Koi Grey is Talking Trail Running

The upcoming weekend is an important one for trail runners in the Philippines. The 5th edition of the popular Clark-Myamit Falls, also known as CM 50, takes place on Sunday and it is the penultimate race of this year's Asia Trail Master series. Last month, a preparatory race was organised by the same event management team around race director Jon Lacanlale. We already spoke with the best woman of that MF 42 race, Joanna Plumbley. Now we let the men's winner do the talking. A fascinating story, here is Mark Bryan Grey, a.k.a. Koi Grey. 

By Kris Van de Velde

Q: What does " Koi " stand for? Isn't Mark your real first name?

KG: Mark Bryan Grey is my real name but when I was younger, my friends used to call me MacKoy.  It was during those early times when I was still immature and when cigarettes and alcohol were part of my very existence.  I even smoked and drank while hiking.  But people evolve and experience has taught me a lot.  And so I started to fix those loose ends in my life, and eventually, my friends also cut my nickname (MacKoy) shorter, hence the name Koi.  I guess Filipinos are fond of such short cuts, abbreviations.

Q: When and why did you decide to take part in a trail running competition?

Back in 2011, in the local mountaineering community, there was once a competition called Nomads Challenge 30, 000 ft.  I dared myself and decided to join the competition.  Luckily, I got my personal record of hiking and conquering 20 summit peaks in 7 days.  But towards the end of the competition, I realized that my body had weakened due to so much alcohol and nicotine intake.  It was kind of an awakening for me.  So, that same year, I took another challenge which is to join the 5km trail run of Merrell.  I promised to myself that I would stop all my vices if, at least, I managed to get in the top 50 of that race.  I placed 26th and that’s the reason why I am all clean now.

Q: Where do you come from, and was running part of your upbringing as a child and teenager?

I grew up in Bulacan.  I was an asthmatic kid and I was restrained from joining any strenuous physical activities, so I never had the chance to be engaged in any kind of sports.

Q: What is your daily occupation?

I have part time jobs only: cycling courier, adventure guide and organizer.

Q: What do you do to become a race winning trail runner?

My idea of training doesn't really follow any scientific approach.  I am a mountaineer and immersion with nature is instinctive to me.  Mountain running isn’t about strength and power.  It is about appreciating God’s creation.  They are given as gifts to humans to help us in our daily lives and uplift our beings.  Adaptation and deep connection with the natural elements are my own ways of being grateful and thankful to those gifts.  When you give yourself and connect with your environment, strength and endurance just innately follow.  When you are one with the nature, nature itself will push you forward and bring you to the finish line.

Q: Have you ever run a road marathon (42.195km) and what was your time?

I never joined a road marathon.  My longest road run was 21 km and I suffered lots of injuries that made me decide not to run on roads anymore. 

Q: Do you have a specific objective in trail running, or you just wish to run for fun?

I was not really that much exposed to sports before because of my asthma.  Hence, I am a nature lover.  Mountain is my haven where I find peace and serenity.  I feel that I have a different kind of connection with the mountains and every living thing inside it – from the largest trunk of the trees to the smallest of the worms.  When I visit or explore a mountain, I do a combination of slow walking, so that I can reflect and appreciate the surroundings, and  I do fast hiking because I want to maximize my time and cover more distance to see and explore more places.  And so when I learned about trail running races, I told myself why not try something that I had been doing already.  So thank God for trail running, I finally found my sport.

Q: Do you have any sports heroes? If yes, who and what is so special about him / her?

Anatoli Boukreev and Reinhold Messner are my mountain heroes.   I admire their wisdom in mountaineering and life.   They both made a huge impact on mountaineering.

Reinhold Messner was known for his fast ascents in the Alps of the North Wall and championed the cause for ascending Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen.  He was able to climb all 14 eight-thousander peaks, without supplemental oxygen.  He is actually a living legend.

Anatoli Boukreev, on the other hand, is known to have made ascents of 10 eight-thousander peaks (8,000 masl mountains), also without supplemental oxygen.  But I admire him most for when he saved climbers during the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster. 

 Q: Where were you when Manny Pacquaio defeated Oscar De La Hoya?

I was in the mountains.

Q: Is Pacquaio important for you in your life, and why or why not?

Manny Pacquiao is important for every Filipino of today’s generation I guess.  So yes, he is also important to me.  He is a living proof that financial difficulties won’t hinder us in achieving our goals.  He upheld the values of perseverance, tenacity, hard work and faith, which are basically his key points in winning.  And despite of all his achievements, he has remained humble. He has inspired me because we share the same life story.  He also went through the same difficulties during his early boxing career.  We both started with nothing.  I remember using the same shoes for hiking and running and I have no idea of nutrition, such as power gels.  I eat honey and sweet potatoes as my sustenance, since I am also a purist.  I use the sticks/small branches that I pick on the trail as my aid.  My running shorts came from Ukay Ukay (thrift shop/second hand goods) with no brand.  Back then, all I want is to be in the mountain and run wild.

Q: What is your view on trail running in the Philippines? Is the popularity still growing?

Trail running in the Philippines is growing fast and is becoming popular nowadays.  Many TV personalities or celebrities have also been joining huge trail running races.  I think that this is a good sign because trail running is one way of showcasing the beautiful scenic views and the mountains, or nature as a whole, in our country.

Q: Who is the best trail runner in the Philippines (men / women)?

For men, I idolize Thumbie Remigio and Coach Ige Lopez.  For women, that's Marites Bitbit.

Q: Have you ever taken part in a race in another country, and did you feel any difference compared to racing in the Philippines?

Not yet but I have plans.  Hopefully, next year.

Q: Do you have any tips for race organisers?

I think race organizers should also be runners or athletes like us so that they have deeper knowledge of our needs during races,  and they understand our feelings, such as what challenges us most, what motivates us and what discourages us as well.  

Q: What is your favorite place in your country for running?  

My favorite place for running in the Philippines is Sibuyan Island, particularly Mt. Guiting Guiting.  G2 is acknowledged as the most technically challenging mountain to climb in the Philippines.  I see to it that I can visit G2 every year as often as possible.  So far, as of 2014, my personal record time on G2 (ascent  and descent) is 8 hours.

Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing the sport of trail running in the near future?

Due to massive growth of trail runners, there will certainly impact in terms of:  (1) nature itself / trail impact; (2) cultural impact; (3) and disturbances to local community life. 

The vast growing trail running community should be responsible enough in taking care of the environment.  We should respect the culture of the locals and be sensible enough to the local people’s life.  I think it would be best if race organizers and runners themselves are socially and environmentally responsible, so that we may be of help in creating awareness even to non-runners.  Respecting cultural differences is also a key factor to avoid problems in the near future.

Q: Is there a race you really NEVER want to do, and why?

Road races because they are not just for me.  My lungs get weak and my knees aren’t really for roads.

Q: What do you think about the Asia Trail Master series? Could this be a goal for the 2016 year?

Yes, this could be a goal for me next year.  It continuously inspires runners/athletes like me to achieve more.  It tests not just our capabilities but also our passion in the said sport.  The Asia Trail Master series is also a good platform to meet and learn from various types of runners, and a good opportunity to build a bigger trail running community.