“I wasn’t sure I could do it, but when you get so many people joining your efforts, it goes a long way.”
Mark Thornberry, fighting cancer by running ultra’s
Having been an athlete all his life, and a distance runner for five years, running ultra’s is Mark Thornberry’s way to raise funds for liver cancer research, since he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer at the age of 57.
As he has cirrhosis (liver disease) for 12 years, Mark is regularly scanned. Cancer was detected in the beginning of May 2017.
He was devastated when he received a terminal diagnosis at the end of June.
Suddenly it was hard to make plans for the future. Mark had to put his sales job on hold, as his daily routine was determined by treatment regimes.
“I could sit around and moan about it, or I could do something positive,” Mark says.
Instead of giving up, he decided to beat the disease and raise awareness and money for liver cancer research by running.
“My overriding goal is to extend my longevity!
Ultrarunning gives me the mental strength and the fitness to be able to tolerate these quite extreme medical interventions.”
Life can be difficult, but having running goals and tying them to a greater purpose takes him away from those dark places.
Because cancer treatment forced him to pull out of the oldest ultra in Great Britain, he decided to run it in September individually, when he felt good enough to cover the 145 miles of the Grand Union Canal Race!
After sharing a post on Facebook, he got an amazing amount of love and support from the ultrarunning community. Lots of people joined him during his personal three-day challenge, cheered him on, supplied water and sandwiches, and help him funding ca $68.000 for research into liver disease/cancer at Kings College Hospital (KHS) in London.
The Kings College Hospital has been caring for Mark as an outpatient since he got his liver disease 12 years ago, and they support and treat him for his liver cancer as well.
“KCH Charity Fund is the fundraising arm of King’s College Hospital in South East London. The hospital receives central funding but still needs funds for those capital items/research projects that are subject to economic constraint. The monies I am raising are ring-fenced for the Institute of Liver Studies (part of KCH – and one of the most prominent hematology institutions globally)…”
On his charity funding page Mark says:
“KCH is one of the great NHS teaching/research hospitals…and it is brilliant. Everyone I’ve met there, from porter to nursing support to Consultant have been off the chart with their dedication to patient care.
They all know that liver cancer patients have a very poor prognosis.
Having spent some time as a patient on the wards there, you just sense how much more the team wants to do to fix you completely or to get you more time.
But in the majority of cases they can’t…the treatment options for liver cancer patients are very limited, the research £s aren’t there (and I’m not going to get political here), I get the sense that NHS funding for critical illness is still massively triaged, let alone is it enough in relative terms. The big Pharma companies have their own agendas and preferred target markets.
So, I’m going to do my bit to help KCH Charity Fund, and thus am asking for your support. If you could sponsor me for these running challenges/races, that would be brilliant.”
“All I want to do is pay it forward.
I want others to know that a diagnosis like this doesn’t have to be all dark.”
Mark had a positive response to his radiation treatment, which made him more determined to beat this nasty illness.
In October, not even two months after his 145 miles run, he ran the Javelina Jundred, a 100-mile race in the hot Sonoran desert in Arizona, USA.
Although Mark had raced the distance several times before, it was a serious challenge under the circumstances.
“My fitness was not as good as it would be if I was training ‘normally’ for a 100 miler – this is just a function of time availability and that I do generally feel more tired than before. I did two training runs of 28 miles post the Canal run and before Javelina Jundred only.”
But he was mentally in a good place. “I feel every mile is a good, purposeful mile!”
“No crew, friends to support – this was me wanting to face adversity in the desert as proxy for my own fight.”
“I just had a simple notion that if I could beat the desert…under-prepared,
under-trained and probably against the odds (50% DNF in 2016)
then I could beat anything, particularly my cancer.
There was something very uplifting about bellowing ‘fuck you cancer’ into that desert darkness…”
“I ran it more slowly…and more ‘risk averse’ I guess, due to the heat. I took more time at aid stations – making sure I was cool/iced up… normally I try and breeze through them. But the JJ was just about finishing. With my hour+ sleep at Jackass station at approximately mile 70, I reckon I spent around 5 hours not moving during the race!”
Despite one or two heat exhaustion/jet lag/stomach issues, Mark made it in just over 28 hours and qualified for the Western States Endurance Run.
Mark didn’t change anything in his race strategy, since his cancer diagnosis: “Listen to your body…respect hills and be prepared to go slower still.”
And already within 3 to 4 days after the race, he’s usually running 5-10 mile slowish recovery runs.
On race day Mark eats and drinks a little but often, and he walks out of aid stations with some food in a ziplock.
He avoids fizzy, sweet drinks for as long as possible (50+ Miles).
“During races I am always massively carb-deficient!
Outside of races I eat more protein, as its good for the liver function.
Sugar is my guilty pleasure!” he says.
Despite his Irish background where alcohol consumption is very common and plentiful, Mark hasn’t really drunk alcohol for over 12 years.
He is nocturnal and rarely sleeps more than 6 hours. But since his diagnosis and treatment, Mark is tired during the day.
“Running is becoming more important to me. I view it more and more as making me stronger (mentally and physically),” he says.
“I absolutely will not go quietly into the night.”
“I want to make people aware that my cancer is underfunded/under-researched…and if they can spare a little money (not easy in today’s climate) to donate to helping this…then that’s brilliant!”
So far (December 2017), Mark has raised £61.436,09 ($82.238,35) for the King’s College Hospital research.
Running goals 2018
Unfortunately Mark didn’t get a ticket for the Western States Endurance Run in June 2018. But he got a place in the Grand Union Canal Race in May 2018:-)
“I’ve also signed up to run the Coast2Coast 140 mile ultra in the North of England (August)… 38-hour time limit, no on-course support (mandatory crew required)…will be tough, prob on edge of my capabilities!
And I want to circumnavigate Menorca on the Cami de Cavalls trail…as a ‘social’ run – that’s about 116 miles.
I’ve also entered 3 40/50 milers…but typically see these as training runs, chance to catch up with friends (if that doesn’t seem to highbrow!)”
You can support Mark and help him reach his goals via his fundraising page or contact him via
Understanding and preventing liver disease
More than half of all people diagnosed with primary liver cancer have cirrhosis, a scarring condition of the liver commonly caused by alcohol abuse. Hepatitis B and C and hemochromatosis can cause permanent damage and liver failure. Liver cancer may also be linked to obesity and fatty liver disease.
It’s pretty common in today’s society, and also in the runners’ community, to socialize or celebrate with a few or more alcoholic drinks. It’s even kind of expected on many occasions to drink along and not to be a “party pooper.”
But fortunately skipping the booze is getting more and more accepted, now more people have the desire to improve their health.
Alcohol doesn’t do anything for our health and performance. It dehydrates, irregulars sleep, raises the heart rate, slows down recovery, and lowers blood sugar levels.
Recent research has illustrated the effect of alcohol on the body’s largest tissue – skeletal muscle. This is the tissue that covers your skeleton, holding both bones and joints in the correct positions and controlling pretty much every body movement.
There is a period of muscle protein synthesis, the process via which muscle cells generate new proteins, which is necessary for the skeletal muscles to benefit from training by recovering, growing and adapting. Without this, you would never improve and you would be constantly injury-prone. Alcohol has an enormous impact on muscle protein synthesis, reducing it by up to a third.
Initiatives like the OYNB (One Year No Beer) and The 28 Day Alcohol-Free Challenge successfully jump in the health-conscious trend.
Annie Grace’s developed a simple and effective methodology to cure herself of her alcohol addiction. Her Naked Mind course sells like crazy, her website community of thousands of people grows fast, and her first book that will be available in January 2018 pre-sells without any effort, and already got 680 very positive reviews.
Britain has always been known as a nation that loves a tipple. But the latest Office for National Statistics lifestyle survey suggests this may be coming to an end.
The 2016 poll of nearly 8,000 Britons found just under 60% had had a drink in the past week – the lowest rate since the survey began in 2005.
Young people are not the biggest drinkers. In fact, they are among the age groups least likely to have consumed alcohol in the past week.
The most frequent drinkers are the middle-aged, particularly those among high-income groups. Problem drinking in older age groups (45-64)is a real threat though, with alcohol-related hospital admissions and mental health problems on the rise, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom.
The Naked Mind movement: Change your relationship with alcohol by Annie Grace
30-day Alcohol Free challenge; get ready for the life you’ve dreamed about! – Sign up for free
Book: This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life
Also published on Medium.