Mark Hartell completed his first really long run in 1989 – a circuit of 42 peaks in the Lake District known as the ‘Bob Graham round’. In 1997 he was successful at the third attempt, in gaining the coveted Lake District 24 hour trophy for traversing a record 77 summits in 24 hours. Mark has competed in races all over the world. In the USA he has completed ten, one hundred mile races, finishing in the top 5 in 6. Mark is one of the founders of the UK Ultra-running Championships. 

“There is this perception that ultra-runners are all super-human, it’s simple not sure”

Do people need to be superhuman to take on an ultra-marathon?

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No! There is this perception that ultrarunners are all super-human, it’s simply not true. The elite are world class, but the ingredients for success are available to almost everyone. You need to be patient, determined and persistent. Making the decision to tackle an ultra-marathon will change your life, but you need to be receptive to all the good things that it can bring and open to the fact that it will be a journey with setbacks and pitfalls on the way.

What are the key training sessions?

Let’s assume you are going to tackle an off-road ultra. I’m a firm believer in training specifics. In other words the best way to prepare for running long in the hills is to run long in the hills. If you are not used to running in the hills, for example, then get some ‘hill’ miles in whenever you can. In particular, practice running longer downhills at a pace that keeps you relaxed.

If you trash your quads on the first big downhill in a race it’s going to be a long and painful day! Backto-back days build a real endurance base. Run 20 miles on the Saturday then get up early on Sunday and do another 15-20.

How important is mental toughness?

It’s key. You run the first 50 miles of a 100 mile race with your legs and the second 50 miles with your head. It’s called endurance running because you endure – you put up with discomfort, fatigue, despondency and you get through it, you endure then you relish success and remember all the great moments that happened.

Are there any other important skills?

For many races in the UK, navigation is an important skill. On a fine sunny day you may simply be able to follow others, but when the mist comes down and you find yourself on your own, knowing how to use a map and compass is vital. There are some great training courses available or find some experienced club-mates to run with in early events, but you should learn map-reading skills.

What about pacing?

Slow down. The most common mistake is to set off too fast. If you can’t hold a conversation with the person next to you then you are probably pushing too hard.

Have you any tips on nutrition and fueling?

Keeping the body fuelled is a very personal thing and only by experience will you work out what is right for you. It is very important to keep the right balance of salts (not just sodium), especially on longer and hotter runs. Don’t ignore simple foods – bananas are great!

Mark Hartell_2

What are your top gear recommendations?

In the UK you’re going to want a really lightweight windproof top and a lightweight but breathable waterproof. Unless it’s really cold I like to run in shorts. To carry your kit you might want to choose a nice small pack that sits up high on the shoulders for stability in preference to a bum bag, as an overfull bumbag can bounce around and upset the stomach. In terms of footwear I am a fan of lightweight and neutral shoes.

What’s the toughest race you’ve done?

Different races can be tough for different reasons so it’s hard to choose a single one. The Hardrock 100 in 1997, where Mark McDermott and I were winners, was a real killer. It was only 4 weeks after my Lake District record and at mile 50 I knew that I hadn’t properly recovered from that and was running on empty.

Mark was my true friend that day – he could have gone faster but sacrificed that to give me the mental support and encouragement that ensured we got the win over the best of all the American runners. I dug deep that day and it took months to recover!

What’s your favourite place to run?

Right out of the back door. I’ve been very fortunate to run in many beautiful places on this earth, but what I have outside my back door, my familiarity with it and the ways in which I can perceive the beauty as the seasons and weather change make it most special.

How do you prevent blisters?

Thorlo socks. It sounds like a blatant ‘plug’ but they really do work for me. Let’s be realistic though, everyone is going to get a blister at some point, even with the best socks and shoes in the world. When I ran 100 miles of Hawaiian jungle with mud, roots and rocks twisting and turning my feet inside my shoes for around 30 hours I got blisters!!

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