While a foot injury has had a devastating effect on Sunderland Harrier Mark Hood’s athletics career, he has refused to surrender to the chronic problem when it came to competitions.
The three times North Eastern Cross Country champion has been managing an Achilles tendon injury for years, having had four injections in his heel and spending months on crutches. He had three years where he could not run at all, so he taught himself to swim and within two years finished in the top 40 in the Great North Swim and dipped under 22 minutes for the one mile.
He was still competitive beyond 2008 and the following year, running his best times in 2009 and 2011. But his Achilles’ was becoming very troublesome and after years of running through the pain barrier he began to have more and more time off.
“The best shape I was in was for the Great North Run in 2009. I’d just won the Sunderland 5k and clocked 14:17 for 5000m and I was getting better as the year went on. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have ran 64 minutes that year for the GNR but my Achilles went at five miles and I limped home. Running has its peaks and troughs and I kept going and had some great battles in summer races when my Achilles’ would allow it."
“My biggest inspiration in running was my dad. He was desperate for me to win the senior North Eastern Counties Cross Country title and I managed to do that three years in a row between 2006 and 2008. I was coming up the home straight to win for the first time when we just looked at each other and shook our fists. I can’t describe that feeling. I was prepared to do anything that day to win. After the race I gave him my medal. He deserved it more than me. My coach said when I won the North Eastern title it was one of his proudest moments he had been involved with.”
The primary school teacher trained hard for his success by running around 85 miles a week. When he went up to 110 miles he began to have trouble. His performances improved but the risk of injury was too great. Depending on the cycle of training he was in, he typically ran four miles on a morning and 10 at night.
“When my first child was born I still managed to put 95 miles of training in that week. My wife was very understanding. A few weeks later I came second in the Sunderland 5k and ran 14:39. I finished 20th in the National Cross Country Championships and 17th in the British Cross Country. My best in the Northern Cross Country Championships was fourth. You just have to look at that result sheet to see the quality of the field including an Olympic champion behind me.
“I was 12 years-old when I joined Sunderland Harriers. I was hooked right from the start. My coach Ken Jefferson had the most amazing group of talented athletes. The older lads like Stephen Barker and Matthew Knowles used to really inspire me."
“I remember winning the Sunderland Fun Run and had my picture in the Echo. My Gran had it framed and kept it on show in her front room. I won the Under-13 North Eastern Cross Country Championship after my dad said he would give me £5 each time I beat my two biggest rivals. At the the age of 13 I trained nearly every day and won the race."
“I came second in the British Cross Country Championships that year. Like every young athlete I had peaks and troughs. I was 11th in the English Schools and finished fourth as a 17-year-old in the British Cross Country Championships behind Sir Mo Farah."
“Our Under-17 squad won every team championship from North East to National level at road and cross country. Every session at the club was fantastic in those days as we had so many great runners."
The 39-year-old added: “My mum was a coach too and she played a big part in our success and looking back there’s not many people that can say their mother was one of the coaches that played her part in beating Mo Farah’s team at the national championships. I was quite meticulous about training and I loved the research side and sitting down with the likes of Brian Rushworth and Ian Hudspith to pick their brains about training.
“I would like to start a coaching revolution in the not too distant future. I’ve had great results at my school coaching children. When it’s time I will start to coach with a balance of giving them somewhere to go to improve their fitness and bringing back national winning teams to our part of the North East. I had the greatest of apprenticeships with Ken and I would like to think I could do something similar to him but with my own coaching philosophies."
"As the pools and my swimming club have been shut for a year, I’ve been doing about six miles a day. I’ve just had Covid so I have struggled badly. I ran 16:45 for 5k in one of my - albeit slower - tempo runs. I balance things more now with yoga and meditation."