Middle-aged Muswell Hill marathon runner on the mental tools for success
- Credit: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team
50-year-old ultra-marathon runner and Muswell Hill resident Michael Stocks ran 155 miles in 24 hours to qualify for the GB team making him the oldest person ever to debut for their country. The businessman went on to run in the 24 hour World Championships in France in 2019 and in April attempts the world 100-mile track record in his age group. His book, ONE-TRACK MIND: What Running 150 Miles in a Day Can Teach You About Life, explores the mental tools and perseverance he needed to battle through negative thoughts, calf spasms and confidence crises.
Q What made you take up running in your 30s?
A: I gave up smoking in my early thirties and running was one of the things I did as I began to feel healthier. I loved the feeling of movement, of exploring new areas on my feet, and of starting to feel really fit.
Q Then you took it to the next level, do you like setting yourself challenges?
A: I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing person, but like many runners I got sucked in by degrees. There’s always a new goal. Faster, longer, hillier. That’s one of the joys of running! At first, my goal was a fast 10km, then a quick marathon. Then I began to look beyond that to the longer events. The idea that I could aim to run for England or Great Britain started to materialise after about ten years and took many more to achieve. When I started running, I would never have thought it possible.
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Q Your book is about how you had to dig deep during a race.
A: In a 24-Hour race, the objective is to go as far as possible in the available time. So keeping moving is crucial. I walked for 100 metres every half hour while I tried to eat and drink, but otherwise I ran the whole time. As the race progresses you feel more exhausted, sore and sick. The biggest challenge though is mental. If you lose the struggle with yourself and the negative voice that wants you to walk or to stop, then it is over. Also, it rained for 19 of the 24 hours, so the cold and wet were a challenge!
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Q What did you learn about yourself?
A: Much of the book is about life rather than running, and the event was a powerful reminder of the importance of simple things. In moments of adversity it is warmth, comfort and kindness that we value. I longed for my favourite chair, for a picnic in the woods and the feeling of my wife’s hand in mine. I learnt about my connection with others as the runners struggled through the night together, giving each other support. And I realised how much of an optimist I am because, for all the difficulty, I always believed that I would make the best of the cards I held.
Q How did it feel being selected for team GB?
A: It was almost surreal. You dream for so long and work so hard, and then one day you find yourself sitting looking at the glass of champagne in your hand and it still seems impossible! Of course there is an incredible sense of honour. When my GB kit arrived it became real!
Q What's the next challenge?
A: My next race is a 100 mile invitational track race. In the seventies and eighties many of the fastest 100 mile times in the world were set in such events, and this one will feature Britain’s top 100 milers, male and female. My target is the 100 mile world record for my age group. My previous attempt ended at 90 miles after hours of severe illness, so hopefully it will be second time lucky! Whatever the outcome, after all the cancellations last year, it will just be an absolute joy to be in a race.