Kayleigh Ralphs only started running in 2014. Now she is not only a keen ultrarunner herself, but has also helped many others to discover trail and ultra running through her running group, Kayleigh’s Fitness Run Club. After seeing many of Kayleigh’s ‘Yellow Army’ running this year’s Lakeland 50, I was keen to hear more about her Couch to 50 Miles programme, which is helping many non-runners and beginners get started with ultra running.
When and why did you start running?
After watching my Dad run for a few years, I decided to set myself a challenge. I was never a runner before September 2014; I went to the gym and kept fit but never ran. My challenge was to run the Lakeland 50, an event I helped marshal in July 2014. I worked one to one with a little boy called Isaac with severe medical needs and quadriplegic cerebral palsy; Isaac has no means of communication, so I ran to raise money and awareness of his communication needs and we were able to help him invest in an eye gaze computer.
What was it about running that got you hooked?
I enjoyed the thrill of it all, new mountains to explore, the days out in the fells with different groups of people, the fun and adrenaline, running in all weather conditions. The tea and toast before the races were also a great bonus. The running community really is something special and I think even before I ran I was hooked; I enjoyed marshalling and being a supporter to my Dad and his friends at events.
How did you get into ultra running?
My dad, he is an ultra runner and started running at 42. I started running in training for the Lakeland 50 to raise money for Isaac.
What is the hardest ultra you have run so far?
I’ve been so lucky to take part in some big events on the ultra calendar since I started running in Autumn 2014. Each ultra I guess has been hard in its own way, especially as I never classed myself as a runner until after my first 50 miler in July 2015. Before this I found all my training runs hard, there were many tears on some events! I took part in the Runfurther series events as part of my training which really helped me prepare my race nerves!
I did the Hardmoors 60 in September 2015 with my Dad only a few weeks after the Lakeland 50 – that was a tough run. Then in August 2016 we headed to the Alps to run the UTMB CCC; 63 miles and 18,000ft, the longest, hardest climbs and hottest ultra I’ve done to date. The pain was worth it though – best experience ever!
What does a typical training week look like?
I train in the week, cross training 3/4 days a week, strength training, HIIT, or I enjoy boxing at my local boxing club. Then usually a long run on a Saturday, followed by a run with the Run Club on Sunday.
Tell us a bit about your running club?
We are a running club for all ages and fitness abilities, encouraging people to get active and enjoy the outdoors. It’s also great for everyone’s well-being.
We are an encouraging, supportive group with a family vibe and the members have aspired to go on and really push their fitness goals, feeling confident and oozing self belief.
We offer a Sunday Run Club, and we also have a group of walkers. We also offer our members ‘epic adventures’ which are days out in the Lake District on the fells; epic adventures are suitable for the group’s fitness abilities and are all specially tailored routes.
You have been helping many others start ultra running, including many non-runners, with your Couch to Lakeland 50 programme. What gave you the idea?
In 2017 we trained a good friend of ours to run the Lakeland 50 – she was a beginner runner. Her brother was a great friend of the family. He was a keen ultra runner and in 2015 he marshalled the event giving him free entry the year after. Sadly, whilst marshalling in 2015, he was ill and that week was diagnosed with lung cancer. He sadly passed away in September only weeks after being diagnosed. Cathy wanted to do something to be close to her brother, so she set a challenge to run the 50 mile event for her brother, Michael. The Run Club had just started and a lot of the members followed her journey and were inspired. September 2017 the What’s App group went crazy with over 20 members all signing up! We were in shock!
What does the Couch to Lakeland 50 training involve?
We offer our Couch to 50 miles team one long training run a month. All runs are led by myself and my Dad (aka Daddy Dave!), training our members on different terrain.
We teach our members basic map reading skills and encourage regular running with the club along with run conditioning sessions which involve cross training, strength training and also providing nutritional advice.
We offer walks during the week and night runs to get the team prepared for running through the night. We hold regular meetings and we have made some inspirational(!), encouraging videos for when the team are lacking confidence. We also have regular check-ins with the group, tracking progress and supporting members with kit, injuries, or any worries.
Have many of those who you have helped into ultra running gone on to run other ultra marathons?
Some of our members have signed up to do the Lakeland 50 event again, with some looking at attempting the Fellsman. Others have set themselves other challenges such as an Ironman triathlon.
How many ‘Yellow Army’ runners do you have aiming for next year’s Lakeland 50?
We have 9 new members and 6 from last year’s Couch to 50 mile team . Our team members have a mix of abilities.
What would you say to anyone thinking of taking on an ultra-marathon, or other long distance challenge?
Training before is the key; put in the work beforehand and your event will be so much more enjoyable. Training is a great way to find out what works for you and what doesn’t, such as trying out your kit and food.
Women are obviously still in the minority when it comes to ultra-running; what do you think could be done to encourage more women to participate in ultras?
I think it’s still a sport that is under the radar and not a lot of people really know much about it. People get scared when you tell them what you do; they think it’s crazy and they could never do that, you have to be at a mega fitness level and be an elite, which is not the case. Ultra running is suitable for everyone, of all ages and abilities, that’s what makes it great.
Also I’ve found that I’m often one of the youngest people on a course and that it’s important to educate the younger generation about what physical activities are available for them. Who wouldn’t enjoy the adventure of a day in the hills?!
What is your top tip for someone running their first ultra?
Good carb loading, have a brew at the check point when you can, and keep moving, one foot in front of the other even if it’s slow steps!
Try to stay positive, your head will tell you to stop before your body.
Where is your favourite place to run?
The Lake District. I love everywhere in the Lakes; Autumn is my favourite time for the colours and the ruggedness of it all!
Who or what inspires you?
My Dad – he is my running motivation. He pushes me, he knows what I am capable of when I don’t realise it myself and he believes in me. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to run all my ultras with him – he has such an amazing ultra running CV.
What do you wish you’d known when you started running?
I wish I’d believed in myself more and started my running in my earlier years.
What are your next big running goals?
I’m running the Lakeland 100 miler with Daddy Dave. I’m struggling with injury and I’ve been resting for 8 weeks, so fingers crossed.
What has ultra-running taught you about yourself?
That I’m capable of so much if I put my mind to it. I’m determined and I don’t give up.
What do you get up to when you are not running?
I enjoy spending time with my family, walks with my boyfriend and dog Alfie. I also enjoy snowboarding and spending time weight training in the gym.