends from the first group who I see (and travel to ridiculous race challenges with- HI JO!) now, but the time of that community is now passed for me. My running home in March Athletics Club gave me a sense of home for my running with a family supporting every person in it and creating a network of amazing people from diverse backgrounds, joined with a common goal. And it’s in running that I’ve found a most recent community with a global family.

I’ve been running with AR (Adidas Runners) London since January. Having already have a flavour of how good it can be to join with other runners, but also how awful it can be having tried a few London groups and clubs out, AR has been an important part of a year that’s been full of highs and also full of challenges. It’s been a space in which to meet people who pick me up and make me smile after a rough day in the office. It’s a space in which I’ve been able to push myself without fear of ridicule or questioning of my motivation. It’s a space in which I’m able to support others, and in which I hope even one person has left feeling just a bit more like the superhero they are. It’s a tricky one to explain to those who aren’t involved in the community, not least because we bare the name of a brand, which comes with amazing opportunities but it also often leads to the misconception that we’re only there for the potential of free stuff.

I have to admire Adidas for something that is a bit of a genius marketing concept to create running communities across the world that carry their name, but into which they have limited input and so we are so much more than a handy offshoot for the brand, which brings me to last week…


My Instagram stories were a bit mad with pictures and reposts of 8 people (including me) and some pretty spectacular offices- who has an athletics track, football pitch, climbing wall, volleyball nets, hockey pitches and tennis courts at their offices? Yeah, thought not. But Adidas do. I was invited to Adidas HQ, a massive campus just outside Nürnberg, Germany with 7 other runners from 6 different AR communities from around the world for a rebranding collaboration to make sure we, as the AR community, put out there into the world an image that represents us and our values to perfection. Quite aside the idea that the Brand Identity team for a huge global brand invited us to come and tell them who we are, as opposed to having a brand dictate that to us, I have to talk about the additional dimension that my global AR family gives to the whole experience because let me tell you, it has been an INTENSE week full of all the feels!

For me, the simple 2D version of a running family is having a place to go, a sense of purpose and accountability to my training and running. And you can find that in pretty much any running club or group. Show up, run, don’t be a dick. It’s pretty simple.


What makes the community 3D is the friendships. It’s remembering you speak a tony bit of French because you got talking to the person who’s living and working here from Bordeaux and has become the friend you look for in the crowd. It’s the person who lifts you up off the floor in a hug when you walk in the door. It’s the people we get to cheer for when they complete their very first run, ever , with a massive smile on their happy, strong, empowered faces. It’s still being in my running kit 12 hours after we finished a run, and went for a ‘coffee’.

That three dimensional community spirit is something I know and love. I’ve been so fortunate to have it more than once, and especially so in sports. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have a varied community of people who are united with you in common joys and values, but what happens when you take that and make it 4D?


The experience of meeting AR runners from Paris, LA, Athens, Shanghai, Milan and Berlin has suddenly leaves me realising just how epic this whole concept is. Knowing that I have my London AR family is important, but globally, it’s the realisation that wherever there is an AR community, I have cousins who share the same values and we all pride ourselves on those, and that means welcoming our brothers and sisters and far flung cousins with open arms, and probably using it as an excuse to have a bit of a party! It’s coming together with people who are complete strangers and by the simple virtue of a t-shirt, knowing we share in something bigger than us, and bigger than our home communities. It’s laughing until you cry over mint leaves with Paris. It’s running for a flight connection with Milan. It’s trading stories about chocolate with LA. It’s working out if we can share a full set of clean clothes for Athens because their baggage went missing. It’s comparing Berlin to your best friend because the look like brothers. It’s trading t-shirts for chilli sauce. It’s working out when and how we can meet again, because the idea of not being together makes us all a little bit (more) emotional.

Last week, a major global brand opened up their doors, their Maker Lab and their Brand Identity team to 8 runners from 7 cities and asked us: what do you share, who are you, what does it feel like, how can we represent all this for you.

Yup, sometimes I wonder if they made a mistake when they picked me too, but I don’t think I’ve ever pinched myself and been grateful for this amazing privilege as many times as I have done during and since.


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