in conversation with Patrick Stangbye
In this installment of Possessed Weekly, co-editor Adam Voidoid connects with Winter Pack runner Patrick Stangbye to discuss imaginative possibilities post-COVID, the experience of running in different environments, and the art of layering the perfect winter kit.
Can you introduce yourself and give us a short bio?
I'm Patrick Stangbye, I'm 30 years old. I grew up around the suburbs of Oslo and now live in the center. I spent some time on the west coast in Bergen where I studied economics and branding. I've been working with that probably since my early 20's. Right now I'm working in the fragrance industry with marketing mostly and a lot of digital as well. Previously, I worked in an advertising agency with all sorts of clients developing digital concepts and executing a lot of different campaigns. Before that, I spent about 5 years in fashion. I did everything from buying, e-commerce, and other stuff. I still also do a bit of stuff in fashion and provide some direction for a few smaller brands, but that's more of a friendly thing.
How did you arrive at fragrance?
For me, it was maybe a bit by chance. I always had a great interest in food and culture and I think there's an overlap there with fragrance. I think we have a similar relationship with fragrance as we do with wine or with food. You can often tell from what people enjoy in terms of fragrance who they might be as a person or what specific tastes they might gravitate towards, even if it's not exact.
You spend a considerable amount of time outdoors. You grew up snowboarding and have since picked up cycling and running as very serious "leisure activities," as you once called them (though your weekly output puts the notion of "leisure" into question). What is the relationship between these activities for you? How does running affirm your closeness to nature and help align your body and mind in a distinctive way compared to these other activities?
Okay that is a few questions but I can start with the last one. I mean, I think running affirms my closeness to nature by helping me be aligned to my body but also my mind. Maybe more importantly, actually, my mind. I enjoy it. I find great pleasure in running and also just great pleasure in moving through landscapes. In both nature and the city, actually.
I took up cycling during COVID to get to trailheads without having to use too much public transport. I used to do more free ride mountain biking when I was younger. My parents used to always joke when it came to my snowboarding that I could never follow a straight slope or line. And it's a bit similar with trail running, right? You can go out, you can find some path, you can go off-trail; you can do some exploring. With cycling as well, you can basically go anywhere. I feel that's one of the great aspects of running long distances... you're able to move anywhere.
Before I started running, I related to the landscape in a different way. For example, when you live in a particular place in the city and have a view of another part of it, it can seem like it's so far away. You wouldn't imagine traveling there by foot. But after I started running really long distances, I began considering that space more in terms of time. Consider skateboarding, by analogy. When I was younger, I could never walk up stairs without counting the number of them because I would subconsciously be trying to figure out, could I potentially jump these stairs? Could I do this or that trick? I feel the same about running. After awhile, you can't really look at that space across the city, the mountains, or anything without considering how long it might take to go there.
But in terms of being leisure activities? I think leisure activities in general account for something that not only takes a lot of your time but also a lot of your money. It's quite a contemporary form of activity, at least for most people who aren't of a certain class—"leisure" class? If we go back through history, this is something we've start doing rather recently, right? Doing all these sports that are about movement and movement through landscapes, they continue to be activities that I'm not paid to do.
Furthermore, a lot of modern philosophers have posited the importance of leisure in terms of what it is and what it can be. I have goals with my running. Some believe that as soon as you have goals with anything, that's not recreation anymore, or relaxation. However, I feel as though there is some virtue or some sort of happiness in it, so I would still categorize it as such. Maybe to me it's similar to other activities such as traveling, listening to music, or reading.
When does 'leisure' end and 'obsession' begin?
In terms of the aforementioned understanding of leisure as something without goals or plans: my running of course has some goals, so it's structured—but there is also some element of play.
We just entered a new year and I have very loose aspirations and goals for what this year will bring in terms of running, and we can get back to that. But it's also not a structured plan, right? So if I want to go out and do intervals on Tuesday, then I'll go out and do intervals on Tuesday. As long as I get them done twice a week, that's cool. And if there's one week I don't get them done twice a week, that's not ideal but it's okay as well. I mean you have a life, and life goes by. So as long as you have some motivation and you find it recreational, I would say that it's leisure.
I know runners who are "obsessed." And probably from looking at my Strava, some people might think I'm obsessed as well. But I don't go out and log 30km every morning before work. So there's some recreational element in what I'm doing as well.
What purpose and role does road running play in your life versus trail running?
A lot of runners I know and spend time with now probably identify as ultra runners or trail runners. But I don't necessarily think that I only identify as a trail runner. I identify as a runner. That's how I started running. Until I met the different "tribes" of runners, I never considered that there were even separate "tribes" of trail runners and road runners. But for me, road running is a lot easier in terms of planning and also the time needed. I can just head out right now, as I will tonight after our conversation, and do a tempo run or do some intervals and be back between 60 and 90 minutes later. So I would say for me that road running is kind of the bread and butter of running, as it can be done anywhere.
When I started running in 2016, and even more so in 2017 when I was traveling a lot for work, I used to go running while I was stopping through cities. It was a good way to experience the city in the morning but also just to get a workout in, because it was hard to go to the gym or expect something from a hotel. I think with road running you have less excuses, so it's nice to do it.
In terms of racing on roads, I personally really like the atmosphere of the starting line, of crowds, and of the sport in general. And I'm not sure when we'll see that again in the way we used to. There's something very specific in my opinion that happens in road running. You can feel it more when you become faster and there aren't too many people around you. But when you run in a group, where you understand that everyone around you has a similar goal, you are not so competitive with these runners—or at least I am not—as you know that you are working towards this goal together. Maybe for the first 5km of a marathon, one guy is pacing. Then you know that it is also your job to bring some effort to the table and do some work for the group, and I think there's some sort of camaraderie in that, even with guys you don't know from before the starting line. So I think that's what's beautiful about road running.
Absolutely. Would you even be able to pick a favorite environment to run in?
It really depends on the season. I mean, I live in Norway and I'm happy to have four seasons here—and sometimes I'm not so happy about it. But I really appreciate it, at least. I think the deep forests on the outskirts of Oslo are what I appreciate the most. Although they do get extremely wet and muddy in fall. Sometimes the winter can be a lot better, even. Right now we have deep snow but it might disappear, and then it's quite easy to run in the forest. But I also transition to some more gravel roads during the winter because I need some softer surface kilometers as the trail kilometers don't come so easily during winter.
From late spring until autumn, I enjoy going to the mountains whenever I can. But unlike a place like Flagstaff where many elites train in the US, I need to drive between maybe 3 and 7 hours to get to the really amazing places. But it's something to do as a weekend adventure or during a holiday. We have really beautiful forests but we don't really have alpine terrain close to the city.
As you've pretty much begun to allude to, Norway seems to be a vastly varied topographical playground for an athlete — forests, fjords, mountains, alpine ridges and, of course, roads. Although some of that might be far for you, at times. Can you explain the influence this environment has had on you? Of course, it is probably at least partially responsible for getting you into running but beyond that, how has it informed your outlook on life?
This probably brings me back to my youth in one way or another. And without getting too philosophical, I think it has allowed for me to rediscover the value of being in nature and how that may be connected to our well-being. A lot of people believe now—and research seems to indicate and point to this as well, not just in pseudo-medicine—that nature heals. It can reduce anger, fear and stress, which can be very important to people living in this time and especially maybe the past year. It can also soothe you and help you cope with pain, just from being outside in itself but also from the movement performed.
There's a restorative element to being outside. I think I had this understanding from a young age. I grew up in suburbia, so there's still a lot of houses around. But then, you know, in like five minutes I could be on a trail. I think it's something I may have taken a bit for granted when I was growing up, because then you move to a big city and understand that a lot of people have no access to nature whatsoever. And they might become more anxious because they can't really go out. So I feel that with nature around me, I became more calm and more balanced of a person. That's how that environment has affected me and informed my outlook on life.
You have a particular eye for certain colors and tones that seem to complement, reflect, and interact with the Norwegian topography in a very organic way. Do you have an explanation for your affinity to certain colors? To what extent do you think these choices represent or signify elements of your identity?
I think a lot of it came pretty naturally to me, in terms of the colors. I've never really thought about it. I think like many of the people who I admire, it probably comes down to what is essential and what is natural in terms of what we have around us. My preferences and choices are rooted in an empathy for the planet but also in the people who live here.
But it's also a bit about contrast. I appreciate contrast in terms of materials. Something can be natural but then I also really enjoy something very synthetic or something concerned with its environment placed along with it. Also something that creates some visual noise and doesn't "belong." Probably a lot of my appreciation for these colors, aesthetics and materials come from nature. But they also emanate from my innate curiosity and from my musical taste, the art I appreciate, the food I've been able to eat in restaurants with the way people have presented meal experiences to me. So for me it was probably all mixed together and I don't really differentiate. I can appreciate a rock I see in nature on a run in the same way I can appreciate a product someone made and put in a concept store or whatever someone wants to put on my plate in a restaurant.
Another thing, besides color, that comes across is a deep understanding and perspective on lines and silhouettes — whether it be art, architecture, fashion, food, furniture, or even technical gear. It may sound a bit paradoxical, but there’s almost a complexity to the minimalist approach you have with these particular affinities. What draws you to something? How did that develop for you?
Probably when I began to understand it was from the artists I admire. And what's funny, because I agree with you to some extent, is that there *is* some sort of complexity to this minimalism. But I don't think that's accidental or by coincidence. In our culture today, and pop culture in general, minimalism is sold and touted as something that is very simple. Some of my favorite artists probably were "minimalists," but they rejected that label. So it's funny and I'm happy you're bringing up the notion of complexity because I think it's evident. And—we touched upon it already some—I have always been very aware of the spaces that we occupy as humans and also the spaces that I occupy myself personally. For instance, being in nature or being in architecture. And that's something maybe a lot of people relate to. But I have found through my life that not too many people take serious consideration of the spaces they occupy.
I also believe, for example, we occupy clothing as a space. So we can have a similar relation to the clothing we occupy as we do the room we occupy or the trail we occupy. They all are markers and signifiers and they carry our contemporary culture. I'm very happy to understand history or at least try to understand parts of it and I'm mostly curious to try to understand the time we're living in now. And all these elements of culture I believe we need to try to understand and also appreciate in order to understand the time we live in now. And especially with food, you can't conserve it right? A painting or maybe even a jacket—you can conserve a jacket for a few hundred years, and a painting maybe a thousand years. But food culture you cannot conserve it; it happens right here, right now. So I think it's important to be a part of all those aspects if you want to understand what's going on. In that understanding, perhaps a certain minimalist expression can come about. But it isn't simple and should not be.
You describe the way you’ve come to these things as being organically-driven and I think it is immediately apparent in the way you dress. You have a way of dressing for winter that I see rarely paralleled by other runners. Can you explain the art of layering? What weather-related criteria inform your dress code? What are the roles of color, silhouette, fabric and function when it comes to putting together the perfect winter kit?
This is a good question, actually. This is something I've probably considered a lot in my mind but never as a full out question, even to myself, to provide an answer to. I would say I never put too much thought into this on the daily. But I probably have a sort of system embedded in me by now.
When I started running, it was of course very different because I didn't run as often and I hadn't accumulated as much running clothing as I have now. I try to stay pretty minimal because I like to keep everything neat. And, after awhile, you get your favorites. This is something I always say to people who find products very expensive—you always find favorites and, in the end, you don't need too much of anything. So if you find a favorite and it's pricy, it's better to invest in that.
In winter, there are a couple things to consider: the most important thing is temperature, and then it's humidity and rain. And for running, no matter the season, you will always want to be able to transport both heat and moisture. These are the factors I consider the most.
If it's not raining or snowing outside, the most important thing then, as I just mentioned, is to transport heat and moisture out from the body. So then I would, for example, run with a synthetic fabric next to my skin and have a thin wool layer over. If it's very windy or something is going on that is making it very cold, I would wear a soft-shell because it is better suited for transporting heat and moisture out from the body than a hardshell. But if it's very cold or raining, a waterproof hardshell is important. I only use a hardshell when it is actually raining because even the most breathable hardshell is not that breathable when your body temperature is high from running. So that's something I bring on a long run where I am expecting a lot of rain.
I think people often forget the small things. I always run in merino socks. I do personally prefer a blend, from an environmental perspective. 100% merino wool is the best but then you figure out that longevity is much higher when there's 10 or 20% nylon blended in, for example. And I don't just use wool for the cold—I even wear wool socks in summer because on the trails your feet usually get wet, which merino deals with very well.
There's also some element of style involved. I mean, to be fair, when it comes to running—and especially when you start to run a lot and spend a lot of time outdoors—it becomes an activity you spend the most time with when you're not working, so you want to look like the person you feel like, and that's where aesthetic sensibility and things like that come in. Over the last two years, I've found myself running mostly in trousers during winter. I also run in tights and in shorts (I'm known for wearing short shorts for as long as I can). But there's also some risk in terms of injury from not being warm enough in winter. So I try to run in tights or trousers. Trousers mostly because it's nice right after a run if you need to go to the bakery or grab a coffee somewhere to not be that guy hanging around in tights. Although I'm also perfectly comfortable being that guy.
What are your hopes for 2021? Both personally and what you'd like to see externally?
More than anything, I hope that people are going to stay safe and that as many people as possible will be getting out of this pandemic with their lives, health and jobs in tact. A lot of people are struggling in terms of work right now and I think it's important to feel some sort of solidarity with those industries that have been really hit hard. I also hope that new communities will grow and ones that have been hit by restrictions will find new ways to interact. I have not seen my running groups, training partners or anything in the past year. Of course, I've seen a few but those are people I'm close with on a personal level. But the people I used to see in groups I haven't seen them.
I also hope to see a shift in values, towards well-being and mental health. However, I'm already doubting that we'll see it. Of course, we'll see it on the fringes of culture but on a mainstream level I'm not seeing a lot of people questioning things. For instance, I just saw on the news that people are eating more candy than ever during the pandemic. I mean, I also eat candy when I'm training a lot so I'm not saying I'm against candy. But, you know, I thought people might use their downtime on things other than snacking but it doesn't seem like that's happening.
On a personal level, I hope to connect even more with like-minded people and hopefully, maybe towards the end of the year, it will be possible to share experiences outside in nature, around food and art, and have good conversation. So I hope that my personal life will be more aligned towards my own needs and that I can eventually optimize more of my schedule to be there more and do more for the community that I actually want to have a conversation with, and extend the growth of that community as well.
When it comes to running, I don't have any set goals and I'm happy to just get out there. I'm pretty sure I have a personal best for a half marathon and marathon in me right now, so we'll see if I can make that happen. Maybe solo or just with a few friends, maybe in the spring or before the trail season really hits in April. I also just hope during summer to get out and do some fast packing in my own country, if there are no races abroad happening. I would be happy to toe the line again at some international races but I'm not even sure if 2021 is going to be the year for that either. But trail running and ultrarunning may be a possibility. We'll see.