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.