Gear | May 19, 2020 12:16 pm

The Story Behind the British Running Brand You Need to Know

Iffley Road is named for the track where Roger Bannister first broke the four-minute mile in 1954

The Story Behind the British Running Brand You Need to Know
Iffley Road

Roger Bannister was a 25-year-old, full-time medical practitioner at St. Mary’s Hospital when he became the first runner to ever break the four-minute mile barrier. The Londoner had competed on the global stage before — he ran to a fourth-place finish in the 1500 meter for Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics — but when he ripped a 3:59.4 at the University of Oxford’s Iffley Road Track, he was a member of the British Amateur Athletic Association. He didn’t have endorsements, a season’s slate of meets, or a comprehensive training plan. He just trained with his pacemaker friends, mixing days of race-pace track repeats with days of total rest.

As of this month, it’s been 66 years since Bannister’s training proved just enough. After Bannister crossed the finish line on May 6, 1954, the crowd wouldn’t even let announcer Norris McWhirter finish announcing the official time; everyone in attendance went wild the second he began with “three.” Bannister’s sub-four lasted less than 50 days, which he sort of predicted (in an interview after the race, he reportedly said, “Après nous le déluge,” — after me, the flood) but the running world’s had a hard time ever forgetting its first. Seven years ago, when married couple Claire Kent and Bill Byrne founded Iffley Road, a running lifestyle brand based in the West End of London, they named the company after the place where Bannister set his world record, to honor “the last of the great amateurs.”

Roger Bannister crosses the finish line at Iffley Road, Oxford in a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. (Photo by Norman Potter/Central Press/Getty Images)

Kent and Byrne quit their day jobs in 2012, during the London Olympics, and committed to building Iffley Road. They wanted the British running community to have a local brand — it didn’t make sense to them that a nation steeped in so much history on the oval relied largely on imports from America. They wanted these wares to be constructed thoughtfully and sustainably. And they wanted the label to evoke a man like Bannister, both literally — by adopting those wide, horizontal stripes from his BAA singlet — but philosophically, too, by championing running as part of a broader everyday existence, by acknowledging that for writers, teachers, consultants, loggers, politicians, and even neurologists, like Bannister (who worked in academic medicine for decades), running is rarely the only thing that needs to be accomplished each afternoon, and the sport’s amateur apparel should reflect that truth.

That vision has come to life with an assist from what Kent and Byrne call “slow fashion.” Simply put, their pieces take a long time to make. Iffley Road’s singlets, zips, shorts, tees, and beanies are manufactured in factories in central England and northern Portugal, with latter-day vestiary tech: think laser-cut ventilation eyelets, base layers sewn on circular knit machines, invisible inseam pockets, and a bespoke lightweight fabric called drirelease, which dries four times as quickly as cotton. Much like the sport these pieces are built for, the manufacturing process thrives on pacing: getting things right, however long that may take, ensures that they’ll last more miles (and years) than the competition.

Beyond the mission statement, history lesson and performance specs, though, Iffley Road receives full marks on running apparel’s peskiest, most intangible test: flair. The brand’s got it in droves, with a “1950s dual meet” aesthetic anchor, and elegant accents, like the tri-stripe, a purple, orange and green flag that appears on the back collar of tees or the bottom hem of shorts, and the roundel logo, which is stamped on each garment in lieu of a tag, or sometimes printed across the front of a crew sweatshirt. In a industry where loud, neon cuts are now the mainstream, Iffley Road’s old-world colors manage, somewhat ironically, to stand out. And in line with a credo that’s vaulted athleisure to an $83B a year industry — wear it anytime, anywhere — these threads channel effortless streetwear cachet over Zoom conference calls, around the block with your pupper, or while grabbing a milk carton at the store.

But this apparel is designed for running specifically, and over the last month we’ve enjoyed hitting the roads in the Lancaster Striped Drirelease Vest, the Brighton 8″ Shorts and (on chillier days) the Marchmont Sweatshirt. The singlet’s soft and perfect for tempo runs, the shorts feature a deep hidden pocket and a paper-thin fit, and the microfleece sweatshirt feels a bit like someone made a moisture-wicking top out of your favorite blanket. Below, we’ve included those three looks alongside some other top picks from Iffley Road’s site. We’ve converted the prices for each to USD, but on the site make sure to choose the American flag icon from the ticker at the top.

Lancaster Striped Drirelease Vest

Brighton 8″ Shorts

Cambrian Striped Drirelease T-Shirt

Marchmont Sweatshirt

Hilly x Iffley Road Socks (3-Pack)

Petersham Track Jacket

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