Last updated: 15-Nov-18
By Luke Jarmey
Congrats Mark on being our first ‘Featured Member’, you’ve written some fantastic reviews on the site which we really enjoyed reading and I’m sure have helped prospective racers in researching those races.
Q. First off, tell us a bit about yourself, who is Mark Lynch?
A. I’m honoured to be the first ‘Featured Member’.
I’m a 36 year old, bearded, corporate lawyer (recognised in Legal500 and as a Rising Star in Construction Law)… who is not very corporate, can’t play golf, and who, one day, hopes to keep bees and chickens, grow chillies, and become a judge.
I love all forms of running including Colour Runs; this is a link to a film I made. I think that ultra running is the most community-minded form of running, other than park runs. Earlier this year, some friends and I made an ultra running documentary film called “Inside Ultra”, which attempts to give an insider’s view on running a 100 mile ultra-marathon. Here’s a link to the trailer… The trailer is supposed to be a spoof/homage to 1980 action film trailers!
I like real ales, upbeat music (Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson is amazing), yoga, meditation, and theoretical physics.
I regularly fail to get up early in the morning.
My answers sound like an online dating profile!
Q. Lets talk about ultra running. How long have you been running? When did you start running ultras and what inspired you? And what was your first ultra race?
A. I did a bit of sport as a kid, but nothing much really, and certainly not running. Growing up, I didn’t even appreciate running as a sport in its own right. I took it for granted as something that allowed me to play other sports, such as football and tennis.
It wasn’t until I was 23, back in 2002, when I caught the running bug, but, even then, it was more of a sniffle than outright flu. I did the Nike Run London 10km in Richmond Park, and it took me about 52 minutes!
After that, the bug was pretty much cured. I only did one 10km run in 2004, but – because some friends were doing it – I ran my first marathon in 2005. It took me five hours forty-nine minutes and twenty-one seconds. That might be a respectable time for a hilly, off-road marathon, but this was the Marathon de Paris! Footnotes for that race include nearly being beaten by Minnie Mouse, and having to take the next day off work because I could barely walk.
If I’d performed better at the Marathon de Paris, the running bug would probably have been cured there and then, but my poor time gave me a point to prove to myself. This drove and inspired me into running more often and for longer distances, culminating in my first Ultra in December 2009, which was the Brecon Beacons Ultra (46 miles). However, I was so under-prepared for it that I didn’t even have a head torch, and remember having to run as hard as I could to get off the trail and onto the part of the course that had street lamps before it got dark.
As an England football fan, I do sometimes think that my performance (or lack of) in the Marathon de Paris is not dissimilar to Stuart Pearce in the 1990 World Cup. He missed the penalty, left the field in tears, but exorcised his demons in Euro ’96 when he emphatically smashed home his penalty for redemption! My own ‘Euro 96’ was 2012, when I came 45th in the Marathon des Sables, followed later on that year with a sub-3 hour marathon in San Sebastián (Spain).
Photo credit: Stuart March Photography.
Q. We noticed you’re a lawyer, how do you fit running and training around your work hours?
A. Yeah, that’s not easy! Life and work definitely get in the way of consistent and regular training. I think the key is to gently weave and integrate running into your day-to-day life. For example, I work near Tower Bridge in central London and live about 12 miles away in Croydon in South London. So, when I’m training, I will run to or from work four or five times a week. It takes me about 45 minutes commuting on the train, and 1 hour 20 minutes to ‘run-mute’, which means that I actually only run for 35 minutes in addition to my normal commute time. On these run-mutes, I will often listen to a football match, or a comedy or news podcast. These kind of time-saving tricks minimise life disruption, help to keep me running, and, importantly, help to avoid the creeping fear that I’m under-training.
It’s also important for me to have a flexible, rather than a rigid, training programme. I would never say that I must go for a particular type of run on, say, a Tuesday evening. Instead, I’ll have a clear sense of what training I want to do in a week, then have a look at my diary on a weekly basis, and knit the two together. There are, however, certain unmovable “crown jewel” training runs / practice races that I know I must do. These are, typically, big miles on certain weekends, which I plan well in advance, and try to combine with other things like visiting friends or a weekend away with the family.
Q. So you’ve ran the Marathon des Sables, Ring o’ Fire, South Downs Way 100 and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). That’s quite a range of very tough ultras! Which did you find the hardest and why?
A. In order of difficulty I would say SDW100 was, relatively speaking, the easiest. Followed by Marathon des Sables, Ring o’ Fire, and, finally UTMB. The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc was by far the hardest. I’m not a fan of wind and rain, and get cold very quickly. I pulled out of the SDW50 in 2013 because – faced with the extreme wind and rain on race day – I simply didn’t have enough layers, and couldn’t stop shivering. So the UTMB was always going to be tough for me because of being in extremely cold, wet and windy mountains over two nights. I also have quite weak ankles, having ‘popped’ them plenty of times playing football… the trails around Mont-Blanc are, funnily enough, not exactly ankle friendly.
Q. What are your top 3 bits of running kit and why?
A. Look into any ultra runner’s rucksack, and you see, laid bare, their deepest fears. Lots of food: fear of hunger. Lots of clothing: worried about keeping warm. So my top 3 bits of running kit are driven, in part, by performance and part by fear.
At no. 3 are the Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka signature series of race vests by Ultimate Direction. These two vests are well thought-out and well-engineered for ultra runners with lots of clever pockets on the front. I used the SJ vest for the UTMB in 2014, and it was absolutely spot on. I like the AK vest because it’s just so simple, with almost no room for kit. On the ultra marathons I’ve used the AK for, it acts like a kit auditor, making me justify why I really need to carry something. Also, running such long distances with so little kit always feels like a very liberating and pure running experience.
At no. 2 is my Original Buff (Cashmere Red) and an X-bionic sweatband. These are the unsung heroes of my kit world. The sweatband is basically a runner’s handkerchief, and is used to remove all kinds of accumulated food, dust, mud, and other debris from my face. The Buff is just so versatile. On the Marathon des Sables, I used it to cover my head, ears, and neck from the sun. On the Grim Reaper 70 in 2014, I drenched it in water at the checkpoints to keep my head cool, and avoid overheating.
At no. 1 is a satnav/GPS watch. I currently use the Suunto Ambit2. Given the distances involved on ultra marathons, I find it impossible to judge – based on feeling and instinct alone – whether my pace is too quick or slow. So, I always go into a race having assessed what I think is a realistic and sustainable mins/mile pace. I then use the watch to monitor and check that I’m tapping out the miles at that pace. I’m actually giving a talk about effective pacing at a MdS event in London on Tuesday 20 October.
Photo credit: Rebecca Lynch.
Q. Tell us a bit about your training plan? Does it vary for different ultras?
A. Training for me is a real mixture of things. I do think it’s very important to get experience of what you will face on an ultra – it takes away a lot of the uncertainty, and gives you a better chance of coping with the conditions on race day (or night!). For example, when I was training for the MdS 2012, I spent many evenings after work running around the sanded, horse track in Hyde Park carrying weights in my MdS rucksack. For the UTMB, I did a lot of hill training, night races in order to experience running in the dark with a head-torch, and a few 70 and 80 mile races e.g. the Grim Reaper 70 miler, which I recommend… and which I, ahem, won in 2014!
A regular training run for me is along the Grand Union Canal towpath from Tring to London, and then through London back to home in Croydon, about 70 miles in total. The towpath can be a bit tedious, but you don’t need to think about navigation and it always feels like such an accomplishment to go all that way on foot back home. Trust me, seeing the lights on at home and turning the key in the front-door, once you’ve mustered the energy to do so, is an extremely euphoric experience!
I also break up the running with lots of cross-training. I’m a big fan of yoga, especially Bikram (hot yoga). Hot yoga is a great cardiovascular workout, an opportunity for the legs to recover, and is also very meditative. For three or four months prior to the MdS, I did it two or three times a week. I think that the heat conditioning was a game-changer for my performance on the Marathon des Sables. Most of the time on the MdS I felt like the heat just bounced off me. The Sahara Desert just didn’t feel quite as hot as the Bikram Yoga studio near Oxford Street!
I also do quite a bit of mind training too. So, for example, I will practise mindfulness and also a few visualisation techniques. It’s really important to go into the training with the right mindset. Training is a means to an end, but given the huge amount of time it absorbs, it should be seen as an end in itself. A training run shouldn’t be something to endure and battle to ‘get through’, but, rather, a special privilege and treat to appreciate, savour and enjoy. My top tip would be to go into any ultra with a sense of patience: don’t chase after the finish line; let it come to you.
Q. What races have you got planned for the future? And what would be your dream race to enter? …..you’ve already knocked off a few ‘dream’ events.
A. Since the UTMB in 2014, I’ve put the ultras on hold for a season or two. My focus at the moment is to make myself quicker for when I return to ultras by concentrating on lung-busting speed work. So I’m running short, track distances, park runs, and cross-country with my running club – the Croydon Harriers. Short distances – like 400m, 1500m, and 3000m – sound counter-intuitive training distances for ultras, but, actually, running these regularly has speed benefits across an ultra marathon distance.
There are so many great ultras I’d love to do, but here is my attempt at a bucket list: Leadville 100, Comrades, Grand Union Canal Race, Hardrock 100, Western States 100, Spartathon, Badwater 135, Rocky Raccoon 100, and the Run Rabbit Run 100. I think the only reason I’m interested in running the last two is simply because they have cool names that sound fun!
I’d love to run Badwater as a summer party: with a load of close family and friends driving along behind me, hollering words of encouragement/abuse, and blasting out some great tunes. I think it would be a very cool shared experience.
Want to follow in Mark’s footsteps and try some yoga. We have a great session for you from our very own Alex Stein that you can do at home and is REALLY easy to follow.
Fancy becoming a Featured Member (ooh, err, Missus) then please join the community, and post a review or four… follow the link to find your race and click on the turquoise ‘post your review’ link to post your thoughts.
Photo credit: Mark Lynch.