On Saturday, 7 November, Gareth Kilshaw will run 127 miles from Liverpool to Leeds to raise funds for the RNLI.
This post is about crewing an ultrarunner. A critical role if the race is to be a success. As ever, Gareth will be crewed on this challenge by the wife he adores. The team member he couldn’t be without:
When Gareth became an ultra-runner, his wife Carole was automatically signed on as the head of his crew.
Four years on, she’s the star of Team Carole Adventures - and still handing Gareth his essential supplies.
Having become thoroughly immersed in the GB ultra-running community, Carole now knows what to expect from this ‘completely mad’ subculture. And she loves being part of that madness.
“The great thing is there’s such a range of people. There are people who are going to take-off, and there are people who are gonna be at the back when the whistle blows... and know they're gonna be at the back at the end of the day,” she says. “But it makes absolutely no difference - they love it and just keep slogging away.”
As Gareth’s nearest and dearest, Carole has been crewing him since he was first drawn into the ultra scene.
And crewing an ultra runner is no day job: it means accompanying him to every event and waiting at each station with food, drink, gels, a change of gear, extra batteries - whatever that phase of the race may require.
Understandably, she had her qualms at first.
“I thought, this isn’t gonna be much fun: basically me just standing around for an entire weekend holding some smelly socks and things,” she laughs. “You might have waited four hours in the pitch black with wet feet and they will just come flying in, change some clothes, eat a sandwich and run away - and not even speak to you!”
“They just come and dive into the car and throw cartons around, then you have to sort all that out again because everything’s got to be in the right place. And they’ll ask you strange things - you can be in the middle of nowhere at 3 o'clock in the morning and there will be just enough signal to get a call, and they’ll ask you something bizarre they’ve just thought of - something they’d like to eat. Then you’ve got to find it before 5 am and keep it warm until they come through.”
Carole insists, however, that ultra-runners aren’t demanding: they’re just very dependent on their crew. And, along with having the right gear, it’s crucial to know how to deal with any fatigue and disillusionment.
“Never disagree with them, that’s my advice,” she says. “They can be so exhausted, and of course you want them to finish because you know how hard they’ve worked, but they’re cold, they’ve been out a long time, and so it’s just picking your moments,” she says.
There are times when her support is both physical and emotional: especially when a runner announces they can’t carry on.
“That’s when you say, ‘Okay, get some dry clothes on, have something to eat. Sit in the car for a bit with a hot drink before you make any decisions,” Carole explains.
While there’s bound to be a few more emotional moments in Gareth’s upcoming 127-miler, she has no doubt he’ll make it to the end.
“It’s very personal for him. He did so much running on the canal when he first started, and his mileage kept going up and up - everyone was amazed how far he could run so quickly,” she says. “The canal has kept a place in his heart because Lucy lives in Leeds and we don’t get to see her as much, especially with COVID this year. So, there’s something really poignant about this challenge when its been so difficult not seeing her.”
At present, a contingency plan is in place if required. But even a route change won’t dampen Gareth’s determination, Carole says.
“If he decides it’s going ahead then it’s going ahead. Either way, he’ll get it done.”
Seeing Gareth complete the event will make Carole incredibly happy. "It is a challenge he has been thinking about for a long time, to be able to do it and to raise the money for this great cause is the icing on the cake."
And as for the future?
"I'm, as always, just worried about what I'll get dragged into next! I'm also, of course, so extremely proud of him... but you won't print that will you?"
The Countdown - With hours to go, how is Gareth feeling?
The Team – All skills are welcome on a Team Carole Adventure
The Husband – Gareth, the challenge and the cause
Kit Selection – What Gareth is wearing and Carole is carrying
Pitfalls – What not to do. Lessons from other ultra mistakes for a first time ultramarathon runner