Running Happy with Mick Thwaites

It was Mick’s second consecutive third place at Badwater just these last few weeks gone that made me want to chat to the man from North of the border, aka Queensland and the rather oddly-named yet quaint town of Banyo. Mick’s been steadily on the rise for the last few years with a number of great results both at home and abroad, plus he’s also a top man, so I wanted to see what made the man tick.

My first real memory of Mick was when we both ran in the Glasshouse 100 a few years ago. I was in the 100kms, with Mick in the 100 miler. I distinctly remember it because I was gunning for around 10 hours, so had a very specific pace in mind. A number of the 100 miler runners shot off like a bullet from a gun and Mick was one of these guys. I knew he had talent, but I did wonder if he was heading off a little quickly.

Sure enough, just as we began the dreaded loops at CP8 around 55kms in, I stumble upon our man Mick, not in the greatest of shape, but mentally strong as an Ox. He’d kind of blown a little, so was waiting for his great mate, Shaun Mulholland (a part of the Team Smick crew) to catch up so he could run and finish with him.

I did have a quiet thought to myself to wonder if he would be up for the finish given how hard he’d gone out, but sure enough as I checked the results the following day, Mick and Shaun had finished together in around 22 hours and some change – good man I thought to myself. That for me showed the mental fortitude this guy has and he’s only proven it to have grown stronger and stronger as the years have gone on.MT3

I mention his two finishes at Badwater, but for me the performance that really stood out with Mick was his 48hr run in Canberra where in amassed a gigantic 413kms. If you didn’t know it already, that ranks as the number one performance at that distance this year globally – yep, just like the days of Martin Fryer, we have a man who’s sitting pretty at the top of his league. He’s also run a whopping 247kms in 24hours at the IAU world champs, so it appears as though this track racing is really up Mick’s street.

I had a chat with Mick last week on my way over to the UK to find out a little more about what makes him tick and he summed it all up in his opening words to me – he simply runs happy.

Like many an ultrarunner, Mick started running because the pounds were piling on and he was rather too fond of a stubbie while out fishing. Deciding that it was time to change things, Mick really only started running for run. First there was a 5km, then a 10km and well, the rest is history really. Here we have your average Joe Blow, salt of the earth kind of guy doing extraordinary things on the track.

So what’s running happy all about? Well I only had to look in front of my own eyes to understand what Mick was talking about. “There’s an article that you guys wrote about Martin Fryer a few years back that I read time and time again.

In the Mind of Martin Fryer – The Beautiful Point of Surrendering to a Simple State of Pure Awareness

For Mick, running happy is about being in the moment. It’s about smiling and thanking people for their help, from race directors to check-point volunteers. It’s about appreciating what’s around you there and then, because if you’re a happy runner, then you’re going to enjoy what you’re doing.

To quote Martin from his article, “Sri Chinmoy’s advice to runners in these events was to stay out of the mind – “No mind, No mind, No mind” was his advice and you soon learn to understand the significance of this for survival in multi-days. I listened to very little music in this event. The word focus is an interesting one as it seemed that the best mode was one of being focused yet expansive, as opposed to focused and contracted. If you become too introspective and lost in your own mind you fall victim to the limitations of your talented, yet finite, computer-like mind that tends to generate many thoughts that are less than useful when faced with extreme pain and fatigue.

So the cliché of running from the heart rather from the head rings true in that you want to immerse yourself very deeply in the experience of each present moment of the race, which actually represent the only true reality relevant to your predicament. Speculation by the mind on the past and future events is not helpful and wastes energy that could be spent in the present moment. I reached a beautiful point of surrendering to a simple state of pure awareness – you just experience Being – nothing more, nothing less.”

For Mick, the ability to do this has been his bible in running some of the awesome times that he’s achieved on the track over the last few years. And there’s some highly valuable lessons that runners of all abilities can learn here. Far too often in ultrarunning we get hang-ups from other sports where we focus on others rather than what we’re doing ourselves.

Team Smick
Team Smick

Mick is a classic example of focusing on what he can control, himself and letting the others to do the rest to let the result take care of itself. Is Mick a naturally talented runner? Is he a sub 7-hour 100km runner? No, but what he does have in buckets is great mental strength and a desire to train his ass off and hit his goals. Mick’s been a massive supporter of Ultra168 and asks for no favours from anyone. He gets his head down and does the business on the track by simply surrendering what’s around him and letting go.

Mick’s got a rather full dance card of events coming up over the coming year, including a race in which I know he’s going to do very well in – but more on that when it happens. Keep an eye on this fella, he’s only just getting going and has huge potential to do some rather awesome things on the track.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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