“Running is still the oxygen of my life. I couldn’t live without it.”Mark Brooks, PureTrail Events
Mark Brooks, along with Steve Skedgell, started PureTrail Events back in 2015. Their first race was The Dartmoor Volcano, a 10 (ish) mile tour of South Dartmoor, one of Mark’s favourite training runs.
In a loud world, where we are bombarded by a cacophony of social media noise, Mark is refreshingly quiet. Yet, as we delve deeper, it turns out he has rather a lot to shout about. More on this later…….
101 runners tackled that first Dartmoor Volcano, and the feedback was great. With this first success behind them, Mark and Steve set about finding other new and exciting routes to share with us.
Mark already had the seeds of an idea in his mind;
“I’d been thinking of starting a trail running enterprise for quite a while and it seemed like the right time. Trail running had exploded since around 2010, probably 5 years before that to be honest, when races, even long races (ultras) were being course-marked”
As Mark goes on to say, the likes of myself (born in a city, struggles with an A to Z never mind a OS map and compass) were finding these new style events so accessible. Mark had completed the UTMB (the first of his 6 times!) in 2008 and saw just how big trail running was becoming.
His own trail running goes way back to 1985, often in self navigated, low key events. These attracted only those who could tackle both the terrain and the navigation. After moving to the South West in 2008, he “immediately saw the potential with the Coast Path and The Moor for what I loved to do – go trail running!”
The PureTrail Running Group – held on Wednesdays but sadly on pause as we speak, as so much of our social activity is, was also started in 2015. This created a community which could share in the local knowledge of Mark and Steve and also became the core of the volunteers on race days. All abilities are welcome and encouraged and as many as 30 turn up to enjoy a different moorland adventure each week.
“This year has been a nightmare really”
Mark sums up neatly how 2020 has been for event organisers
“But anyway, we’ve survived and 2021 looks more promising although events on Dartmoor are still looking a bit iffy. Time will tell. There’s a lot of vested interests on Dartmoor and runners (events companies) always seem to be bottom of the pecking order.”
PureTrail’s next physical event is Race The Light on 19th December (this being written on 12th December, so hurry!). Nicky and I had a fantastic evening tackling this event in 2018 and I even wrote a blog about it .
It will be pureTrail’s 3rd event of 2020, having cancelled so much, including their much anticipated trail running trip to Greece.
As we saw with Winding Paths and Bys Vyken, PureTrail have also come up with a different take on the ‘virtual’ challenge. They have introduced the Solo Series where we are being encouraged to get out and try the routes of PureTrail events which are taking place later in 2021. Tackle the route of their new event, The Coleridge Way Ultra during January and then the also new for 2021, 100 mile Dartmoor event in February and The Tsunami Ultra route in March. There will be final finishing positions at the end of each month and a goody bag of souvenirs (including discounted entry off the physical events) for finishers.
I’ve been so impressed with the way our local and smaller events organisers have stepped up during this challenging year. I strongly recommend checking these ‘solo’ challenges out.
Regular readers will know that Nicky (my rather amazing and gorgeous lady wife) and I do a lot of events together. Well why not check out the blog post I wrote after Race The Tide half marathon in 2017, or this one, from after I’d ran the marathon in 2018. We went back to run the half again in 2019. One of my favourite ever events. In fact, of the marathons I’ve ran solo, this would definitely be my favourite.
Mark himself is certainly no stranger to the world of running.
“I’ve been running literally all of my life. Did my first marathon in 1985, first Ultra in 1986 .. a 40 odd mile navigating event across the Brecon Beacons. ‘The Omega Run’ it was called, it was organised by a bunch of lunatic ex SAS guys.. this first ultra nearly broke me.. but it didn’t, and as you know.. that’s what happens – you’re hooked”
He loves the adventure of the longer events, 50 miles and over, where the only certainty is the lack of certainty. That uncertainty took a different form for all of us this year, Mark was booked in for a 7th UTMB, the Lakeland 100 (which would have been his 4th) and the Transylvania 100.
As I have with all the interviewees in this series, I ask Mark about his proudest moment as a runner. He has a special place in his heart for that first UTMB;
“Quite a few memorable moments.. but I think finishing the UTMB for the first time in 2008. It was my first 100 miler. I couldn’t believe a race could be so relentless. So much ascent. 2 nights out. Hallucinations, dehydration, the works! Every moment of the last 24 hours of it thinking to myself ‘NEVER AGAIN! Convinced that I was never ever going to do this ridiculous, stupid race ever again, and anyone who did was basically insane.”
Of course, we know how this goes now……
“Then, as I crossed that finish-line, the UTMB finish-line.. 6 deep with spectators, the previous 37 hours just melted away into some euphoric haze of sheer exhaustion, delight and such pride in what I had managed to do. I sat down on the steps of the church there behind the finish line and decided right there and then to sign up again next year.. and do better..! And so I did.”
He adds that he feels an immense sense of achievement in any long race and remains motivated by the chance to push himself, to see just how far he could go. Having the opportunity to travel to events in other countries adds further adventure and excitement to the races. That’s the addiction of this wonderful world of trail running.
No two runs are ever the same, Mark says he “has to keep things fresh, always!”
“Winning is not what it’s about at all, not for me, and not for 95% of runners I guess”Mark Brooks.
I should point out that Mark won the very first Spine Challenger in 2012 and was also first across the line in the 2015 RAT Plague in Cornwall. His humility left these facts out until much later.
We need to look back up north for Mark’s favourite UK race. He has completed the Fellsman (61 miles across the North York Moors) a mere 9 times. The event is already a victim of Covid for its 2021 edition, so Mark will have to wait a bit longer before he makes it 10!
Mark also drops UTMB Oman into his list of memorable events;
“Priceless, the memories will stay forever, I guess that’s it, you’re creating memories, living your life, doing stuff you love doing.”
Kilian Jornet is in a class of one as far as Mark is concerned. He is honoured to have shared the trails in events with Jornet and sees him as doing everything with the right attitude;
“Everything he has done he does with humility and his passion for the mountains goes beyond his desire to win races. I really respect him as a runner and as a human being. I’ve been in a few races with him and I’ve felt I’m right there in that moment with probably the best of all time, what he has done is awe-inspiring.”
Amongst Mark’s other inspirations are Lizzy Hawker, Jasmine Paris and the legend that is Joss Naylor.
So what about his proudest race director moments?
He doesn’t single any event out, just having the satisfaction of knowing that all of the different pieces of organisation have aligned on the day. He hopes for every PureTrail event to be the best experience for everybody involved or taking part;
“Trail races are great places to be, or they should be… positive and happy gatherings of people doing what they love to do.”
Mark doesn’t feel that he’s necessarily had to ‘sacrifice’ anything since starting PureTrail, but acknowledges;
“When you turn a passion into a job it can take on a very different role in your life. Running was, and still is to some extent an escape from the mundanity of day to day life.. the stresses and problems which we all share. I can’t escape like I used to be able to.. as I’m always thinking about the next race, even when I’m out running.”
PureTrail already offer a diverse, challenging and inspiring set of events, including the amazing Lundy Island Race, a location where very few will ever get to run, never mind race. Mark therefore says he’s looking to improve and expand on the events already in PureTrail’s repertoire rather than be guilty of further saturating the market in locations which are already well used.
Mark is concerned by the growing trend of organisers seeking to profit from locations where another already hosts events. There is a real possibility of this becoming a barrier to permissions being granted for future events;
“Unfortunately, that’s lost on some organisers, but then some event organisers are in it purely for the money, not for the love of the sport. If we’re not careful we could lose a lot of races due to closure of certain sections of the Moor and the coast through overuse.”
PureTrail’s European adventures are to be expanded with the addition of Outer Edge, which we are told to ‘watch this space’ for.
Mark maybe the quiet one, but once asked about his passion, his glorious trails, he could go on and on. His enthusiasm and excitement are infectious and inspiring. With this much love for the sport of trail running it is hardly any wonder that PureTrails’ events are rather special.