Q&A: 12 ultras challenge with Kirsty White

“Defying stereotypes and living to the fullest during my 50th year”. Kirsty White (Living Agelessly) has embarked on a challenge – 12 ultramarathons in her 50th year. Why? She says, “Maybe if I could encourage a few others who are not quite ready to get into their granny rocking chair, to ROCK IT!” We speak with Kirsty about the inspiring challenge, her motivations, exercising when getting older and more. Read it below.

The interview:

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Kirsty, a 49 year-year-old with three kids, one dog and a husband. In addition to exercising, I also work full-time which makes life pretty busy at times.

How and why did you get into running, and exercise in general?

When I hit 40 life was pretty ordinary for me. Whilst I had been successful in my career through working long hours and making significant sacrifices, I wasn’t happy. I took up exercising to get outdoors and because I needed something in my life where I could focus on just me.

Tell us about your 12 ultras challenge.

For a while, I had been thinking about doing something different for my 50th year. My kids are older now and I wanted to set myself a challenge that would be both interesting and challenging. About a month before my 49th birthday I came across Rat Race – this company do a series of events across the UK and have three “Bucket List” challenges. I dropped them an email saying I wanted to do everything they had on their calendar for the next year. Needless to say, they were very surprised!

How are you getting on so far?

Really well. I have now completed my first challenge with Rat Race (which wasn’t an ultra, just a really muddy 13-mile run) and successfully finished the first Bucket List adventure – a 135-mile trek/run across the desert and dunes in Namibia. Whilst Namibia was the hardest thing I have ever done, the other participants and Rat Race crew were super supportive. So it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other over and over again and not giving in.

What were your motivations to do it? 

It sounds a little cliche, but I need a “third dimension” in my life. My family is my foundation, my job is the structure, but exercise and running add technicolour. Setting myself fitness challenges and (mostly) achieving them makes me happy and feel good about myself. And when I fail, I am upset, but always learn something new about myself.

What are your best training tips for an endurance race?

Three things. (1) Spend as much time on your feet training as possible. This isn’t about always running or being fast. It may include power walking as well. (2) Nutrition. Took me a while to get this one right. But I have found that if I eat and drink correctly it is amazing how long I can keep going; and (3) Never give up. This is a biggy, and one I am told by all ultra runners. Simply, if you truly believe you can do it, and don’t give in to those doubts, you will do it.

During an ultra race, what gear do you take with you?  

I have an ultra vest which has revolutionised my running. Having plenty of pocket space I take water, snacks, my phone and extra layers of clothing. What I have learnt over time is that sugar and energy gels don’t work for me – I need plenty of good food such as peanut butter sandwiches and muesli bars.

Describe the feeling of completing a massive race such as an ultra? 

As I cross the finish line, utter relief. This is because ultras are all about the mental game…one where you have to keep pushing yourself and not giving in to those negative voices in your head saying you can’t do it. So the ability to stop driving myself feels great.

Later, after I have had a good, carb-heavy meal, I then move to a place of utter joy. All the pain dims to the background and I am left with the memory of an incredible experience and a sense of how fortunate I am.

What impact do you think exercise has had on your life to date? 

Exercise has taught me so many skills that I now use in my everyday life. I have become more patient, resilient and can put life’s little annoyances in perspective. I have also discovered a community of people that are incredibly supportive. And finally…I have found my “third dimension”!

Lastly, you are an inspiration for older people looking to remain or get active. What would you say to other older people who don’t yet want to give up fitness, or who want to start exercising? 

Thank you for the compliment. The reality is that I am very ordinary. But through ensuring exercise is part of my weekly routine (I target 3 times a week) and perseverance, over the past 10 years I have achieved so much more than I thought myself capable of. My advice is simply to start small. When I turned 40 I just wanted to be able to run 5kms without stopping. But once I achieved that, I wanted to do more. I am now told that this is pretty common….once exercise is part of your life it is pretty addictive and turns into a lifelong habit.

I have also learnt that age is no barrier. By gradually increasing exercise, and ensuring that any running is supplemented with strength exercises (such as Pilates or yoga), the chance of getting injured is significantly reduced. Us oldies are also mentally pretty tough. So perhaps we even have the advantage on long runs!

Follow Kirsty’s journey via her blog and her Instagram page.

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