In the ultrarunning world, Dan Lawson scarcely needs an introduction. He has represented Great Britain at the 24-hour World Championships and achieved podium finishes in some of the world’s toughest races. He is the current LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) record holder and founder of the incredible ReRun initiative, which, for five years, has aimed to prolong the life of sports clothes and equipment, as well as campaigning to reverse the impact that over-consumption and production in the running world is having on the environment.

Dan is so much more than the sum of his achievements, and he will be the first to deflect from the challenges themselves to the people that he has connected with along the way. The thing about Dan is that he believes people to be intrinsically good and thus lives in a way, driven by love, for those people, and a deep respect for the planet that we all live on. For Dan, we do not exist in isolation but in reciprocity.

It is always a privilege to talk to Dan and, in a relatively short space of time, we touched on so much of what it means to run but also what it means to be an exquisitely vulnerable human finding their way in the world.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


Francesca Goodwin (F)
Dan Lawson (D)

F: Hi Dan, how are you? It’s lovely to connect again. I’ll get straight into it because I know that you’re at work, although it’s always pretty difficult to know where to start with you because there’s so much we could delve into. Let’s kick off with your most recent win at the Longbridge Backyard Ultra in a pair of hylo shoes. It was a ‘last man standing’ style race with a focus on the environment and sustainability. Could you reflect on what made that event special?

D: Oh, there was so much special about it! To start with Darren, who organised it, is a good friend of mine so it’s always nice to be there at a race he’s running. He’s just so passionate, and that just kind of shines through the whole thing. It all comes from his heart, and, because of that, the whole event feels so warm. It isn’t just a running race; it really is like a gathering of really beautiful people. 
It was so nice to spend time with people like Mike (hylo’s founder) too because he’s a similar kind of dude to Darren; they both do things from the heart.
F: It sounds like it kind of reflected the best things about the running community?
D: Yeah, yeah, exactly, but although the running community is wonderful these guys are really passionate. Regardless of the running community, they just care, and it’s nice to be around people that care because then everything just works; that’s when the universe looks after you, doesn’t it?
I’m just thinking now back to how beautiful the moon was too. The race was the day after the full moon, and running through the night was just...the stars were so clear, and it was just so wonderful to watch the trajectory of the moon from one side of the town to the other throughout the night. Then the Downs in the morning were so pretty because it was the first time that we’d seen them in the light. So, yeah; the universe looks after people like Darren because he looks after it.
F: It’s something that I’ve taken from talking to you before – that idea of trusting the universe and of a reciprocal relationship with the world around us. There’s something kind of spiritual or magic about that.
D: Yeah, totally. And Darren is just so thoughtful; for example, we didn’t cover any new ground with the course; we followed existing paths. These are all the kinds of little things that he thinks of that, together, really take care of absolutely everything.  It also makes it feel like it’s easier to interact with the environment around you when someone has taken that care. The running community is lovely, but you do get some races that feel like you’re put there; you’re running on it, rather than running through and interacting with the environment. They use this beautiful backdrop of the race and then you turn up, run, and leave.

F: Talking of beautiful places, destinations that are certainly not very beautiful are the venues for 24-hour track events. Last year, you represented Great Britain again at the 24-hour Championships, and I was wondering if you could just talk a bit about what running for your country was like, as well as what continues to be the lure of that 24-hour format?
D: Yeah, I mean, it’s always lovely to run for GB, but one of the best things about it is the other runners from all over the world and being part of the 24-hour running community. There are some really beautiful souls. That race last year might well have been my last one – I haven’t decided – but that’s what I’ll miss most: the people.
The lure of that race is the mental challenge; it’s pure ultrarunning. You’re in a constant battle with it; it beats you more than you beat it! My aim has always been to try and run three consistent 24hour races of 255km plus, and I’ve never managed it. I’ll have two good ones and then a bad one. It makes you hungry to keep coming back to try to beat the format.
When we talk about a race like Darren’s, where you’re out in the countryside, you can use that to your advantage: the moonlight, the sunrise, the sunset, the green fields, those beautiful curves the Downs can settle in and enjoy. 24-hour races on the other hand are always in disused car parks and places where you wouldn’t want to walk after twelve o’clock at night. The one in Thailand was under a motorway like Spaghetti Junction in the Midlands; you could smell the traffic fumes. So the lure is definitely the mental aspect of those races.

F: Through your floating, as you call it, you have also accomplished some incredible things, including, but not limited to, the record for running Land’s End to John O’Groats. From all of those races and challenges, has there been something that has stood out for you? That doesn’t necessarily mean the accomplishment but perhaps the experience of it?
D: I think, again, that it’s the connections with people, with fellow runners. And then that kind of connection with the silence, with nature as well; that always stands out. I don’t remember the finish or the euphoria of touching the signpost at the end of Land’s End to John O’Groats; it’s more that we had such a lovely team of us doing it – my partner; my best friend and coach, another really good friend. I mean, runners are great, aren’t they? We’re funny sometimes, but I just think we’ve got this amazing connection because there’s this similar space in our minds that we go to. So that’s what I remember: beautiful moments with beautiful people.
F: I think if I can take a sound bite from this conversation, it’s that: beautiful moments with beautiful people.
D: Yeah, I’m lucky. I feel really lucky to have found that community of people and being able to continue to spend time with them.

F: Exactly. And I just want to flip the conversation here because we obviously don’t run without the context of what that is doing to the planet around us. I know that you’ve previously turned down opportunities to run for GB due to issues with the Nike sponsorship, and I’m curious as to when you became aware of the issues with consumption and waste in the running industry and then how did that lead to things like the ReRun and Rubbish Shoes initiatives?

D: I used to be sponsored by a running brand, for maybe a year or half or something. You get to the point where your sponsorship comes up for renewal and you’re looking around for other sponsorships and, although that company looked after me really well, they weren’t like hylo in terms of sustainability. I thought about how, if someone is sponsoring me, they must think that I have a tiny influence over some of the running community so, even if I can influence two or three people, I should be influencing them to do something good and not just buying another pair of normal running shoes.
I realised that there weren’t really any ethical companies out there; they just wanted to sell and produce more stuff, which then got me questioning: why am I even being sponsored? What am I getting out of it? Just new clothes and some race entries and stuff. So, then I was like: Let’s do this! I’m gonna race and run in secondhand stuff to try and prove that you don’t need to wear new fancy running gear to perform and to win races.
From that came ReRun, and, in the five years I worked there, I spent a lot more time learning about the fashion industries and what goes on and it just made me even more passionate.

F: I know that you’ve now stepped away from ReRun; what does activism look like these days for you and what changes do you think we can all make to be more mindful in our relationship with the sport that we love?

D: ReRun was only ever going to be a five-year project so I’m happy with the changes that we kicked off in the running industry in that time. Activism is hard and I’m not sure I would call myself an activist; it makes you angry because you’re constantly bashing against a brick wall. You rant a lot to people because it’s really hard to see solutions.
These days, personally, I think big multinational companies are very clever at trying to put the blame on us when most people genuinely want to do better. We spend so much time making small changes, which is good, but then bickering with other people about who’s washing out their hummus pots, who does or doesn’t have an electric car...we bucker with each other, rather than calling out those who are causing the biggest problems.
I think activism really needs to be calling out the companies who are the big polluters and the governments who enable those big polluters. We are all trying our best but it’s very hard in the way that our society is set up to completely love the planet because so much of society is set up to not love the planet. We are not big polluters individually, but we do need to break down the power that these big multinational companies have. How do you do that? I dunno! A revolution?

F: Yes, it sounds like what you’re saying is that we need to model the compassion we hope to see for the planet in the compassion that we show each other but to also lead the revolt in calling out those who are actually polluting?
D: Yes! Recently the Green Runners were calling out UTMB (the ultra trail race series) for sponsorship from Dacia, a big automotive company. Some of the other runners were saying things like, “You can’t call them out because you took a flight to Majorca two years ago.” I don’t think they understand how little we as individuals are ruining the planet. It’s these big companies and governments that are ruining the planet. We’re pretty good, most people; we’re not so bad.
F: And Dan, with that in mind, what does running like the world depends on it mean to you?
D: For me, it means passion and connection to Nature. Sometimes, as humans, we have this false impression that we are superior beings; we’re not. Nature is so intelligent and wonderful and we’re going to die off before it. There’s so much to learn from it, and I feel like, if we can run and see Nature in all its wondrous beauty, then we can live in symbiosis with it and learn. 
Basically, we all need to live in a world with more symbiosis! So, is the year ahead going to be running in Nature or running around parking lots?
There’ll be some car park running for sure, but I’m going to do some stuff in the mountains and then, in August, I’m going to try to beat the record for the Three Peaks. So that’s running up Ben Nevis, then run to Scafell Pike and up it, then run to Snowdon, then up and down Snowden. That’s like a hybrid: a little bit of green trails, a little bit of dual carriageway. I think I’m trying to convince Mike to come along too!
F: Do you think that that mental aspect of running was what drew you to it in the first place?  I know that your background was in football; can you identify a point that you kind of discovered running or, perhaps, running discovered you?
D: It’s weird because I enjoy that really hard mental challenge of the 24-hour events, but I don’t run to qualify for GB. I run for headspace, like a disconnection from normal, everyday society, and then more of a connection with those things that we’ve forgotten about like Nature: the sounds of the birds – the choir that we don’t often have day to day. So that’s what got me into running and what still, doesn’t just motivate me, but drives me to get up.

F: I know we’ve discussed the idea of flow state with running before, and I’m curious, for someone who runs for holistic reasons, what was the trajectory into competitions and ultra distances?
D: So, I really love running ... I can go out and run for hours and it makes me feel good, but sometimes it’s hard to justify that when you’ve got a family and when you’ve got, you know, kids and work and stuff. So really the competing was so that I then had an excuse to go out running for a couple of hours every day.
I’m still just running when I go out to clear my head, but I can say to other people that I’m training because I’ve got a race coming up. People will say. “Oh, yeah, cool, yeah, ‘cause he’s got the World Championships coming up.” In reality, I’m just out there kind of floating away!