FOR most people, completing a marathon would be a phenomenal achievement, but for Mark Cooper it's all in a day's work.
Today the 27-year-old from Mountcastle is due to complete his 50th marathon in 56 days, arriving in Barcelona after leaving Amsterdam on 1 May.
In the process, he has raised around 24,000 for brain injury charity Edinburgh Headway in memory of his mother, Sheila, who died of a brain haemorrhage when he was just 14.
Mark is due to complete his challenge at 2pm UK time, running onto Barcelona's Plaza Catalunya to be met by his father, Angus, aunt Irene and the city's British Consul General.
It will be the end of a 1,300-mile trail on which he has run a marathon every day, with just six rest days.
He said: "When I arrived in Amsterdam the day before I started, it was Queen's Day and there was a big celebration and 600,000 visitors in Amsterdam, so it was pretty mad. The next day everybody in Holland had a hangover, so the roads were dead, so it was pretty good when I started running."
Things soon began to look difficult, however – he thought he might have to give up around the time of the sixth marathon, when he developed problems with his ankle, and recorded his slowest time of 5hrs 24mins. But a physiotherapist in Eindhoven solved the problem, and he has been on good form ever since. He's even got faster, with 12 of the last 13 runs completed in under four hours. His route took him through Holland, Belgium and France and included a lonely border crossing in the Pyrenees: "The last leg was unpaved road and it was the border crossing into Spain and you're not allowed cars up there, so I had to go on my own," he says. "It's a border crossing, but it's an unofficial one and they're worried about smuggling so they're quite wary – it's a bit scary."
He had company on yesterday's run, however, when he was joined by 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games runner Julia Armstrong. She has also been instrumental in the fundraising effort, spreading the word among her friends, one of whom donated an incredible 8,000.
Speaking yesterday, Mark said he can't wait to complete the final marathon: "I don't know what I'm going to feel, to be honest. I get quite tingly sensations when I think of it. I've thought about it for so long, even when I was doing all my training I was thinking, 'How good will it be when I get to Barcelona?'
"I'm going to do the whole run into the centre of Barcelona with a Scottish flag – if we can't be in the World Cup, at least I can fly the colours."
When he's done, his plans are simple: "I'm going to have a shower and get dressed up properly for the first time in two months, and go and have some beers with my family and some nice food," he says.
He will then head back north with his friends and the support car, stopping at Disneyland Paris on the way for some well-earned relaxation. After that, he will return to work as a records manager at law firm DLA Piper, which granted him three months off to complete the challenge, as well as sponsoring him.
Mark is modest about his achievement: "Anybody could do what I've done. You just have to have the determination to do it. If I could sit and drink every weekend and smoke 20 cigarettes a day and then stop it and do this, then anyone can." He is also keen to share the compliments, praising his sponsor, Your Sports Fuel, which supplied him with nutritional supplements, and the seven friends who accompanied him by car, picking him up at the end of every marathon.
But if he won't sing his own praises, others are keen to.
Jean Bryden, chairwoman of the Headway Edinburgh, which will benefit from the fundraising, said: "We were amazed when Mark approached us to do this. Being a charity, we're always looking for money, so it was absolutely wonderful when he said he wanted to do this and that he wanted to do it because of his mother." Most importantly, Mark thinks his mother would have been proud.
He says: "Before I left to come and do this, there's this idea people have got that if a white feather lands it's someone coming to visit, and a white feather landed on my shoulder. My girlfriend says, 'That was your mum coming to visit you' and I just couldn't see it, but last night I was sitting in the hotel and I was having a think to myself about my mum – and there was a white feather. I thought 'Where the hell has that come from?' She'd be very proud, I think."
Sponsor Mark Cooper at www.runwithmark.com