Mark is a keen cyclist and soon found a passion for duathlon. He talks to Sundried about bike rides with his daughter and his love for the social aspect of amateur sport.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes. When I was young I played a lot of sport and I've never really stopped. Mostly it was football and rugby but also tennis, cricket, swimming, golf, squash and athletics - all with varying degrees of success and ability. Despite playing at quite a competitive level in a few sports I wasn’t ever naturally the best player in any team so I quickly learned the importance of training and playing to my strengths.
My sporting career went a bit off the rails at university, unless you count notoriety as a table-football shark! So after uni, I set myself the target of running the London Marathon to try and get fit and lose some weight. It was a big challenge for someone who’d never really done any long distance endurance running, but I followed a plan, lost the weight and ended up completing it in 3 hours 10 minutes. And in the process fell in love with endurance sports.
A few years later I moved to Bristol and got into cycling, initially by commuting to work every day on a road bike. But then I plucked up the courage to join a local club and enter a few races. I now live in the countryside about 10 miles south of Bristol, an area which didn’t have a cycling club. So two years ago I started a club out here with a couple of friends, called Chew Valley Cycling Club. It’s grown to 50 members and continues to grow which has been a really enjoyable way to stay fit and make loads of new friends.
What made you decide to enter the world of duathlon?
Cycling has been my primary sport for the last 10 years, but I’ve always maintained a little bit of running as cross training. Mostly trail running in the hills where I live. Last year I ran a hilly 10k in 41 minutes which brought back memories of unfinished 10k business with an old PB of 40 minutes and 12 seconds.
So, I set a target of finally beating the 40 minute barrier before I turned 40. I ended up doing a 38 minute 10k which felt like a great achievement, especially the feeling that at 38 I was fitter and faster than my 22 year old version! But along the way I also entered a few duathlons, and despite being totally clueless about how to transition between running to cycling and then back to running again, I found myself enjoying the challenge and getting a few top 10 finishes.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
My favourite duathlons are the Super Sprint events at Castle Combe race track in Wiltshire. I think I've raced there four times this year so it’s a great way to gauge my fitness and to try different approaches without the pressure of it being a big race. Plus there’s nothing like the feeling of flying around on the super smooth tarmac track on a warm summer's evening.
And your proudest achievement?
Last winter I trained with a triathlon club which was useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it made me aware that I’m a terrible swimmer, but I also met a few athletes who were part of Age Group GB which sounded awesome. Being able to compete for your country as an amateur seemed like a fantastic achievement so I set myself the target of trying to join them. Fortunately, there is a GB Duathlon team, so I could postpone my ambitions to become a fish.
Over the course of the year I trained hard and saw my performance improve and ended up finishing 4th in my age group at the European qualifiers at Bedford in October to claim an automatic place in the GB team for next season.
Have you ever had any racing disasters?
I think on balance I’ve had more go wrong than right in races. Getting a stitch and having to stop and watch people overtake, incurring time penalties during transitions, being sick during a race, arriving late, going too hard … the list goes on!
But my biggest disaster was earlier this year when I lost count of laps during the bike leg of my first attempt at qualifying for Age Group GB and had to ride around for a soul destroying extra lap. I kept going and finished the race but it really hurt, both physically and emotionally knowing that I’d trained so hard and then potentially thrown away my best chance of qualifying by making a stupid mistake. I had to wait 5 months for the next qualifier so I had enough time to wallow in my misfortune before resolving to come back fitter, stronger, faster … and a little bit wiser too. I think it made the victory that much sweeter after experiencing the failure first.
How do you overcome setbacks?
I love my sport and I love the training. I never got into running or cycling to win races, but because I love the feeling of doing those activities and the sensation of getting fitter and faster. So when things go wrong, I try to understand the reason for the setback and then just get back to enjoying the training.
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
Just do it. From the outside it looks like everyone is competitively racing against each other and if you get involved they’ll eat you alive. But in reality most people are doing it for the fun, the adrenaline and the personal challenge. The interaction with other racers is almost always camaraderie rather than competitiveness. There’s often a sense that everyone is part of the same thing.
What are your goals for 2019?
To arrive at the European Championships fitter, stronger and faster than this year. But also to remember that it’s just one day in a whole year so not to get too worried about it. I’ll do the training and then try to enjoy the occasion. I’m a big believer in “train hard, race easy” as it helps me to temper my enthusiasm at the start of a race and actually pace myself.
I’d like to become faster at time trials on the bike too as this is my favourite cycling discipline and the improvements are easily measurable, but I’d also like to keep encouraging my children to be fit and active and to enjoy their sport. My five year old daughter loves swimming so we go to the pool together every week. And last time we were out cycling together she was riding along singing “I love cycling, I love cycling...”, which I thought was really magical.
The priority for 2019 and the future has to just be enjoying running and cycling. Race results are just a by-product of that continued passion.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
I like to follow my fellow amateur athletes on social media and take inspiration from what they are all doing. There’s a real community in amateur sport so it’s great to turn up at races and see familiar faces and talk to people that you’ve raced with before.
Plus there’s all the volunteers who turn up every week to run the events, marshal the races and serve tea and coffee back at HQ. I organised a hill climb this year as I wanted my club to give something back to the cycling community. It was great fun, but also far harder work and far more stressful than just turning up and racing! But when you get involved, you become a part of that world and meet plenty of interesting and inspiring people. There’s still such a grass-roots feel to club races and it’s that old-fashioned, amateur sport ethos that I enjoy and which makes me want to keep racing.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
Sundried kit looks great and performs well too. You can feel that it’s been developed by athletes who know what they expect from their sportswear. It’s also great that the company has such a positive emphasis on the environment and its ethics. I’m a civil engineer in my day job and have spent time working in the renewable energy sector, so I like being associated with a sports brand who ensure that everything they do has the very smallest carbon footprint.
My favourite item of clothing is the Sundried Plaret Men's Training T-Shirt which I wear while running and in the gym. It fits really well and does a good job of wicking away the sweat without the shirt sticking to me. I also own the Sundried Dom 2.0 Men's Running Vest which is a really comfortable and stylish vest. However, I’m a cyclist more than a true duathlete so still have a bit of an aversion to getting my shoulders out in public. I save my vest for race day! Maybe once my official Team GB kit arrives I’ll finally have to man up and go full sleeveless in 2019!