All runners will know that some of the best, most creative ideas come to us on a long run, in the wide open spaces where the horizons of our imagination expand alongside the landscape. Fewer of us, of course, follow through on those ideas. But then, few of us consider running and hiking the CCC route, from Chamonix to Courmayeur, in reverse, as our honeymoon. That is what Simon and Julie Freeman were doing when their idea for a new magazine took shape.
Like the Wind, launched in Feb 2014 and now on its 34th issue, was initially inspired by an inexplicable absence. The couple — he English, she Swiss, both runners — share a love of the mountains and spend much of their time in the outdoor adventure spots of Europe, both for work and for pleasure.
“We were looking at magazines in a shop in Chamonix,” explains Simon. “There was literally a shelf full of cycling, surfing, skating magazines, really great ones. But we wondered, how do these exist for these sports and not in running? And these journals looked so different to the traditional running press. It felt like running was missing out on what these other activities or sports had in abundance.”
Julie takes up the story: “We were hiking and running for two days, just building the magazine in our heads. And what we realized — why we didn’t buy the current running magazines — was [that] the things we like to read tend to fall more into the why category than the how category. We realized we wanted to try and translate that spirit of why we run, which has become the magazine’s tagline. It’s not how, it’s why. That was the guiding principle to try and frame what the magazine would be like… and especially what it would not be.”
What running was missing, in other words, was a celebration of its own wider culture. A magazine that would revel in the power of storytelling. The traditional running press is full of everyday training advice and shoe reviews but at the time, there was nothing in print for those who love the sport not for what they might achieve or buy, but for what it has given them. For its rich, quirky and sometimes crazy history. Simon and Julie were both relatively late converts to running, and their love of the sport was based on how it had enriched their lives, rather than the shoes they wore. You could even say that running helped them to fall in love with each other: they met via a now-defunct dating site that asked your best friend to describe you. Both their descriptions, of course, mentioned running.
It all sounds gloriously romantic, but with absolutely no experience in producing a magazine, and a full-time job managing a sports marketing agency (which they had launched together the previous year), surely going from idea to reality put them back on earth with a thud? The couple look at each other and laugh. “You know, I think it probably played in our favor that we were hugely naïve,” says Simon. “We had zero experience in publishing whatsoever. So it just didn’t occur to us to go and raise big sums and get a team together. We just didn’t think like that.”
Instead, they figured everything out from first principles. “We just thought, how much can we do ourselves? Is there a YouTube tutorial we can watch? Can I google the right font size to use? It was a very organic process. A bit unstructured,” says Simon, with some dry understatement. He also talks of how nervous they were that this idea — which seemed, like all great ones, obvious to them — would surely have occurred to other people too. “We had this kind of panic that someone else is surely going to come up with a beautiful magazine, so we wanted to get it out fast, and then we could always evolve it later.”
Fast is an understatement. They went from talking in the mountains to a launch party with issue one in their hands in less than six months. Julie points out that they were also very lucky to be warmly embraced and supported by the running community; from the very beginning, writers offered their words, illustrators provided images, and an experienced editor contributed her time. “I think lots of people wanted to be involved from the beginning because they wanted to read this kind of magazine as well,” says Julie.
Living together and working together on not one, but two businesses obviously brings a different kind of dynamic and different kinds of pressure. But if the Like the Wind story has sounded up to this point like a bit too much of a fairy-tale, that is to belie what was going on behind the scenes. Simon and Julie have been through the bruising ordeal of multiple miscarriages and unsuccessful IVF procedures, and are honest about the toll it took. “It was traumatic, an awful process that’s very destabilizing — and so of course it’s difficult to be focused on business stuff when you’re going through that, especially working together,” says Simon, quietly. “In a weird sort of way, it felt like the magazine was an anchor, but at the same time it was a massive challenge alongside all these personal issues.”
But from the very beginning, precisely what makes Like the Wind special has always been that it is very clearly a labor of love, albeit an increasingly professional one. For years, the demands of producing the magazine have been juggled with managing their sports marketing agency. This is about to change, with the couple planning to devote themselves full-time to the magazine in 2023. Considering what they’ve created using only some of their available hours, you can only imagine how exciting the future will be.
“The magazine exists,” says Simon, “almost in spite of the fact that it is kind of homegrown. Now, it’s becoming a very different proposition, but I don’t think we ever want to lose that [essence]. That really is part of its history. We did go through a really rough time, and the magazine exists in spite of that.” He tails off and looks at Julie. “Many, many times, I was like, ‘Look, that’s it! I’m done! We’ve done 10 issues, that’s it!’ and Julie would look at me and say, ‘Well, fine, but I’m going to carry on…’”
The couple has since expanded the magazine’s cultural reach with running art pop-up galleries, street art tours, storytelling events, a handful of film collaborations, an artists’ solidarity fund at the onset of the pandemic, a trail running book (Running Wild), a running photography prize, and of course a legendary unofficial UTMB afterparty. And now they will have the time to do even more. As with the origins of Like the Wind, you suspect that its future will thrive precisely because of Julie and Simon Freeman, and their unique dynamic.