Spotlight on: Berni McCarthy

How long have you been running?

I can’t quite remember when I started running but it was about 20 years ago. I ran at night with my cap pulled down over my face so I didn’t have to see anyone. I’m still a bit self conscious about my running and I still wear a cap. 

Favourite race

This is easy – the VOGUM with Pegasus Ultra Running from Porthcawl to Penarth along the Wales Coast Path.

Favourite distance

See above – 40 miles ?

Greatest achievement

Probably 6 ultras in 6 months last year. Just staying uninjured that long is an achievement. It didn’t go entirely to plan and I had to find a second ultra in October in order to complete it but I managed it. My final ultra was a looped race called the Richard Jefferies backyard ultra in Swindon (Google it, it’s small, fun and quirky).

I started slowly and built up to a Race for Life 5k. I remember the first time that I ran for 30 minutes without stopping, what a rush!

5k became 10k and then half marathons, but after getting up to half marathon distance in 2009/2010, I took a hiatus from running.

I started back at Cardiff parkrun in 2016 and finally reached my 100th on my 6th anniversary last October. All of these different milestones are meaningful to me. I love parkrun as well as ultras – it’s all running and it’s all about the community.

2017 saw me taking on long distance walking and my first major! I walked a marathon distance along the Thames path but within days I was thinking “How much further can I go?” (And I’m still asking the same question). The following year, I went for a 100km walk and in order to train for that, I walked my first ultradistance – the VOGUM with Rhys (Jenkins) and Pegasus Ultra Running.

The following year I progressed to running ultras and haven’t looked back since. And of course when I say running ultras, I mean running a bit, walking a bit, sitting down for a chat and a cup of tea at the checkpoints – all the hallmarks of an ultramarathon.

During lockdown, it was difficult to stay focussed without events to look forward to and just to keep going. So I googled running challenges and came up with doing an accumulator, running the number of kilometres as the date. I started on July 1st running 1km, easy right? But it definitely gets harder and by the end of the month, I was pretty exhausted. It helped massively to have something to focus on. It also taught me loads about being organised which has stood me in good stead for ultrarunning since.

Obviously I needed to try something else new with no events on the horizon. The next challenge was the 4x4x48 – 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours and I got on with my first 4 miler at 4pm on Friday evening. The midnight and 4am runs were done on my very quiet city street with no issues or problems and I finished on the Downs in Bristol on Sunday afternoon, feeling that mixture of elation and exhaustion that running often leaves me with.

Last year, I decided to see how many ultras I could complete from April to October and 6 seemed like the right number! Things went awry right from the start. I had COVID in February which threw my training into complete disarray and I toed the line at the South CANUM in April not knowing if I could finish it… I did! The HOWUM went well but the VOGUM was a nightmare and I had to pull out at mile 23. Half an ultra wasn’t going to cut it so I had to make another plan. But first the matter of the North CANUM and 54 miles. Next was the Loopathon in Roath park on the hottest day of the year. I was up and running by 6am in order to avoid as much of the heat as possible and I managed 30 miles through the course of the day. 30 miles along the Ridgeway in the RIDUM was next, leaving me with an ultradistance to run at the Richard Jefferies. What a glorious day that was – family, friends, weather, food. You could say a perfect ultra

So what’s next? A crazy thought entered my head last year. My sister has been talking about it for a while but I had resisted. But I finally got the bug and couldn’t stop thinking about it either.

This June, we will attempt our furthest distance ever. We will run from Newport to Brecon to Cardiff Bay non stop – 100 miles. Lots of preparation happening now and all my fingers are crossed.

But when I think about what I love the most about all of this crazy running, it’s the community, my pegasus family, my club and all of the wonderful, nutty people that I’ve met along the way. And my favorite thing about running is definitely convincing people that ultra marathons are not beyond their ability.

Well, if I can do it…