Runner Profile:  Mark Walker

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Like many other runners, Bangor man Mark Walker dabbled with running at school but gave it up to pursue other interests. Then in 2009, Mark started running again and has since flourished in a sport he now loves (alongside Mixed Martial Arts and Football, especially Chelsea FC).

Mark’s personal bests tumbled as he improved, but after his marathon times began to stagnate, the IT Systems Engineer changed a few things and quickly began to reap the rewards.   Mark’s ‘runner profile’ is an interesting and at times inspiring story of how we should never stop adjusting our goals/ambitions in respect to our progress and achievements.

Full Name:  Mark Walker
Current Category:  Male Vet40
Associated Club:  Unattached
Personal Bests:  5k – 18:19, 10k – 36:44, Half Marathon – 1:23:00, Marathon – 2:56:41

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I really enjoyed the Rathlin Run (Half Marathon) in 2012.  Going across to the island by ferry makes it feel like a real adventure.  The course itself is pretty challenging, with plenty of steep hills and a few cattle grids to negotiate.  I wore a chest camera during the race and uploaded a video to YouTube here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JdLK1Ao6d8

When did you start running?  I did a little bit of cross country running at school then ran for about a year in my mid 20’s.  However, I didn’t run at all for about twelve years until 2009, then I started again and would now run on a regular basis.

Why do you run?  I became vegetarian in 2009 and the change in diet seemed to provide me with a lot of extra energy.  I felt I had to find a way of burning the energy and running seemed ideal because I had enjoyed it in the past.  This is what got me out the door to begin with and since then I haven’t looked back.  I enjoy the mental and physical feeling of wellbeing that running provides.  I love the ‘runners high’ I get after a hard run or race and believe running has made me a happier person.  I also enjoy the challenge of always trying to improve my personal bests.  In running you do compete against others but first and foremost you compete against yourself.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My next race will be the Newry Half Marathon and I’m hoping to run close to my Pb of 1:23:00. However, this race will be twenty days after the Belfast City Marathon and five weeks after the London Marathon so my legs might have different ideas! This will be the first of six races I plan on running in Pure Running Half Marathon Series.

What is your favourite training ‘session’?  The run I always look forward to the most is a weekend long run.  I generally do this on a Saturday morning and when training for a marathon would run usually run between 20 to 24 miles.  As I get closer to the marathon I add more quality into the run.  Three weeks before the London Marathon this year I ran a 22 mile run with the last 10 miles at my planned marathon pace, which was a great workout.  I timed it so that I joined the back of the 100th running of the Belfast Victoria ‘parkrun’ after about 18 miles which made the run even more enjoyable.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I like to keep it simple with porridge, a banana and rice milk about three hours before a longer race. Maybe some white bread and jam if it’s a marathon I’m racing.  I do most of my quality training sessions early in the morning on an empty stomach, so I don’t eat anything before a morning race which is 10k or less.

I always try to drink a high GI carbohydrate drink straight after a race.  If the race is long, I would then eat a pack lunch while travelling home.  This usually includes almond butter sandwiches, a banana, dried fruit and nuts.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  I’m certainly not a great runner and having only started in 2009 at the age of 39 my achievements are rather ordinary.  I’ve never won a race but did finish second in the Rathlin Half Marathon in 2012.  I also finished third overall in the Vet40 age group in the 2012 Up and Running Half Marathon Series.  You have to run six races all around Northern Ireland to qualify so it takes a bit of dedication to complete.  I like to think my biggest achievement is still to come!

You recently achieved your goal of a sub three hour marathon in the London Marathon, how do you feel about that?  Yes, ever since running a 3:28 marathon in Belfast 2010, I set my long term goal of running a sub 3 hour marathon.  I made sub 3:15, then sub 3:10 as shorter term goals along the way.  Over the next few years I improved a bit then seemed to stagnate with marathon finishes of 3:26, 3:13, 3:18, 3:09 and 3:13.

I decided a new approach was needed so took a season off marathon training and worked on my speed over shorter distances.  Then training for London this year I also really ramped up the mileage compared to other campaigns.  Instead of running about 55 miles a week I averaged about 75 and peaked at 100 miles four weeks out from the race.  The higher mileage really paid off as I managed a 36:44 10k, which was a personal best by almost a minute two weeks before London.  This gave me a lot of confidence and I targeted running 6:45 minute miles in London.  I expected to slow down a bit over the last few miles but held it together and finished in 2:56:41.

I think only fellow runners can appreciate how ecstatic I was to finally achieve this goal.  Every run I had done for the previous three years had in some way been working towards this.  All the early morning runs in the snow, ice, wind or rain were now all worth while.  I’m not talented enough to run at a high level but this felt like my Olympic gold medal!  A few weeks on from London and I’m still on cloud nine.  However, it hasn’t taken long for me to set new goals.  Sub 2:50:00 sounds nice.

What is your running ambition?  I love setting goals and working towards them. So my next target will be to run sub 18 minute 5k as I feel my current Pb of 18:19 is weak considering my recent improvements.  I would also like to break 1:20:00 for a Half Marathon and then target a sub 2:50:00 marathon.  If I achieve these goals I’ll quickly set new ones!

I get so much enjoyment from running, so I hope I’ll continue for many years to come.  I turn 44 years old this year but hope to keep improving for a while. Ultimately, I’d love to represent Northern Ireland in a veteran event but that might take twenty or thirty years yet! Now, how about that for a long term goal!?