Mark at the finish- photo credit: Pete Aylward
On Saturday 14th June, Mark Perkins absolutely destroyed the course record at the hot and hilly South Downs Way 100, running 14 hours and 3 minutes. Last years course record of 15:43 by Robbie Britton was hailed as a groundbreaking run for UK ultras, so to take an hour and forty minutes off this is astounding.
Mark won the South Downs Way 50 during appalling conditions in 2013 and has since gone from strength to strength although remains quiet and humble without shouting about his ability.
I believe that many international elites would have struggled to equal that time and I wanted to find out a little more.
Congratulations on winning the SDW100 at the weekend and breaking the course record to boot. 14:03 is an incredible time. How did you feel going into the race?
Thanks, Tim. I had been looking forward to running the whole length of the South Downs Way for some time so I was really quite excited in the week before. I don’t generally get too nervous before races but for some reason I felt even more at ease than usual about this one. I’m not sure why really but I just felt very ‘zen’ about the whole thing and luckily that feeling carried over into the race itself!
Clearly a lot went right on the day- did anything go wrong?
Not really, it was one of those rare days when everything just seems to come together perfectly. The only minor issue I had was that for some reason after about the first 15km my insoles decided to start working their way out of the back of my shoes – which has never happened to me before – and I so I had to stop to take my shoes off and put them back in. Within about 2km it happened again so I just pulled them out altogether and ran without them from there on in. I don’t think it affected me much during the race but I definitely have some pretty beaten up feet now!
Did you use a crew or just the aid stations?
Well, the Centurion aid stations are great but I do think you can’t beat having a crew if you want to get in and out quickly and with exactly the food and drink you want. I was fortunate enough to have had my wife Sarah, my parents and my two little girls helping me out at various points in the day. My parents and Sarah were sorting me out with food and drink and my girls did an epic job of keeping me updated on all the little grey baby bunnies that they had seen along the way.
I did also still stop at some of the intermediate aid stations to grab a bit of extra water and the odd cup of coke however – hydration has been a problem for me before and I really wanted to stay on top of it this time. Sarah also then ran the last 30 miles with me as my pacer which was really great, always such a mental boost to have someone to run with after 9+ hours of running by yourself.
Did you have a time goal in your head or just run to feel?
Well before the race I actually spent quite a bit of time putting together a spreadsheet of distances between aid stations, expected arrival times etc – I’m a bit of a geek like that I’m afraid, and I needed something to give to my crew as a rough time plan for them. I felt confident that on the right day I could run a sub 16hr 100 mile race so I put down a stretch ‘A’ goal of 15:30, but I didn’t intend to try and stick to any splits or anything.
My race plan was to start running at about 5min/km, try and hold that pace to about the halfway mark and then slow down as little as possible after that. Obviously I slowed down quite a bit less that I had expected which was a surprise to me as much as anyone!
Correct me if I am wrong but was this your 100 mile debut?
Actually my first 100 mile race was the Centurion NDW100 last August. It definitely did not go to plan and I ended up doing a lot of vomiting from about 30 miles in right up until the end. But I learnt a huge amount from that experience and there is no way I’d have ever run the race I did on Saturday without having gone through that on the NDW last year.
It was a pretty warm day. How did you cope going at that speed in such warmth?
It was warm but we were fortunate enough to have a fair bit of cloud cover throughout the day too so it never felt unmanageable really. At the NDW I got a bit dehydrated very early on which I feel contributed to me getting sick so I concentrated on drinking a lot this time round which definitely helped. Dumping the odd bottle of water over my head was pretty good too although I think as a result there may be lots of photos of me looking a bit like a drowned rat!
To beat second place by over an hour (who would have also smashed the old course record) must be an amazing feeling?
Well it’s obviously nice to have a bit of a gap between you and the next person, but Richard had a pretty amazing run too and I always feel an hour is not all that much over the course of a hundred miles. The one thing that was nice was that when I got to Southease aid station with about 25km to go I knew that I’d really have to drop the ball badly for him to catch me, so I could just relax and enjoy running the last bit over the Downs with Sarah rather than having to feel like I was being chased down the whole way.
What is up next for you?
Firstly a nice bit of rest and recovery! Then Sarah and I are going to Chamonix in July to spend five days running/hiking the UTMB route to get in a bit of mountain running which I’m really looking forward to. And then race-wise the next one is in August when I’ve got the Berlin 100. That will be a very different experience I think – to be honest I’m a bit scared of running that far on the flat with no hills to break things up!
14:03 is a time many international elites would have struggled to equal- do you have any international races lined up?
No I don’t. Whilst I’m extremely pleased with my time I think I need to prove to myself that it wasn’t just a one-off before I start getting any ideas about trying to compete on a bigger stage. Things obviously went right for me on Saturday but I still feel very inexperienced when it comes to racing and I’ve still got a lot of learning to do before I can feel confident of turning out repeat performances at the level I’d like to.
What is your dream race?
Well I’d love to do some of the really epic, long mountain ultras like Tour de Géants or Le Grand Raid Réunion, but I see those as part of a five year plan really, once I’ve built up a good bit of endurance and mental toughness and hopefully learned some mountain skills. I grew up doing water sports and being a bit of a beach bum so the mountains are still very much unknown territory for me.
Was there any one item of kit which helped you run so well?
This was the first time that I’ve raced with bottles (in an Inov-8 Race Ultra vest) as opposed to a bladder and I certainly won’t be going back. I prefer bladders for training runs but it was so much easier to refill the bottles quickly and I always knew exactly how much I had left which made it a lot easier to stay on top of my hydration levels during the race. Prior to the race I also invested in a super-lightweight taped-seam waterproof jacket (the Berghaus VapourLight Smock) which really helped cut down pack size and weight too.
What did you use for nutrition on the day?
After the NDW100 last year I was actually really worried that I was going to spend every 100 miler I did being sick for the whole way. I’ve spent a while since then playing around with my diet and decided for this race not to take any gels unless I absolutely had to later on in the day. So I made up some sticky rice/honey/coconut balls and some sweet potato/egg bites and ate those plus some fruit and oat/nut bars for the whole race, and had pretty much zero stomach distress which was a huge eye-opener for me. From halfway I also started drinking a little coke at the aid stations but it was pretty much all ‘real’ food, and I didn’t touch a single gel. My energy levels were super-constant and I will definitely be repeating that strategy at the Berlin 100.
What sort of state were you in for Fathers Day?!
Tired but happy! My legs were obviously pretty sore but the main thing was my feet, getting very wet at the start of the race and losing my insoles meant they were pretty shredded by the end. So I spent most of Father’s Day trying to stop the kids stepping on my toes!