Why do we run?
This April, Ultra X are delighted to have Marcus Smith, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, extreme athlete and coach, racing in Sri Lanka. Marcus has two businesses of his own, and looks to make peoples lives better through health, culture and environment.
Marcus recently ran 30 marathons in 30 days as part of Dubai’s 30*30 fitness challenge. Ultra X caught up with Marcus on his story.
Your background was in Rugby Sevens, with you switching to running more recently, what was it that triggered the move?
I retired from Rugby in December 2009 and a few days later a friend called and asked if I wanted to run the Dubai Marathon. Having run a fair bit as a kid I said yes straight away, then told him we would run sub 4 hours, he then told me it was in 4 weeks to which I replied “no issue”. A 21km the next day another 21km a week later, then a 30km and we were on the start line of the 2010 Dubai Marathon. I ran 4:02 and swore I would never do another.…
Where did the 30 marathons in 30 days idea come from?
4 places really.
1) I believe in constantly challenging the body to try and understand my true potential and hopefully in the process inspiring others to understand their potential.
2) I read Dean Karnazes’ book in July and loved the concept as he had done 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states.
3) I do quite a few challenges but they always seem to be outside of the UAE where I have lived for the last 35 years so wanted to do something on home soil and in October it was the Dubai Fitness Challenge, a challenge from the Crown Prince to the people to do 30 minutes of exercise a day for 30 days, so it was a great fit.
4) I knew I would learn a lot about myself and my body and that excites me.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during that month?
It’s a rollercoaster really, there is nothing that stands out but it’s just amazing that one day you can be in so much pain to the point that had it been any other run I would have probably made the smart decision to stop, and then the next day you feel a million bucks. To be honest that rollercoaster even happened within the runs themselves but really that’s what it is all about, that’s what hitting your potential and learning is all about. One thing I knew and found a lot of solace in is that everything is temporary, both the good and the bad. I told myself the pain would go away and it did temporarily some days which was a welcomed relief until it came back. ha ha.
“before we were a society of couch potatoes and dominating this sedentary life we were explorers, this is what we are made for, so it’s a case really of going back to our roots, getting a bit primal and living life and that’s just awesome.”
You have done various extreme physical challenges, famously the Marathon des Sables in 2015 and more recently 30 marathons in 30 days for Dubai 30*30 Fitness, are you interested in racing any shorter races (e.g. a marathon) or is the focus now more on finding bigger and tougher things which push you mentally as much as physically?
Funny you should ask as my coach Tom ran with me quite a bit during the 30X30 and I think it was with about a week to go I told him to start planning for a PR marathon, I told him I thought these 30 marathons would be a nice base for me! So Dubai Marathon is locked in for Jan 25th and I am super excited about that. It would be unfair to say that a marathon or even a 10 km does not push you as much, as if done right I think you can reach the same state of Nirvana. However I love the longer, more complex challenges, the sense of adventure, the number of variables that you get to manage, the people you get to hang out with and the places you get to go to. The MDS in the Sahara was very special and again I learnt a lot, and then recently running across Corsica with the insane elevation — things got quite real.
I think with ultra events the fact that the finish line is just part of the process and is a snap shot in time turns the focus to the whole process which is what I love. I love waking up the second and third day and taking the first few steps to see how your legs feel and regardless of the physical feedback getting my head right for another day of suffering and jubilation.
More and more people seem to be looking to do extreme challenges. Why do you think this is?
It certainly is a growing arena. It’s hard to tell someone who hasn’t done one what its like but I coach people to these challenges and they come back and you can see things have changed, they have this look in their eyes that says “I’ve literally been in hell and made it back” and to me that is something truly special and I hope every single human takes on one day as it teaches you so much about yourself and life.
On another note and although I don’t think that we should compare ourselves to each other but I think people are seeing friends do these events and thinking “I can do that if he can” and then they go for it.
Remember, before we were a society of couch potatoes and dominating this sedentary life we were explorers, this is what we are made for, so it’s a case really of going back to our roots, getting a bit primal and living life and that’s just awesome.
You manage two businesses, do motivational speaking, coaching and still find the time to train to extremes, managing everything must take some serious discipline, was this always something you have had or is this a trait which you have worked on over time?
You are right it is all about discipline and also not suffering the growing disease of FOMO which is just rife in the world today. I went to boarding school when I was 9 and that was all about discipline, I am confident that is where my love for it started and it has just grown. I am also very goal orientated, everyday has a set of goals even if it’s just the meetings I have to have or the training that needs to get done, they are all goals and I want to do the best I can. A lot of people say I am intense and I think that’s probably true, I hate mediocrity so if I am going to do something then I am all in, work, sport, family and yes believe it or not, relaxing!
How do you commit 100% to each when you appear to be juggling so many balls? Are you able to, or does the focus vary depending on the next big project?
I plan a lot and figure out what is important. Once I have labelled something important then I am all in. I have no issue saying “No” to things that are not inline with my goals and if at a later stage I find a goal I am working on is not actually super important then I have no issues scrapping it. I do not dwell on the past, mistakes and successes happen for a reason, life is happening now so we have to be all in.
When racing do you tend to have a set strategy and stick to it, or do you tend to go on feel?
Quite contra to perhaps what I have portrayed so far but in racing a lot is on feel, for sure there is a lose strategy around things like nutrition and hydration as these are variables you can control but who knows what you are going to feel like when you wake up on day 4 of a race? I remember in MDS the day before the race started people were sat around talking about their plan for day 4 the long day and I’m thinking “you have 3 brutal days to get through before day 4, just relax!” No surprise that when the first 3 days didn’t go to plan they were shot for day 4. My strategy was simple, when it was super soft, uphill or super hot — walk, all other times run at the pace you know you can go all day.…and always finish strong. We passed around 50 people in the last 8km of the final day.
You are going to be racing Ultra X Sri Lanka in April. What is your game plan for the race?
I am super excited to race in Sri Lanka, it’s different terrain but Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. My objectives will be simple, have fun, learn, race as hard as I can, finish strong and most important — No Weakness.
You had an almost fatal experience after a truck crashed into you out biking, I know you will be bored of telling the details of the accident by now, but has your mindset and approach to life changed as a result? And if so in what way?
That’s a great question to finish on and you are right I have been asked it a lot and spent a lot of time reflecting. I can sum it up in two simple phrases: “Do the small things” “stay in the moment”. When I was laid on the side of the road with 7 broken ribs, a broken shoulder, punctured lung and blood coming out of my mouth I asked myself “What can I do right now to live?” The answer was obvious “breathe”, the smallest thing that we take for granted and at that stage it was the hardest thing to do. It couples with the second point there in that in encouragement people were telling me “the ambulance will be here in 10 minutes” but when you can not breathe 10 minutes is an eternity hence why you have to stay present and for me at that time it was focussing on the current breath. From then on everyday I have woken up and asked myself what are the small things I can do today to get better? A lot of people say to me I recovered very fast and I was lucky. It was nothing about luck, everything happens for a reason, I worked hard every single day from the day I was in ICU on my recovery, I did thousands of repetitions in the gym to fix my shoulder and only focussed on the current day, the now. So far it’s been an amazing experience.
Ultra X Sri lanka
Places are available to join Marcus in Sri Lanka until the end of January 2019.
Register below before it is too late.