Kim Cavill gained the nickname ‘Dictionary’ at school thanks to her interest in reading and avoidance of all things sporty. However, since starting running in her 20s, she has achieved wins and top 3 finishes at some of the UK’s biggest ultras, including winning the Hardmoors 110 and finishing 2nd at this year’s Lakeland 50.
Have you always been a good runner?
No! I still think I have a lot to improve too. I never did anything physical as a child apart from playing in the street. I detested sport and felt self-conscious in PE. I only started running because it was what people did in the gym and then the 5km Race For Life gave me my first goal. Completing it in around 30 minutes was a big achievement for me and I started to enjoy it more then.
It’s quite interesting that my first thought was ‘no’ as I guess it depends on your definition of ‘good’! I don’t have perfect form and I’m not that fast but have got some good results, have improved a lot and have been fairly consistent for a few years, so I suppose that constitutes ‘good’!
What was it about running that got you hooked?
The idea that you’re the only one that can get you to where you want to go is really appealing. It’s a very pure and simple pastime: put on some shoes and move. For me, there is nothing else that gives the same sense of satisfaction as a run. It can lift you, calm you and physically exhaust you at the same time. In that moment, there’s nothing else to worry about apart from moving forward and you can gain real perspective from that.
On a less Zen note, my running club had a huge part to play. When I finally plucked up the courage and joined Pickering Running Club in 2011, their welcome and enthusiasm pushed me to do more and introduced me to some fantastic people and events.
How did you get into ultra-running?
I read ‘Born to Run’ just before a fellow club member, Lorraine, was looking at doing the Hardmoors Grand Slam in 2013. I remember spending a lot of time Googling all of these amazing runners like Scott Jurek and thinking about how it made so much sense! The idea that people should be moving for such long periods of time just chimed with me and the evidence for how we are actually perfect distance running animals seemed very logical.
I even emailed Jon Steele and asked if I could come and watch the start of the 2012 Hardmoors 110: I was so curious to see what these people looked like! I had imagined wiry weirdoes then when I turned up at Helmsley Football Club and looked around, they were all pretty normal looking! There was a real shortage of women though and not even half the amount of people that are doing these races now. It took me a while to build up to it but my first ultra was the Osmotherley Pheonix in 2013. I remember giggling to myself when I hit 30 miles as it was the furthest I’d run and it seemed mad!
When did you realise you could be quite good at it?
I got decent results from the start, but they were all pretty low key races. I think the turning point for me was the Hardmoors 55 in 2015. I had watched Shelli Gordon in local fell races with awe. She was always in the winning team, and always in the top 3 ladies at these short races but also won all the ultras too. I had never dreamed that I would match her, let alone run with her in a race: I just wasn’t that good. So when I caught her and Heather Ford on the 55 AND was running with Charmaine Horsfall (who is awesome too), I started to feel like it was going well. Finishing that race with Shelli nearly an hour faster than I thought was possible in joint second place was one the best feelings I’ve had.
The Hardmoors 60 later that year showed me what I was really capable of though. I had never really ‘raced’ properly until then but after winning the 110, my motivation had changed. Winning the Grand Slam was possible if I could win the 60. I went hard from the start and from halfway onwards kept bursting into tears because I couldn’t believe I was keeping it up! It was a very surreal experience for me to finish 4th overall, as well as get the record by around 45 minutes and be so far ahead of the other ladies.
What does a typical training week look like?
There is no such thing really! It completely depends on what is coming up as to what I might do. At the moment, I’m building up my strength again as I have no races left this year, so I’m working on regular strength and conditioning sessions with easy runs of no more than about 1 – 1.5 hours. I usually run in one form or another around 4 – 5 times a week and include around 3 strength sessions a week. I cycle sporadically and want to get back into a bit of swimming as I think just running is not always great for your body!
When I have a race coming up, my mileage will be a bit higher but it is very rare for me to go above 50-60 miles a week and that would be where I would top out. I would also include more race pace and specific sessions but again, it all depends on lots of other factors!
Women are obviously still in the minority when it comes to ultra-running; what would you say to other women thinking of taking on an ultra or other long distance running challenge?
It would be great to see more women doing these events, as I think we can work to bring the best performances out of one another and really start challenging the men. I think women sometimes talk themselves out of things like this. We can rationalise and analyse too much – I do it all the time!
I would say don’t jump into it without preparing well: ultras take an awful lot out of you, regardless of how fast or steady you are and without good training and a solid base, you may not have a positive experience. But, with consistent training and the right mindset, any fit and healthy person can do it!
What do you think could be done to encourage more women to participate in trail and ultra-running?
Hopefully, blogs like this! Seeing other women doing these things can definitely help. I love getting messages from people saying they’re going to do something because of a blog they read, or asking for advice. The more we can support each other, the better. The trail running world is very different to road running and is so much more about being outside enjoying yourself than competing, and I think more women are realising that and finding it more appealing than running around town getting heckled!
Where is your favourite place to run?
I love North Yorkshire because it’s home. I’m definitely a trail runner not a mountain runner, so places like the moors, forest and coast appeal to me much more than big mountains. Although the coast of Northern Ireland and some of the trails in the Aosta Valley are also places I would go back to time and again.
What would be your ideal race?
I think a 50-60 miler that was all on forest trails with some coastal path thrown in would be a dream, although I don’t know where I would find that! It would have to be very mild weather too, nicely cool with a breeze but dry underfoot – any ideas anyone?!
If I could mash together parts of the Cleveland Way, CCC and Transvulcania without the heat, that would be great.
Who or what inspires you?
It sounds cheesy, but being outdoors on my own inspires me. I don’t really get inspired to do things by seeing other people do them because if I want to do something, I will do it, but seeing beautiful scenery or how a race might affect someone can make me want to do it if that makes sense! I have a lot of admiration and respect for people who do amazing things, but the places they do them or the atmosphere probably inspires me more.
Having said that, every person that completes an ultra after working hard for it and putting everything into it is an inspiration because there will be someone looking at them and thinking, ‘Wow! Maybe I can do something like that too’.
What do you wish you’d known when you started running?
That I shouldn’t have done so much so soon! Over racing and training too hard is so easy to do when you start out: you can race every week if you want to and you can run faster than is healthy in every session because it feels good. This approach caused me an ITB injury that was incredibly frustrating and took a lot of work to get right again. It did teach me in the most effective way though, and I think that I am taking that learning with me into every session and with the athletes I’m coaching.
What are your next big running goals?
There is a lot on the bucket list, such as UTMB and Western States, but they will happen when I have more experience with 100 milers and altitude. I’m looking at doing a 24 hour trail race next year as I love the idea of how running laps is all about mentality and being able to pace it right.
Making it through another year in good health is the priority though, so I won’t be doing too much racing for the next 6 months or so.
Tell us about the coaching service you are now offering. Do you enjoy coaching other runners?
Jayson (Kim’s husband and fellow top ultra runner) set himself up a couple of years ago and has been so successful, I wanted to get in on the act! We have done three training weekends together which were great fun and helped a lot of people along the way. It is amazingly satisfying to see people who have little confidence in their running abilities come on so much with consistent hard work and help from us.
We are taking on new athletes and about to launch our November training weekend, with another to follow in January. (You can find out more about Kim and Jayson’s coaching service here.)
What would be your top tip for ultra runners looking to improve their performance?
Get a coach! In all seriousness, it can be difficult to plough through all of the advice out there and know what works. Jayson and I are students of ultra running and are learning all the time, which any good coach should do. To try and work out how to improve based on the ‘run more’ philosophy does not work well. You may be able to do more mileage but is that an improvement? I would say that if you want to get stronger, fitter and recover better (all of which should make you faster too), get help from a coach who knows their stuff and has real experience. Simply running more and taking random advice from t’internet could do more harm than good.
What aspects of your own running would you like to improve?
My engine could be better, or my heart and lungs, which impacts my speed. I think that if you are a late athlete and didn’t do much as a child, this is harder to develop and hurts more. I would also love not to have wonky feet but this is a work in progress!
What has ultra running taught you about yourself?
It has given me absolute perspective on what is important in life. We are so caught up in ‘stuff’, like money, houses, jobs, cars, the internet, that we find it hard to slow down. Ultra marathons are the ultimate exercise in slowing down! You cannot think about anything other than the moment if you want to finish an ultra, it’s pure survival. I certainly don’t think that I’m defined by my work anymore; I’m defined by what I am capable of.
Searching for meaning or substance in ‘things’ will only lead to dissatisfaction whereas going out and doing something that most people think is impossible is truly satisfying. It can make you see yourself in a totally different way.
What do you get up to when you are not running?
Blimey, not much! No, I like writing about running… okay, this is hard! I love reading and learning, not just about running but anything interesting. I am doing a couple of online courses on subjects like NLP and Kinesiology which I should be able to apply to my coaching.
I love spending time with Jayson and Indie, our dog, at the beach just messing around. I also enjoy cooking and trying to invent healthy food I can eat on the run. And then I go for a run….
If you would like to know more about Kim’s running and coaching, then you can find out more here: