By Steve Diederich
SD: So, this morning I am very lucky to be with Kevin where the sun has just come out and we are sitting in the Surrey Hills. The last time we had a catch up was about three years ago so I want to know how you are and, specifically with this year and Covid, what’s happened to you now, how it has it affected you, how it has affected your plans and opportunities to dream up more devilish schemes.
KW: First and foremost, I’ve been very lucky health wise. I was told I had two years to live six years ago and here I am six years on, still terminal but still here so that’s the first major thing that’s helped me be where I am. I understand more than most I think that every second of every day is precious and I’ve made sure since we last spoke that I’ve done as much as I can.
So in terms of ultra running I’ve run the Marathon des Sables every year since I was diagnosed, so now I’ve done four. We’ll talk about what happened this year later. I’ve raced across Albania, Cambodia, Jordan, Spain, the Arctic and just every race is fantastic I’m just so privileged to have the opportunity to that and managed to complete most of those races as well.
Healthwise I’ve almost become, I laugh, but a professional athlete as far as I spend most of my days trying to stay healthy and fit 1) so I can run as much as possible and 2) So I can live as long as possible because both, as far as I’m concerned, are just as important for me. Life without running for me would be missing a huge chunk of what’s important.
SD: You’ve got a running streak going, right? Tell us about your running streak.
KW: If we go back to last year in December UltraX put on this running event for 10 days, to try to run 100kms in 10 days over Christmas and I thought that’s a great idea so I started on the 21st of December and I just ran those 10 days.
And when I got to the end of that, I thought well, people do this RED January thing: Run Every Day in January, so I thought I might as well do that as well. And I was about halfway through that when I thought I might as well keep on running. And so, here I am now, having run every day. I’m on day 356 or something like that now.
I’ve run over 4000 km along the way and I’m really pleased I started that. Not just because it gave me a focus every day to get up and run. Because I no longer think, will I run today but I think where am I going to run. A different mindset but with Covid it really made a massive difference so I was lucky I managed to do amazing race in Sao Tome in February, a multi-day ultra. Brilliant race, finished on the equator, just awesome race.
SD: Didn’t you have an encounter with a snake?
KW: Yes, well whenever I do these overseas races, I read about the country I’m running in. And when I read about Sao Tome, one of the things that kept on coming out was black cobras. No one else had read about them and I remember the day one race briefing the guy that organises the race said don’t worry about black cobras, they are not in the North of the island (and we were in the north of the island) and about three hours into the first day, a black cobra literally drops in front of me. I’m on my own in a jungle area and I thought it was an inner tube to be honest.
But then I realised it was a snake, and it raised itself to look at me and I thought, it’s going to strike, and I managed to get round it on the edge of the path and kept on going. I was about 500 metres further on and my heart had just slowed down and I thought, there’s two girls behind me, and if I don’t go back and warn them, they’re going to run straight into it. Because it was on a bend. I went back and the snake was still there and I stood on the edge of the bend and as the girls came round the corner, I said whoa, stop and walk around the edge. I didn’t tell them why but they asked why are we doing this and I said look there and they said oh my gosh!
I took a photo of the snake as well because I thought no one is going to believe me otherwise. When I showed it back at HQ they said it was probably a nothing snake and they referred it to the locals but it did turn out to be a black cobra. They are pretty deadly and if you get bitten by them you are probably going to die in that country because the antidote is too far away to get to you in time.
Yeah, so that was hairy. And from then on, every day I was paranoid about black cobras. I saw quite a few afterwards but they were always dead in the hands of a local, who chop the heads off them with a machete and now I understand why locals walk around in welly boots because there are so many snakes there.
SD: That’s a really good story! So, after Sao Tome, what came next?
KW: I got back and I was buzzing about the Marathon des Sables (MdS). Now the MdS is my favourite race of all time and I couldn’t wait to get back for my 5th one. Why is it so important to me? Well for one it signifies to me another year of life; it was the only thing on my bucket list and I’ve done it four times now!
And then about a month before sadly and inevitably I guess it was called off due to Covid. And I remember reading on Facebook posts from other MdS runners saying that their training was wasted and they had lost their mojo because the race had been called off. I understand why they were sad about it but I thought, do you know what, I’m going to run it myself still in my back garden. And that’s what I did!
I did the whole race, every day the same distance as the year before on the same days, in my back garden. Which was just over 2,600 laps of my 90 metre back garden, over the course of a week. And it was fantastic actually.
It had mentally all the things the MdS has; it has that “will it ever end” bit, like you get some days, it has the thrill of being out there and just living, when it’s so easy not to be, the buzz of people sponsoring me and the emails. It was brilliant. I didn’t sleep in my back garden and I didn’t carry everything on my back but the first day I did run with my gaiters on and my pack and all the rest of the stuff.
And all my neighbours thought I was mad because they didn’t know what I was doing; all they saw was me, every 1.5 minutes, appearing around the front of my drive and disappearing down my back garden again. I got on BBC Breakfast, which is great. I raised about £34,000 in a week, which is quite amazing in terms of what I normally raised. And it kind of proved to me again, and other people, that just because Covid is here you don’t have to give up; you can create your own challenges.
SD: You went on to do another home challenge didn’t you later on in the year which had a surprise ending to it.
KW: I’ve never run 100 miles non-stop before and with no races on, nothing to train for, and I thought I’d try to run 100 miles in 24 hours. And because I had no support crew and you shouldn’t venture too far from your house in a Covid world, I did 3 mile loops around my house. And off I set. I started in the morning and kept on going.
I had a few mates join me, who’d done the MdS with me, which was fantastic. Unfortunately, it was tinged with sadness at the start because I started at 10 am Saturday morning and at 9.45 I had a phone call from a friend to say that a good friend of mine, Lloyd, had just died of prostate cancer.
All of the planning I’d had for how I was going to run the race went out of the window because I was quite upset. I remember running with tears in my eyes and rather than run slowly and pace myself I did exactly what you shouldn’t do on a multi-day/long event and that was just go for it. I did the first marathon in about 4.5 hours which is not what you want to do when you are doing 4 marathons on the go!
Then I started to realise that I’d gone too fast and by the third marathon, so about 17 hours in, I’d done 78 miles and I couldn’t go on any longer. I ended up being physically sick and that was it. So, I did 78 miles in 17 hours and it’s a challenge I haven’t yet finished and I need to go back and revisit that again.
SD: Didn’t something happen in the morning? That your neighbours had done for you?
KW: I didn’t realise other people had been told about what I was doing. My neighbours in the road were very Covid sensible and weren’t mixing too much but they heard I was doing this thing and at 7pm they all came out of their houses and applauded me up the road. Which is quite incredible to have every other house in my road banging kettles.
It was like going down a ski slope to hear the ding-ding-ding as I was going past – it was really nice. Of course, I gave up at about 3am and then I got told the next day that they had all met outside my front door, socially distanced of course, and between them they all ran a mile each to make up for the miles I hadn’t done. In fact, there was about 50 of them and most of them ran about 2 miles so they more than made up for the lack of me completing 100 miles which was quite awesome.
SD: Jumping forward to the current day, what are you up to at the moment and for the rest of this year?
KW: I realised early on that virtual events were a really good way to stay motivated. I know they don’t have the same meaning and they don’t have the same conditions that proper events have but they are good events nonetheless to keep yourself focused and I’ve done quite a few of those. And the next one that’s coming up for me is quite emotional really.
Image courtesy of UltraX
UltraX, whose race I ran in Jordan, and who kick started my streak last year, approached me and said they were thinking of doing an event to Run Around the World with Kev. And the idea is anywhere that’s it’s New Year’s Eve you can run during that day. So basically, we have a 50 hour window to run around the world. So, I’d love anyone to sign up. It’s only £5 and all of that £5 goes to Prostate Cancer UK, a charity close to my heart obviously, and the idea is to run the 24,901 miles around the world together in 50 hours.
So, if only 1,000 people sign up, we have to do a marathon each, if 2,000 people sign up, we have to do a half marathon each. We’ve already got about 200 people signed up. It’s a really good way of training as well because if you’re doing the MdS next year, for example, you can start running at 10am on 30th December and you’ve got to finish by midday on 1st January. So, you have a chance to run on 30th December, the 31st December and the 1st January; three days on the trot, just like a multiday ultra where you have to do it and get up and do it all over again.
And that is really good training. People don’t do this much but if you can do 10k or more each day that’s great training and you’re well on your track. If you can’t run you can walk too, that’s fine. If you can bang in 10k a day, or maybe a half marathon, that’s probably where you need to be right now for the MdS. 3 half marathons would be awesome and it would help me get around the world as well.
SD: That sounds like a brilliant idea and a great cause. Well, Kev thank you very much; really good to catch up.
KW: Thanks very much and for those of you who are going to be there, I’ll see you in April!
If you would like to help Kev to get around the world, enter here