Q&A with Montane Athletes Jayson and Kim Cavill
Written By: SportsShoes
Interviewed by Ben Mounsey
Montane ambassadors, Jayson and Kim Cavill, are a dynamic duo when it comes to ultra-distance training and challenges. Both are experienced and successful athletes in their own right and their company Cavill Coaching, provides bespoke coaching and guidance for those who want to improve and learn what they are really capable of. We caught up with them for a chat about the super-tough Montane Spine Race, find out what it’s like to train and compete for an ultra-distance event like this and discover their top-tips and kit recommendations.
Hi Jayson and Kim! Thanks for taking the time to chat to us about all things ultra-running!
Let’s start at the beginning. How long have you both been involved in the sport and when did you first get into ultra-running? Did you meet through the sport?
Kim: After spending my childhood either reading or watching TV, I found running in my twenties when I wanted to get fit. I ran my first 5k in my mid twenties, eventually joining a club at around 30 and then it became a bit more serious! My first ultra was the Osmotherley Pheonix, a hilly trail 33-mile event, in 2013 and since then, I’ve just gone longer and longer!
We met through the running club too. Jayson joined to get fitter for mountain biking (which he was very competitive at) and I just kept taking him out for longer and longer runs. I remember his first 20 miler around our local forest – I think it broke him!
Jayson: She did break me! I remember Kim telling me about these crazy long races of 40 miles and even longer. I was intrigued, having recently joined the running club and rekindled a love for running, I wanted to see how good I could really get if I trained properly. As Kim mentioned at the time, I was into downhill mountain bike racing, although I really enjoyed that and was reasonably good, I fell in love with the simplicity of running and the feeling I gave me, the social side was great fun too, lots of running, chatting and eating cake! I have always been active, joining the army at 17 and later passing my All Arms Commando course to wear the coveted green beret. Being fit, strong and training regularly has always been a consistent part of my life, so ultra-running and mountain events were a great extension of this, and of course meeting Kim was a bonus too!
You both live, work and train together – how has the last 12 months been for you in terms of training, competing and working (Cavill coaching)?
Kim: It started off really positively. Over April 2020, we produced four videos a week on training, workouts, mobility and mindset which we shared via our Cavill Coaching YouTube channel. They were really well received and we enjoyed doing them, but it was a lot! I also managed to race in August in the Hardmoors 160, which was an amazing experience, but also wiped me out for months afterwards after I ended up with a mystery infection/injury. It has been a hard time in general: I have definitely missed seeing other people and having that freedom taken away has not been easy, but we are very lucky that our athletes have stuck with us and kept wanting to train. They have been brilliant even when going through very hard times of their own.
Jayson: I feel we have been lucky in many ways over such a tough period, we put a lot into helping those that we could with coaching and kept busy with this, personally I am quite introverted so haven’t found it as challenging as Kim, though I certainly miss the freedom to get out and about, so jumped on the opportunities to do this when I could. I have also used the opportunity and time to focus on a few other areas in life which tend to get left in the shadows whilst busy with racing and travelling; exploring my engineering side, building and making things, as well as helping to grow another business.
In the absence of traditional races, many ultra-distance runners have found other ways to be competitive e.g. trying to set FKT’s on new and existing routes. Have you planned or undertaken any personal aims/challenges yourselves? Have many of your clients also?
Kim: Our running club set up a Lockdown League last year which was fun to dip in and out of. It involved a mile, a 5k, an hour, shuttle runs, photo challenges, etc, all of which were good distractions and healthy competition. I managed to bag a few Strava segments too, but nothing else really! I am planning on a *backyard ultra for my birthday in April: running 3 miles every hour on the hour for 24 hours from home, partly as Hardmoors 160 training again and partly because it is my 40th and I want it to be memorable!
Our athletes have taken part in lots of challenges too, some with clubs, some of their own devising. There have been some time trials, as part of training, which have resulted in a few new PBs.
*The backyard ultra is a type ultramarathon distance race, which requires participants to consecutively run 4.167 miles, in under an hour. The remaining time for each hour can then be used as a recovery period.
Jayson: I have not personally, as last year was a bit on and off for me anyway with training and recovering from the Spine. Instead, I focussed more on general fitness and conditioning, lots and lots of Kettlebell swings! I even looked up the world record for total weight swung with a kettlebell in an hour (35,634.9kg) - I won’t be challenging that record any time soon though!
I was fortunate enough to help John Kelly and Damian Hall for a short time, on their amazing Pennine way records, as well as John during his Grand round. To be honest, it was great to see them both suffer a bit whilst I was fresh for a change! The athletes we work with have also been up to so many different things, some doing virtual challenges and others working on personal challenges and using the opportunity to work on improving specific elements in their running and training. We devised a Cavill coaching fitness test too, which included a range of exercises and a run to help develop speed and strength in key areas.
What is/are your favourite ever race/s?
Kim: It is too hard to pick out just one race, as they all have their moments, but there are three that stand out for me. The Hardmoors 60 in 2015 was the last race in a series of four, the Grand Slam, and it was very special as it was probably the hardest race I had ever done at that point. I can barely remember any of it, as it seemed to go so quickly, but I do remember surprising a lot of people – myself included – at how far up the field I was. I won, broke the record and won the Grand Slam too. The Montane Lakeland 50 in 2017 was another of my favourites, as I did what I set out to do and went under nine hours. The race went really well, apart from a couple of falls, and I had a great finish, outrunning a much better runner than me on the last descent. It was also the year the ladies record was broken by Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, so I was really happy for her. The final favourite racing memory is Transvulcania, on La Palma Island, just because it is so mind-numbingly beautiful and the support is on another level. The whole of the island comes out to support and they love a bit of showboating!
Jayson: Like Kim I have so many great memories, from both my own races and being a part of other people’s. Like Kim, The Montane Lakeland 50 stands out quite a lot for me, having won it 3 times - the whole weekend and atmosphere make it so much fun. The course really suits me and I really enjoy running the route in training and during the race. In 2016, I felt in fantastic condition and really got the best out of myself that day, winning for the second time and sneaking in a course record. I just love racing and competing, especially the tactics and mind games, so I have certainly had plenty of fun in both respects in long and short races. I also have some great memories of competing in events where my family have been able to come and support, such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks Race and the local Hardmoors Events.
Jayson, you’re now an experienced *Montane Spine Race competitor, having competed in two editions of the event. For most people, racing the entire length of the Pennine Way in winter would be classed as a form of punishment or torture, but you obviously revel in extreme challenges. Can you explain the appeal of this particular race?
*The Montane Spine Race is a non-stop 268-mile winter ultra-marathon encompassing the entire length of the Pennine Way, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s toughest endurance races.
I think it is my childhood and army experience coming out of me, growing up in the middle of nowhere on the North Yorkshire moors, I was used to bad weather and being outside in the winter, plus a lot of army training was done in extreme environments both cold and hot. I always enjoyed those challenges, so bad weather combined with the challenge of 265 miles felt like a great way to challenge myself and further test my limits, whilst still being a competitive race too. After 2 attempts I have not actually completed the whole race so think I have certainly found it challenging enough!
Just how tough is the race compared to other ultra-distance challenges?
In addition to the distance and extreme weather conditions there are not many checkpoints, you also need to navigate yourself and with it being the middle of winter you spend a lot of time (16 hours a day) in darkness, it is also a non-stop event, so you can take rest as much as you like (within the cut off times), but the clock doesn’t stop, so there is a big onus on the individual to be able to look after themselves and be comfortable in this environment for long periods of time. I guess it is the combination of all these elements which makes it what it is.
How do you prepare for such an extreme and difficult race?
For me, I did fall back on my military training, particularly my Commando course and the winter training we did in Norway, feeling comfortable spending a long period of time outside really helps, so doing just that. It does not have to be spent running, but just being active outside. Walking and wild camping both help to prepare you for this. Whilst training for my second Spine Race attempt, I took my Mountain leaders course and assessment in the build up to this. It was a great way to motivate me into incorporating lots of useful training aspects and spending long winter days in the Welsh mountains, whilst carrying camping gear, was good conditioning. This was in parallel to normal Ultra training which involves a good amount of running and quality strength training too. That being said, I am still refining my own training towards being a bit faster and focussing on actually completing the challenge.
How hard is it to navigate a route of this length and difficulty, especially in mid-winter weather conditions?
To start with it isn’t too bad, the course is fairly well marked and you are fresh. But, then as the route takes you further north, it seems to become a little wilder, you also get tired and make small errors due to sleep deprivation, the darkness and often weather conditions, so again practicing navigation and using your equipment during training and bad weather days is very helpful indeed. I seemed to get most of the navigation right, except one section during the third night. I spent a lot of time trying to find my way out of a small stone courtyard, again finding a gate out of a boggy field, with a Japanese film crew running after me and camera lights dazzling me in the eyes. It took an immense amount of concentration and focus to get back on track at the time.
How important is it to be able to and navigate using a map and compass?
It is certainly a part of being responsible for yourself which the Spine Race demands. Although you can use a GPS to navigate, which does make things much easier, the ability to fall back on a map and compass if something happens to your GPS device is extremely important. Knowing you can find your way out of a situation if it all goes wrong greatly helps your confidence in this kind of environment and conditions.
When competing, does everything mostly go to plan for an event like this?
Not so far! I tend to have a rough plan in mind and one or two options for strategy, but with there being so many variables, things often change or get thrown up that you need to deal with or figure out. I think having the ability and tools to cope with changes along the way is very useful.
Did you experience many low points? What have been your favourite Spine Race highlights?
I think the lowest points came when sleep deprivation kicked in, it is harder to think through problems and have clear perspective. In the last race, deep into the third night, I had passed Eugeni Roselló Solé and Eoin Keith at the last checkpoint and had been making time on John Kelly since the previous morning, so knew I was moving well and had been on a high all day. It wasn’t long after the small navigation issues, I thought I must have been within 45 mins of John when I came to a road crossing and someone was there with a car. They told me I was at least 2 hours behind John, which was a surprise and quite disappointing (and not actually true). I then entered a long bog section and by now my feet were struggling with immersion foot, so were very sore, the constant cold flushes of water washing grit across my very tender skin was extremely uncomfortable. The added effect of trying to lift my toes up to avoid pressure on my forefoot was also causing pain in my shins. Normally, most of this wouldn’t really bother me, but all of it combined with the 3 or so hours sleep I had had over 3 nights had left me feeling a bit sorry for myself. I had to dig deep to bring myself out of this slump and focus on what I was doing. It did not really take anything special, I just counted to 100 over and over again, focussing on those numbers and nothing else.
Can you describe how you fuel yourself and manage to sleep during a continuous multi-day challenge?
For fuelling, I tried to eat as much as possible while in the checkpoints, the food provided was great throughout, I tried to carry and eat as much “real” food as possible while moving, I had some sausage rolls which lasted well, until the third day where they became a bit of a mess. I also made some changes to my day-to-day nutrition so my body could be more efficient with the fuel I did have available, generally it has involved eating more fat and being a less carb hungry machine, it has taken a while to adapt but has been well worth it. For sleep I decided to go with the flow a bit on this, I wanted to avoid trying to sleep unless I really needed to do, I didn’t want to be in a position of laying down to sleep in a checkpoint just for the sake of it, and then just being laid there wide awake. The first time I slept was on the second night, I slept for a bit longer than the others around me, although I ended up loosing time at that point, I felt so refreshed afterwards, I was moving much better for the extra rest and managed to go through the next checkpoint without any sleep and feeling wide awake.
In terms of kit, what clothing and equipment do you recommend for a challenge of this magnitude?
The minimum kit list for the Spine Race is quite comprehensive, so following this list is a great guide as to what you will need. Above and beyond the minimum kit list, it then depends on your strategy as to how minimal and lightweight you want to go versus comfort. Although you are not running quickly, weight still has an impact, but comfort and functionality outweighs this. I managed to get everything into my Montane Via Razor 15l pack which is so comfortable and importantly has access to good sized pockets on the front and sides. This minimised the times I needed to take the pack off to access food or equipment. So, a pack that works for you, is tried and tested in training and comfort is key.
Having effective waterproofs makes life much more comfortable, feeling like you can remain outside in bad weather regardless of how quickly you are moving can be a bonus especially later in such a huge challenge. I used the Montane Fleet Jacket and equivalent Dynamo trousers; despite being hit with Storm Brendan on the second day, I still felt nice and comfortable.
I also felt carrying a powerful headtorch was worthwhile, some extra lumens and run time was worth the extra weight for the long nights and trying to spot gates on the other sides of fields.
Do you carry any emergency medical and survival kit?
For the Spine Race, a bivvy bag, sleeping bag and medical kit is compulsory. For normal training and time out in the hills or mountains, I carry a small medical kit and bivvy bag. It doesn’t really weigh much and is nice to have just in case I, or someone else, needs it.
(Jayson) I understand that a challenge like the Spine Race takes incredible amounts of dedication and logistically planning. Just how significant is Kim’s role in helping you to prepare and compete in such a race?
Having a good support team around you and in your life really helps, being able to focus purely on training and building up to an event makes the process less stressful. I am lucky that Kim understands what it is like and the demands of the training, so she helps me get on with it. We also try not to do the same races now so we can help each other out in the lead up, during and recovery afterwards. It avoids us both being tired and grumpy at the same time, plus is it great to be able to support each other fully while one of us is in full commitment mode.
(Kim) Can you describe what it’s like to play such a pivotal support role in a challenge like this. In many ways I’m sure you’ll feel like you’re also competing!?
The Spine is a hard one to support because you aren’t able to physically go and help. All I did was drop Jayson off and pick him up so I thought that, for the days he was racing, I would be able to get on with work and day to day things. I was very wrong! Social media and dot watching became a full-time job, especially as he was up there at the front. I was getting messages constantly and pretty obsessively checking where he was, as well as trying to do maths, which is not something that comes easily to me! Jayson also rang me a couple of times – once when he was flying high, super-excited and loving it, and again when he started feeling he couldn’t go on. It was really hard to be hours away and not just pop up at a checkpoint to help him, and even when he said he was stopping, I drove to pick him, thinking that I might be able to make him change his mind! He was so exhausted afterwards that I kept my own energy high to help him, and even got a parkrun PB that weekend! I think it was all adrenalin because after that, I just bonked! It hit me much harder than Jayson in the first few days, as I knew how gutted he was going to be and I couldn’t really do anything to make that easier. It is definitely an endurance event for the whole family too!
Does it help being an ultra-distance athlete yourself? (as you understand the physical and mental challenges Jayson is facing)
It does help because I know the work that goes in and I understand the desire to do it in the first place. If either of us wants to do something this extreme, the other will always do what they can to support in their training and to be understanding when they need more rest. I think it is also harder as we each know how much it means to complete something like this and if that doesn’t happen, it hits both of us hard!
Do either of you have any plans/ambitions to compete or support each other in future editions of the Spine Race?
Kim: No! I quite fancy The Challenger at some point and would consider the summer edition of the Spine, but it is not my cup of tea really! Although, I will never say never, as I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things over the years!
Jayson: I really look forward to going back to the Spine race, I have learnt so much from previous experiences of the event and training, so I want to put that into practice. Plus, I have had such a great time on both occasions, it is great way to get through January!
Jasmin Paris is the overall course record holder for The Spine Race after her famous victory in 2019 (83 hours, 12 mins and 23 seconds). Just how impressed were you by this performance and do you think her record can be broken in the future?
Kim: It was an outstanding performance of grit and determination, but that is what Jasmin is good at - she just gets on with it! To see a woman win outright did a lot for other women too, as although not many of us will achieve what Jasmin has in terms of results, it showed a lot of us that there really is no barrier to getting into ultra-running and if you want it enough, you will find a way. I think that any record can be broken though, and I am sure it will happen one day with the right person and the right conditions. With the Spine Race, so much is dependent on conditions that it would need to be pretty perfect!
Jayson: It was great to be a small part of that event, I had to pull out after 100 miles, but managed to spend some time running with Jasmin and Eoin Keith early on. Jasmin looked so comfortable and seemed to take it all in her stride, to push the limits of the overall record time and race Eugeni to the extent that she did was incredible. All records can be broken, but I think the Spine race itself is so much more than this, the weather is such a key factor, the dot watching is gripping whatever the overall time.
Do you have any top tips for another wanting to get into ultra-distance running?
Anyone can do it as most ultra-running is done at a very forgiving pace! But, I would say to go into it gradually. If you don’t have a background of being active, or you got into running later in life, then put the focus on getting strong first. Do lots of walking and learn about strength work, especially if you have a sedentary job, or it will be too big a leap to start running longer distances. There are so many events out there now that it is easy to go for the biggest, longest, hardest race, but taking small and consistent steps will mean you will be able to run for longer, in a healthier way and not end up injured or burnt out.
What are your future goals and plans? (For running, coaching and life in general)
Kim: Running plans are to keep enjoying it! I spent too long worrying about results and this year has shown me that I want to do it for the joy again, so I am determined to try my best and not to get competitive! I would love to do the UTMB® in the next few years, so that is my longish term goal. Coaching plans are growing all the time. We want to keep coaching the athletes we have towards their goals and to help them stay running forever. We are planning on expanding the videos we put out too, so we can reach more people. I am close to becoming a qualified Yoga teacher too so will be taking classes that will help runners in more ways than just having a good stretch, as well as trying to make yoga more available in my local community. Plans for life in general are just to keep learning and helping people!
Jayson: I do feel drawn towards more self-sufficient type events or challenges, although I relish racing other people as well, so a mix of mountain races and long challenges. Plus, if I can throw in some extreme weather too then that is a bonus.
As well as continuing to work with the fantastic group of athletes we currently do, I also want to develop our coaching and training days with an eye on developing self-sufficiency, through teaching navigation and general outdoor skills, to help people feel more comfortable, be safe and develop competency in harsh environments whilst achieving something challenging, be it an event of personal goal.
Life in general; stay fit, keeping learning and sharing knowledge as well as build some cool stuff when I get time.
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