Andy Kirkpatrick on El Capitan

Mark Cooper's marathon charity challenge

Rebecca Varley

Mark Cooper marathon runner

On May 1st runner Mark Cooper will begin his attempt to run 50 marathons in just 56 days.  His challenge will take him on a 1,300 mile ultra endurance run through Holland, Belgium, France and Spain. The trip will take 8 weeks to complete.

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with Mark - donate here

Edinburgh-based Mark is not an athlete or a professional runner.  In fact he only took up running 3 years ago. We’ve been following Mark on twitter for the last couple of months as he prepares for his run and have been really inspired by this “average guys” determination to undertake such a difficult challenge.

I caught up with Mark over the weekend to find out what’s behind this ambitious project.

Q: 50 marathons in just 56 days - what motivated you to undertake such a grueling challenge? 

I guess the thing that motivates me is mainly to raise the money for the charity that helped my family when my Mum passed away. My Mum passed away in 1997 very suddenly after suffering a brain hemorrhage. I think of her every day and this gives me the belief that I will never give up. On other levels I am excited to see exactly what I am made of and also to find out what my limits are and if I can go beyond these limits. Throughout history people have broken down barriers often painfully and I look forward to pushing my own.

Q: Tell us a bit about the Headway Group that you are raising money for.

The Edinburgh Headway Group (EHG) are an organisation based in Edinburgh who help people who have an acquired brain injury, these could be the result of a stroke, accident or assault. Once these unfortunate people leave the hospital it is up to the families to take on the role of carer. The EHG is the only support group in the whole of Edinburgh who offer this support to the people and their families. I have seen the work that they do and it is vital to so many people that this work continues. They rely totally on fundraising and donations so I am honoured to do this for them.

Q: Have you always been a keen runner?

I actually used to be a heavy smoker and drinker until 2007 when I decided one day to drop the bad habits and get fit. Like most people I viewed running as a way to get fit but it soon became a passion of mines and I also realised that running has so many other benefits other than the fitness ones. I feel energised, focused, driven, calmer and generally a better all round person. I would encourage anyone to take up running or exercise in general as it has changed my life and the reason I am the person I am today is 100% down to running.

Run with Mark - Mark Cooper's marathon challengeQ: You’re planning to run 50 marathons in 56 days - has this ever been done before?

There have been a few people who have done such events, we all know about Eddie Izzard’s unbelievable achievement for sport relief. There have been a few people in America who have done similar things. Not so many in the UK that I know about. It definitely is the biggest thing I will ever take on in my life, purely because every day is a learning process for me. I’m learning how to train, obtain sponsors, fundraise, work with press etc. All of this is very time consuming and often I feel stretched but I think everyone feels like that at some point in their life, be it from family or work commitments or crazy challenges like this. You have to just pull through it and take comfort in your friends and family. One thing I have learned over the past few months is that the world is full of so many nice people. Never give up on your visions. Dean Karnazes, who ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states once said "We are so comfortable being miserable." and i think this is true, it was for me for a good number of years.

Q: You only have 5 weeks to go until you set out for your first marathon, what’s your training schedule like and how do you prepare your body for such a grueling assault?

I leave in 5 weeks and it’s only going to get more and more frenzied. As for training, it’s pretty heavy now, back to back marathons and running all week anywhere that I go. I am averaging 100 miles each week just now but in about 3 weeks I will taper back down and on the last week I will only run a couple of short runs to keep myself flexible. More about resting and fueling my body in the last week before the event. As for preparing my body for the battering its about to receive, I don't think you can really do that for something like this, sure you can follow advice and nutritional advice but that will only get you so far. What it really comes down to is your mental toughness and I can feel no doubt in my mind about finishing this challenge. I will never stop which is quite a worry to my loved ones, I can’t stop.

Q: What kind of support will you have whilst on your challenge?

I have a support team in place for all 8 weeks who will drive with me and ahead of me to set up camp, cook food and make it as smooth as possible. My partner is coming for three weeks with friends making up the rest. I am so grateful to these people for giving up their own time and money to come along for the trip. It is going to be an adventure for everyone and it will hopefully inspire a few people along the way.

Q: What effect do you hope your challenge will have on others?

I guess the main thing I want to tell people is to create a goal and just go for it. I know that circumstances sometimes stop people from following a certain path but I feel that anything is possible. I truly feel for anyone who has lost a parent. It is a very humbling experience especially when it happens so young but the flip side is that you can turn even a tragedy into a positive by making sure you live your life for every moment and do whatever makes you happy. If you’re not happy doing whatever you are doing then devise a plan to change it. Change is scary but it’s a good scary. I am scared to run 50 marathons but I know in my heart and in my head that this will change both my life and me as a person.

We'll be following Mark throughout his challenge and wish him the best of luck.  Don't forget to DONATE HERE to this really important charity.