Founder of Otter Trail Run

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South African Entrepreneurs come in many shapes and sizes, and you definitely do not have to sit behind a desk to run your business competition into the sea.

Brothers Mark & John Collins, co-founders of the most sought-after trail running event in South Africa, the Otter Run, have perfected the marriage between adrenaline and entrepreneurship and made it cooler than the Matric boy sitting at the back of the bus.

Expedition Business was fortunate enough to have bumped into Mark Collins while doing an Otter Hike on the same day that Mark and his team did a recce run for the upcoming 2023 Otter Run and we have invited him to share the highs and lows of his business adventures. 

Episode Transcript


Christél: Welcome to another edition of Expedition Business, where we talk to inspiring South African entrepreneurs about the highs and lows of their business journey and how on earth they manage to keep the flame of business adventure burning. Of course, facing your day with a smile is sometimes the toughest thing you have to do. My name is Christél Rosslee-Venter, your host and the one lucky enough to be talking to Mark Collins.


who is, amongst others, the founder of a very famous Otter African Trail Run. But before I introduce Mark to you, I would like to remind you to subscribe, like, comment, and share this podcast with as many of your friends and family as possible. Without your help, we cannot continue to share the amazing stories of our South African entrepreneurs. But back to why we are here today.


Mark Collins is the organizer of the number one trail running event in South Africa. Expedition racer, motivational speaker, and passionate conservationist. I happened to have bumped into Mark on day four of our Otter hike while he and his team were busy doing a recce run for the upcoming Otter trail run. Mark, it is an absolute honor to have you as a guest on Expedition Business.


Mark: Thanks so much, Christél. It’s good to chat with you and it was a great meeting on the Otter Trail. What a place to meet.

Christél: From what I can gather, you were born in northern Namibia, moved through the Northern Cape, matriculated in KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and have made the Southern Cape your home. This does not sound like a recipe for inspiring a traditional behind-the-desk job.


Mark: No, you know, I was, you know, you wonder how much influence your early days have on your life. And, you know, my first horizons, you know, my parents were living in a caravan in Namibia. My father was a geologist and we were living on site and our nearest neighbors were five miles away. The farmer, who was the farmer. So, you know, my first sort of five years of my life, I didn’t know what it felt like to live in a town and, you know, we lived


with endless horizons and that still is you know the thing that I sort of seek the most is an endless horizon.

Christél: Somewhere I saw your dad built a yacht in the middle of a desert.

Mark: Yes, yeah, no that’s my dad. He built a catamaran. He was fascinated by sailing. He grew up in Johannesburg


and then he always wanted to be outdoors. So he was outdoors from his student days. He worked as a prospect up in Lesotho looking for diamonds and he developed an interest in geology and studied geology, became a geologist, but he was always fascinated by the ocean without having an ounce of experience. So five, I think we were 700 kilometers away from Walvis Bay. He built in the middle of the desert there, a catamaran that he had got plans from.


He contacted this guy through a magazine and managed to get some plans for this yacht and he built a yacht in the middle of the desert and ended up sailing it across the Atlantic with three other friends, none of them having any deep ocean experience. Yeah, what an incredible adventure.

Christél: Wow. And I assume that is where you and your brother got all your adventurous spirit from.


Mark: Yeah, you never know how much of who you are is genetic and how much is nature, nurture, you know, how much is your life influence. Yeah, I don’t know. But yeah, definitely. We developed an ability from him to read maps. That’s one thing.

Christél: That does help. And I assume I see one of the adventure sports that you have completed is the camel trophy. I assume reading maps does help there.


Mark: Yeah, I know map reading helped us a lot to get into the camel trophy because it was very South African selections in those days were very competitive. We had a rigorous selection phase and John and I managed eventually to get through it and become the South African team that was in 98. That’s 25 is 26 years ago. But map reading was a big part of that. So yes, I’m map reading, you know, ability stood us in good stead in the past. I know that basically with GPS is this type, it’s a useless skill.


for most people. There are very few applications, but we found them.

Christél: I see that there are a couple of adventure races where you’re not allowed to use GPSs. You still have to work on a map.

Mark: Yes, no, very much so. That’s one of the great things about adventure racing. It does test your ability to read a map and then later on in the race, it will test your ability to read a map when your brain’s not functioning, when you haven’t had any sleep and you’re exhausted, which is also quite a thing to try and…


Dr. and Master.

Christél: Well, it doesn’t look like you guys have a problem with that. But Mark, just quickly, have you ever thought of doing anything else in your life except being part of an adventure sports industry?

Mark: No, absolutely. I have. I have thought a lot. You know, I mean, I like I think like a lot of people, you are pressurized to follow a more conventional life and that pressure is tremendous. You know, from people who…


you know, not from society, but generally from people who want the best for you, they all see, you know, the safe path as being, you know, people who love you and don’t want to see you get hurt and always want you to take the safe path, you know, and yeah, so I’ve often thought about doing other things, but it seems that the only things I can be successful about, you know, are the things that I have a base passion for.


Christél: If you love what you’re doing, you don’t have to work four days in your life. I assume that’s true for you.


Mark: Well, I wish, I wish it was. I mean, a lot of the time it has felt like work for me. You know, a lot of the time I love what I’ve been doing, but you know, when you run a business and you have bills to pay and you have responsibilities to people and people’s safety is at hand. You do feel pressure and it can feel like a lot of pressure at times. I certainly haven’t discovered the key to not working a day in your life. I wish I had, but yeah, there, there are a lot of times where my life has felt like a lot of hard work.


Christél: But you don’t only organize the Otter, you’re also involved in a couple of other events and other sports?

Mark: Yes. So initially we were involved with the Camel Trophy and one of the sponsors of the Camel Trophy in those days was Land Rover and they went on to produce a whole lot of incredible events and we were lucky enough to be involved in those all over the world and I think we visited, John and I counted, something like 50 countries in the space of just a few years with those events. And then from that we launched our business in South Africa. Also worked very closely with Land Rover, which was a fantastic brand for us to work with. That was our main business in those days. And we had a good time. We were working with very good people in that company and built a good relationship.


And we were lucky enough to have a very good start to our business that way in those early years, until the sort of financial crash in 2008, which changed everything. And we had to reinvent ourselves after that. And that’s when we branched out into other events. You know, we started looking at things that we were doing. You know, our passion was always these endurance events, adventure racing. Those were the things we did for fun. Trail running, trail running then wasn’t a sport. You know, we certainly didn’t know of anyone who did any trail running events.


And so when we started out to put on the Otter as a run, and you know, the actual making of the trail run was an afterthought. You know, it was just starting to take off trail running. And that’s how we bridged out into other events. And then we put on a range of different events. We carried on doing a few launches every now and then for Land Rover. We carried on, we did some competitions for Men’s Health Magazine.


We did a wonderful event in Plettenberg Bay called the Sabrina Love Ocean Challenge, a big event with 14 different activities. Over the December period, we did the Feather Bed Trail Run. We did a night series of trail runs around the country. So many, many different events that we sort of initially just did out of fun and passion, and eventually had to turn to them to become our core business. And Otter is actually the one that has sort of taken off and…


people’s imagination, you know, far and wide and become our flagship.

Christél: Very much so. But you’ve mentioned John a couple of times. He’s obviously a very big part of your team.

Mark: Yes, John, you know, is my younger brother. We’ve obviously walked this journey together. We’ve adventure race together. We’ve done the Camel Trophy together and we’ve been in business together.


And you know, an integral part, he’s the better navigator out of the two of us. And I say that very begrudgingly, but he is, and he’s probably the better athlete as well. Although he does have a few years on me. But, yeah, we’ve done a lot of things together and, and we know each other very well. And we, you know, we communicate effortlessly, which frustrates a lot of people. Um, cause we just, you know, like cavemen with a few grunts, we can.


understand each other with the rest of the people around us can’t. Yeah, but he’s a him and I have gone a long way together. Okay, and I suppose you never fight. Oh, no, no. On the contrary, we fight all the time. No, you know, we are sort of play devil’s advocate when we navigate. And John, John has a brilliance there. And I sort of, you know, I see the best navigators in the world going in one direction in the race. And John says, no, we’re going the other way. And I sort of


I find that very hard to accept and more often than not he gets us ahead that way. But I do, I do play devil’s advocate and then we can have harsh words every now and then.

Christél: But in business, do you always get along in the decisions of how to make money, how to put food on the table?

Mark: No, not always. It’s important to have different points of view. We have had some very, very different points of view and we have different strengths and different weaknesses. We cover each other. John is very much a hands-on guy. He likes to get stuck over to us. I tend to try and take the bigger picture and keep an overview of things. And often we have disagreed and there is no clear path. It’s never cut and dry. And I don’t think anybody is right all the time. In fact, I think most people are wrong most of the time.


No, except me. Yeah. No, no, I’ve definitely been wrong more than I’ve been right. But yeah, and talking of that, it’s never, I don’t know, it’s so important. A business that’s not making money is not viable. It’s not, you know, but it’s never seemed like that. It’s about, it’s always, we’ve always focused on what we’re delivering rather than what we’re getting in. And


I think I don’t know if that’s right either, but that’s been the way we’ve always taught is, what are we giving to other people? That’s where the focus has been.

Christél: And you also speak about giving back to other people, you’re very, very passionate about conserving the environment, making a difference, and leaving a place better than what it was before.


Mark: Yes, very much so. So, you know, one of the things, you know, and I was actually traveling with John in a car and we were coming up and we saw the sign on the side of the road, it said game reserve and we looked across at this, you know, piece of refurbished farmland that people were trying to run some sort of tourist activity on. And John said to me, you know, my idea of a game reserve is something that goes beyond the mountains back there. And that’s the way it stayed


I’m 55 now, so after half a century, I’ve seen massive changes. And spaces, our wild spaces are under incredible pressure. I mean, in the time that I’ve been alive, we’ve lost 80% of our wildlife, which is huge. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been alive that long, but I have seen massive changes and it does worry me. And we’re a part of it. Every one of us, we all have an impact. We all consume.


We all try to consume, you know, and make ourselves comfortable in this world. And that has a price to it. And that price, you know, it seems to be affected in our wild places quite a lot. And so for me, I desperately need to know that there’s a big expanse of wilderness out there. And that’s, you know, that’s where I see, you know, heaven. And so it concerns me a lot.


the impact that we are having and I feel conflicted, you know, about my lifestyle and about the things we do all the time. I question them. And I think about my mom, she, you know, she brought us up, she took us to the beach. I often tell the story, you know, and she would make us pick up other people’s litter, you know, which was always embarrassing and a nuisance, but she said the beach is now better because we were there. And


I thought if you can say that a place or a community or something is better because you were there that’s about the best thing you can do as a human being because you were there. And so it’s not easy to do that, it’s very easy to say that, it’s not easy to do that because we all have an impact but I think that’s sort of like something I would aspire to be.

Christél: I must say while you’re talking I was thinking back to our Otter hiking trip and there is so much debris that washes out from the ocean. It is super sad to see.

Mark: That’s another thing that has changed a lot. In the time that I’ve been down on the coast is the amount of debris that comes out of the ocean. It was very little, well, it obviously was there, but it was nothing like it is now.


I’ve got a little rock climbing project, Cary Neisner, that we go visit and it involves a scramble around the coast. And there’s a small little cove, it’s very small and it takes me about an hour usually to pick up all the debris that collects there. And so once every every while I’ll take a big sheet of shade net down there and I’ll fill it with debris and then haul that shade net back. And then I separate it sometimes just to have a look at what type of debris, what type of plastics and things are washed up there.


But it becomes, I went there yesterday and I had a look at it and that cove is, you know, cleaned it out spotless, took out every little piece of plastic I could find out of there. And now it’s just choked again with plastic in such a short space of time. And it’s hard to remain positive and optimistic, you know when you see all the work that you’ve done undone so easily.

Christél: Well, what about the trail run where the focus is on how much debris you can pick up on your way? And to win is the one with the biggest bag of debris.

Mark: Yeah, that’s an idea. We’ve thought about doing something similar with that. But yeah, you know, on the Otter trail run, we do talk very much about leaving the trail better than you find it. And you know, we’ve got like in rugby, they’ve got this yellow card system where it doesn’t matter who starts the fight. If you come in afterward, you get a yellow card. And it’s the same. You cannot run past a piece of litter.


the guy in front may have dropped it but he might have dropped it by mistake, you know, so you have to pick it up because running past it is the actual penalizable offense. So, you know, I think once you start doing that, you know, you struggle to actually run past the piece of litter and it’s quite nice to go to places where people do have that ethic and I think that’s one of the rewarding things about trail running is as a sport that people generally have a very high environmental ethic and do.


do pick up wherever they go.

Christél: It sort of reminds me of somewhere you’ve done a presentation at the Otter where you had to triangle with trial runners at the top of a triangle on top of normal people. Would that be something similar apart from trial runners being faster and having more endurance? Do they also pick up more litter along the way?


Mark: I had experienced once, you know, trail running is a new sport. So a lot, initially a lot of the people who started with the trail running were guys, people who did adventure racing or other sports from the mountains before that. But a lot of people are coming over from, from road running now, which is fantastic. I mean, it’s really fantastic, but some of the trail runs that we put on the easier ones where you get a bigger sort of participation base, I’ve noticed what a big difference my briefing makes. So we, I don’t give a, if I forget.


whatever reason, you know, we get pressurized or something. And I don’t mind environmental briefing. We do have large amounts of litter left out on the trail where people just drop stuff, which, you know, is absolutely incredible to me that you could actually think to do that. So I’ve noticed that, well, I sort of noticed that trail runners by and large, you know, I mean, most of the trail runners I know would be mortified to drop a piece of litter, you know, to be running with people, you know, if I run with my friends and by mistake I drop something, they’ll be


great pleasure in picking it up and showing me what I dropped.

Christél: Absolutely. Mark, just getting back to the business side of what you’re doing, you’ve got some serious sponsors on the other. How important is sponsors in keeping your business alive?

Mark: Sponsors is actually critical. You know, it is quite competitive out there. There are other trail runs, a lot of other events out there and a lot of them being done really well.


and at a very high level. And our participants have a choice of what events they want to do and what they aspire to do. You’ve got to come in at a price that’s competitive. You can’t just push your prices completely out there. And with the Otter, if we didn’t have a sponsor, our entry fee wouldn’t cover the cost of the event. So it wouldn’t happen. Our sponsors are critical.


And they also, when you’re under pressure financially, you don’t always make the best decisions for an event. And I always say, you know, that’s one of the things I do is with the crew, I take people that I really respect and I put them on our crew and I give them the independence to make decisions regarding people’s safety and regarding the environment that is independent of the finances of the event. So they don’t have to think about that because in the back of your mind, as the business person, you will inevitably think about, wow, what is this going to cost me?


and is this gonna, am I gonna be able to pay the bills at the end of this event? That goes through your mind. But I must just give you some context. We are very fortunate position is that we have had the group, the FACES group buy into the Auto African trailer and all buy into Magnetic South. They bought into our company Magnetic South. And they brought a lot of expertise in terms of engaging with sponsors and bringing sponsors on board. And that was a critical intervention, especially after COVID.


in making our events continue to be viable. Because one of the things we always struggled with down here in Knysna is we were far away from the big corporates. And so many of these relationships need to be tended to on a monthly, if not a weekly, basis. And so being in Knysna, we got quite tired of our trips to Johannesburg too. We’d come up every quarter and then it became every half and then it became once a year and then


You know, we actually weren’t very good at that, that side of the business. And it is a very, very important part of the business. And so this year we’ve got sponsors that are absolutely fanatical about our event. They’re fanatical about what we do and what we stand for. And it’s, it’s been a, it’s been really, really one of the best periods of the Otter African Trail running in that regard.

Christél: Your expenses are pretty high. I think one of my questions that I had for you when I met you on the Otter was, the Otter Trail run is one of the most expensive races and you started explaining how expensive everything is to run.

Mark: Yes. Look, I mean, it all adds up. If you start an event and you put up a flag at each end and you stand there with a clipboard. But as soon as you start bringing in highly skilled people, we got a cross-blow class and it’s good.


you know, 650 people safely across blow crimes. You need guys and you need to have your team there. They have to be guys that can make the big decisions and execute that safety in all conditions. And they’re not that many people out there that can do that. So you bring in a skilled team. Everybody we put on the trail has to be a runner, a trail runner. Otherwise they end up being a liability for us. So your whole crew, your entire staff, which is in the hundreds, you know, needs to be…


you know, trail runners. You then, as soon as you start putting up marquee tents and if you put in a floor to your tent and if you get professional photographers out there and professional videographers and editing teams, all of these things slowly add up and suddenly you’re sitting with a sort of financial monster. And that’s, yeah, you know, once you start doing things properly, it adds up.

Christél: So it’s not just like organizing a school event?


Mark: No, not at all. Definitely not always fun and games. No, as you know, some of the years is, I think, you know, on the business side of it, when you, when you stress to make an event financially viable, you know, the fun, the fun actually goes out of it. And some of the years of the art, I really felt that the fun had gone out of out of it. When we were just straining to put on something that we were proud of and quality, which we


We always strove because it’s been our absolute passion, but you know, at the end of it, it’s heartbreaking if you end up costing you more than you’ve actually taken in. And sometimes in business that happens.

Christél: That happens to every business, I think. It does happen to most businesses at some point in time, but how do you get over those low points?


Mark: I think, you know, everything in life, you’ve got to sit down and I think that’s also part of the rewarding side of it. You know, if it’s easy, it wouldn’t mean anything is you’ve got to sit down and analyze what’s actually happening and where, you know, and get a different perspective and try to see where you’re adding value and where you perhaps not adding much value, but it’s costing you a lot. Those are key things. And there are a lot of things that you actually hang on to that you don’t need to hang on to.


I find, you know, one of the things I love is climbing. I do a lot of rock climbing and you know how you can get confronted with something that is seemingly impossible and you slowly work the project, which is the fun part about it and you try it from different angles and you try different things and eventually, you know, you eventually get to do something that a few days before or a few weeks before seemed absolutely impossible. And I think that for me is so much like business. You actually sometimes hit what you think is a stone wall.


and you prod things down and you say, well, have we explored this? Have we explored this relationship? Isn’t this costing us too much? And you know, you can slowly think these things can be worked out. And I think everything can be worked out, you know, and I think that is probably the rewarding part of of it ultimately. Although it doesn’t can often seem frustrating at the time.

Christél: Yes, but I suppose it does help to have a whole lot of partners.


Mark: Yeah, I think, you know, partners and big thinkers, you know, if you have access, and I think with the Otter African trail ranger and the people we’ve met over the years, we have access to some people who’ve got a very elevated perspective on things and have been in the trenches and been above and they can tell you, yeah, I think that helps a lot when you’ve got, more people looking at a challenge.

Christél: Definitely helps a lot. Except for sitting on your own and trying to figure out everything on your own.


Mark: No, you got to be careful. We, we social animals and, and you, you know, you can get yourself into a hole very quickly if you, if you take the wrong, the wrong attitude and you start feeling sorry for yourself, it’s probably the easiest thing in the world is to dig yourself a hole.

Christél: Absolutely. Although it is difficult thinking of you sitting in a hole.

Mark: No, no, I’ve, I’ve sat in a lot of holes. Sat and sulked in a lot of holes.


Christél: But I suppose, as you mentioned, you do get out of it. What makes you feel on top of the world when it comes to your business?

Mark: You know, probably the best feeling I get is at the prize giving, the final prize giving of the Otter, when everyone is safely off the course and all the staff are back there and you just see the fulfillment in the people that are coming up to get their medals, get the prize, or be at the finish line and you see…


You see the people, the absolute performance, people getting so emotional and you facilitate that experience. I mean, it’s obviously all them getting from the start to the finish line and all the training and the years of endeavor to finish an event like the Otter. But the fact that you’re a part of it and you facilitate that, that gives you a tremendous feeling that you’ve actually made a difference in other people’s lives. I think that is probably…


That is value and those are the times when I feel we are actually adding value as a company and as a business. So that is a wonderful feeling. And especially, I think, you know, my biggest stress is somebody getting hurt on one of our events. That’s probably one of the things that stresses me out the most and we do a lot to counter that. And so, once I can only sort of experience all the other emotions once everybody, once that sort of thing is taken care of and, you know, everybody’s safely back.


with their loved ones.

Christél: Well, I’m just thinking while you’re talking, I suppose every single person taking part in the Otter have got their own personal stories of why they are there. And especially the back runners, trying just to get over the line.

Mark: No, that’s what we’ve learned. Everybody has a story, everybody has a struggle. The front runners, the back runners, they’ve all got other things going on in their lives.


This is just one aspect of their lives. And all of them have sacrificed to be there, sacrificed time. They’re all running a journey. And that’s one of the things that we learned. Sometimes inadvertently, you, whatever reason, have to engage with one of your participants beyond the event. And you learn how interesting other people’s lives are and how much something like this can mean. And that’s…


also one of the fascinating things about us humans. People need to do hard things. I’ve just learned that in life, you’ve got to do hard things because that’s where fulfillment comes from. We all seek those wonderful holidays in the sun where we relax and that, but there’s very little fulfilling in that. People want to do hard things where you actually, in the moment, are probably not enjoying what you doing. We had a wonderful thing just yesterday, where


one of our good friends, one of the people that used to work for our company, ran the Otter and they got to the finish line. They left a message on our phone yesterday, but they said that they’d got to the finish line of the Otter and they said, never again. This was so much harder than they thought. Never, never, ever again. And they phoned us on the message. They said yesterday, they entered next year’s Otter already. And I look back at my adventure racing career and the times in the mountains when I’m stuck and


cold and and you know my fingers are numb and bleeding and and all you want to do is go back to that warm cozy couch. But those are those are the meaningful times in life and I think you know that’s one of the great things about this this event and the business that we have been in is although it’s not always fun we do we do give a lot of meaning to people you know people take a lot of meaning out of doing what we what we sort of challenge them to do. Absolutely, absolutely.


Christél: Absolutely people put all sorts of photos on their phones just to keep on being motivated to train for the Otter one day.

Mark: Yeah, I think also that’s the thing is, the Otter is just the final, couple of hours of a long year long journey for a lot of people and hopefully a very fantastic and meaningful journey where you better yourself.


Christél: Yes, absolutely. But just on the other spectrum of it, I had a conversation earlier this week with someone who believes that trail running is only an elite sport. What’s your opinion on this?


Mark: Well, I think it’s definitely, because of the cost of putting on events, there is definitely prohibitive costs for a lot of people out there. But I think, you know, in terms of participating in events, but I don’t think, it certainly didn’t start that way and it isn’t, I mean, a lot of, people in this country have access to incredible trails. A lot of people, have to run to school and back and that is essentially a lot of


where oxygen should lie with those people, if we can get them into trail running, into trail running events, that’ll be fantastic. But I certainly think that events cost a lot more because you go into areas that are, where there’s an entry fee attached or where there are regulations, it’s not like you have to put them on a road. So I think the


events tend to be a lot more expensive and I definitely think there is an element to that that is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people to get into trail running. But at its essence that’s not what it is at all. I think if you look at living in Cape Town, if you can get onto the mountain you can have the most incredible experience for free. If you get to the base of the mountain that’s probably where the prohibitive costs come in for a lot of people. But once you’re on that mountain…


you can have the most incredible runs and here in the garden route as well, you know, we’ve got forests, trails available, you know, so many of them through Cape Nature and South African National Parks that cost very little money and if you’ve got a wild card they cost even less and you can get onto them and have the most, I think for me probably one of the best experiences there is to go for, my favorite thing


is to go for a run around Robbock and it you know I’ve got a wild card so if you add up what it cost me for the year it’s just about nothing and I just have the most incredible experience so compared to other things in life that is probably one of the least expensive things I can do and in terms of value for money it is by far the highest it is probably no matter if I was a you know a billionaire it would it would be the thing I would still do above everything else is my sort of weekly run around Robbock


I think the experience itself, although events might be very expensive, the experience itself of trail running is not compared to what the value you get out of it is not very high at all.

Christél: I’m just thinking I’m pretty much in South of Joburg and we’ve got so many nice trails very close to us and getting out on those trails is just completely different to run in the streets. You completely forget about where you are and all your pains and frustrations of the day if you’re on the trail.


Mark: Yeah, no, that’s my experience as well. And I definitely, I mean, running is running. I love running and I’ve run my whole life. So I’ll be the last person to take a knock at road running at all. And most of my road running is probably road running. But I definitely have a different experience when I’m in nature. The focus changes completely. I always say, like Rob Urgo in the forest, I’ve never had a bad run, although I must’ve been sore physically out there. I just feel more energized.


The focus is not on what’s going on inside me. It’s more about where I am. So, it’s such…yes, it does cost a bit of money to get out there sometime. And you know, not everyone has the means and access to move around and get to these wonderful places, but value for money in terms of other things, like I find, you know, Johannesburg, things cost a lot. Everything costs a lot, you know? And I think trial running is probably one of the least costful when you compare it to a lot of things up there.


Christél: Absolutely. And it’s less stressful than watching a Springboks playing rugby.

Mark: Oh gosh, let’s not even go there. I’m exhausted already.

Christél: Just quickly, a couple of other things that I’ve heard from people, and it’s definitely not my view, is that most of the races are not governed by A.S.A and they believe


there’s lots of opportunity for doping taking place. What’s your thoughts on that?

Mark: Yeah. I know a lot of the elite runners and I would be flabbergasted at, you know, if any of our elites that I know were involved in doping. I’m definitely sure, and I know of cases in Europe where there has been doping.


I actually know of runners that have been caught doping. You know, human beings do cheat, very sadly. And so I’m sure it does take place, but I think, I don’t think it’s really that prevalent, certainly among our top trail runners at the moment in South Africa. I would be very surprised if it is.


And I think in the bigger competitions in Europe, doping is very checked and controlled.

Christél: And your opinion on whether trial running should be more governed by ASA?


Mark: I don’t think so. I think the governing body has to come independent or has to, you know, it might have to fall under athletics, I forget some states, but it has to first be formed by people who have, you know, because of the, where it comes from and that it takes place out in nature and in the environment, it’s a whole different dimension. And I believe that has to be the foundation. So it’s got, the sporting considerations


have to come second or third to the environmental considerations and the safety considerations of trail running. So you know I’ve often seen a lot of marathon clubs put on trail runs and and the way they’ve put it on has been there’s left a lot to be desired in terms of the environmental ethos and in terms of just managing you know the safety. I think you do need a lot of


experience to have, you know, you can’t put the same people who you could man in a marathon out on a trail run. It just doesn’t work. You have to have specialists. The mobility of your team out in the field has to be, you know, is of such a critical component to the participant’s safety. And as I say, the environment. So, yeah, I think, ultimately, worldwide you probably do need a governing body to maintain the sport. But it’s got to


be something you enter into with a lot of caution. You cannot take the template of organizing road races and put it onto trail running in any way. It’s just too different.

Christél: That definitely makes sense. But in the meantime, there’s a lot of races popping up, left, right and center. Do you think there’s still space in the South African environment to make money from trail running?


Mark: Yes, absolutely. I think, you know, there’s, there’s, the sport has just grown phenomenally. And I think, there’s definitely scope. I think it’ll continue to grow. More people that get exposed to it. I know so many people who’ve only been exposed to it in the last sort of three years. COVID, funnily enough, was such a big instigator with people getting out and doing training and outdoor sports in general.


I think there is going to be a bigger shift and still a lot of momentum towards more people getting out in nature, doing things like climbing, adventuring and particularly more trail running which is more easily accessible. I think there’s a lot of scope.

Christél: Okay, that’s very good to know. Mark, just quickly we’ve mentioned the holes that you find yourself in from time to time fun and exciting ways except for your rock climbing and your running, do you use to regroup and refocus and rejuvenate your business soul?


Mark: I think humor is so undervalued. Learning to laugh, to see the funny side of anything and learning to laugh at yourself. But as I was saying, humor is, and I’ve learned this from the adventure racing, when times are tough and that just being able to find the situation humorous, no matter how appalling it is, is of such benefit to your mindset. So I think that’s one of the big things. I think talking to people is very important.


I’ve learned that I’m not a person who easily opens up. I tend to close down, but that’s probably the worst thing you can do when you’re in a hole is actually talk to people and having a network of people that you can talk to is key. Would your wife be part of that network? Yes, no, definitely. But I think it’s also important to, my wife and I, we do business together and we do a lot of things together. I think it’s important to also have outside perspectives.


You know, people who don’t necessarily share your disappointments with the same intensity you do, or not as affected by it, to get their perspectives and talk to them about it and find out, know that everybody on this planet has challenges in every aspect of their lives. And you’re not alone, and some people cope with it, and some people don’t, and the people that cope with it have ways of seeing things, and also giving perspective. Perspective is such an important thing.


Because the first thing about being in a hole is you’ve lost perspective. That’s, what the hole is.

Christél: Would you consider seeing somebody like a business coach or would that not be part of your makeup?

Mark: Yes, I have done that. And again, also with great reluctance, I have sort of been pushed into doing that. People have sort of, people I respect have, have sort of said, no, see this person, speak to this person. So I think there’s a lot of value in that, definitely.

Christél: Okay, so if you could be 20 years old again and you could change anything, what would that be?


Mark: I wish I could go back to myself and just say, you know, just get rid of this idea that you have to be somebody else for anybody else. You know, when you’re 20, you’re actually, you know, you’re in such a strong position in terms of you can’t really let anyone put yourself down. You’ve got an immense amount of freedom. You don’t, you shouldn’t have the responsibilities


of a spouse partner or children, which are the big things that you do. Once you commit to those sort of things, you have really big responsibilities. So when you’re 20, you don’t have those. And that’s an immense amount of power and freedom to go and find out who you are and to follow the things that you’re interested in. And I wasn’t. It took me until my late 20s before I finally found out that the only way I was going to be successful at anything was when I started doing things that I was…


really interested and passionate about. And the things that you’d lie awake at night and your palms would sweat with excitement. Those are the things that, and it doesn’t matter what they are, unfortunately, those are the things where you’re gonna find the energy to make a success from those things. The things that bore you, that frustrate you, that those are the things that, yeah, certainly in my experience, those are not the places where you should go and


and seek to make a living.

Christél: Even if that is what everyone says, wherever money is?

Mark: Yeah, especially I think, you know, and also chasing, chasing money. You must chase fulfillment, not money, you know, I think money will come. If you chase money, I don’t know. Certainly, anytime I’ve chased money, the opposite has happened. When I made decisions trying to chase money


I’ve ended up poorer. 

Christél: Sounds very familiar. Do you ever get time to read? Do you have some books that’s close to your heart?

Mark: Yeah, I read a lot. I’ve actually gone through about six months now where I’ve been reading a lot less than I normally do, but I normally devour probably two or three books a month. I love reading.

Christél: So what would be your favorite book? Do you ever read books on business, on entrepreneurship?


Mark: I do, but you know, I prefer to read somebody who’s done it rather than a book about how to do it. I prefer to actually read a biography of somebody who’s made a success and try to take their own lessons from that rather than have them condensed into some sort of five points or ten points that, you know, I’m not one, I have got a lot of them, but I’ve started to go off these sort of motivational books.


I like reading books about people who’ve done things and trying to understand what drove them and what they did and how they were thinking. Those are the sort of things that really gripped me and inspire me.

Christél: I suppose Shoe Dog would have been one of your books that you’ve read.

Mark: Yes, I enjoyed Shoe Dog very much, but probably the best book I’ve ever read is A Ship of Gold in a Deep Blue Sea.


I think I think the author was Gary, Gary Kindler or something like that. And that was that was it’s a book written in two parts about a shipwreck and gold and treasure that was recovered at a depth that had never been recovered before. And the sort of the guy who the books about just refuses to see anything as an obstacle. He just he just overcomes every challenge and develops these these robotic underwater.


submarines, submersibles that go down and he develops them with a fraction of the cost of everybody else and eventually he makes the biggest treasure haul that at that point in time had ever been done. And I love that book. I probably read it, I probably read it four or five times.

Christél: Okay, something that you still want to do in the future, get involved in?


Mark: Yeah, my sort of I’m at a time where I’m changing. I definitely want to do more involved in conservation and rewilding and convincing people with big tracts of land to pull fences down, to get big big herds of game migrating again. I think that that is key to restoring ecological balance to get migrations going wherever we can. Yeah, so those are those are those are my passion. You know.


create more wild landscapes or restore more wild landscapes.

Christél: Okay, it was actually my next question. What would be the metaphorical mountains that you still want to climb in the next three to five years? Would that be part of it?

Mark: Yeah, I think so, very much so. A guy I looked up to was Dr. Anthony Hall-Martin, who was instrumental in starting in the Africa parks. And


I actually had the fortune of meeting him and I know some of his family members very well. My mountain would be to try in no ways that I could, but have some sort of legacy that would be in that direction. Okay. Well, let’s- Work towards something like that. 

Christél: Apart from helping so many people reaching Otter running dreams?


Mark: Yeah, I think so. I think I had such a nice experience the other day on my run around Robbock. I was having, I was feeling sorry for myself, a little bit of a hole because I’ve pulled both my calf muscles somehow. And it’s so unfair that life would treat me like that. So I was thinking about it and running around Robbock and I bumped into a guy, there was hardly anyone on the mountain at that stage. And I went to a person and a guy said to me, hey, Mark Collins. And he recognized me. He was one of the guys who ran the Otter a few years ago. He said, it’s so nice to see you in your natural environment.


Anyway, I thought, it’s amazing how a little greeting like that changed my perspective on my run and my day. So I had a wonderful run around Rob Egan on the way back. I bumped into him again and he actually ran to court to catch up with me and he came. He came next to me and he said, I remember something you said in the briefing of the Otter three years ago. He said you must leave a place better than you found it. And he said me and my girlfriend, his girlfriend was Canadian. He said wherever we go, that’s what we do now.


And it was such a, for me that was such a thrill, you know, and such a thrill that this guy taken the time to actually chase me down and tell me that. Wow. So it’s nice to know you have a little bit of an impact somewhere.

Christél: And you’ve definitely have left a legacy already.

Mark: Little one, little one, hopefully. I think my mom left the legacy. 

Christél: So inspirational quotes, would that be part of your makeup?


Mark: Yeah, I think what I like is Teddy Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, the American president, who said that the credit, you know, it’s not the critic who counts. I think that’s very applicable in life these days. I think people get criticized on a scale that’s unprecedented these days from all angles for everything they try.


And I think to remember that for people who try things that it’s not the critic accounts, it’s the person who’s actually doing the things. The person who’s in the arena, I think the way Teddy Roosevelt says it, credit belongs with the person who’s, I can’t remember exactly how the quote goes, but he’s got blood on his face and mud on his face.

Christél: Well, just quickly for anyone who wants to start a business, especially in the trial running or just in the health industry, what would be your message to them?

Mark: I think you know you must look at what were you envisaged going. You’ve got to, you know, what do you see yourself doing and how do you


seeing spending your time and be focused and aware of that, aware of what your desired outcome of your business is before going into it. I think a lot of people do trail runs and are inspired by it, but when you put them on, it’s a different thing as well. And it becomes a business and it becomes something that you’ve got to dedicate a lot of sort of administrative time and other time to. And you’ve got to be sure that you’re open-eyed to that, I think.


But if anyone going into the trail running business, I would urge them to put the environment first and then very close second to that, your participant experience. And that’s where creating value for your participants.

Christél: Just for interest sake, how long does it take to put something like Otter Trail together?

Mark: Otter Trail’s next year’s trail run, which is now a year away started about three months ago.


Christél: So it’s not something that you can quickly put together in a month?

Mark: No, no. Look, I think you could probably put a trail run in your local park or area together a lot quicker if you’re clever and you’re a good organizer. But the bigger events will take a lot longer when there’s more at stake and more partners and more involvement. And especially when you’re working in areas that are restricted and…


like South African national park areas, you do need to get everyone, it takes a long time to get everyone on the same page.

Christél: And in terms of being involved with other types of sports, I know somewhere I saw something about 360 ball that you guys are also involved in. Do you think there is a market for new activities like that?


Mark: I think the world is just so open to everything. But I don’t think 360ball is a thing that we haven’t had financial success at. On the contrary, it’s been one of the big costings. We got a lot of acclaim for it and it got a lot of coverage worldwide. We won awards for it. We won big awards in Germany and all sorts of things. But as a business, it hasn’t been a success at all. So, you know…


I don’t think it’s necessarily because the idea was wrong or because there’s not a space for it. I think it’s because we did it wrong. We made the incorrect decisions and we went the wrong way, which happens. That happens in business. But I think there’s definitely scope for new ideas. I mean, heaven forbid we ever live in a world where there are no new ideas and there’s no scope for them. 

Christél: So if you have to start 360 Ball all over again, what would you change?


Mark: I would keep it very simple. And, you know, our focus was on producing the best game possible. So we wanted to take it to where it would be comparable to a sport like tennis, instead of something that people could take to the beach and play anywhere and everywhere. That should have been our focus, is the mobility of it. So these Americans came up with a similar concept after us, and they’ve turned it into a sort of a billion-dollar…


industry or billion dollar company. The same sort of 360 ball and that was their focus. So their game is not comparable to our game on any level but that it’s their equipment is a fraction of the cost of our equipment and people can take it and set it up anywhere. So that was there that was obviously the key that we we didn’t realize.

Christél: But you know that now?

Mark: I know that now yeah.


Christél: And you wouldn’t make changes to it and relaunch it?


Mark: You know, my focus, as I said, is I want to spend more time, you know, making a difference in the wilderness and to things that are really important to me. I had great fun coming up with new ideas and new sports and that, you know, that’s a big part of our nature, you know, trying to think of ways of doing things that are completely different. That’s a big thing. So it’s great fun, but I sort of want to channel that more into, you know, the things that are really, really important to me.


Christél: It does definitely make sense. Mark, just final parting words for our entrepreneurs out there in general, any wise words?

Mark: Yeah I think I’ve learned it’s a journey, you know, there are times where you know you see you feel like you’re doing everything right and you can’t do anything wrong and you’re on the


on the right track and then suddenly something you didn’t see comes along and suddenly you’re on the wrong track again and then for a long time it feels like the world’s against you and then sooner or later you’re suddenly up and riding again and then in the right track. I think it’s a journey to to I would say just try always to have perspective, take a step back, and the things that you’re going to believe strongly in but you must always have the courage to question your beliefs and always not necessarily


listen to other people’s, you know, take other people’s advice but always be open to it. Not every advice, all advice you get is applicable but there’s certainly some things you can learn and certainly if you can have another way of looking at things you get so stuck in your own perspective of the world.

Christél: Absolutely. And it’s not always right. And I suppose just keep on moving.


Mark: Yes, yeah, keep moving forward. The worst, yeah, you’re only really in a hole when you stop moving