A chat with Edd - founder of Byrd - about why he started on this journeyBy Ellis Di Cataldo
Our twenties usually consist of one or two tough lessons and rough rides. Lots of late nights with an uncertain direction can lead to things feeling a little “intense, a bit existential and crisis-y”. Edd, by his own admission, was no different. Fitting a full-time graphic design job into three days while launching an illustration career meant that all he was doing was working. And working. And working.
He knew he wasn’t in a great place but was unsure what to do about it. As a result frustration set in and his weight and wellbeing started to suffer. Who would have thought then that a healthy dose of sibling rivalry - in the form of his sister running her first 10k - would lead him to take action?
“Just the mere fact that she’d done a 10k, when I literally couldn’t run to the bus stop at that time, set off some competitive fraternal thing in me. My partner at the time had also been bugging me to sort out my weight, so I guess those two things combined made me think ‘Okay, well maybe I’ll go to the gym. And maybe I’ll go running because I want to be able to beat my sister. But also because it looks like a healthy way to get in shape.’.”
“I was that classic person who would try to shrink their shoulders and pretend that I wasn’t really however many stones I was.”
And so on the treadmill, with The Simpsons on TV to keep him company, Edd started running. “I didn’t really know what I was doing or why I was doing it. The first thing I had in my head was to be able to run for 30 mins. I don’t remember when I did that but I remember it being awful.”
Slowly but surely, running began to feel more natural and that initial goal of losing weight was fleeting. Instead, the idea that he could become fitter and healthier was a much more attractive proposition.
In 2011 he met his now-wife Elena, who competed in triathlons. Together they entered a 10k, then a half marathon, soon followed by the Paris marathon.
“It was all still quite transactional. If you’re training for a specific event and specific time within that event, everything is very focused. You’re not getting the headspace or necessarily the enjoyment because you’re focused on the success and failure. When we did the Paris marathon, we’d actually moved to Paris and I barely ran there at all. I went outside maybe five or six times to run around parks, but not really in any meaningful way. We [thought we] should enter a race again as that forced us to run.”
I don't know how far we ran. It was just an experiential thing.Edd Baldry
Here he met a group of people who ran simply because they loved it. No obsessing over PBs, form or race times, they just stepped one foot in front of the other, connecting their bodies with the world around them.
“There was something that clicked. We went out running for four hours. I don’t know how far we ran, it was just an experiential thing. And it was about the everyday, the headspace, and having the confidence in my own body’s ability to carry me where I wanted to go.” That joy of being able to explore a place with a sense of wonder stayed with Edd when he returned to the UK.
“It’s really fun being allowed to almost be a kid before going into work. You get to have this mini adventure around your city.”
And this new approach to running was something of a salvation when he began working in a high-pressure, demanding design manager role. More than a transactional function or a space for mindfulness, it allowed him to feel confident in his body and, by extension, in himself.
“[At that job] there wasn’t the idea that you could make mistakes. You had to be on point and it was a really stressful environment to be in. But if I had been on a run in the morning, I didn’t care. Whatever the institution wanted to throw in my direction I was like ‘Bring it, I’ve just done intervals in minus 5 degrees. I know that I’m confident enough, I know that I’m strong enough as an individual. If I can deal with that I can deal with anything here.’.”
“It sounds a bit daft to say this given that I’ve just talked about how I started running for fairly goal-orientated, competitive reasons. I guess I always found health and fitness products really alienating. I was a big lad and seeing that standard thing that fitness products show - dudes without their tops on who are really muscular - [I knew I was] never going to be that human and as a consequence didn’t want to engage with it. And then from a product level, they were all very competitive, it was all about trying to be the fastest. If you ran the same route multiple times, [a watch] would tell you ‘Ah today you’ve gone more slowly than you did other times.’. It would say it had been an unproductive run but I’d gotten to see a sunrise so did it matter?”
This seed of an idea started to take root when Edd and his friends found that frustration with fitness tech was a consistent theme. Why were existing products insisting that they needed to be pushing harder and going faster to be better?
Why was a watch insisting that I needed to go harder and faster to be better.Edd Baldry
“From a behavioural psychology point of view it’s really frustrating to be told you’re underperforming or that you’re doing badly. You probably feel bad already because you know that it hasn’t quite gone to plan and it’s a small step from there to decide it’s easier to stop. The technology was being way too overconfident in its ability to measure things that humans were doing. Computers are really bad at seeing the entire world. Part of my job with interaction design was to make sure that there were efficient error states so that if something went wrong the product said ‘It’s our fault, not yours.’. But all of the health and fitness technology was like ‘You’re an awful human being.’ - that was the way I was hearing it when I was coming back from a really bad run.”
Edd and his friends assumed the giants of the fit-tech world would eventually cotton on to this and create something that was more positive, more user focused and could enhance someone’s experience. But they didn’t. So he took up the mantle. “Thinking about how to frame all of that complexity into a product is really hard because there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. If someone’s pretty confident in how they’re running, they don’t need hand holding. And if a person doesn’t know what to do next, they need more guidance. We all need something that is bespoke to us and will build from where we are at that point in time.”
“I started running because I felt like I needed to get healthy in some way. I was overweight and unhappy, and running really helped me with that. It gave me more confidence and a sense of self.”
In between his busy family life, founding a startup and Covid, Edd has put a pause on competition racing. Instead? He’s simply enjoying running for the sake of running.
“At the moment it’s just a way of getting out and feeling happy and at one with the world. This is what I realised in Philadelphia, that there was something almost meditative about being in movement because moving means you can’t really ruminate about anything. You’re concentrating on where you’re going. You have an idea that enters your head, then it leaves, then you have another one, and there’s this flow to where you are. You just have to be very present, in the moment.” Finding this state of flow contributed to the start of Byrd and remains an integral concept to the product today, because it’s been created by someone who’s run as both the beginner and the expert. By someone who’s felt the joys and frustrations. Who gets that starting out and remaining consistent can be tough.
“Building habits is hard and fitting things around life is difficult. But it can be made easier by having something that reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing, celebrates the wins and is constantly rebuilding itself to fit around your life. It’s been these things that have allowed me to keep running consistently all these years and we’re excited to have built something that’ll allow anyone to have that.