The first time I met Paul Petch I walked away with my head spinning. My wife and I had met him on a warm afternoon in February to talk about my initial involvement with Good People Run. Paul had pretty much exploded with enthusiasm whilst we talked and drank strong coffee. He spoke quick fire, in that UK accent that I automatically filed under “It’s a deal, it’s a steal…” a la Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (sorry, bro).
I staggered out an hour later, excitedly thinking “what have I got myself into?”, wondering with Rebecca just what an “organic collective” was, and how one “gave back”. Over the successive months since launching I’ve become increasingly involved with GPR, editing the content and being the Laverne to Paul’s Shirley. Being that GPR is essentially me and the ‘Chief’ at the helm, it feels kind of funny to have to write an intro for this; but so it goes. In what is becoming a tradition ‘round these parts of not mincing one’s words; I believe in GPR and therefore, by default, I believe in Paul Petch.
Over the months I have gotten to know Paul I’ve found him to be both authentic and driven, passionate about what he is trying to achieve with GPR and where he sees it’s place in the world. Paul cares; Very clearly the main focus of this thing is GIVING BACK. I now know that means active engagement and promotion of the running community, focussing especially on grassroots events and people undertaking fundraising, and advocating for causes that do good. Creatively, GPR gives back to the community through our stories, our photos and our art. For a 21st century runner, Paul doesn’t particularly care about stuff (unless it’s cameras). His heart is worn on his sleeve and his scars on his chest. Paul is fallible, outspoken and perhaps, polarising. He’s a family man, a doting father, and a talented storyteller. Paul LOVES running.
Funnily enough, for two runners who document running culture, it took months for us to run together. You’d think that would have been one of the first things we did, but Paul has been recouping from knee surgery for five months, and it has been driving him mad. But back running now, carefully mind you, we now are better for being “medicated” together in this beaut’ of a country.
Anyway, i’ll let Paul take it from here, with his considered and generous answers to my questions. Ladies and Gentlemen, sit back, tune in, and enjoy this interview with Paul Petch, Founder of Good People Run.
What came first; your interest in photography, running or wanting to help others?
I was born in England and grew up there. When I was a teenager (I’m 42 now) after leaving school I did some volunteering work for the homeless in a hostel and helped manage the everyday running of the house. I also worked in a day centre for the mentally ill before a break from this work until I moved to Australia back in 2000.
I attended art school in my teens ‘on and off’ too, that included a photographic element, and I never finished the course though as partying, music, girlfriends and being a boy were really distracting. So I suppose you could say photography came first but I never quite knew that at the time. Looking back though, even then creativity and the feeling of helping others were silently connected.
Fast forward to the year 2000, where I had moved to Australia and was struggling to find work after graduating with Honours in Biochemistry and Medicine. So back I went to work for a respite charity offering ‘days out’ for people with disabilities for several years while I worked out what I wanted to do from there.
I then set out in about 2003 as a freelance graphic designer and finally connected that being a creative was the way forward for me. I’ve now offered my design skills and resources to many charities ever since.
In 2009 I decided that I needed another change of career as I had been sat at a desk as a designer for years and it was killing me, both physically and mentally. I’d always been in love with the outdoors and putting 2 + 2 together I made the decision to become an outdoor sports shooter and branded myself as “outdoor photography”. In 2011 I shot my first paid commercial job with Salomon Running at Mount Taranaki and I was utterly hooked. I could get outdoors, shoot my camera and most of all have some amazing adventures! My commercial focus has evolved since these days, but I still shoot lots of outdoor portraits and sport and understand so much more as a person, and a business.
Looking back though, even then creativity and the feeling of helping others were silently connected.
What about the running? Well, I was never a runner as a kid or young adult to be honest. I was a slow and fat teenager so school sports was more about embarrassing me than anything else. I never felt comfortable in a ‘group sport’ and was always last, but what stands out more in my mind was ‘why’ were we being made to run around the school field and streets in the first place? There was no purpose to it back then. It hurt too.
So when I picked up a pair of runners back in about 2010 and fell in love with it, and the camera started to follow, even I was surprised. So running came last for me all things considered, but has been and continues to be such a positive catalyst for my creativity and life in general.
What is your history as a runner? What was it, specifically, that attracted you to this lifestyle?
I’d been a keen cyclist and mountain biker for more than 15 years but it was starting to bore me, meanwhile my back was hurting all the time being sat on a bike all day, and then a desk. OK OK I was getting old :) So in 2009 after reading a book by random called “extreme running’ http://www.extremerunning.co.uk/and being utterly inspired I decided to train and enter the Kepler Challenge – a stunning New Zealand 60 kilometre ultra mountain run. For someone with a self diagnosed A type personality this kind of decision was a pretty standard affair!
I ran my first marathon during the training for the event, and then went onto completing the gruelling 60KM run. I’d not ran any event prior to this, and against all the odds I pulled it off. I was in 100% and totally hooked you could say! There is nothing quite like low flying choppers on top of a mountain, the fresh Alpine air and the feeling that my humble legs and heart, had got ME up, across and down to 60KM finish. (If you are intrigued by this event readers.. I really recommend it.)
From 2009 to 2012 I trained and ran nothing but ultra trail runs, and clocked up some serious mileage, places, experiences and life lessons. On a personal level, what attracted me to it from the start was the endorphins and freedom 100%. I had found a primeval feeling that I’d not experienced ever before. It levelled me totally and utterly and no sport to date had offered me such an experience. Finally this A type over achiever had found a place of honesty, zen, suffering, freedom, clarity and more….and it was inside of me all along.. all I needed was a pair of runners and time!
I’ve got goose bumps just writing this. The sun on your face, sweating, feeling of connection to the Earth and a relentless feeling of moving forward. It’s a buzz that knocks the socks off anything else! And with a history of drugs, alcohol and more, I could not believe that this was legal! Is there anything else like it? I’m chasing this feeling all the time, and adore it.
When I became a Father in 2012, things started to evolve and change for me as a runner, way past the physical. I stopped ultra distances pretty much overnight after chasing ‘that something’ (or was it running away from something?) for nearly 4 years solid, and explored what running really meant to me. We had just lost everything post Christchurch Earth Quakes, and were in a really dark place like so many others. My business, health and well being really suffered and I remember running my third Kepler a few weeks after Thomas (my Son) had arrived, and at ‘KM 40 something’ I could not answer why I was running ultra distances anymore. I had lost my passion for running, so it seemed, so that was that, and onto a new chapter we went. Auckland.
With a year off my feet I had time to think, re-focus, and realized that being mindful when running had been my drive the whole time, but never really connected with this fact. Running was very much my own personal moving mediation and becoming a Father aside from its challenges motivates me more than ever to try and keep fit and run. Running is a real journey I believe and this makes our culture so unique. There are stories and tales everywhere!
I wrote about this here http://goodpeoplerun.co.nz/being-mindful-could-be-the-answer-to-committing-to-exercise/
These days I’m more of a social runner and love the culture very very much. I’m a more frequent runner. A more balanced runner. A smaller distance runner. A more appreciative runner. I really do feel that most runners go through some sort of evolution as the years click by, and currently i’m happier now than I’ve ever been on two feet. It’s a gift and not about who can piss the furthest, and I like to remind myself of this often. Getting older and having a family levels a man it seems and while I may never run long gnarly mountain runs, it’s about moving forward in anyway you can that counts for me today. Add in great people and mother earth- it’s pretty much perfect.
I look at running to have no grey areas, it’s black and white. You either have a good one or an utter grovel and this in turn has changed my perception of life and people around me. It’s utterly humbling and regardless of your race, income, sex, point of view- running makes us all equal. What else offers this reality?
In turn, running has made me appreciate more than anything that nothing is perfect in life, and when you accept this, you can start to see that everything happens for a reason and there is always a positive in there. I may sound like an old hippy, but I’m okay with that.
So, the Good People Run project for me is my own evolution as a runner, creative, and human being. The ultimate diary and place for myself and others to express what running means to them. A place to share something unique about this sport and the people who make it so special. Where the joy of every part of the culture connects people in so many ways. Being part of this journey with others is now my main drive, and not all about me. I like this very much indeed, and it a sustainable connection to it’s culture and people.
What is your favourite type of terrain to run? I know that you’ve raced a tonne of trails in the past, do you have a favourite type of event?
To be honest, I love to run anywhere. Treadmill, road or trail. I’m lucky too, in that I get a runners high pretty readily, so this helps my motivation. My ultimate terrain has to be deep in the mountains. I love being up high above the clouds in the Godzone, and the more varied the weather the better. Wet and windy, hot and remote, I love that and not really sure why. I feel so happy and relaxed in the mountains- it’s like I’ve been there before. This is quite odd for a bloke who grew up on a council estate where the largest elevation was the second floor of my family home!
Add in great people and mother earth- it’s pretty much perfect.
I’d started to run a few more events last year of after a bit of a break, but now i’m in rehab after an accident and subsequent knee surgery (not running related!), and looking forward to running again proper come Summer. For now walking, gym, shorter runs, cycling and tramping will have to do. I had 4 months with zero running so being being able to run small distances into month 5 at the moment is a blessing.
I would like to run the Kepler again in the future for sure. I’ve run it 3 times and it’s still my favourite event out of the many I’ve run. It is a really special gathering of like minded nutters where the terrain, people, organisers, and history is spot on. You feel really awesome when you take part in this run, that’s 25+ years young. Crazy right!?! This time I’d document it far more, and with family supporting me, so it will be an interesting experience.
Why Good People Run? Why now? What makes this project so important to you?
From a brand perspective, I toyed with a few names and the feedback from everyone I mentioned the list to came back with a ‘YES’ to GOOD PEOPLE RUN. The goal was to incorporate the key message of the brand on multiple levels. From the literal GOOD, and community, PEOPLE, through to the cohesion of the sport, RUN.
Like all solid brand names it has evolved to represent everything that we as a collective envisioned, and more. As for why now? Well, there is a positive movement I feel in society and business in general where we are starting to look towards more meaning in our day to day activities, and giving back through running, it’s culture is my own focus.
On a personal level this ‘movement in society’ seems to be an approach for me across all of my business ventures and associations. Good People Run was the catalyst for this though, and it just feels right to be more than ‘just a business’ these days. I’ve worked for myself for close to 15 years and giving something back as part of my time, is important and I’m happy with this mind shift.
I’ve always been involved with helping others over the years, but becoming a father four years ago was a real moment of change for me. I started to see my world in a different way, and what I valued pre ‘Dad’ evolved into much more. Also from a business point of view I also started to question ‘why’ was I working so hard, and for what reason. Of course there is the financial aspect, but I wanted more meaning in what I do. Life is short and why do stuff that has no meaning? Stuff you don’t LOVE? I remember back to when I started out as a designer and wanted to change the world… then the reality of earning a living takes over. If all I wanted to do was earn money, then working for someone else could do that — so I focussed on using my skills in a more positive way — and bringing others together to do the same.
By simplifying my ‘wants’ as a creative, father and runner, I freed up time and energy to create, connect people with the same views, share the positives of being active and running culture, and help others in the process.
The fact is that we live pretty well in our little worlds, while many others struggle to clothe themselves. GPR is really happy to be working with the NZ charity KidsCan in various ways to help under-privileged kids. – Design Assembly.
Looking at the community aspect, I feel the GPR model is a world first that acts as a platform for like minded people and businesses who also want to get involved. To date many many individuals and businesses don’t fit into the marketing model of big brands or sponsors and have nowhere to share amazing stories, raise funds for charity and educate us about the amazing aspects of running, that isn’t related solely to a brand or product. GPR offers this and more.
The concept of giving back is one that you’ve talked about often, can you share some practical ideas that someone could give back to the their community through running?
This aspect of the GPR project has been the trickiest to label or define for some people. It seems that traditionally, ‘giving back’ has been mostly seen a financial exchange. Personally, and through GPR the act of giving back can be much much more than this in the form of supporting a family member who is training, volunteering at events, making sandwiches at the local crib running club, clapping and cheering on the side lines of the track or trail, and helping to raise the profile of the sport.
…so I focussed on using my skills in a more positive way — and bringing others together to do the same.
The most practical way to give back to the running community is simple. Go help out at community running events, raise funds for local clubs or simply cheer on runners chasing dreams and goals. If everyone just gave something small to the community in general it adds up. Everything we give is of value and I want GPR to be based on this very fact, and that it’s not always about ‘going large’ to help. Even if we talk about matters such as kids in New Zealand go without breakfast or shoes- this helps to create awareness.
If you want to help out but don’t know where to start then join our volunteer list and get involved at our fund raising events, with photography and helping at GPR.
When it comes to running, as in life, balance is everything. It seems that this project has been all encompassing for you. How do you maintain balance?
I’ve got better over the years with the concept of balance, but it’s always a struggle for me. I’ve worked for myself for nearly 15 years now and honestly, it has taken most of this time to really understand what ‘balance’ actually means. The 2 years developing the GPR concept and website, logistics, creative curation, marketing, goods and network was the hardest project for me to date- and the last 8 months was 24/7. During that time I pretty much earnt nothing from my other work as a photographer and tutor- simply due to not having time outside of the project.
The most frequent question that I get is how did I balance life during these peak periods of project development? Well, I aimed to simplify as much of my life as possible and get on with it while acknowledging that it’s not sustainable but required. I ate well, ran lots and on a daily basis reminded myself of ‘why’ I was doing it. I also have an amzing wife who supports my lifestyle and believes in me 100%. If at anytime I could not answer this question- I’d stop- take time off- and then focus back and be mindful on the more intensive aspects once I could. These days I have a few people who help me too and I value their support, ideas and belief very much.
Truth be known though, and what most people don’t want to hear is that over the 15+ years as an entrepreneur I’ve focused my time and energy on family, work, (trying to) keeping in shape and that’s about it. It’s the only way to really make ideas happen. I’ve often been isolated and extremely mentally fragile, depressed, borderline OCD and pretty horrible to be around at key times of high stress. Most friends that I have are through business or projects that I’ve been involved with and I’ve been driven as all hell. There is no secret answer or magic to getting shit done in life or business – it just requires lots of personal sacrifice and time, and that’s OK if you have the drive and a reason for what you are aiming for. I could see that my focus was shifting away from being so entrepreneural several years ago to doing what I love to do everyday- so the GPR project was my last last concept to bring focus to the projects I’ve developed over the last decade.
It’s always a work in progress, just like running, you cannot win them all.
These days the boundaries of ‘working’ and ‘what I love to do’ are fairly blurred and a recent quote by Nick Shewring from the wonderful BizDojo sums it up perfectly for me “The classic thing is now we can do what we love every day so it doesn’t feel like work it feels like life.”
The best indicator of balance for me is if i’m not mindful of people I’m working with or meeting -nothing positive comes from being burnout and lacking engagement. Ultimately this is my own gauge of if I’m overworking or if things are working out. Some months are great, and some not so much. It’s always a work in progress, just like running, you cannot win them all. I’m OK with this.
What do you hope for the future of GPR? Is this something you could envisage working full time on?
Right now and for the future GPR is just waking up and finding its feet in an already noisy world of sport, art, and culture.
Taking the first year head on and beyond we look to share running-centric stories and events that are giving back in someway, publish great articles, connect like minded people, inspire through others work, and promote all aspects of creativity and art in our sport. I’m excited to photograph and document people and our culture, and fundraise for our chosen charity KidsCan. We are also looking at publishing a book sometime down the track.
Currently, we have a innovative being developed with some sporting brands and retailers in Auckland which we hope to take NZ wide that recycles running shoes that people donate. Good People Run will then pass these to people who need them such as refugees, the homeless and others. Brent from Wellington suggested this project via Twitter and we loved it, so will be working with him on this.
…so proud to be involved with and connected to such a great community.
I would really love to work on the GPR project full-time and travel the world with the concept, but taking it slow from the start and seeing where it goes. The beauty of the project, and a key aspect I wanted central from the start is it’s self funding focus, and how it can run low key with minimal resources, or flat out with lots of contributors.
My main source of income is from my commercial photography and tuition with nothing coming from the Good People Run project. So yes, the collective (minus creatives who get paid for artwork sales) contribute their time, skills and resources freely. Everything we sell online we donate 5% to KidsCan and also 100% profits from exhibitions.
The aim for GPR is to cover running costs and help us engage more people though creativity and annual exhibitions, editorials, events, people and travelling to document the sport. Making a profit is not our goal. – Design Assembly.
It’s a really exciting time to be involved in the running community in Aotearoa at the moment, people are really taking the reigns and doing great things. What are your favourite parts of our community?
What I’ve always enjoyed about the running community is the diversity of people, culture and physical abilities. I’m not sure there is any sport like running where it does not matter at all about how much you earn or the car you drive… it’s all about NOW.
The types of running locations in New Zealand also inspire me. You can run in a central city location one day with latte afterwards, and a mountain top the next. Each island offer so much variety in climate too, and after living on both, the North is runnable all year round. We are super lucky in New Zealand as runners and it shows on the faces of us all who run. It’s heaven here!
Maybe it’s since I’ve been deep into the GPR project too, but there also seems to be a really high concentration of people running and giving back in New Zealand, which is really exciting. It also makes me so proud to be involved with and connected to such a great community.
What do you think our community could improve on?
In some ways I feel the sport has become to over commercialised globally and seems to come across as quite elitist for the rich, white and middle class. The community could focus more on this.
Not to sound like a downer, but from a cultural perspective, ‘running’ also seems to have been monetised to a point of exclusion. The boom in ‘Ultra Running’ for example in all reality is a very expensive goal for most, and not affordable to many. Large events have all but destroyed the simplicity and grassroots aspects of the sport for money and ultimately the basic joy of an individual to do what we are built to do is often lost these days.
I’m now back out there slowly… slowly and feel so blessed to be able to run with myself- or others.
Of course this is not the case for all aspects of running events and culture, and this is an example of where GOOD PEOPLE RUN is about offering a positive and balanced view of the sport, and taking the easy path to build a community who feels the same was never an option for us from day one. We want more focus on the PEOPLE, places, stories and runners which make our sport so good. Not exclusively on commercial events and brands.
Personally, I want to make a difference in our modern running culture too, connect and promote the amazing aspects and people of our sport, and focus on what we love about this sport. It’s 90% GOOD vs 10% of the bad. GPR is setting some mighty large goals, but I’m confident of our choices because everyone involved can see the same outcomes as us.
In terms of your running, what’s next? Anything that you’re excited about in the next 12 months?
I’m looking forward to running and some good adventures with the GPR crew. Period. The biggest motivator for me throughout the years involved with runing has been to experience it and share the amazing places, people and adventures it can give to those that simply place one foot in front of the other… and repeat. My knee rehab is into month five now and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a rough ride and an experience which has been a roller coaster of emotions, changes and personal insights towards what running means to ME. I’m now back out there slowly… slowly and feel so blessed to be able to run with myself- or others. Riding a bike has been great though and re kindled my love for two wheels, but as we know, it’s not anything like running free!
Looking ahead to Summer I’m aiming to travel as much as I can afford to document this beautiful sport and the people, places and culture that makes it so special. All of which i’ll be sharing through the GPR project.
I’d also love to conquer the Kepler in 2016 too, photograph the UTMB, live in a remote log cabin in the rockies, travel the world and get a six pack.
Ok. I’ll start with just running.