#LegendsInFocus: Mark Barrett, No.5

#LegendsInFocus: Mark Barrett, No.5

We are proud to welcome a special group of participants into our Hall of Fame, inducted after completing 10 50km events. Of a possible 23 races, Mark Barrett has completed 15 GC50’s and was awarded Race Number 5 for life. We caught up with Mark, ahead of this year’s fisiocrem GC50 Run Festival.

GC50: What year was your first GC50 and how did you perform on the day?

Mark: 2005 was my first GC50. It was called “Kurrawah to D’bah and back” (aka K2D) in those days and I challenged a mate to enter. He said he’d do it if I stuck with him the whole way. The challenge was on.

I had already been running marathons for 6 or 7 years by then and I had done Oxfam 100km Trailwalker a few months earlier. My mate had probably never run more than 10k prior to that day and wasn’t a fan of long distance running but was always up for a challenge. He started to struggle at the 20km mark, so it became a jog-walk from there. I was pushing for us to keep running and probably coming across a little impatient. My mate was suffering and by the 27-28k mark he announced that I should continue on and he would catch a taxi back to the finish. K2D suddenly became a real growth opportunity, one of those really important life moments.

During Oxfam a few months earlier I was pushing my team too hard which triggered an unravelling of our team bond and the exit of one of our team mates, a terrible outcome given the main goal of Oxfam was to get all 4 team mates to the finish line together. On reflection after Oxfam I had immediately started assessing what I could have done better that day to keep our team together, so when my mate announced he was pulling out of K2D, I thought for a moment and said “no, even if we have to walk the last 20k, let’s finish this together”. Lucky for me, my mate was up for the challenge and we eventually finished in about 7 hours.

For each of us it was an unforgettable and wonderful experience. For me it was an opportunity to switch mindset and experience a better outcome. I’m sure I wouldn’t remember that day so fondly had I pushed on alone and left my mate behind. Despite feeling broken, my mate kept moving forward through 30km of suffering which in itself is an awesome achievement.

That taster had me hooked, I immediately promised myself to return in 2006, and as it happens I have done GC50 every year since. My businesses became a sponsor of the event back in those early days, and personally it has become a really important part of each year for me.

GC50: 50km racing has seen a big rise in number the past 5 years (this year we have over 500 competitors) why do you think so many people are challenging themselves over the distance?

Mark: I’ve never met a person that regretted doing a 50km run. It’s bound to become more popular!

There’s something incredibly uplifting and empowering about crossing your own borders, be they physical or mental. 50km races (or marathon and ultramarathon generally) are perfect opportunities to grow physically and mentally stronger, and to do this with a bunch of like-minded people is very special. There’s such an infectious vibe around these events and with so many people running marathons now, 50km is probably a natural extension of the journey for many that have enjoyed the marathon experience.

When you step up to 50km the camaraderie among runners seems to step up another level also. For me it’s not a 50km race as such, it’s more of a personal challenge. I feel like I’m running with all the other runners, not against them. So it never gets old, the whole experience is awe-inspiring every time. I think that’s what keeps many of us coming back and what drags new people in.

GC50: What is the biggest change to the GC50 you have noticed during your time competing at the event?

Mark: For many years there were just a handful of us on the start line each year, but in the last few years it has grown dramatically which I think is great. I’m sure Ian Cornelius would be very proud to see how the event has continued to grow.

The course change has obviously been significant as back in the day we used to run over that beast of a hill at Coolangatta then basically turn around and run back over it again heading for home. I do miss that part of the challenge but I do agree that it is a better course these days without the road crossings.

GC50: What advice would you give to first time runners to the 50km?

Mark: Stay hydrated and respect the effect that the Queensland summer will have on your ability to run 50k. It’s not a matter of if you will have hydration problems, it’s really a matter of when, and when it does happen it will seriously impact your ability to keep running.

This is a 50km run on a Queensland summer day. You are going to suffer. Be mentally prepared for that. That suffering is an opportunity for personal growth and working through it you will do yourself some big favours (providing you are healthy and safe of course)

Be part of the community. Encourage other runners out on the course. The energy you invest in doing this will come back to you in multiples.

Don’t litter. Respect the fact that you are sharing the course with the rest of the Gold Coast.

GC50: What motivates you to keep running and coming back to the GC50?

Mark: I’ve come to know the day so well, I just know it’s going to be a great day. You get a group of people all in one place and they are all challenging themselves over whatever distance, well you just know that is going to be a great thing to be part of. So it’s easy to keep coming back, I would do even more of these things if I had the time.

For me GC50 is particularly special though. Having done 15 consecutive years now, this event has become one of my favourite days of the year. It’s always held on my birthday weekend making it extra special and it’s a great way to finish the year and head into Christmas. I’m also a very proud Gold Coaster and GC50 takes in such a nice part of our region.

I arrive at the event pre race and there is always that great community feel, catching up with familiar faces and anticipating the start. Then once I get into it, for some reason during these events my mind starts going into these really strong waves of gratitude. I’m not sure what it is about running a long way that shakes my brain chemicals up in that way but I start thinking of the people in my life, moments and other things, and how I am grateful for them. I’m sure that gratitude is a key to happiness and feeling content, and I think these experiences in events over the past 20 years have helped me become generally more aware of what I am grateful for.

Then there’s the battle. You go from running comfortably, to running uncomfortably and suddenly to epic struggle when it just doesn’t feel natural anymore and you have to 100% focus on just continuing to run one foot after the other. For me that is definitely going to happen every year in the GC50… it’s 50k, it’s hot and humid, it might be a southerly or northerly wind, you just never know what you are going to get. So on the way home the struggle may start at Miami, it might be Burleigh, hell sometimes it may even be a battle from Currumbin or earlier. In the early years that was scary but I knew it was good for me, whereas now I really look forward to that challenge, that opportunity to learn a little bit more about myself. I feel coming back year after year has helped me develop a stronger mental capability for pushing on through the suffering.

Then you cross the finish line. The camaraderie continues as you share stories with other runners and you just get to bask in the glory of the huge achievement that is running 50k. I always hang around for a beer and a chat and then I’m off to my own birthday party which is just some crazy icing on the cake for that day. The timing of GC50 also sends me off into the Christmas break on a massive high.

GC50 has benefited me on so many levels. I’m so grateful to all the organisers of events like these as they take on the business risk and huge operational effort to make events like GC50 a part of our community and culture.

GC50: Thank you Mark for your continued support of the event. We look forward to calling you over the finish line for the 16th time on Sunday 6th December!

Permanent race numbers are awarded after reaching 10 finishes. Currently: Geoff Williams 1, Geoff Last 2, Kelvin Marshall 3, Peter McKenzie 4, Mark Barrett 5, Rob Griffiths 6, Harry Davis 7, Craig Hooper 8, Brian Evans 9.