I’m going to be completely honest here, I like “stuff”. I like seeing adverts for fancy new speaker systems or headphones and justifying in my head why I need them. As a runner and fitness enthusiast, I want new trainers, new jackets, new weight lifting gloves or some ridiculously overpriced foam roller that vibrates to music. As a result, I end up with lots of things filling up the space in my flat. I have hiking gear, snowboard paraphernalia, running watches and all sorts of little gadgets that sit in a drawer that might one day actually get used.
Whenever I move to a new place I go through the painful experience of deciding what I actually really need. I rifle through my storage looking at things I knew at the time I thought would be invaluable, things that I inevitably used once. I fill bags with items that I never needed but spent my hard earned money on all these expensive things.
A few simple staples
But there are always those items that are never under review. Things I’ve owned for years that are so entrenched in my lifestyle that I just can’t do without them. Unlike the bulk of my items, these things don’t tend to be fancy gadgets or ridiculously complex technical products. They tend to be simple things. Simple, reliable things that suit me perfectly.
My favourite of these was a hat. Not a particularly special hat, not a hat that does anything out of the ordinary. It’s just a black beanie. I actually got the hat free when I bought a load of hiking kit a few years ago. Hiking kit that actually cost me quite a lot of money. I remember picking it out of the bag and thinking “oh, a black beanie” before putting it to one side.
Just a black beanie
A couple of years later I’d long forgotten about the hiking kit that I’d bought. Sure it was nice stuff, it did the job, but I didn’t have an attachment to any of it. But that hat... For four years I wore that beanie to and from work, I packed it for every trip away, and if I ever left it at home I’d contemplate going back to get it. On two occasions I left it in a bar and had to double back to go and find it again. Just a black beanie.
I tried to buy a new one to have as a backup for if I ever lost it or forgot it. I bought a couple of really nice ones. They just weren’t the same though. On the occasions I had to wear them they just didn’t feel right. They looked nicer, they were comfy, they just weren’t my hat.
I say was, because I lost that beanie a few months ago. I don’t know where, I don’t know how, but I lost it. I still occasionally look through drawers hoping that I just didn’t spot it, but I know it’s gone. Luckily for me, however, I got hold of Iffley Road's new Barnes II Beanie, which, thank heavens, is filling that head-sized hole. It’s made from merino wool as well, which is a lot warmer than my old favourite.
Something you know feels right
As a runner I have lots of things like that hat: the socks I always use for marathons, the running backpack that’s seen better days but is the perfect size and shape for my commute, the running watch that’s almost obsolete but fits perfectly and tells me exactly what I want to know during a race, the under shorts that have stopped me chaffing for the past five years and the t-shirt I wear for the races that matter more than any of the others.
For me, comfort is the most important aspect of any race. I’ve run marathons before and worn a new pair of socks or a recently bought t-shirt. After ten kilometres I’d feel a slight rubbing or my trainers would feel a tiny bit too tight. At twenty kilometres that becomes debilitating. It’s all you can think about. At that point you don’t care about the amazing new technology in your trainers, or the fact the world record holder knocked 0.3 seconds off using a smart watch. All you want at that point is something you know feels right. The thing you can rely on to take you through to the end without even a doubt in your mind.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference.