Hero /ˈhɪərəʊ / noun - a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
The word hero is thrown around far too flippantly these days, especially in sport, but one man who deserves that prestigious title is Gary McKee; the 51-year-old fundraiser from Cumbria who completed his 110th marathon in 110 days on Friday morning.
To raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support and Hospice at Home in the local area, Gary has managed to cover 26.2 miles [42.195km] every day for the past three months - all while juggling work life and looking after his family of four.
And to put his remarkable achievement into further context, McKee has doubled the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive marathons ran by Italian runner Enzo Caporaso, who completed a mere 59 marathons in 59 days back in 2019.
Oh, and he's also raised over £130,000 and counting.
And he's off...:runner:♂️- BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) May 21, 2021
Day 110! Gary McKee is on his final run in his 110-marathon challenge for Macmillan Cancer Support and West Cumbria Hospice at Home :arrow_heading_down:https://t.co/oPubryGWB2 pic.twitter.com/MsdB17A9EM
Despite his record-breaking achievements, the humble Cumbrian doesn't care about records or trophies. He just wants to raise as much money as possible for those who need it most.
"All charities have suffered because of COVID," Gary tells SPORTbible. "MacMillan is a national charity and one of the biggest in the country, while hospice at home is local but they do a similar job. They don't just provide cancer care, they go into people's homes and support those who are suffering from Alzheimer's and other debilitating conditions.
"I just wanted to help out. It is hard, but it's just running, and I can do it. Every day someone somewhere loses someone they love to cancer - that's really hard, and my bit of running doesn't compare to someone going through that."
So what has life been like for Gary in the last 110 days? In terms of his daily routine, he wakes up at 5:45am every day and makes a strong cup of coffee before throwing on his sponsored vest for the morning - as well as a pair of trainers [although he never wears the same pair two days in a row].
He then makes his way to the gym - or as he calls it the 'recovery recuperation centre' - to warm up on an exercise bike for 20 minutes. Then, after that, he will eat some toast before heading out to burn around 4,000 calories on his 26.2 mile run around Mirehouse, Rowrah and Frizington.
In total, Gary says he burns around 6,000 calories a day all things considered. But on a Sunday evening - as he sits down with his family - McKee enjoys a free pizza courtesy of the local takeaway in Cleator Moor. Why? Because of a story he told the owner.
"I told my family that over the next 16 weeks, this journey is like a family pizza cut into 16 pieces," he explains.
"Each week, we eat a slice. I said some slices won't be to your liking, but you've got to eat that slice to move on to the next one. What I meant by that was, you might have school work in the way, but you've still got to do it to progress and move on.
"I explained that to the local Pizza shop and he said he liked the idea. So once a week, they send us free food. The kids think that's fantastic but we're onto the last slice, so what are we going to afterwards?"
What many people may not know is that Gary has also been juggling a full-time job at Sellafield while raising hundreds and thousands for charity. "I'll jump in the shower after my run, get changed, have something to eat [usually running around with it in my hand] and drink a bottle of water made up with electrolytes in the car." he says.
For a typical working day, he will sometimes get back into the house at 10:30pm [or later] after waking up in the early hours. "It's difficult trying to recover," adds Gary. "You tend to feel when you're at work that day, you come home and you know about it the next day. Your legs are tired."
Throughout this challenge, though, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of people supporting his efforts. McKee's meals have been prepped by The Hungry Caterpillar, a local cafe that provides him with nutritious food to keep him going through those often-rainy runs.
Mo Farah, the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history, sent his message of support during the challenge, as did former Leeds Rhinos player Kevin Sinfield, who knows how it feels like after running seven consecutive marathons last year.
Gary's children have also been with him every step of the way. Alfie, who is 16, has cycled 26.2 miles a day beside his father, while 13-year-old Beau has been doing 6-10 miles a day too. Minnie, who only turned nine, cycled a full marathon this week and raised £1,300 doing so.
There have been challenges, of course, but with the support of the local community and beyond, McKee has continued to smash it, day after day. "I'm not a runner. I'm a fundraiser," he tells us. "People have had belief in me. My track record shows I won't let anyone down. I'll do what I need to do, and we'll get through it.
"I haven't struggled. I've always had a belief in myself. I've always backed myself. I've seen other people struggle but I've always talked them through it. When they have self-doubt, we always say that the reason we've started far exceeds the reason we want to stop."
As Gary's total amount raised continues to rise into the hundreds of thousands, the Cleator Moor lad tells us a story about one particular morning when it started to hammer it down with rain, as several runners joined him on the 26.2-mile journey.
It should give you an idea about the type of man he is.
"We live in Cumbria. You know what the weather is like here. It's monsoon weather from January to December. It just rains and rains," he begins.
"One day, we were absolutely soaked to the skin and it was cold. I just started laughing. One of the lads asked what are you laughing at? I said I'm laughing because somebody is walking out of a cancer ward and ringing the bell today to signify they are cancer-free. If they walk outside and it's like this, they'll say this is the nicest rain they've ever seen.
"That day, we were running in their rain and every other day after that, we were running for somebody else's rain. When it started raining, I said let's ring the bell. It made you feel warm. It lifted you. We started laughing because we knew nothing could stop us. Nothing.
"The difficult times that we did face were always looked at in a positive way. Because we always thought that whatever we were going through, people that we are trying to support were going through ten times worse. We never had difficult times.
"People would limp, and we'd talk about what we needed to do to overcome that and find a solution. But we never stopped believing. Ever."
If you want to make a donation to the incredible work Gary is doing for Macmillan Cancer Support Cumbria and West Cumbria Hospice at Home, click HERE to visit his page.
Featured Image Credit: Amy Caddy/Gary McKee - Facebook
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