Pathfinder International’s new health and fitness supplement, Military Muscle is delighted to welcome our first female cover star in ultra-runner, extreme athlete and Reservist, Katy Parrott. Editor, Mal Robinson caught up with Katy over the phone during COVID19 lockdown to find out her life story and what motivates her when it comes to sports and fitness…

“I was quite fortunate as a kid I was taken on active holidays and I did quite a lot of interesting travel quite young. And so, I was put on skis at the age of three and ended up bombing straight down the slopes.

That started my love of the mountains and sports I suppose. The expedition side of things, I was a Scout as a kid and so rather than be a Brownie as I thought that would be a bit boring messing about with glitter (as that’s what it was at the time – it’s probably changed a lot now) and I wanted to be in with the lads and I was always more interested in the sort of male dominated type of activities. Having an older brother, probably influenced that. So, growing up you could say I was a little bit of a “Tomboy” and travelled young.

At the age of sixteen I went off to Nepal, did some trekking in the Annapurna range and did some volunteering up in a school up in the mountains and from then I knew I just wanted to see as much of the world as possible and experience different cultures, see different landscapes and just fascinated by all things in the world that are different to our world.

When I was a kid I was always good at sport and played a host of sports from netball to rugby, but I never really got that good at anything, it was only until during and after University (I went to Bath University to study Biology and its quite a high performing sports University and a lot of my best friends were England netballers) and I guess they kind of helped me get more into high performance sport and I suppose ultra-running has become one of my things now.

The running all came about by accident really. A friend asked if I fancied doing a trail running event over Dartmoor and I looked on the website and I thought “if we are going to do one, then we are going to do the ultra-one!” Having never run a half marathon before, they were like “I knew I shouldn’t have asked you!”

Yet I wanted to see how I would get on, both physically and mentally and we did the ultra-marathon and we had not prepared for it at all and I think because I done that, people then suddenly assumed that I was a really good runner and kept asking me to join challenges, things like “come and join our 24-hour relay race team” (which was with three other guys from 6 Rifles) and it has just kind of snowballed really from there.

I have a bit of a habit of saying yes to things even if I think they are completely out of my depth. One of the most notable events I suppose was two years ago. A friend asked if I could join them on a 100K ultra marathon and I’m like “yeah, alright then!” and unfortunately he had to drop out due to injury beforehand and so I ended up doing it on my own. It was 100K along the Cotswold way in the middle of summer, it was over 2,500 metres climbing and I ended up coming third female.

I think that was a little bit of a wakeup call and I had never run anywhere near that distance before. After that is where I picked up my support from Montane and now, I am one of their ambassador athletes, which is awesome, and I am so lucky to have their support.”

And how is the Montane relationship working out for Katy?

“Montane know that I say yes to mad challenges (laughs) and I think other people potentially find that maybe inspiring in a way. They might think “she’s not an elite ultra-runner, she’s not an elite mountaineer, but she’s still going off to do all of these things anyway”. And Montane support me if I am doing any ultra-events or mountaineering expeditions and they provide me with kit and equipment.

Over lockdown I have ended up doing a few bits for them in terms of articles and I did a social media takeover for the day, which was just totally bonkers. We came up with a three peaks triathlon challenge. So, for Scarfell Pike, I leopard crawled 987 metres which was the worst bit, my elbows took about two weeks to recover. Snowdon was 1085 goblet squats with a kettle bell and then Nevis was a 13.45kms run at the end and so I documented that the whole day. I have actually never done the Three Peaks and it was on my list for this year to do and so this was a little way of completing that albeit in a weird way.”

How has Katy found lockdown and keeping up with her fitness?

“It has been amazing to see people get creative with their fitness during lockdown and as much as it has been frustrating to not to go to the gym or do my normal events, I have really enjoyed having to get creative with my training, mixing it up and trying new things. It’s been good fun. I entered a thing called the World Burpee Games, which I didn’t even know was a thing.
Near the beginning of lockdown I decided I would try a 1,000 burpees for time, which was horrendous and then off the back of that I had a random message, well that video of the 1,000 burpees went viral on Twitter, it was mad, and was known as the “Burpee Girl” and this group called “The World Burpee Games” got in touch and asked if I wanted to take part. So it is people from all over the world, for a month and they set a weekly challenge which we had to complete, film it and send it in to the judges and I ended up coming second female and third overall.”

And so, what motivates you to do all these crazy and wonderful challenges?

“I like saying yes to unusual challenges and seeing how I get on as I don’t class myself as an elite athlete or anything, I just really enjoy fitness. I find that before a run or before a burpee challenge or whatever it may be, you might feel like you can’t be bothered, but you never feel worse after it, I always feel so much better after I have done any kind of fitness or being outside.
I guess it is that rush of endorphins and the mental well being side of it, I remind myself of that every time if I can’t be bothered to run, I will tell myself you will feel great afterwards, which always forces me out of the door. I guess I also love the people you meet through doing sporting things as well, so I have made really good like minded friends and every time I run an ultra-marathon you find that people are always running for different reasons and I find that really interesting and inspiring. So that is a big thing, about meeting really inspirational people.”

Katy also appeared on the BBC’s “Ultimate Hell” week which was an ultimate endurance challenge with a range of Special Forces instructors from around the world setting an array of tasks, as Katy takes up the story…

“When I was 19 I went on “Total Wipeout” dressed in a lycra tiger outfit (I take myself very seriously obviously) and one of the fellow contestants on that he was in the first series of Ultimate Hell week and he sent me a message saying he thought I should apply for it. And I said Okay then, as I always do, and you never actually think that you will get onto these shows with there being thousands of applications.

The selection started off with a written application, then an hour long interview at the BBC studios in London, then they selected about fifty of us to go on a boot camp weekend, which had medical, swimming, fitness and team building tests and the whole thing was filmed. I think it was just to see if how we interacted with each other in front of the cameras and also were we fit enough to not die!

A few days after that, I got the call that they were sending me some Altbergs and a training programme and we will see you at Heathrow in five weeks. My initial reaction was one of horror, thinking “what have I got myself into?” That was over four years ago now and I was relatively fit at the time, but I wouldn’t say I was anywhere what I am now. A lot of the others went into like “I am going to win” and I was just thinking that I want to survive! I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do in this, and I had never done anything like it before and I just wanted to discover how I’d get on.

The series I did was filmed in South Africa, the first series was filmed in Brecon and I had no idea when I applied that it was going to be abroad, they only told us at the final stage.

I am under no illusion that the show is anything like Special Forces selection and I never really saw it as that. I saw it as you are going to get thrashed by ex-Special Forces guys and to just take each day as it comes.

The format of the show was every two days was a different country’s Special Forces veteran and so there were six episodes and each guy would have us for 48 hours and we had no idea who was going to turn up, we literally had to take it each hour at a time.

The first one was the South African Recces, the second was the Polish Grom, third was America, fourth was the South Korean Navy Seals equivalent (ROKN UDT/SEALs), then it was French GIGN which was urban war crime stuff and then the last one was Australian SAS. Their training was specialised to what they would do. So, the South Korean guy did mainly ocean-based stuff and then South Africa we were out in the bush, so each episode was really different, and they all brought specific things from their country.

This brought out strengths and weaknesses in different people as well. Some were amazing going hours on end through the bushland, but as soon as you put them in the water they freaked out.

They started with 22 of us, 15 men and 7 women and the final 6 of us was 2 men and 4 women and I came joint fourth and got to the final which was just totally unexpected. Going on that show was a massive turning point for me it displayed all the physical and mental resilience I didn’t know I had and that was a springboard and the reason why I joined the Reserves.
We had a few British DS there throughout the series and they said they really think I should join up and at the time I was halfway through my Masters in Wildlife Film Making and so I got home and joined the Reserves and that was four years ago now. I joined 6 Rifles and it has been amazing. I have had so many opportunities and with being freelance in my civilian role I have got the flexibility to take time out. So in less than four years, I have completed all of my combat medic training, I have started all of my Mountain Leader training, ski touring in the Alps, winter climbing in Scotland twice, deployed to Armenia, worked with the Georgian Mountain Warfare School on high altitude work, a 7-month tour to Afghan last year, Norway with the Marines it’s been great.

You get out of it, what you put in. I do do a lot of mountaineering through the military, but I put the time in with all of the green stuff as well, so volunteering for the tour. Over 100 put their name down from 6 Rifles and only 5 of us got picked to go and it was an amazing opportunity for me to get out and go on Ops and do the job that I trained to do. I don’t see the point in joining the Reserves if you are not going to volunteer and put yourself forward.”

Read the entire July issue of Pathfinder online HERE!