Overweight and out of breath, Sarah Booker from Warwickshire decided to take up running, with surprising results. After losing an incredible five stone and transforming her fitness, the 36-year-old mum went on to run 20 marathons and ultras, picking up the Guinness World Record for fastest female elf at this year’s London Marathon.
Sarah's marathon PB is now 3:23:17 and she is currently in training for the Challenge Walchsee triathlon in Austria, and will be proudly wearing GB kit. So how did she make the transformation from sofa surfer to running star?
‘I realised I needed a change after a friend and I went to have some nice photos done together,’ explains Sarah. ‘We had a great day but when the photos came back I was appalled – I was twice the size of my friend - although I’d certainly got my money’s worth in terms of photo space! Exercise was something that only happened if I missed the bus or I spotted an unattended packet of biscuits a couple of desks away.’
From 100 days to 100 miles
In order to lose the weight, Sarah changed her diet before discovering running. ‘I have always been very impatient,’ she says. ‘It’s a frustrating tendency as it means I want everything now, but it does mean that I tend to be very goal-focused (which has turned out pretty handy for running).
‘I didn’t want to lose the weight over a year or more, so I followed a calorie restricted diet and ate soups, milkshakes and bars. It was a tough 100 days but it was very effective and hugely boosting to drop a dress size every two weeks.’
Sarah made dramatic lifestyle changes, but still enjoys food. ‘I love big portions of food – I hate being hungry, get really hangry – but I’m a lot more careful about what I eat. I tend to load up on fruit and veg now rather than massive blocks of cheese.’
Before her dramatic lifestyle transformation Sarah smoked 20 cigarettes a day
She started running to maintain the weight loss. ‘I tried treadmill running, it was horrendous... but then I discovered running outdoors and haven’t looked back!'
‘When you start running you don’t realise the first 10 minutes is the worst, I just thought it got exponentially worse so I only ever ran for 10 minutes at a time and it was just pure pain. I didn’t consider running outside. I finally plucked up the courage and loved it! I found parkruns were a great way to progress and get used to running with other people.’
Not long after taking up running Sarah realised she was actually rather good at it. ‘I was faster than my husband after about six months of running,’ she says. ‘He’d been running for 10 years. As you can imagine, he LOVED that. Sorry Simon.’
She entered her first marathon two years later. ‘The thought of running for 26.2 miles was terrifying. When I finished it, I thought I’d missed the London GFA time and was relieved as it meant I’d never have to do one again ... and then I realised I was actually hugely disappointed by this. I was also missing the constant marathon-training-eating.’
Sarah decided to try again, and quickly got hooked. ‘I haven’t looked back. Running long distance is a big part of my life now. I did my first 100 miler last Autumn and managed to scrape in under 24-hours and I’ve signed up again this year. Anything for a challenge, prodigious amounts of pick n mix and some miles!’
Losing five stone also had a dramatic impact on Sarah’s home life. ‘It’s done wonders for my marriage.’ she says. ‘We’ve run 25 marathons and ultra marathons between us, which has been fun. Although on one notable occasion when we were running as a pair in a 24-hour race, my husband refused to get of his sleeping bag to run a night lap because it was raining. That didn’t go down too well. I now take divorce papers to running events as standard!'
Her new active lifestyle has also had a positive impact on the rest of the family. ‘Our daughter has grown up in a house where running and being active is the norm and I love that. To her it’s something that we all do as a family and I think that’s great.’
Sarah credits the running community with providing excellent support and encouragement. ‘I do a lot of my training solo and often at unusual times, but there’s always someone awake willing to have a chat or to cheer me on when I’m flagging. It’s brilliant for motivation and for hearing about other people’s adventures!’
Sarah offers this sage advice to nervous newbies: ‘If I can do this, you certainly can. I use people telling me I CAN’T do things as fuel to light the fire – I use my stubbornness to say actually I can. Watch me.’