IT is not until the end of the interview that Mark Hollinshead answers what really should have been this correspondent’s opening question.

Why did this 30-year veteran of the newspaper industry vacate a senior role with Trinity Mirror to lead the company behind some of the UK’s most popular running events?

“People have asked me, why did you move? Was there any reason?” said Mr Hollinshead, who became chief executive of Brendan Foster’s Great Run Company this summer.

“I was ready to do something different. I have worked for a lot of companies but a long time for Trinity Mirror. Sometimes you make big life decisions. I’m interested in sport and have a passion for athletics and running. It’s a growth market.”

Not that the move was a long jump into the unknown. Mr Hollinshead, who spent 15 years as managing director of Daily Record and Sunday Mail, had been on the board of The Great Run Company for three years before taking the job.

The executive, who hails from the West Midlands, got to known Foster through Trinity’s sponsorship of the Great Run Series, which includes the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow.

This year’s event is poised to host next month, when around 30,000 runners are expected to take part in the 10k and half-marathon in and around the dear green city.

A keen runner himself, who once completed the world’s four “major” marathons over a four years, Mr Hollinshead also spoke regularly with Foster during his spell as chairman of Scottish Athletics.

It was when the two collaborated on the future shape of The Great Run Company that Mr Hollinshead’s suitability for the top job became clear.

“We said we needed to review the structure and he and I were tasked with going out and seeking a new CEO designate,” Mr Hollinshead explained.

“So we went to headhunters and we scoured the nation. Finally we sat down and he said: this is your job, isn’t it?”

Mr Hollinshead agreed with Foster’s assertion. But he admits the decision to step into the role was not made without some soul searching.

Asked if he had thought about taking on the Great Run role before it was offered to him, Mr Hollinshead said: “Loosely, but I was very happy where I was. I had just been appointed to the board of Trinity Mirror plc, which was the long-term aim, and I was in charge of all publishing.

“But I was watching the marketplace and mass participation sport is growing. It is something I am interested in anyway – sports marketing – and you could see there was going to quite transformative change in this market.

“It was quite an opportunity so I decided the time was right.”

There are ambitious plans to grow The Great Run Company, said Mr Hollinshead, who identified work on three-year strategic plan as his immediate priority.

He signalled a strong appetite to grow the company’s portfolio of events, which include the Great Edinburgh Run, the Edinburgh International Cross Country and The Great North Run – the race on which Foster founded the company.

He is keen to add a marathon to the stable and branch out further into other sports.

The company is already the UK’s biggest organiser of mass participation swimming events through the Great Swim Series, which includes annual events in Loch Lomond and Lake Windermere.

And it has “dipped its toes in the water” with cycling, through the Great Manchester Cycle.

Then there are plans to take the City Games, currently held in Manchester and Newcastle, to the “global” stage.

“Seven years ago we had Usain Bolt run the fastest-ever race in history running down Deansgate in Manchester,” Mr Hollinshead noted. “That brings sport to the people, rather than taking people to the sport. It’s innovative – all sports have to innovate and athletics is no exception.”

The events themselves are just one component of the business model, however.

Mr Hollinshead explained that The Great Run Company is a vertically integrated model: it stages the runs, films it for television via its publishing company and seeks to attract commercial partners on the basis of media exposure.

This summer the company, which is based at Pacific Quay in Glasgow and has 70 staff, acquired Athletics Weekly, which will form the starting point of a new Great Run Publishing division.

Bank of Scotland is the company’s long-standing commercial partner here, where it has also secured deals with the likes of Puma, Lucozade, Aqua Pura, Virgin Trains and Arnold Clark.

“They want to be associated with a sport and a lifestyle and a lifestyle which is about improvement,” Mr Hollinshead said. “It’s about well-being and the good thing is that it’s about family as well.”

Mr Hollinshead noted that the runs generate between 18 and 20 hours of live television coverage each year, with the Great Scottish Run set to be broadcast on BBC 2 on October 4.

The Great North Run, which remains its flagship event, will be covered on BBC1 and BBC2 tomorrow.

Around 65,000 runners are expected to take part, compared to 12,000 when it was first staged in 1981. Now the biggest half-marathon in the world, the field this year includes the double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farrah, fresh from his success at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing.

Mr Hollinshead noted that the Great North Run last year became the first in the world to have one million finishers. It is now using the achievement to brand the event the “World’s Favourite Run”.

The Great Scottish Run may not yet be on the same scale but Mr Hollinshead believes it has enormous potential, highlighting Glasgow’s impressive athletics heritage though clubs such as Shettleston Harriers and Giffnock North.

“We believe there is an opportunity to make the Great Scottish Run one of the biggest events in Europe,” he declared. “It’s a great course. It has always been very well run.

“We have brought it on to TV, we brought elite athletes into the formula [and] we had Haile Gabrelassie two years ago [who] broke the all-comers record for a half-marathon on Scottish soil.

“It’s the one event in Scotland that has actually got live TV content.”

And he sees no reason why Scotland can’t support more events of this kind, signalling his desire to host events beyond the dominant cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

While the commercial dimension to such plans is sacrosanct, Mr Hollinshead believes strongly in the benefits that taking part in these events can have on social cohesion and health.

He highlights an initiative called Great Run Local, which offers people the chance to meet up, exercise and target personal goals, be it weight loss or fitness improvement. People take part often go on to take part in events such as the Great Scottish Run.

“We’re in the business of sport, but it’s in our blood as well,” Mr Hollinshead said.

“We want to see more people more active more often. Running is very accessible – you don’t have buy a set of Pings or a £300 racquet. You’ve got a pair of running shoes and off you go.

“Our concept is you that run better when you run together.”

As for the industry he left behind, Mr Hollinshead acknowledged that the printed media sector has been “challenged” as consumption patterns continue to shift from newspapers to online platforms.

But he believes media companies are showing signs of managing that transition more effectively.

“We have to follow the eye balls and the consumer, and I think we are starting to see some success,” he said. “Digital advertising is exploding [but] I think we need to be more creative in the way we do it. I think that’s missing at the moment, but some organisations are starting to address that in a very creative way.”