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Mark Thompson Athlete Ambassador

by Alexandra Parren

Outlaw Half Holkham triathlon winner Sundried ambassador

Mark has a had a long journey to get to where he is today in sport. He talks to Sundried about his passion for triathlon. 

Have you always been into sport?

I enjoyed sport at school, particularly running and swimming. I joined the local athletics club when I entered high school and from there progressed to be a good county-level runner, winning titles in both the track and cross country races. 

I had a break from running after university until 2000 when I entered the London Marathon. I completed the race in both 2001 and 2002 achieving a best time of 2:46:57. 

What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

After the London Marathon in 2002 I stopped running. Looking back, I can't believe I quit but at the time my career was taking off and work was laying more and more demands at my door. 

By 2015, I was in a poor physical state. My weight had crept up year-on-year to 16 stone; I was breathless climbing the stairs and my diet was full of low quality food. 

On a family summer holiday, one of my children took to photo of me in the swimming pool. I looked terrible. It was then that I decided to do something about my health. I went to the doctor and the tests he performed confirmed that my blood pressure was too high, I was overweight, my cholesterol was too high and I had an elevated chance of suffering what he called a "cardiac episode" within 10 years! 

My first run of 2 miles felt awful. It took me nearly an hour to recover! By November, however, I was able to complete 5 miles without stopping. I felt happier, lighter and thoughts turned towards competing. I hadn’t factored into my training schedule my age and lack of depth of training since my last marathon. By Christmas 2015, I was suffering with an inflamed hip flexor which made even walking painful. It was during this period that I started cycling and swimming to maintain my cardio fitness. From then, the progression to my first triathlon in the summer of 2016 was an obvious one and I have not looked back since.

What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

My favourite race to date has to be my first middle distance triathlon, the Outlaw Half at Holkham in 2019. I had a worse swim than I expected but the bike leg just seemed to flow. I didn’t look at any data during the ride, just rode off RPE. When I got back into transition, I was the second rider back in my age group. Coming out of T2 onto the run, I passed the Age Group athlete leading the race and from there just took control of my running. 

cycling triathlon aero racing

And your proudest achievement?

Escaping ‘normal’ life, improving my health, and inspiring my family and friends to get involved in sport

Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

My return to the London Marathon in 2018 was horrible. I qualified for Good-for-Age after finishing 8th in a local marathon in a time of 3:06:09. I’d trained solidly during the 2017/18 winter and was feeling in great shape. I was able to run a 13-mile training run in 1:24:00 on a regular basis. The winter of 2017/2018 was particularly cold on the east coast of England. We’d experienced ‘The Beast from the East’ twice so a lot of my training was completed in very cold temperatures. In fact, our local training group had completed a 23 mile run across snow covered fields. 

On the day of the London race, the temperature was a very warm 23 degrees Celsius. I set off at my target pace to bring me home in 2:55:00. I crossed Tower Bridge in 1:25:00 feeling good. Once in Docklands, however, the buildings seemed to trap the heat and I faded fast. I shuffled across the line in 3:30, gutted that months of hard training had not delivered the result I wanted. 

How do you overcome setbacks?

As I have evolved as a more experienced athlete, I now view setbacks as part of life. Sometimes races go well, sometimes they don’t go as well as expected. Each experience serves as a lesson and I use each lesson to help me plan better for the next time. 

What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

I wish I’d have known about triathlon when I was 18! I get frustrated when I think about the years that I’ve wasted not being involved in the sport.

What are your goals for 2020?

I want to complete my first full distance event at the Outlaw in July 2020. I completed the Outlaw Holkham Half - my first middle distance - in 4:36:02 this year, but I am not under any illusions about the full distance being easy!

Being new to full distance, 2020 is all about learning how to train for and race over this distance. I’d be delighted if I could finish under 11 hours but to get to the finish having raced sensibly is the key objective. 

Who do you take your inspiration from?

My influences come from diverse sources and not only from triathlon. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a set of rules that he used to set out and achieve his goals in life and business. Steve Jobs had a philosophy about life that assured his terrific success in the tech industry. Bruce Lee had a dedication to martial arts and philosophy that permeated through all aspects of his life. 

For me, it's more about mental prowess than physical strength that influence me to be a better version of myself. 

What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

The quality of Sundried kit and its superb value for money is the big attraction for me. It's possible to spend some really silly money on triathlon kit but Sundried offer pro level products at real world prices. 

The Cadence Men's Aero Skinsuit is my favourite piece of kit. Putting it on for the first time, you can just feel that it is going to be a fast bit of kit. The compression is spot-on, giving it fatigue-resisting properties in the core and legs whilst the arms and shoulders have aero channels that save watts on the bike so you can hit the run course feeling fresh. 

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