It is a bright afternoon in Cleator Moor and, instead of appearing shattered by the improbable challenge of 110 marathons in 110 days, Gary McKee looks fresh. “Running today…I felt immensely strong,” says the 51-year-old, whose feat of extraordinary endurance finally comes to a close today.

A bid to complete 26.5 miles every day for charity since February 1 will end when McKee arrives at Wath Brow Hornets amateur rugby league club. His 110th marathon will be cheered by groups of people en route, and a welcoming party at the end.

“I’m letting other people deal with the closure side of things,” he says. “I’m just going to rock up.” A short distance before the finish, McKee will pause and allow others to take some acclaim, including Michael Watson, who has run 46 marathons with him, and Kevin Hetherington, who has done 55.

McKee’s children, Alfie, 16, Beau, 13 and Minnie, nine, who have all supported their father with their own challenges since February, will be there. Lastly, the “Marathon Man” himself will jog in.

“I’ve been talking to the other lads about coming down off a high,” he says. “There is a change when you finish. You don’t just stop. You’ve got to wind yourself down a bit.”

News and Star: Gary McKee, bottom right, is given plenty of backing on his 110 marathons in west CumbriaGary McKee, bottom right, is given plenty of backing on his 110 marathons in west Cumbria

To the layman, the idea of “just stopping” after running 110 consecutive marathons – at a combined total of more than 2,917 miles, the rough equivalent of England to Kazakhstan – sounds very appealing. McKee, though, is no stranger to this sort of experience and knows it must be gradual.

“If you stop, you’ll seize up,” he adds. “Day 111…I will have a bit of a lie-in, a cooked breakfast, the things I haven’t had for four months. But yeah – I will also go out and have a run.”

McKee says the hardest thing about stopping is knowing that the tens of thousands of pounds he is raising, for Hospice at Home West Cumbria and Macmillan Cancer Support Cumbria, will eventually tail off. “That’s why you never want it to end,” he says. “As a fundraiser, you just want to help people.”


We will talk about the deeper motivations for McKee’s challenge shortly, but first we discuss the physical demands. “People think, ‘110 marathons, you must have blisters, toenails hanging off and all sorts’,” he says. “I haven’t had a single blister and my toenails are fine. I’ve looked after myself. I’m strict; probably quite hard on myself. But self-discipline is the key to success.”

This approach has seen McKee rise at 5.45am every day to go through a common routine. He drinks a cup of coffee and puts his running gear on – two sponsored vests per day, never the same pair of trainers two days running – before filming a video blog. At 7.30am, he heads into the gym in his garden to loosen his limbs on a treadmill. After some light breakfast – toast with jam – he meets whoever is joining him on that particular day’s run, and off they go, at 8am.

The route is always the same: out to Mirehouse, up to Rowrah and on to Frizington, then back to Cleator Moor for the final stages. “People ask if it’s boring. It’s not, because it works for us. We know where we’re at and what’s in front of us. We know it like the back of our hands.”

News and Star: The route taken by charity fundraiser Gary McKee every day since February 1The route taken by charity fundraiser Gary McKee every day since February 1

McKee, who sinks into a bath with salts at the end of a run, steadfastly declines temptation. “I’m strict with my diet, although when you’re running 185 miles a week you can pretty much eat what you want and still lose weight,” he says. “But I need to maintain that discipline, because it all adds up to 110 days. The success is being able to deliver on your promise.

“My promise is to 220 people who’ve sponsored vests and paid £100 up front. My promise is to people who’ve been affected by cancer. Covid has put us all in a Covid coma, where all you think about is Covid. What about people who’ve had a cancer diagnosis and have missed appointments because of Covid? I’ve said to the lads and lasses running with me – ‘We’re their voice at the moment’. I can’t just have a pint, or let an injury red-light me. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

McKee says he seldom discusses injuries, “because it opens the door for people to say you’ll never finish”. This even applied when he briefly feared he’d suffered a stress fracture at around the 30-day mark. Surely, though, there has been at least one day in the 110 when he would rather have stayed in bed?

He shakes his head. “Nah. Never. Your worst day ever is nothing compared to what some people are facing. My battle will end after 26 miles. It’s the same attitude when the weather’s bad. If it’s pouring down, I say to the lads: ‘Someone will be ringing the bell today for beating cancer’. If that person walks out into the rain that day it will be the best rain they've ever felt.

“I understand 110 days, to a lot of people, is a long time. But if you were told on February 1 that, God forbid, you had 110 days left to live, you wouldn’t say, ‘I’ll have a lie-in’. You’d try to cram in as much as you could. We all want to leave this world having done something.”


McKee has famously completed a number of long-distance runs. In 2011, for instance, he ran from Land’s End to John O’Groats to mark Macmillan’s centenary. Ten years on, the number 110 felt appropriate.

This, and all the other challenges, have a profound source. McKee has run to help cancer sufferers ever since his father, Victor, was diagnosed with the disease. “It stems from that day – June 23, 1997 – and feeling out on a limb,” he says.

“I remember wanting to go down and sort out the doctor who told him – ‘Just come in, I’ve got your results’, nobody else there. When I came home that day, my dad had a tear in his eye. I’d never seen him crying in my life.

“I felt angry. Since then, I’ve been able to bottle that feeling and channel it.”

McKee’s face softens when I ask him to talk more about his dad. “Just a likeable fella, a nice man,” he smiles. “His dad was a miner, and my dad also went straight down the pits when he left school. He met my mam and they were married for 47 years.

News and Star: Inspiration: Gary with his dad, VictorInspiration: Gary with his dad, Victor

“He loved the crack with the lads, and was a fundraiser himself: he did charity concerts to raise money to send people to Lourdes. He was a steward at the Hornets for years and everyone around here knew him. When he was diagnosed with cancer and had a lung removed, he saw it as a second opportunity in life. He said, ‘Some people don’t get that opportunity’. He never complained – he rolled his sleeves up and got on with it.”

Victor survived cancer and made the most of his second opportunity, until 2003. “We were going to Dublin for the Challenge Cup,” Gary says. “He wasn’t feeling too clever, but said, ‘I’m going – life’s too short’. We had a fantastic weekend. On the Monday I dropped him off at work, ‘See you later’, and my mam phoned me in the morning, screaming. I shot round to the house and he’d had a heart attack and died. He was only 66.”

This sadness blends with the fondness McKee has for his father’s memory. The one time in our interview when his emotions catch up with him is when I ask what he thinks Victor would make of his immense fundraising efforts. Gary thinks of his own children, who have themselves received accolades for raising money for charity, and says: “I think, given how I feel about what my kids have done, he would feel the same.

“Somebody wrote a poem when I did 100 marathons in 100 days [in 2017, a figure combining 20 years since his dad’s cancer diagnosis and how old he would have been that year, 80], finishing in London. It was about my dad saying… ‘That’s my son’.” McKee’s voice wobbles and he takes a moment, wiping his eyes. “He would be chuffed, I think,” he adds. “He would never let me get too cocky about anything. But he would tell other people the things I’d done.”

McKee says he can “sleep at night with a smile on my face” knowing his children have, by their own initiative, been supporting him with their own cycling challenges for these 110 days. He talks about his wife Susan – “the hidden hero” – and about Alfie, Minnie and Beau, going on to tell a story about the time Beau won a Pride in Sport award for his fundraising in 2018, having run for 501 consecutive days aged just 11.

News and Star: McKee with his children (from left) Beau, Minnie and Alfie, who have also been doing their own 110-day running and cycling challenges McKee with his children (from left) Beau, Minnie and Alfie, who have also been doing their own 110-day running and cycling challenges

“When I ran with Beau, we had this way of getting through the days when he was feeling a bit tired or sick. I’d say this Latin word, ‘resurgam’, and he would give the translation: ‘I shall rise again’. When Beau won the award, we were invited to Liverpool Football Club and we met Jurgen Klopp. He was dead interested and wanted to know how you could run for 501 days. Beau told him about ‘resurgam’, and the translation. Klopp called [captain] Jordan Henderson over and said, ‘Listen to this, Jordan…this will have to go up in the dressing room!'

“They won the European Cup that season. Now, I’m not saying it was down to that, but…”

McKee is by root a rugby league man, and that sport has given him unending support. He has run in the shirts of several Copeland teams, has received publicity in the rugby league media and has been backed by St Helens’ Whitehaven-born Kyle Amor. Wath Brow, for whom McKee played, are at the heart of things. “The Brow are chuffed,” he says. “I’m a Brow lad. They see it as one of their own.”


Because McKee is something of a local celebrity, it is not uncommon for people to want to say thanks to him. He says that, while he is always grateful, it makes him uncomfortable when someone sends him a meal, or buys him a beer or an ice-cream. “I struggle to accept people doing things for me. I kind of slide down my chair.”

He is happier sharing his efforts with members of the public on the running route. “You generally see the same people every day. We saw a fella called Jimmy Wright from day one. He would shout, ‘Hoss on, boys, keep hossin’ on...' That phrase has been used by us every single day.

“Other people will stop you and say, ‘thank you’, or give you money. They’re generally the older generation. Maybe they’ve been affected by cancer, or been supported by the hospice. Sometimes a nod makes all the difference.”

The joy of the outdoors is not lost on McKee, no matter how gruelling these days. “Covid’s going to affect people from a mental health point of view for years to come. Behaviours will have changed. Get out and see your countryside. We live in the most beautiful part of the world. On the cycle path there are days when we see deer. There are loads of red squirrels. The birdsong is beautiful. I’ve got a fascination with birds’ nests and the other day I saw one that I hadn’t noticed before. I was looking back at it and I nearly ran into a field by accident.”

News and Star: Gary McKee, left, with fellow marathon men Michael Watson, centre, and Kevin HetheringtonGary McKee, left, with fellow marathon men Michael Watson, centre, and Kevin Hetherington

McKee, who works at Sellafield, – who, he adds, have been very understanding with the time he needs to carry out his charity efforts – says he has had to “learn to run and laugh at the same time,” because he has such a good time with Michael, Kevin and several others who have joined him on the way. There will, one hopes, be more smiles today, and enough time to reflect on 110 remarkable days before, inevitably, someone asks him what he will do next.

“I’ve got London [the marathon] to run in October,” he says. “But people always say, ‘What can you do that’s bigger?’ Who knows. It doesn’t need to be bigger. Fundraising’s just about bringing funds in. It doesn’t matter whether it’s through 110 marathons or a cake sale.”

McKee is particularly proud to have inspired a Facebook group, ‘Inspired to Move’, where more than 700 members share stories about being newly active. As he drops in many more nuggets of wisdom throughout our chat, picked up from years of putting one foot in front of the other, it is impossible not to be lifted by this relentless Cumbrian, who cannot see the end of all this.

“I discuss that with the lads,” he says. “We run past so many people who must have done things for the last time,” he says. “People walking dogs who stopped running 10 years ago. They haven’t run for all that time because they haven’t tried to.

“When was the last time you climbed a tree? Our Minnie’s always up them like a la’al monkey. So I’ll go up with her and have a laugh. You don’t stop because you get old. You get old because you stop.”

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News and Star: Stars like Kevin Sinfield and, pictured, Sir Mo Farah have sent messages of support to GaryStars like Kevin Sinfield and, pictured, Sir Mo Farah have sent messages of support to Gary