Karl is a UK runner that I happened upon the other day as he is running and fundraising for the British Heart Foundation in memory of his father, Jack. The more I read about what Karl is doing in his dad’s memory, the more I knew he needed to be featured, spread the word on what he’s doing because it’s incredible, and maybe some of you would consider giving to his cause. He’s getting very close to his goal so every little bit helps.
I asked Karl about his story and I could chop it up to shorten it down a bit but I do believe that he does a beautiful job of describing all he went through and the amazing challenge that he’s embarked upon so here’s his story, in his own words:
“Running through grief” – My mother lost her short battle with cancer in July 2011 at age 50. I was 24 at the time and she was way too young to leave this world. She was my everything. She was my world! I was devastated and living a life without her was something I was not at all ready for.
Before my mother passed away, I wasn’t one to worry about my current or future health. I was overweight, ate unhealthily, probably drank way more than I should, smoked regularly and they were things I would turn to during difficult or stressful times. When my mother passed away, I packed in the cigarettes and limited my drinking but had no real coping mechanism. I didn’t want to hit the self-destruct button but I didn’t know how to cope or deal with the loss. It was the darkest time of my life.
It was only when my daughter was born in October 2012 that I realized how precious life is and started to make a real effort to start looking after myself. By this point in my life I was thinking to myself, ‘if I was to die at the same age as my mother, I’m already passed the half way point’ and that was a scary thought.
I tried many different things to help improve my physical and mental wellbeing. Even with my beautiful daughter being in the world, the amazing support from my wife, dad, sister, brother in law and many other friends and family, deep down I still felt like I was struggling to cope and didn’t know what to do with my thoughts.
It was 2016 when I really came to terms with my mother’s loss. I started running in June 2015 and ran my 1st half marathon in Cardiff in October 2015. I decided then that in 2016 I would raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support in her memory. During that year I ran 4 half marathons (Merthyr Tydfil, Llanelli, Cardiff and Swansea), 3 marathons (Edinburgh, The Wales Marathon in Tenby and Gloucester City marathon) and finished off the year with The Gower 50 mile ultra-marathon.
Before I started my marathon challenge I didn’t realize the positive impact that year and running would have on my life. I had found my coping mechanism. My last surviving grandparent, my grandmother (my mother’s mum) passed away after a short battle with cancer in May of 2016, as devastated as I was, I was in a much better place mentally to deal with her loss.
After 2016 was over I realized that running and exercise is an amazing tool when life gets tough and it can really help improve your outlook on everything. That year changed me and my whole attitude towards all aspects of my life and really helped me grieve the loss of my mother & grandmother.
Sadly, a short while later in April 2017, my dad passed away suddenly aged 67. He died from the effects of undetected heart disease. I was 29 at the time and a lot more mature & self-aware. Being in this position before and understanding what grief can do to someone, I wanted to allow myself to experience the pain of losing my dad but I didn’t want it to take over my life. At the time my daughter was aged 4 and my wife was around 10 weeks pregnant, I couldn’t let the grief consume me as it did in the past.
I knew by running and exercising regular not only would it be good for my physical health but more importantly my mental wellbeing.
Spending the majority of my time each week working and looking after my family gives my mind a huge distraction from grieving. But, this is also why I always make time for a run or some form of exercise. Whether it’s a 4am run while my wife and children are asleep or a run on my lunch break during work or any other time I have a spare hour to myself. I make sure I get it done because the mental resilience running has taught me is invaluable. When I’m out running it’s just me and my thoughts. It allows me the time I need to think about what’s happened and to grieve.
Since losing both of my parents at relatively young ages, it’s given me the motivation to look after myself and regularly monitor my health. It frightens me to think of my children growing up without me.
Unfortunately, my dad died very suddenly and his heart disease had gone undetected so there was nothing that could have been done to save him. Not every story of heart disease ends so tragically. Many people live happy healthy lives with heart conditions and a lot of that is down to the amazing research and hard work carried out by the British Heart Foundation.
Wanting to turn my grief into something positive I decided to take my love of running and I will be attempting 7 ultra-marathons between January 2018 and June 2019. The distances vary between 32 miles to 100 miles.
I’ve completed 4 so far…
#1 Brecon to Cardiff, 11 February 2018, 43.9 Miles in 7 hours 22 mins
#2 The Vale Coastal Ultra, 7 April 2018, 33.6 miles in 6 hours 17 mins
#3 The South Wales 50 mile, 23 June 2018, completed in 14 hours
#4 The Gower 50 mile, 6 October 2018, completed in 10 hours 37… this event was a special one to me… it was held on my Grandma’s birthday & this event was also my 1st ultra-marathon experience back in 2016 when I run it in memory of my mother. When I completed it back in 2016 I certainly didn’t think at the time it would be the last run my dad would be at the finish line for. This makes this event even more poignant for me. It was very strange going back there to do it all again, this time in his memory!
The Gower 50 was always going to be an emotional day, I thought I managed to keep my sh*t together quite well considering, that was until after crossing the finish line I was caught completely off guard by the very kind gesture of Joe Timmins (the race director) & the Run, Walk, Crawl events team. At the finish they presented me with a frame including all the Run Walk Crawl event medals I had completed for the British heart foundation during that year with an engraved plaque saying ‘Ultras for Dad 2018’.
The course was a beautiful yet brutal one. Another awesome event to be part of and I was able to knock an hour and 17 minutes off my 2016 time.
4 down 3 to go! That’s all 4 for 2018 complete, the remaining 3 to be completed this year.
#5 Brecon to Cardiff 70k, Sunday 10 February 2019
#6 The Vale Coastal Ultra 50k, Saturday 6 April 2019… And to finish…
#7 The South Wales 100 mile ultra, Friday 21 June 2019… This will be my first 100 mile attempt, I’ve got a lot of work to do over the next 5 months if I’m going crack the South Wales 100 but I’m ready to work for it!
18 months of fundraising for The British Heart Foundation charity in memory of an amazing man, a man I was lucky enough to call Dad, Jack Williams. Gone but forever in our hearts.”
If you feel compelled by Karl’s story to give to his cause, please visit www.justgiving.com/Karl-Williams17
You can also find him at @ktw09_Williams on Twitter.
Thanks for sharing your remarkably vulnerable story of grief and personal discovery with us all Karl. I wish you nothing but the best of luck to you on your fundraising campaign as well as in your upcoming races. Everyone will be cheering you on from across the pond. – Gabe