I’m a big fan of this guy. He’s a no-nonsense Brit who’s made Queensland his home in recent years, going on to represent Australia in the crazy world of 24hr track racing. Mick Thwaites will be known to many a Glasshouse trail runner or ultra track athlete. Having never run more than 5kms by the age of 38, at 41, he’s now off to run in the cauldron that is the Badwater ultra marathon, a 135 mile journey across Death Valley.
Mick is truly an example of a man who’s gone from the couch to 5km and beyond. He’s a classic example of how an inkling of drive and determination can change your life. From a 20-a-day smoking habit to knocking off a mighty impress 240kms in 24hrs. He’s a no fuss, get on with it type of bloke and for that reason, I think he’s going to do pretty well come Tuesday/Wednesday next week when the race kicks off.
We caught up with Mick just before he left our shores for the warmer climes of Death Valley to understand a little more about the drivers and motivations of this man, what he thinks of training for the hottest race of them all and what advice he would offer to aspiring runners too. Take it away Mick!
When did you start running and why? I think you’ve got a bit of a back story ?
I started running more than a casual few trots in 2012 to try to get fit again and lose some weight after retiring from playing soccer the year before. I signed up for my first half marathon in March 2012, the Twilight Run. I found that getting out for a few regular runs during the week started to improve not only my fitness and wellbeing, but also my outlook on life.
It will come to a shock to many people who now know me, but I have had quite a struggle in the past with both addictions and depression. Not that this is uncommon in our sport as I feel somewhat that the distance/endurance and sense of achievement is somewhat of an addictive replacement. My late father once said to me ‘That life is about choices’, in the end you choose what mood to be in when you wake up in the morning, you choose what you want to put into and do with your body?
I smoked 20-30 cigarettes a day for twenty or so years and chose to give these away when my daughter was going to be old enough to remember me with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. I chose not give away the drink though, and that was my weakness and also my mask. The weight piled on and the demons set in. I always liked to work hard and play hard and always will, but now I have found a different way to apply it.
Initially running gave me the platform to think about all my issues at both home and at work while out there alone for km after km. I would come home refreshed or go to work with answers to problems that had arisen. Call it replacement therapy, but it seemed to work. Along with that as I was getting fitter I was also getting a competitive spirit again.
When my dad passed away in 2013 at the age of 62 from Leukaemia, it triggered another passion inside me to live for the now and not leave anything to chance. This was both in my work and family life too. Since then I have thrown myself into this world of running with like-minded people and characters from all walks of life.
It is a new drug, and it is my drug of choice.
Did you ever seriously think you’d be in with a chance of doing what you’re doing right now for Australia/Badwater? Did you have a grand plan?
Never in a million years when I ran in that first half marathon. I remember having a McDonald’s on the way home and then seeing it again for the second time an hour later!! Funnily enough though, I think that was the last Mac cheeseburger I have ever had! I think that I got a sniff of being able to sustain in the endurance events when I completed my first 100km trail race for a third position. This ignited the competitive spirit to train harder and improve. When I had my first competitive dabble in 24hr running, this did however give me the confidence to push forward to see if qualification to represent the country was achievable.
You obviously have some talent for running given you’re a 240km+ man for 24hrs… did you do much sports earlier in life and did you know that you had some talent?
I was not too bad at x-country at school, and if it wasn’t for teacher’s strikes in those days I would have represented the school for sure. I mainly played football, hockey and rugby growing up and left school at 16 to join the British Army. I did compete in a few endurance team events during my time in the Army. These were mainly hiking with full packs on across the British moors and mountains. I also had a season of x-country skiing, which whilst was brutal was also fun. I think the longest distance I had run up to the age of 38 was 5km.
I’ve always known, and been told on a few occasions that I had a good motor and could just keep plugging along. But I’ve always lacked the speed (and don’t mind that too!) and seem to perform best when I can pace myself over a large distance.
What type of training do you do for running in one of the hottest races in the world?
This has been a bit of a challenge seeing as it is our winter, and the temps on a Brissie morning haven’t been too high in the last month or so. I really have struggled in the past running in the heat, so that is why this race appeals to me apart from its prestige. It’s time to get out of the comfort zone.
I have been layering up on my easy runs and also doing some gym treadmill and sauna work. I definitely have drawn some strange looks pounding the pavement in the middle of the day with jackets, gloves and a beanie on. Also it is important to test out your nutrition/fluid intake so I have been taking a bit of a scientific approach to my training by monitoring losses and replacing them with as close as I can get without upsetting the system.
This race is a big unknown for me as it is and has been for many. The body will ultimately decide on the day what it wants to do and process, I just need to make sure I’m mentally prepared also for the combat of this.
Where does you love of running lie? On the track, road or on the trails? I’m sure you’ll say both 🙂
All of the above!
At the moment, there is nothing better than getting out on the local trails for a great hill session. My focus has been so much on the 24hr running over the last six months, I seem to have been drawn to that environment with the road being my constant training ground.
They all have their merits and just being able to get out there and run, is the best part of it all.
Where else would you like to take your running beyond this trip? Where will you focus over the coming years?
I’m always looking to challenge myself and my ability, and there are so many opportunities out there to be able to do this. I definitely want to capitalise on my 24hr running and extend my distance and hopefully get the chance to represent Australia again. I will be taking a bit of a break after Badwater and am really looking forward to crewing in some great events for some awesome mates over the next few months. The lure of a 48hr race is appealing as well as an Mt Fuji/UTMB, so much to choose from (if you can get in!) Next year I will be definitely trying to stay home and support some more local events where I can.
I would also like to get back to Nepal at some stage. After doing the Manaslu Trail race a couple of years ago, that has burnt a place in my heart. It would be nice to get back over there, to not only give back but to experience the wonderful gems the country has to offer.
What’s the best advice you can give to people wanting to aspire to what you’re doing right now?
- Once you have pushed yourself to where you think you can go no further, get a coach.
- Patience is the key to building the endurance, treat your rest days as important as your speed sessions and listen to your body.
- Don’t let the fun go out of running, there will always be bad or hard days but the good ones will outweigh them. If running feels like a chore, it’s time for a break.