John Mayock, an extremely accomplished middle-distance runner who competed at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and several Athletics World Championships, will be running in the Marathon des Sables 2019. The race gathers in Morocco Friday 5th April, before heading out into the Sahara. The running stages start on Sunday 7th April.
Created by Patrick Bauer in 1984 after he walked across the Sahara, the Marathon des Sables is now in its 34th year. It is a 250km, six stage running race held over seven days. Medical care, (rationed) water and shelter from the sun are provided by the organisers, but otherwise participants must be self-sufficient, carrying their own bedding, equipment and food for the race. There will be around 1000 participants in 2019. See the Marathon des Sables website.
First a bit of form
John Mayock competed at the highest level as a middle-distance runner in the 1990s and early 2000s. He represented Britain at three Olympic Games (Atlanta, Sydney and Athens). Since then he has kept fit, but this is the first time that he has entered an endurance event like the Marathon des Sables. Read more about John Mayock.
As Head of Sport/Charities at Ineos, the British chemicals company, John Mayock deals with many events and activities. Particularly close to his heart, however, is The Daily Mile, a programme designed to improve physical, emotional, social health and well-being among primary school-children. The campaign encourages children to run for 15 minutes in the fresh air each day, during which time they cover approximately a mile. Started by Elaine Wyllie in 2016, it has reached 8,000 schools in 64 countries. See more about The Daily Mile.
How different will the MdS be from what you’ve done before?
John Mayock: It’s different, an event like this, there’s no doubt. However, I know some things will remain from my sporting career. I’ve still got the determination and endurance isn’t something you lose – as long as you respect your body and the conditions. I channel my competitive energy through business nowadays, mostly, but I haven’t lost that part of my nature.
I know that if I push myself too hard then my body breaks down a bit, so I will need to slow the pace and the heart rate in order to sustain over the longer distance. However, I also know how far I can push my body in different conditions, and I know I still have mental ability to push myself through the difficult moments where others with less experience might fade.
Why the Marathon des Sables? Why now?
I work at Ineos, where we have an active culture (I am also trustee of a number of charities concerned with exercise and activity), and anyway I like challenges in my own life.
The idea of the Marathon des Sables came from colleagues in the company. It has been on their bucket list for a while and they asked if I would like to join them. I have known about the event for a long time, and seen films about it. I wasn’t sure about going at first, but they badgered me and six months ago I found myself signing up without really thinking it through. Obviously I knew that it would be fun, meeting people and pushing boundaries out in the desert. We’re only on the earth once, so you should be prepared to do these things.
I like the fact that it’s a race for all sorts too, with high achievers from the sports world running with people who you would never think would make it.
My time has been limited with everything going on at home and at work, where I have been super-busy, so I have had to fit the training in around that. I have been going out two or three times during the week, but then I have made sure to get out for two good runs at the weekend, once over marathon distance and the other a shorter run. I have been careful not to injure myself by overtraining.
I follow the same principles as I always have in my training, which is all about consistency, keeping the right speed, not too fast or too slow, and respecting the conditions. It’s all about not getting injured.
Planning has been the most difficult thing, deciding what to take and not to take, particularly when it comes to food. This is where there’s a real difference between middle-distance running and ultra-running; my calorie intake is a worry. I have spoken to plenty of people, and while they all have good advice, it is often conflicting…
Is there anything daunting about the event?
I have always been a free runner, getting out there in just a t-shirt and shorts, so I am slightly concerned about having to run with a backpack with all my gear in it. Back-packing and camping are not really my favourite things in life.
What constitutes success?
First completing it, and then enjoying it every step of the way. This is completely unknown to me, so there is a sense of discovery. Also, I know I will feel competitive, so I am sorry not to be a bit younger, as I would love to have been able to go out there and win it.