My most inspiring run (and how to start running)

Andrew Missingham asked me some questions about my running recently. In the interests of sharing and thinking in public – here they are, along with some photos from my running…

1. What’s the most inspiring run you’ve ever been on, in a city? What was it about it that was inspiring? What time of day was it? What could you see, feel, hear, smell?

It was in New York City, one hot summer morning at dawn. I ran from Chelsea out to the Hudson and ran up to the Upper West Side, then back into Manhattan, through the southern end of Central Park and back down to where I’d started.

What was inspiring was the variety of things I saw. The rotting pillars of old freight jetties in the harbour, the early morning workers shuffling along the street and later the full strutting stampede of New Yorkers heading to offices and shops and studios. I saw the city wake up as I ran through it…


It was so hot even though the sun was just up. The various smells of the foreign city – the river, the trash, the traffic, the coffee and breakfasts being made in cafes and street stalls. It was exhilarating: New York always is – it’s a wonder of the world, the greatest city ever, organic and alive, decay and growing anew always. Incredible and captivating – you’re lucky to be there and to run there is to become a part of it, of the morning crowds of quiet runners and cyclists – dotted here and there on the avenues, moving in lumpy herds in Central Park and along the river.

The first part of the run, the dawn part along the river was wonderful. Once I’d made it to the waterside I was on Manhattan’s Greenway – I could run as far as I liked around the island without having to worry about roads, taking in the sights.

There were little parks along the route here and there. Some amazing sculptures of grey figures, eery and wonderful that made me stop to be sure they weren’t actual people dressed up (or something stranger). Those statues were literally inspiring, as I spent the next two or three miles making up a story about a sleeping disease whose sufferers rose like somnambulist zombies to terrorise the wakeful… fun.


2. When you go for a run, what would you wish was available on the run, that would make your run easier (and make you more likely to run?

I am pretty self-sufficient on most runs. Being of a gadget-ish disposition, I carry water and sports drinks (this is my current favourite thing – a Nathan Trail Mix 4 belt).  If it is very hot then somewhere to re-fill water bottles or buy a cold sports drink can be essential.

In cities, wide paths, well lit and public feel safer. Where there are other runners you always feel more secure to settle down into the groove of your run.

What makes runs easier are routes that mean you don’t have to cross roads. In part of New York runners share the wide bike lanes with cyclists. In Brighton, I like to run on the seafront or – even better – on the lonely chalk trails of the South Downs.


3. What tools do you use to inspire you (music, apps, maps etc.)? How do these help you? How might they inspire you more?

Route signs and maps are really helpful in places you don’t know so well. You can become stuck in a rut running the same routes sometimes and it is great to suddenly notice a lane or a park you can run through for variety.

Big maps on signs are useful when I don’t know the area so well as it is easy to get lost, especially if I don’t have my phone.

Signs that make it clear whether it is OK to run in a bike lane for instance are really helpful. If you feel you have the right to run somewhere, like you have permission, it stops you from worrying.

I listen to audiobooks and podcasts most while training. I used to listen to my favourite podcast – Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews – while commuting. Now I look forward to catching up with it on a 10 mile run at weekend. When things get tough though – the music comes on – I have playlists for endurance and for motivating me to run faster.


4. Taking yourself right back to the beginning of your running journey, what did it feel like to start running? How might the experience of running be made better, or easier for people just starting out?

Starting running is really hard. You have to overcome a lot of doubts about yourself and grow a habit of getting out there regularly. You have to not care that you look ridiculous, and you have to weather the odd nasty experience like being shouted at from cars or uncontrolled dogs chasing you.

What makes it easier?:

  • Apps:  The simple act of clocking up the miles on an app like Nike+ (as I did) or Runkeeper, helps you to see the progress you make.
  • Other runners. I got a good set of shoes and some running gear from Run, a shop run by brilliant runners in Hove. Along with your purchases you get encouragement and solid advice. The owner, Karl, is on Twitter and has given me some sage advice via tweets. Once I said that my morning outing had been “less of a run and more of a miserable shuffle through heavy rain”. Karl responded to the effect that “they all count, Antony – especially the duff ones”. From an experienced runner that felt valuable – and it’s a great way of thinking about rubbish runs – they are the ones where you really had to be tough to get out and finish them.
  • Good gear – and plenty of it: One thing I did early on that paid off was to make sure I had enough gear – tights, tops, socks, gloves, hats – so that I could always find something to wear for a run in any weather. Eliminating excuses not to go for a run one by one, is something that’s a good habit to keep.


  • Expert help. I kept getting a bad back having to stop running for months – then it would be hard to start all over again. Chiropracty just postponed the problem each time I went – it kept flaring up. When I went to see a professional sports physiotherapist I got the problem properly diagnosed (tight hamstrings) and sorted it out quickly – but basically, as part of the process, I learnt to run again. From scratch. Analysing my gait (running technique) on a treadmill he showed me how to run more efficiently, with a higher cadence and landing on my mid-foot. The effect was transformative and within a year I’d completed my fastest race and was rapidly getting fitter – a trajectory that continues today. (If you live near Brighton – he’s Kevin Hall: highly recommended!)
  • Supportive friends and family. My wife was so pleased I was running it really helped me get started and still helps me carry on as I run marathons and half-marathons fairly regularly. A couple of years ago she also took up running, which helps a lot. Praise means a lot from those you love – and often from other people too. (The flip-side is weird people who feel they have to warn you about the perils of running – with no apparent expertise on their side. You have to learn to ignore their “helpful” concerns.)
  • Advice and acceptance. Runners are incredibly inclusive for the most part and generous with advice on how to get better. Right at the start, I recall a Mum of one of our kids’ friends passing on the nugget that “it takes three weeks of running and then you are completely addicted”. Her advice was spot-on, and that helped me get through the first three tough weeks of starting to run. Continuing in that vein, the simple three-step advice I give to people wanting to start is:
  1. Get a good pair of trainers from a running shop – they will cost about £60-80.
  2. Run every other day for 20 minutes or two miles, walking whenever you need to – record it on an app like Nike+.
  3. Keep it up for three weeks. See how you feel then – and start setting goals – longer runs, enter a race and follow a race plan from Runner’s World. Find a Park Run near you to join in… and that’s it. You’re a runner.


Short blog post tips from @adders

Adam's response to my response as it were, has two super-practical principles for getting short blog posts written:

  1. Connect the thought “that's interesting” with the action of writing the blog post as closely as you can. Don't leave tabs mouldering in your browser, don't leave draft posts in your drafts folder. Get it done, and get out.
  2. Be very clear what the point you want to make is, make it and quit. Over a while, the various pots will built into a narrative of the issue you're exploring – and you can bring that narrative to a peak, if not a climax, by writing that longer post. But save that until the point where the creative damn is going to burst, by letting some pressure out over time with those short posts.


How to pitch a TV show


How do TV production teams develop and sell hit new shows like Grand Designs, Location, Location, Location, Embarrassing Bodies and Supernanny?

In another BBC College of Production podcast (I wrote about its episode on The Only Way is Essex and constructed reality shows the other day), a group of producers and commissioners (the people who buy the formats for a broadcaster) discussed their approaches.

Again, there are lessons here for anyone developing content or creative ideas, so I thought I’d share my notes:

Some beginners’ guides to Twitter


* * Updated * *

At the Brighton Digital Festival talk on online reputation for artists I did the other evening, I was asked to post some beginners’ guides to Twitter (thanks to Helen Wilshaw for the reminder).

Naturally there is a pretty good one in Me and My Web Shadow, but there’s no shortage of free good advice out there online…

Advice for web start-ups

Partly for a project I’m working on and partly to have another try at using the lovely Storify curation platform, I’ve pulled together this collection of my favourite links and resources about web start-ups.

Let me know what you think – and if there’s anything that should be added…


Image: Facebook’s old office in Palo Alto…

Glinner vs. Doctorow: Notes from The Story – Pt 1

* * Update: Audio for this talk is now available free at Storythings * *


Image: by Paolabililty ©2011 (as Cory Tweeted: “t

his pic PERFECTLY captures what it’s like to interview


on stage”)

The Story 2011 was exactly like the inaugural event a year ago. It was like the day just continued from where it left off – and for anyone who had been before, that was exactly what they wanted.

The Story is the brainchild of art, TV and tech Renaissance man, Matt Locke. He curates it unashamedly as “the conference I want to attend”, and it brings together a collection of storytellers from every medium and persuasion, from scientists to sculptors, live action role players to documentary makers.

For 2011, let’s start near the end… with the conversation between Graham Linehan, who wrote two of my favourite TV shows Father Ted and The IT Crowd, and Cory Doctorow, spec-fic author and co-editor of one the most popular blogs in the world.

In geeky circles, this was such an exciting pairing, I’m surprised there wasn’t some kind of Twitter singularity…

Star power aside, there were some brilliant insights into the writing methods of two very different writers.

Graham Linehan’s Method for Writing Sit-Coms

Graham starts from the producer of Father Ted’s maxim, that every sit-com episode needs two or three memorable set-pieces, e.g. Dougal on a Milk Float in a spoof of Speed…

  • He spends six months of constructive procrastination – he calls it “systematised goofing off” gathering ideas while mainly surfing the web.
  • Everytime he gets an inspiration it goes on a card. Cards are colour coded by characters.
  • An example would be a YouTube video he saw of a child crawling into an amusement arcade machine where a claw grabs the prizes – that became a set-piece in The IT Crowd where Moss dives into one after an iPhone…
  • When he has about 100 cards, it is time to begin…
  • The cards are laid out on the floor and he begins to string set pieces into episodes, about ten per episode (presumably they get thinned out).
  • Once he has the stack of set pieces per episode he has ” a good place to start”


Graham Linehan on collaborative writing online

Graham was clear that crowdsourcing and writing didn’t mix well, or at least they didn’t sit easily with him. He mentioned issues around taking advantage of people, reward, keeping conversation on topic and the risk that people feeling that their ideas had been “stolen”.

Incidentally, his prize bit of advice for writers starting out was not to be so worried about people taking their ideas – it is them themselves that will be what is valued by producers etc. That’s great advice for all sorts of creators – ideas are cheap, it is who carries them through and how they do it that makes all the difference.

There’s no tool that makes this easy, says Graham, having spent a fair bit of his “systematised goofing off” trying anything suitable out. So he uses Basecamp. He’s also thinking about experimenting with Beluga, which allows Twitter-like conversations in smaller groups.

He and about eight writers collaborated on the last season of The IT Crowd, using all sorts of things to spark off ideas, such as posting photos from and asking: How would Roy and Moss find themselves in this situation?


Cory Doctorow on blogging and writing

Whether he meant it this way or not, Cory’s approach to blogging was lovely, and I know I will be referring others to it as a useful approach to the format/platform in future:

  • Blog about why something is interesting in five sentences.
  • By doing that you are creating a searchable database.
  • If it is interesting, people will annotate it with comments.
  • After a while, there are enough posts and emerging themes that the case for a long-form piece of writing becomes clear.


: : Graham talked about the episode of The IT Crowd with the courtroom drama. In that there is a joke about malapropisms – one character talks about “a damp squid” while another talks about putting women on a pedal-stool. Maybe he was being slyly self-referential referential then when he was talking about “hyper-bowl“? Regardless, it tickled me. “We all have our blind spots, Jen…” (BTW – this how to pronounce “hyperbole” video is hilarious in itself (and yes, I appreciate I am writing an invitation to pedants to pick over my pronunciation, grammar etc, but that’s life on the web…).


: : Aside: Mostly these days I will take notes into an Outliner app on phone or Mac, or straight into Curio, but something about The Story made me want to take analogue, ink-based notes, so I grabbed notebook on my way out. When I opened it I realised it was the same one I used to take notes at The Story 2010. If I get the time (unlikely) I may even go back and put soem of those onto my blog as well.


Whitewalling: Teens create their own Facebook super log-off


Here’s an interesting approach that Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd found a young person using to manage their Facebook privacy and presence:

Mikalah uses Facebook but when she goes to log out, she deactivates her Facebook account. She knows that this doesn’t delete the account – that’s the point. She knows that when she logs back in, she’ll be able to reactivate the account and have all of her friend connections back. But when she’s not logged in, no one can post messages on her wall or send her messages privately or browse her content. But when she’s logged in, they can do all of that. And she can delete anything that she doesn’t like. Michael Ducker calls this practice “super-logoff” when he noticed a group of gay male adults doing the exact same thing.

Mikalah is not trying to get rid of her data or piss of her friends. And she’s not. What she’s trying to do is minimize risk when she’s not present to actually address it.

It goes to show that despite a platform’s desire to push people into disclosure by default, users will find ways to make their own choices about how publicness works. Because for many young people not being on Facebook just isn’t an option.

I asked Shamika why she bothered with Facebook in the first place, given that she sent over 1200 text messages a day. Once again, she looked at me incredulously, pointing out that there’s no way that she’d give just anyone her cell phone number. Texting was for close friends that respected her while Facebook was necessary to be a part of her school social life. And besides, she liked being able to touch base with people from her former schools or reach out to someone from school that she didn’t know well. Facebook is a lighter touch communication structure and that’s really important to her. But it doesn’t need to be persistent to be useful.

In the comments and related Tweets to this post, we can see that this hacking of the way Facebook works to suit personal reputation / presence management is common. One Tweet from @Tremblebot says their students call it “Whitewalling” or “Whitewashing”, and that the practice requires an investment up front and then makes it easy to stay on top of what people are posting about in the way of comments, tags and photos.

Perhaps this is something I should add the second edition of Me and My Web Shadow in the workflow for managing reputation. Certainly, if Facebook were to take a leaf out of Twitter’s playbook it would think about adding this as an easier to use or more prevalent feature.

“Whitewalling” also looks like evidence for the notion that people, yes even digital natives, want to retain some control over their privacy and what the world sees and hears about them.

Writing, running, pain and finding the perfect space

Writing is hell. That’s why writers spend so much time trying to find ways to make it slightly less helliish.

For instance, I gained a new impossible dream today – to have a writing studio like this one…

Private Library from A Space In Time on Vimeo. Via Open Culture

Funnily enough this incredibly expensive writing environment reminded me of a £4.99 one that I started using recently (thanks to a tip-off from my Dad) the Writer app for the iPad. It really is very lovely, basically because it removes all distractions from the screen and lets you get into your scribely flow… well worth a try.

I’m also reacquainting myself with Ecto, the Mac blog editor. Lovely. It is as close as I can get to Live Writer. (Please Microsoft, do a Mac version, I would even buy Office to get it. Seriously.)

The value of these editors is tat they remove fiddly bits from trying to write a blog post. They make it quicker, so you’re not mucking around with uploading images or trying to figure out with your knuckle-scraping understanding of HTML why the text is appearing without paragraph breaks, bullet points or with question marks in odd places (all issues for me using the otherwise lovely Canvas theme on my WordPress blog these past few weeks).

What you need for writing are tools and spaces (physical or just emotional, states of of mind) that let your mind go free and the words to come quickly.

Writing is torture. As one of my favourite crime writers Lawrence Block says in his book about writing Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (and I’ve heard this so many times, in different ways, from other writers) writing is, very often, incredibly hard, almost painful. No one writes on a Sunday just for pleasure, he says, unlike painters or musicians where even the amateurish practice of the craft can be an end all of its own. Writers must persevere, must prevail, if they are to create anything at all.

I think that writing my book last year actually took a long time to recover from. I don’t think my blogging has ever been the same since. It brought upon me some species of trauma.

That’s one of the reasons that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami is one of the most useful books to read if you writing things of any length (beyond, say 10,000 words). Writing is like long distance running, he says: lonely, you compete mainly against yourself, against your deep desire to give up and do something less uncomfortable.

There are many moments of course when you hit that elation, that flow, that Hunter S Thompson is quoted about in The Proud Highway: “I haven’t found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as sitting at a desk writing.

Acutally, when I was searching for that exact quote I found that Hunter S Thompson also said: “Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over.

But still, it’s like running. Sometimes when you are training, on a long run, you get the runner’s high after 15 minutes of slogging through the rain. It’s hard to justify the rest of the misery sometimes, just for those moments though, you have to have a clear iea of a bigger goal, and more than that just a lot of bloody minded drive to make yourself get out the door in the morning to run. Get up to your desk and start creating prose instead of wandering through the web or your social networks.

Writing is hell. But I can’t stay away.ZZ3C117589.jpg

How to stream BBC radio live on your iPhone

My iPhone has replaced/displaced a lot of gadgets and habits in my life, one of them being listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme in the mornings on a small radio that I carried with me as I shuffled around the house getting ready to go to work.

As I couldn’t get the live feed over the web, listening to podcasts on the iPhone speakers kind of took over from that. All well and good, but I’ve always missed the Today programme.

So I’m delighted to have found a way to listen live again. Here’s how:

  1. Download the free FStream application (search “fstream” on the iTunes store. It’s a French app, but don’t lt the language put you off if you don’t speak it.
  2. Copy one of the following URLs from (bizarrely I couldn’t do it from that website on the iPhone, hence replicating them here).
  3. Open Fstream and tap on “Favorites” then “Edit” then “Add new webradio”.
  4. Add the name of the station, paste the URL in the appropriate box and ut MP3 in the format box (the bitrate is 128 but I don’t tink you need to fill that bit in).
  5. Stream happily for a few days and if you love it then go to the donation link in FStream (More/Donate) – NB: also survives on donations, so maybe split your donation if you really love it.

There you go…