ultra runner Sundried activewear ambassador running

Kelsey is an ultra runner who went from hating PE at school to now enjoying 100-mile ultra races. She talks to Sundried about training and her racing goals for the next year. 

Have you always been into sport?

Definitely not! In fact, at school I always dreaded PE. I never got on with the likes of netball or hockey, but I really liked the idea of being physically active. At my school, there was not a great deal of opportunity nor inspiration for things other than traditional team sports.

It wasn't until I was 17 when I taught myself to run on the treadmill at the gym that I really engaged with running (initially I struggled to manage even 10 minutes!) I was quick to figure out that running outside was 1000 times more enjoyable, and then for my 18th birthday my dad booked me my first marathon as a surprise – things then escalated pretty quickly from there!

What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

The North Downs Way 100-mile Centurion race. It was my first (and only so far) 100-mile race, in which I learnt so much about myself. I was blessed to have three different pacers to chat to and keep me company in the second 50 miles which made the world of difference to my mindset. I managed to stay so present throughout the race, more than I imagined I could be, which allowed me to appreciate the countryside around me, chat to other runners, and smile as much as I possibly could. The 400m track 'lap of glory' before crossing the finish line was surreal, topped off with 3rd place which I was massively surprised about.

And your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement probably has to be placing 1st woman in a 100k race (Round Reading Ultra 100k). I turned up to race HQ the night before to collect my race number and I remember thinking, "Right, I may come last tomorrow as I have never run anything like this distance before, but I am cool with that, as long as I get round and finish."

At the 50k mark, I was told that I was in the lead and that instant my head switched and all of a sudden it wasn't about just "finishing" the race, I wanted to win! After that I felt so focused, motivated and really positive. It was all so unexpected, and I was amazed at what my body was capable of, which is why it probably is my proudest achievement. Shaving over an hour off the course record was a massive bonus too!

Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

Yes! The Isle of Man mountain ultra marathon. Both of my race buddies dropped out of the race part way through and leaving them was so hard. However, I had to go on, meaning I had to massively speed up to chase the race cut-offs and was worried that I would then burn out.

I had not prepared for self-navigation as I was relying on my dad (the navigation master!) It was super stressful not knowing where to go when on my own on a mountain and was not my most held-together moment!

How do you overcome setbacks?

Being kind to myself! We are all guilty of being a bit too hard on ourselves and putting so much pressure on ourselves sometimes. I find that it is so easy to get hung up on feeling like I have had a rubbish run, getting slower minute miles, missing a training run because I am struggling to find the motivation to go out etc, but we are all human!

If I am feeling slightly unmotivated, I will focus on something different for a week or so, perhaps I will go to the gym instead. Before I know it, I am missing running and it is enough time for my head to reset. Also, there is nothing like hitting the trails! I try to run trails somewhere (with somebody ideally) and explore nature. This is when I feel most inspired and motivated to run. I find it can be a lot easier mentally too, for example knowing I can walk the uphills gives a nice little reset break!

What advice would you give somebody before starting to compete?

Good question! I would say that learning to control your mind is really important. When you are out there in the middle of nowhere, with nobody around and you are feeling exhausted, it is easy to get into a negative mindset. If you can talk yourself out of these mindsets or be at peace with the fact they are only temporary, that will help so much.

On my first ultramarathon, which was 48 miles through Snowdonia, I got to 20 miles and was absolutely broken; the thought of another 28 miles seemed absolutely impossible. This really prevented me from enjoying a run which probably had some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen.

I try to focus on breaking the run down into chunks; you know you're going to be out there for a long time so you should try to enjoy it. I focus on getting to the next check point where I can then reset (mostly I think about what snacks they are going to have there!) Having a good crew also makes the world of difference.

And I must mention that I think gym classes/strength training in the gym is not given enough credit for its value in training – it is important to keep doing this rather than replacing it with all of your runs – I believe it is the secret to not getting injured.

What are your goals for 2020?

I am super excited for this, after probably too long of ‘winging it’ I have just got a coach! I always feared that having a coach might make me feel tied down or they would make me run 100 miles a week or something crazy like that, but I am reassured and confident that this is a great decision to help me focus on new achievements.

I am running the Country to Capital Ultra in January, which is a 45-mile race from Wendover (near Aylesbury in the Chilterns) to Little Venice (near Regent's Park in London). In preparation for this, I am hoping to complete the Marcothon, which is a challenge to run a minimum of 3 miles every day of December, including Christmas Day! 

I am also going to run either a 100-miler or 100k, although I'm not sure which right now – the problems of being indecisive! 

Alongside this, my mini goals include spending more time running with other people rather than by myself and most importantly to get more people inspired to run, whether that be from their first 5k to ultra marathons.

Who do you take your inspiration from?

My dad. He is has always taught me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, and this is what inspires me most. I am also massively for girl power, particularly those athletes who have incredible running achievements whilst having jobs/life/children etc such as Beth Pascall, Mimi Anderson and Jasmin Paris – I am super passionate about the work/life/run balance!

What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

Firstly, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing you’re wearing kit made from recycled materials, I love that! But the most important thing to me is probably comfort, and Sundried have mastered this!