Until he started training for the London Marathon in 2003 Mark had never run more than 3k without stopping. By April 2006 he had completed over 30 Marathons including Athens, Paris, Edinburgh and New York. He also began running ultra-marathons completing 10 in one year finishing with the Marathon De Sables, a 250K self-support run across the Sahara Desert.
One month later, Mark climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa, the first of his 7 summits and decided he wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in Asia, within 5 years. The training took him to Aconcagua, Argentina in 2008 and Denali, Alaska in 2009. After a further years training in the Alps he successfully summited Everest in May 2011. Early in 2012 friends living in the same French village as Mark suggested a ski tour to include Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. A year to the day on from Everest, Mark and 3 friends stood on the top and he realised he had now climbed 5 of the 7 summits. Mark decided that if he was going to complete them all it must be done straight away.
Travelling to West Papua, Indonesia in November 2012 he summited Carstensz and after a 2 week break he was off to the Antarctic to the final mountain, Vinson. Standing on the top of Vinson on the 5th December 2012 Mark joined a very elite group of mountaineers that have successfully summited the 7 summits. The 3rd person in the world to have climbed them all at the first attempt.
Mark talks to me about his achievements in running 30 marathons within 3 years, the progression to mountaineering and some of the highlights in his journey up the seven highest summits in the world, and how so much of his success is down to the power of mind over body.
What this episode has in store for you
“I’ve always done whatever I wanted to do, which has often got me into a lot more trouble than it needed to! As far as climbing or running is concerned, I didn’t start climbing until I was in my late 40s. When I look back at it and why I decided to start, I have realised that it is about obsession – when I get something in my head in terms of doing something, it becomes an obsession.
“The buzz of finishing the marathon at 42 years old was really enjoyable, and I thought in my head ‘I can do anything really.’ Then someone said to me do you want to do Athens, which is a pretty challenging marathon as 18 miles of it are uphill. I just realised that if you keep yourself in fairly good shape and you’re not trying to beat the real elite guys, you can actually get more of a sense of achievement. I never went for best times, it was about trying my hardest and finishing as best I could. The Pennine 100 was also non-stop and brutal, but you just keep going. It’s a mind-set. I ran with people who were 5 or 10 times more physically fit than I was, but they didn’t finish because their mind wouldn’t let them get there. You have to have that positive mind-set and keep it simple. Your body won’t give up unless your mind tells it to. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it – I did 30 marathons in total. None of them are easy, you just keep going until you cross the line.”
“The initial obsession with running cumulated in me running the Marathon De Sables (a 250k self-support run across the Sahara Desert). After this run, some mates in the pub then said to me, do you fancy climbing Kilimanjaro? And that was pretty much the start of it! People often ask me how I became so determined, and how do I make sure I achieve the challenges I set for myself – a lot of people assume it is a fear of failure. However, I don’t think it is – I actually think it is a love of success. I love being successful, not just in the mountains, but also in business. I love the buzz of running a successful business. I think I am quite lucky that the motivation for success is such an in-bred thing, as I know a lot of people have to work at it, which does often pay off. I think though that I was lucky it came naturally to me.”
“Climbing mountains after the marathons seemed like a natural progression. I was 45 by then, and I needed to slow down a bit on the running. I met Matt, a full-time mountain guide in the Alps, in London and said to him that I had climbed Kilimanjaro, but that I wanted to climb Everest and I wanted him to help me put together a plan. He told me I needed to put a CV together, as they won’t just let you climb a mountain like Everest, just because you climber Kilimanjaro! They told me what I needed to do and what I needed to learn to take it seriously enough to climb Everest.”
“Within that journey towards Everest, I climbed Aconcagua – that’s over 6,000 metres. From there I went to Alaska and climbed Denali – that was where I woke up. With Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua, there is a lot of help and guidance. In Alaska, we flew into a little village, were dropped on the side of the mountain and were pretty much self-sufficient. You have guides, but essentially you have an 80-litre rucksack and a sledge and you are tied to the guy in front of you and behind you, who you have never met before. For me, that was the one that made me realise that this was serious now. I was then ready for Everest.”
“I am asked a lot whether there was any point that I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top. The answer is always no. If I had ever thought I wasn’t going to get to the top, I would never have got there. You cannot think that I won’t finish it, because if you think it, you won’t. It’s as simple as that. If you go through anything in life thinking you will fail, then you will fail.”
“Going down the mountain is where the biggest challenge lies – 80% of all fatalities happen on the way down, you’re tired and you are thinking you have achieved what you are there for so you become a little gung-ho.”