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Becoming an Ultrarunner; the trail to a 127-mile challenge

Welcome to a series of post that chart an ultrarunner Gareth Kilshaw's preparations towards running a 127-mile event. We look at the why and the how.

You can read about the team, the training plan, his recovery protocols, nutrition and his kit selection choices. 

A few years ago, Gareth’s sporting interests didn’t go much further than watching Sky Sports. 

He’d done a bit of cross country as a kid and played some football, but that ended when he became a teenager and, well, he noticed girls.  

So, when his “sport-mad” brother decided to train for a 100-mile race four years ago, Gareth laughed. He told him he wouldn’t want to drive 100 miles in a car, let alone run it. 

But somehow, they struck a deal: Gareth would quit smoking, and enter the local 10k run.

It was a tough start. His first four-mile training run, he had to stop and walk 12 times. 

The next day, he went out again - and stopped only once. 

By the time race day arrived, he was ready. 

He not only beat his brother in the race, but he’d “got the bug”. 

Over the months and years that followed, Gareth graduated well beyond that 10k race. 

The canal near his home became a regular training route. He built his distances up to 14 miles, 20 miles, and - on one epic Saturday - 52 miles. 

He then discovered GB Ultras: a community of like minded runners who also host a series of 50-mile, 100-mile and 215-mile ultra-marathons held throughout the UK. It was there he became immersed in the ultra-running community and met Nicola Bruce, who would later become his teammate. The pair ended up running the 100-mile Grand Slam together in 2019, contending with Nick’s sprained ankle and miserable weather. 

By 2020, Gareth had knocked up dozens of 50-mile and 100-mile events. Running was now not only his passion but his full-time job: he’d become a GB Ultra race director and ambassador, leading many of the organization’s ‘reccies’ and other events. 

A long way from the man who watched the odd footy game on the telly.

Ultra-running isn’t just about exercise, he explains. Being on your feet for several hours at a time is as mental as it is physical. You’ve simply got to tell yourself you’re not stopping.

“With each event, I’m saying, ‘I’ve tested myself at this level. I’ve done this now, so I can keep going forward,’” he says. 

Where other sports are orientated towards winning, ultras are more about simply doing it. Everyone sets their own goals. 

“There’s a percentage who want to win; who are striving to be as good as they can,” he says. “The rest of us are just striving to get across that finish line, in whatever way we can, with as little chafing as possible!”

Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed everything. When the pandemic struck earlier this year, many of the GB Ultra events were cancelled. Gareth decided to resign from his role as race director to ease the burden and instead took a job at the Liverpool Docks, often working 12-hour night shifts. 

It was there he learned about the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the work of the local lifeboat crew. Both organizations provide 24/7 rescue services for the Docks and the surrounding waters. Unfortunately, the organisation had taken a hit during the pandemic. Many of their costs are fixed, and the bulk of their funding is raised via “bucket collections” at large gatherings and events.

It didn’t take long for an idea to grow in Gareth’s mind. His 48th birthday was coming up, the GB Ultra physical events had been canned, and the Docks needed charitable support. 

Why not raise some money by running 127 miles on his birthday?

And that’s exactly what’ll be doing. 

He’s put together a team, run the miles in training and on November 7, Gareth will run the Liverpool to Leeds Canal in aid of the RNLI. 

As well as raising some much-needed funds, he hopes to raise the profile of the RNLI and help both the Docks and the Union become affiliated with the charity organisation that safeguards the waters they work. 

We’ll be covering all the details about Gareth’s lead-up to the run, his preparation, and his fundraising efforts. Watch this space!  

Read More

Training Plan – Designed by his great friend Nicola Bruce

Recovery Protocols – Designed for Gareth by Riixo founder, Cameron

Kit Selection – Tried, tested, and trusted

Lessons Learned – From Gareth, Nick and other Ultrarunner with scars to share

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