3 things we learnt from our first National Running Show

by Dryad

On January 22nd-23rd this year, we had Dryad's first roadtrip; to Birmingham's NEC and The National Running Show…

The dress code is extremely relaxed.

As a place to meet people in the industry, and as a snapshot of the commercial running world today, it was really valuable. We met some friendly and open small business-owners, and though it’s obviously a competitive space to be in, there was real evidence of a mutual support network to tap into. Maybe because everyone's been stuck behind Zoom for two years, there was elevated sense of rapport and excitement in conversing with like-minded people.

Makers of running clothing need to meet runners; runners want nutrition and recovery products, and the developers of those products want to sponsor events; event organisers in turn need participants and brand sponsorship and amplification. This is the kind of connectivity that the National Running Show facilitates, and, judging by the sheer volume of exhibitors and visitors, it works really well.

Here's three observations from the event:

1. A lot of brands display their wares in the same way


Of the 200+ exhibitors at the event, the most creative and interesting ones were the little ones. Some big industry names, though showing off some amazing and cutting-edge products, had the least innovative stands. Probably when you get to a certain scale, it makes sense to have large-format photography on boards for ease of transport etc., but that doesn't always equal a refreshing customer experience. In short, a lot of them looked the same.

People did seem to like the treadmills hooked up to monitors, where you could have your gait examined and critiqued, or see your watts and other stats measured and displayed on a big screen.

'Nice bag, mister'.

And one big player did have a mini running-track, complete with lanes, for budding sprinters to tear and up and down, which was pretty popular. In the main though, a lot of the stands followed the same format; image-based backdrops and racking and rails for shoes and clothing. The challenge for us, when we come to do this, is to push it a bit. Can we incorporate illustration? Can we use kinetics or motion somehow? How can we help our customers understand the journey our clothes have taken, and why they've taken it? We'll have to try and be different…

2. The best kind of enterprise is a Social Enterprise

One of the most interesting companies attending was Vintage Trainers. Their stand comprised high walls built from open shelves of trainers, organised by size – everything from old-school gym plimsolls and tennis shoes, to rare Nike high-tops, track shoes and street classics. All secondhand and all re-furbished. A strangely welcome sight amongst all the new super-light clones from the big brands.

Based in Hampshire, and founded in 2020, Vintage Trainers buy unwanted trainers, fix and clean them up with planet-friendly products, and then re-sell from their physical and online stores.

According to their site, a staggering 300 million pairs of shoes end up in landfill each year in the UK – so their model is already helping to reduce waste. The social part is this; any shoes that are donated, rather than sold to them, are also re-furbished but then given away free to those that need them in their local area. And they are actively seeking to further engage their community in developing ways to provide trainers to underprivileged children.

One of their team, Mat, explained a recent successful initiative where local school kids got involved - a competition to design a poster on the theme of environmental awareness. The 12 winners got to choose a pair of trainers, and were then taught how to restore them. A small thing, but it teaches the benefit of recycling and the early questioning of throwaway culture. This kind of scheme defines social enterprise - engaging and giving back to your community - and elevates a company above being just another commerce-focused entity. At Dryad we're trying to practice similar thinking and came away inspired.

You can find Vintage Trainers here: vintagetrainers.co.uk

3. The running community is diverse

It's probably not surprising that one of the most accessible and inclusive sports should draw such a diverse crowd, but still gratifying to see. Runners of all ages, sizes and shapes catered to by an equally diverse range of brands–there was something for everyone. Our bias is toward clothing, so that's what we were focusing on, and there seemed to be colour palettes and styles on offer for every taste. From neutral tones to highly patterned leggings and tops and shorts and neck gaiters and...whatever you want to run in, you can find it there.

The Speaker roster was broad in terms of ability and subject too–some famous faces on the Inspiration stage were joined by less well-known speakers–talks covering everything from everyday running benefits and motivation, to tales of heroic Ultras and training journeys. Two stand-outs were Jenni Falconer, whose positivity and enthusiasm for the simple act of running came through clearly–un-elitist and refreshing–and Brian Wood, who ran 25 marathons in 25 days to commemorate fallen casualties of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, gave a moving and inspiring talk on the last day.

Left; Jenni Falconer on the Inspiration stage; right: Brian Wood MC

Whether you're a seasoned runner, or completely new to it and looking for real motivation, then we definitely recommend a visit. The next show is 7-8th May and you can find out more info and get tickets here:


Thanks to everyone we met who took the time to talk, and let us take photographs. See you next time...