With Mark Kerry’s enthusiasm for running up some of the highest mountains in the UK, you’d think he’d been doing it his whole life – but he’s only been dabbling in mountain running for 18 months and took up running a mere 6 years ago. Here, he talks about running tube routes in lockdown, his nemesis when it comes to mountain running (FYI, it’s not even the sharp inclines) and shares his tips on how to get ahead, literally, when it comes to ultra-running.
So, what’s his training style? Mark, who is currently training for the Dragon’s Back run in September – said to be the world’s toughest mountain race from Conwy Castle to Cardiff Castle – reveals his coach, ultra-runner Damien Hall, tries to rein him in during his training sessions.
“He’s not a fan of me doing 100-mile weeks,” he says, “even at my peak – I’ll only get to 70/80-mile weeks.”
Mark explains further: “He likes the runs to be at an easy pace, with as much trail and elevation as possible, but keeping the heart rate low. I’ve just got to trust in him – that’s what I pay him for.”
But there have obviously been times when he hasn’t quite taken his advice on board: “When you incorporate other races into your training – it’s difficult,” Mark admits, “once you get caught up in the moment and get that race day feeling you can get carried away, but that could have a negative impact in your training.”
During the pandemic, when Mark couldn’t travel around the country, he found a different type of running to occupy his time. “We did the route of the Victoria Line at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon,” he says laughing, “that was quite interesting. Someone had done the circle line route, so I plotted some of the routes for the other underground lines – the idea is you run the route so you’re running past every station. We’ve also done the Bakerloo line, and the Hammersmith and City is the next line we’ll do.”
With ultra-running becoming more mainstream, Mark thinks he knows why. “Years ago if you’d completed a marathon people were impressed. But with so many of us doing them now people want to push themselves – today even 200 milers are becoming the norm. People are just trying to push the boundaries to see what the human body is capable of.”
He’s run in some of the most dangerous terrains in the UK but it’s not the steep climbs that are Mark’s nemesis when he runs – it’s the cows. “Three times it has happened to me now,” he says, reminiscing about his encounters with the animals – the second experience making him jump over barbed wire to escape them. But it was his last encounter that left him scarred.
“I got to this field and there must have been about 40 cows in there,” Mark recalls, “I could see a guy on a rock waving for help and there were all these cows surrounding him. I tried to help him but when I got round the corner there were another 40 cows who charged me out of the field,” he explains, “so the poor guy is probably still stuck there.”
Apart from avoiding cows, what are Mark’s tips for success in ultra-running?
1. Prepare and gain experience
“You shouldn’t be going out on your own if you don’t have experience. If you want to start more technical runs, do your research and get out on some guided runs, plan your routes and know what to do if there is an emergency. I would always have a backup plan – because the weather could just turn like that. Generally, I run with other people – it’s not very often I run on my own.”
2. Push through the tough points
“You’re always going to have good days or bad days. But when you have experience on your side it is knowing you can get through those bad moments. Obviously, there are signs you may have to stop but you’re always going to get to dark places, even on a good day, and you just have to learn to push through that.”
3. Get your diet spot on
“With nutrition, if you get that wrong from the start, it’s going to cause you problems.
It’s something that has been drilled into me by things I’ve read or by my coach. Saying that, I’m fortunate I can eat anything during long endurance events. It’s like a gourmet set menu, my running food; pizza, pasta, cheesecake – anything I can get my hands on.”
4. Be mentally prepared
“I break the race up in my head – I try not to get into the mindset that I’ve got 50 miles to go, but instead, I think about the next checkpoint, or points between them. Mantras are also good, there are a few that have been passed on to me. Damien (Mark’s coach) swears by brushing his teeth during runs, and I’ve adopted it too. People will be taking food on at the checkpoints and I’ll be brushing my teeth – it makes you feel fresh.”
5. Use social media to form a community
“There’s a great community, that is the beauty of the ultra-running world – connecting with people via social media.”
You can hear Mark’s full conversation on the Big Run podcast produced by Danny Easton and sponsored by exhale. We get to listen in on three post-run chats with Ultra runners like Mark, along with GB runner Holly Rush and track and middle-distance runner Mo Hashi. Keep your eyes peeled for more running insights coming soon, best shared over a cup of exhale coffee.
Written by Sarah Finley
Photograph #1, 4 and main image by Jake Baggaley
Photograph #2 by Matt Green