On June 20, British expat Mark Gillett is taking his efforts to raise much needed funds more than a step further by channelling his love for outdoor adventures and running the length of the island, a distance of 70km.
The 36-year-old teacher at KIS school in Kathu has set himself the arduous challenge of running from Promthep Cape in the island’s south to the Sarasin Bridge in the north, battling various challenges en route such as punishing hills, rugged terrain and energy-sapping beaches.
He plans to stick as close to the coast as possible throughout, starting the endeavour at 4am in the hope of covering as much as he can before the heat and humidity take effect.
A select set of fellow running enthusiasts will join him for certain sections, more so to provide him with refreshments and moral support, although for the large part he will be going it alone.
Having supported an independent food drive in Kathu last year, Mark is hoping his efforts can raise direly needed funds to contribute towards food drives the One Phuket initiative has been leading for the past year.
He also plans to register his challenge with The Fastest Known Time, an organisation that records routes and times achieved by a range of outdoor pursuits enthusiasts throughout the world. Mark hopes his challenge can entice and encourage others to repeat his feat and establish the route as a popular draw for Phuket.
Partnering with One Phuket and the Scholars of Sustenance program, Mark wanted to use his passion to help contribute to the excellent work they do, which is how the idea for the upcoming challenge was conceived.
“As far as I am aware, nobody has done this previously,” Mark told The Phuket News.
“If my efforts can help contribute to those on the island who have truly suffered during this pandemic and who really need assistance then it will be more than worth it,” he added.
Making his attempt all the more admirable is the fact he has only just returned from a serious knee injury two months ago that hampered his training and preparation.
“I have been building up more and more every week,” Mark said.
“I increase my distance around 10% every week, which in turn has improved my strength and durability. Regular trail runs across the island are a key part of my training regime as is the weekly speed training I undergo.
“I have also added in strength and flexibility work such as yoga which has helped with conditioning and will hopefully help mitigate any chance of injury.”
‘Big adventures on average talent’
Marks’ slogan of “big adventures on average talent” certainly belies his ability and grand aspirations.
He moved to Phuket two years ago with his young family, accepting a job on a whim having never visited Thailand before. He has been an avid outdoor adventurer since his formative years, cycling and running to work back in his native London, taking on the occasional 10km run and half-marathon, climbing mountains and undertaking mountain bike adventures. He sets himself a new challenge every year, each one more demanding than the last.
Last year during the lockdown he became the joint-first person in Thailand to complete the run-Everesting challenge, a brutal undertaking where the participant must repeatedly scale a slope enough times to equal Mount Everest’s 8,849-metre height. At the time, less than 100 people had completed it worldwide.
Mark chose Kalim viewpoint in Patong as his destination which he had to run up 39 times over 18 hours to cover the 42.29km distance. It was, understandably, the toughest physical challenge of his outdoor pursuits thus far but the achievement and fact he had raised much needed funds for the Kathu food drive made it more than worthwhile.
“Taking real risks is what truly motivates me,” he said.
“Taking on something where there is a very real chance of failing.
“I am fascinated by how the mind and body react when truly pushed and the going gets really tough. Long distance and endurance runners often mention hitting the wall and entering a dark place mentally and it is facing that and coming through the other side that really appeals to me.
“Of course, raising money for a worthy cause is the real payoff that makes all the pain worthwhile.”
“Running has become an identity for me in recent years,” commented Mark when asked what attracts him to the sport.
“It is a really varied sport where you get to see and learn about so much. I have become so familiar with so much of Phuket through running, seeing parts that most don’t and meeting so many different people.”
When asked what, if any, negatives he has encountered during his various excursions, Mark was quick to list the possibility of injury as his number one worry. He experienced this last year but used the setback to learn and address his weaknesses.
He adds that encountering wildlife is especially exciting, particularly on the trail runs, and he has come across several snakes while off the beaten track although has never had any issues.
“Spiders on the other hand can be a real concern, especially the huge Orb spiders that you encounter on trail runs. Running face-first into the web of one and getting entangled was an especially hairy moment although thankfully they are not venomous!”
One further initiative close to Mark’s heart is the environment and a desire to see a reduction and ultimately eradication of single-use plastics.
All the food he takes in on his challenge will be homemade and stored in reusable containers. Likewise, drinks will all be consumed from flasks and similar receptacles. Not a single-use bottle or container in sight.
Initially, he was hoping to factor this into his run, maybe stop at a beach or two en route to help with a clean-up drive although the current restrictions on people gathering in groups deterred him.
Maybe that could be his next challenge once things have returned to a semblance of normality, I suggest.
The wry smile and glint in his eye is enough of a response to suggest he has already more than considered it.
Watch this space...
If you would like to donate to Marks’ cause you can do so via the One Phuket Facebook page.
You can also follow his journey on his Instagram page at markgonarun.