On 6th August 2017 Mark attended an event at Potarch, Aberdeenshire - aptly named “The Gathering” - to lift the famous Dinnie Stones and I thought this was a great opportunity to sit down with him to talk about when he got his first taste for weightlifting, his unique training style and most importantly his build up to this historic event.
So Mark, tell us how you first got into weightlifting, as I know that you started out with Powerlifting?
In a galaxy far far away!! (Laughs) I’ll be serious now!!
I actually started because I played Rugby at school, so with playing Rugby at school you can get a bit bigger, faster and stronger. I started weight tickling at home in a garage and then as I got a little bit older, I outgrew the weights and I went down to a gym down the road, but then after a couple years I lost interest in Rugby….that didn’t go down well! And then the Powerlifting was a chance meeting with a chap in Preston called Kevin Gorman, who was then a master’s powerlifter and he just said “you need to come and have a go”. I went and did a bit of training and then that was it! He took me to a competition, I went 9 out of 9, and 670kg total at about 114kg bodyweight and then that was it!
What about when you joined IAWA UK (International All-round Weightlifting Association)?
I joined IAWA in 2008, the beginning of 2008 err I just got jaded with powerlifting, bored of powerlifting, politics of powerlifting; the drugs in drug-free powerlifting. And Simon Mansell who’s down in the south west discovered the IAWA, because he kind of fell out with various fractions of powerlifting, and he messaged me and said “I’ve found this federation and you need to have a look at it!” so I did and the rest is history!
What about Houghton Barbell. Tell me how Houghton Barbell started?
We had a lockup unit just outside Blackburn, which we ran as a cooperative. In principle it was a great idea, everyone would contribute and train regularly and as a result we would have our space and facility, but the lease was in my name and people just don’t always turn up for training or pay subs and things. We actually got rid of that. We had it for about 18 months or so, anyway I wrapped that up literally 2 months before Nat was born, because I thought the commitment wasn’t gonna work, so it had to go as they say!
Houghton Barbell was actually formed in the back of Denny Haybecker’s car in Pennsylvania, because err me Josh and Steve Gardner were discussing the various clubs and regions in the IAWA UK, and Steve just said that you need to just label yourselves and come up with name and then we can put you on the website and anyone in the Northwest can come round and train and have you as a bit of drop in and that’s when we came up with Houghton Barbell, which is the village where we’re from. Although, we’ve now relocated to Samlesbury 3 miles away, but we kept the name Houghton Barbell, controversial as it may be! So Houghton barbell is now in its 8th year I suppose……..Officially!
One of the main reasons for this interview is your training for the Dinnie Stones. Please can you give us a bit of background about the stones and the event?
Well the actual stones – well they’re probably millions of years old - as a useful object they date back to about 1860’s, when they were actually counter balance weights to hold scaffolding over the bridge - over the River Dee to do masonry and stone repair work. Donald Dinnie worked with his dad as a stone mason I believe, as although he was highland games champion, he still worked and as part of this job he used to set these stones up and work on the bridge and used to obviously pick them up and drag them up and down and move them around. He was a big strong dude and he could pick them up easily by all accounts.
They were lost probably for getting on for 70 or 80 years, maybe longer actually, and I believe David Webster rediscovered them in the 1950’s and literally they were dragged out of bushes down the bottom of a banking and brought back to the Inn and obviously ever since people have tried to pick ‘em up. The ultimate test really is to pick them up with your bare hands and ideally try and move them/walk them.
Where they not hooked up outside a pub?
Yeah which is literally were the bridge is, that’s the nearest spot where they have been kept they been chained up so that they were there for security.
Was it not that people could just go in and attempt them at the pub?
I think the landlord of the pub is the custodian of the stones and you have to get his permission. Although more recently they formalised it now and you have to apply a month in advance to attempt and you have to show evidence of being at that kind of poundage with training lifts to avoid injury and abuse I think. Not abuse to the lifter! But abuse to the stones! (Laughs) But in the last 160 years, I think, I believe there has been fewer that fifty successful bare hand lifts with the stones.
Stevie Shanks is one of the lightest people ever to lift them and he’s organising this event, which you’re going to.
He’s the second lightest!
After his dad!
No his dad is now the third lightest and the lightest is a man called Jim Splaine who is going to be one of the officials at the event. I think he’s about 70 now is Jim Splaine.
Tell us a bit about the event
The event is being organised by Stevie Shanks. He’s got his dad in attendance, Jim Splaine, I believe Jan Todd and David Webster are also there officiating. Some people are simply going do a lift or attempt a lift and there’s about half a dozen of us that’s going to hopefully lift and carry them across the bridge. All things being equal I can do that! Because I’ve had some good training sessions recently on them!
What sort of training have you been doing to lift the Dinnie stones?
Well in all honesty the first time I ever tried to lift the Dinnie weight on a set of Dinnie replica rings I actually lifted a little bit over Dinnie poundage on my first ever attempt, which does give you a good head start, because that was based on a level of strength built from squats and a level grip built from a lot of deadlift training and so on. But specifically on this build up, as an overload training, because I always believe you need to train above and beyond what is required and then if you get injuries or bad weather and all kind of things that kind of go wrong then you’ll still be capable of pulling this thing off.
I have basically been doing one session on the Dinnies every week. I have a set of replicable Dinnie rings that I got from Davin Horn; we load them up in the ratio. The Dinnies are 187kg and 146kg or thereabouts, so we keep that ratio and every Saturday I’ve got a good session in on the rings. I’ve actually been up to 242kg and 192kg, which blew my own mind!! It’s a 100kg over Dinnie poundage.
Basically the rest of the week is made just with squats. I do my basic 5x5 on one session and usually do two or three partial lifts to overload the body. I’ve been up to 415kg on partials just a couple of weeks back. One of my other sessions I will finish with a continuing set of singles, so the only rest is the time just to keep changing the weight. I usually go up in 20kg jumps. Top session on that was 100kg in 20kg jumps up to 240kg. Then the other aspect of the training, which really is to focus on the grip and the pull, is basically all based trap bar, as the handles seem to replicate the Dinnie set up a bit more than a deadlift bar. So one session is based on what I call a full trap bar workout, which is 4 sets of upright rows, 4 sets of shrugs, 4 sets of stiff legged deadlifts on a deficit and then 4 sets of deadlifts on a deficit. The other session I will finish off with 20in pulls on trap bar above and beyond Dinnie weight for like sets of 10 and then on the Friday session I would again set up 20 in pulls on the trap bar and do timed holds. I’ve been up to 372kg for a couple of 10 second hold. I never use straps, just cos there’s not point. You’re going to build your grip by using straps, unless I’ve had a massive injury or splits hands.
A bit like me you tend to train on your own. How do you keep your focus on what you want to achieve? What drives you, especially when you’re preparing for something like this?
Well for years I walked the earth as a lone warrior like Dave Carradine in Kung-Fu! (Laughs) Err no, no joking aside! Sometimes we do get groups coming down to train and sometimes they can be better sessions, as gets a bit daft and you get a bit carried away and all the rest of it, but generally if I’m on my own, which most of the time, especially in the week, err I think it’s just a mind-set. I think you’re just born with! You can’t really put it into somebody. If I say I’m gonna do something then……You’ve gotta drag yourself in. I have many times where I could very easily just not bother and just watch Pointless and things like that, but if you want to have the result on the day, that isn’t gonna give it ya! I’ve often said; if I set a challenge or set myself a target then it’s on really! It might take longer, it might happen sooner.
How you do get yourself in the mind-set, how does that happen when you’re ready to lift? Is it the same as when your training or different?
I’m always in it to be honest! On the platform……It’s always better in a competition. I think when I’m in a competition or some kind of event; I lift better with a little bit of pressure and that, you know you’ve got 60 seconds to deliver this lift with one attempt. In training you can sometimes piddle around and put it back and then take a bit longer to chalk up and mess about, but the pressure obviously some people it crushes them and the nerves and they can’t concentrate and they rush the lift, they cut the squat or whatever, whereas I always seem to channel and focus and three referees and few people watching just seems to bring the best out really, which is always nice. I’d hate to be nervous. Why would you keep doing something that makes you that nervous? I wouldn’t and that’s the thing I’ve always enjoyed it and found it……it’s just a fun thing to do. And I love the idea of people standing there and I’d kind of look at people watching and tell myself in a mind game kind of way that everyone in the room is stood there thinking you’re going to miss this!
Wanting you not to do it! Yeah! Which is the…..Alright then! If you say I can’t do it now I’m going to do it. It’s like a mind-set were you’re turning negative ideas and thoughts to your own advantage for focus. I know I do that…I do that a lot, especially on a biggish lift or a lift that most people may not have seen at that like poundage to prove a point. Yeah! I suppose that’s it!
After you’ve lifted the Dinnies are there any other events in the pipeline for 2017. The IAWA Gold Cup springs to mind?
Yeah…Well I know Dave Horn has got his record breakers event in September. I’ve got my eye on a couple of lifts if the hands are healthy; I wouldn’t mind having at a go a couple of lifts on that. In October Andy Bolton is running a deadlift challenge in aid of Kidney Cancer research, so I’m seriously thinking about having a crack and that. And then in November we’ve got the IAWA Gold Cup. At the minute I’m thinking trap bar – I’m thinking biggest ever trap bar poundage pulled in the IAWA and I’m possibly doing a two man deadlift with Pete Tryner and we’re talking about biggest poundage ever done on that. We just need a bit of luck….. A bit health and luck….. And err the stars line up and who knows!
I’m happy to report that Mark successfully lifted the stones across Potarch Bridge in the fastest time. You can watch the video of his successful attempt on YouTube using the link below and you can also follow Mark on Instagram to see any of his training videos.
As a closing note I’d like to thank Mark Haydock for taking the time to do the interview with me and also a special thank you to James Grahame and Jim Splaine for the photos accompanying the interview.
Donald Dinnie book by James Grahame: www.donalddinniebook.com