Running is many people’s idea of punishment or a grudging medium to lose weight. But for Burnley High’s resident ultra-runner, it’s a way of life.
Deputy head Phill Walmsley (36) is undertaking one of the most imposing athletic challenges imaginable, as the father-of-three runs nine killer events in 14 months, covering over 2,300 miles for Cancer Research UK.
And while fundraising is naturally crucial, Phill’s ulterior motive is to get others lacing up their running shoes and making exercise an enjoyable part of everyday life just as he has done, fitting his running around life with his wife Catherine and his three children Molly (3), Izabella (7) and Jack (9).
“When you get stressed, the last thing you think about is exercise,” said Phill, whose Challenge 24 initiative sees runners add a mile to each run they do. “As soon as you get that thought of ‘it’s only one more mile’, you can do it again and again. It’s nice to see people post a picture after a run and they’ve loved it.
"It's to get people running, but not for a reason other than for enjoyment. It's been so nice to see people post a picture after a run, and the only reason they've been on a run that day is because they're on mile 17. And they've had a great day, they've loved it, and that's the main thing. It's about longevity."
Phill’s imposing itinerary - which includes a duathlon, seven marathons, and three ultramarathons (one of which is 200 miles long) - will see an already-motivated runner push himself to new heights. But for a man who has completed two Ironmans (one with a chest infection) and run a 100-mile ultramarathon with a torn quadricep for 65 miles, new heights are inspirational.
“I’m not a natural athlete, I’m mentally strong,” admits Phill. “When you’ve got nothing left and you think ‘keep going’ - that’s what gives me gratification. As soon as there's doubt - when I wonder if I could do it - that's when I sign up."
Shocked by the stat that 50% of people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer, Phill said: “I looked and the four of them [his wife, Catherine and their three children] sitting there. I decided to try and do something about it.”
“My grandparents both died of cancer and suffered for many years,” he continued. “I’m running due to the effect it’s had on my family and partly [due] to the risks.”
Aiming to change people’s attitudes towards exercise, Phill wants to prove that an aesthetic aim isn’t an effective catalyst for being active - the mental benefits are the end game, offering more benefits than people are aware of.
“[Exercise] to achieve something is never perfect unless you enjoy it, then the goal is just a nice outcome,” said Phill. “When you exercise for other reasons, [being fit] takes care of itself.”
And with the monotony of exercise the main danger, Phill has one lasting comment. “I can’t do treadmills,” he said. “They’re awful.”
Phill’s JustGiving page is at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Challenge-24.