The global running community is huge and social media is a fantastic tool to keep in touch with everyone. Through Instagram, I connected with Marcus Brown aka Marathon Marcus, who is a 10x marathon runner, advocate for healthy mind and body and has set incredible goals for himself in the coming years, including completing all six World Majors. I was really inspired by the amount of work Marcus puts into his training but also his reasons behind it so I sat with him down to find out more...
I noticed you started blogging quite recently as your first blog piece was published back in February earlier this year, what prompted to you start running and write a blog about running and mental and physical health?
I started running in 2006, my first running event was the Nike 10k. However I didn't start my blog until 2016. In 2015 I did a work presentation, so I decided to talk about running marathons and the lessons which I learnt along the way, thankfully it went down well and I thought maybe I could be a bit braver moving forward and discuss mental health and running.
Growing up I've always had to be independent, which has made me highly guarded. In small quantities, it can be helpful, but when you wear a coat of armour (figuratively speaking) all the time, it isn't healthy to be in state of such high alert for extended periods of time. I now recognise this, and the fact it isn't conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
Naturally, I'm quite a private person, and subconsciously even now, I find it hard to open up and express myself despite appearances. There was a ten-year gap between running, then starting my blog and posting on Instagram. It was started as an attempt to help me, break my subconscious habit of not allowing myself to feel and express a lot of emotions I had bottled up. By making a conscious effect to go public, I was holding myself accountable to break a negative subconscious behaviour, and the fears I originally had that I needed to be on high alert all the time, were proved to be baseless.
You actively promote a healthy mind and body on both your blog and Instagram, do you think running is the best way to achieve this? If so, how have you achieved this?
Running works for me but everyone has their own path to what sports activity they like whether that is individual or team sports for example.
For me, the healthy mind and body goal is a fluid target with no final destination, but each day I take steps to work towards that goal. Each day I do my best to get that balance right, but some days are great and some days I have set backs, but during those difficult moments, I have gained the tools to deal with the challenges which have knocked me sideways historically.
But in a wider context, when we think of psychology, whether it's in a business or a sports context, it's seen as a positive thing, however, when psychology is talked about in regards to mental health, it tends to have a negative stigma. However psychology in sports, business, or mental health has the same function, it helps improve your performance in challenging moments.
Mental health has been one of the forefront topics of the year, with celebrities and the royal family speaking openly about it. Was there any particular reason why you chose to raise awareness for mental health problems? Can you explain why it is so important to you?
It's personal to me, because I have my own challenges. I spent a long time being ashamed of it and falling into line to avoid stigmas. But a weakness is only a weakness if you don't acknowledge it, and hide from it. I chose to face my challenge and to make a decision to accept myself, for what I am and what I wasn't it. Through my own journey I want to bring awareness to the subject, and hopefully inspire other people.
To be honest it's fantastic that the Royal family are behind this as it smashes another stigma, that mental health can affect everyone. I'm really glad overall it's getting more positive media coverage.
You've set yourself the long term challenge of completing all World Majors and then a short term goal of completing 4 marathons in 1 year. I've been called crazy by my peers for completing 4 marathons in a year, in such a short space of time. Have your friends/family had the same reaction to your challenges?
It's been varied, my wife gets me so she is really supportive. My family are naturally looking out for me and hope each marathon is my last. On the whole my non running friends are generally supportive but they still think I'm weird for running multiple marathons. My running friends get it and are supportive. Some people aren't that positive about it but it says more about them to be honest. I fully accept that people may be supportive or not so supportive, but regardless of what people think, I enjoy running and as long as I'm healthy and can do so I will continue.
I had a conversation with a friend earlier this year, and she told me what an amazing experience the New York marathon was. It really inspired me to actually think well why not give it a go, and that snowballed into aiming for the six world majors. I think it is a good thing to have big scary goals because it stretches you as a person. Life is more fun lived outside your comfort zone.
I've seen people do four marathons in a month, or run four marathons four days in a row, so there are some amazing athletes out there, that have trumped my four marathons in a year. But the main reason for my goal was to raise awareness that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health challenge.
When you first started running, what were the biggest challenges you've had to face and what advice would you give?
I would ask people to honestly ask themselves and then talk to a trusted friend also for a balanced view, to define the 'why' behind their training. If your training, in an attempt to achieve a goal to conquer something you don't like about yourself, you could run a 100 marathons but if you hated yourself before, once the euphoria has gone, you will start to hate yourself again after completing the marathons. It took me a long while to realise that a healthy body cannot coexist in conflict with an unhealthy mind.
The problem is most people don't realise how unhealthy subconscious thoughts rule their life's, they believe that they are making sensible conscious decisions, until it's pointed out by a therapist that all is not as it seems. My advice would be to interrogate the 'why' behind your training, if it's for unhealthy reasons, I would advise people to deal with this as a matter of urgency, running away from the problem won't solve it. You can only run for so long before it catches you up. Face the fear head on.
When you ran Abingdon in 2008, can you remember exactly how you felt once you crossed that finish line? Did you ever imagine running 9 more marathons after this race?
When I first started running marathons, I ran it in the hope that by setting a big challenge I would prove that I was something beyond what I already was. It took me a couple of marathons to realise that the finish line isn't what it's all about. Completing the first marathon was an amazing achievement, but I was the same person that I was before I completed the Abingdon marathon. I think it's just mainly reinforced what I already was, which is enough.
With running being so prominent in your life, how have you dealt with set backs such as injury from a physical and mental point of view?
The first few injuries were hard to accept, and I didn't deal with them well. As such I rushed back into training and made the injury worse. Now I think of the quote by Arthur Ashe:
"If I were to say, 'God, why me?' about the bad things, then I should have said, 'God, why me?' about the good things that happened in my life".
Don't get me wrong I don't like being injured, but once it's happened using energy to worry about how unfair things are, is wasted time which I can't get back. I focus on what I can control and make the decision to do what I can to come back stronger, and not make the injury worse.
With 4 more marathons coming up (Robin Hood Marathon Nottingham, New York 2016, Paris 2017 and Tokyo 2017, do you think a BQ will fall on one of these races?
My Boston Qualifier (BQ) time is 3:05 at approx. 7:03 minutes per mile. At the moment my PB is 30 minutes short of this. The target is achievable but I'm going to need to work very very hard to achieve it. With goals like this I need to be realistic, so my current short term goal is to achieve a 3:20 marathon. The long term aim is to achieve the BQ, but if I don't achieve it, I'm still very happy with my PB.
What/Who would you say inspires you the most?
First and foremost I think you have to be your own inspiration, when your tired and don't want to train, or when your getting up early to do training runs in the winter, you need to be your own cheerleader first, as relying on external inspiration will only last for so long. Secondly I'm inspired by so many of my Instagram friends, including yourself. The work your doing with Mind is incredible to bring awareness to mental health.
When I see the journeys that people have made and I can see the similarities in my own journey, it makes it more relatable than looking at a profession athlete. So far I've been able to interview a number of people on my blog. Such as Emma @devlins_angel whose cousin Jay committed suicide in December 2015. Emma is raising awareness for the charity CALM, after completing a tough mudder and training for other running events. When I'm struggling during a run, I think of Jay and imagine the pain he felt that taking his own life seemed like the only option to end the pain. Then I think of my own low moments, I remind myself how I have survived each moment. But all the people I've interviewed from Louisa, Mayling, Iris, Elizabeth, Marianne, Emma, Blake, they all are expressing themselves despite the challenges they have faced, in such a relatable and inspiring way.
Last but not least, physically and mentally, how do you prepare yourself for race day?
I always get nervous before a marathon despite running 10 of them. It shows I care and that I respect the event. Physically, there isn't much you can do on race day. I remind myself that I've done my best in my training, and I will do my best in the marathon regardless of what happens. Mentally, Ideally you don't want to be completely chilled where your horizontal, and you don't want to be too excited. You want to be in the middle of these two opposites. One thing that I think of to get me amped up in a good way, is thinking about how I survived previous challenges, in line with the poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou:
"You may write me down history, with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust I rise..."
This stanza rings true for me based on experiences in my past where I've been told many lies, that have put me down as a person. I've even had a former employer use my mental health against me. Now I look back with a sense of pride about how I've learnt to separate the lies, from the truth, about what I am and what I am not. I am a 10 x marathon runner. I remember how I raised above each lie to, reveal to myself, what I am and no one can take that away from me.