Think ultra running and you might summon up thoughts of Jurek, running hundreds of miles on barely a scrap and Karnazes, ordering pizza to the side of a road mid-way through a mere 200-miler. Put simply, you have to be a seasoned pro, right?
‘Nope,’ says triathlete and runner Sarah Booker, 37 from Rugby, Warwickshire. ‘I didn’t started running until I was 30. I used to be about five stone heavier than I am now, too. After having some photos taken with a friend, I realised I was taking up about 80% of the photograph and decided to do something about it!’
Discovering running at 30 after weight loss
Sarah Impressively lost five stone on the LighterLife diet and then started to run to keep the weight off. But what started as simply an efficient way to burn calories, quickly became something far bigger, eventually developing into running 100 miles in under 24 hours, twice.
‘Running became a big part of my social life,’ Sarah recalls. ‘I joined the local running club, heading out onto the muddy paths with a head torch, and started to run solo. It was great fun. The more I ran, the better I got, and what I lacked in speed I made up for in determination.’
Sarah progressed from running trails to swimming and cycling, too, and went on to qualify for Age Group 70.3 (half Ironman) British Triathlon. But there was something even bigger that caught her eye. ‘A friend of mine ran 100 miles, and frankly, I was in awe,’ Sarah says. ‘It just sounded so bonkers, so I wanted to try it myself, even if trying may mean failing.’
First, and failed, 100-mile attempt
On her first 100-mile attempt in 2015 at the Thames Path 100, stomach issues ended Sarah’s ambitions of finishing. ‘That day, the bottom fell out of my world, and the world fell out of my bottom!’ She laughs. ‘I wouldn’t recommend starting a 100-mile race with a dodgy tum. My ultras usually end with stomach issues, but they aren’t meant to start that way. I ran out of loo roll really fast.’
Take two (just a few months later!)
Not to be defeated, Sarah tried again the same year at the Autumn 100. This time, she discovered that it wasn’t just loo issues that could prove challenging, but the mental side of things too when she hit a huge low at mile 30. ‘I had a bit of a wobble and thought I might not finish – the support from my family and friends really got me through.
‘My husband Simon was brilliant support crew. He brought me a box of KFC mid-race, which was pre-arranged. I’d been looking forward to it for about 40 miles, but when I finally got my hands on it I just couldn’t eat it, it wouldn’t go down! I was gutted. After 65 miles I felt too nauseous to eat, so I knew the final 35 miles were going to hurt a lot as my body began to run out of fuel. The cut-off for the race was 28 hours, and amazingly, I managed to sneak in at 23:31 and finish my first 100 miler!’
Going back for more punishment
Sarah went back for more 100-mile punishment the following year in 2016. For good measure, she also raced for Team GB in Austria, and used her longer training runs as preparation for her second 100-miler. ‘It was good having the additional cross-training through my triathlon training, as it helped me to avoid running injuries going into the race,’ Sarah says.
‘I ran a lot in the build up to the race at events including XNRG Cotswold Challenge (57 miles), Equinox 24 (42 miles), Bacchus (26 miles) and the 70.3 (half Ironman) Triathlon. Frankly, it was quite a relief to spend most of November sitting down eating cheese!’
“It was quite a relief to spend most of November sitting down eating cheese!”
‘Running 100 miles is epic,’ Sarah says. ‘In a marathon you might hit a wall, but during an ultra, particularly a very long one, there are constant ups and downs. It’s a roller coaster. When I finished, I felt relieved, sore, happy and exhausted. I was thrilled to finish in under 24 hours but my body didn’t quite know how to stop. I just wanted to lie on the floor face down, but I was too sore to sleep.’
“There are constant ups and downs in running 100 miles. It’s a roller coaster.”
‘After the event, I craved a lot of cheese,’ Sarah laughs. ‘My Achilles tendons were sore for a month or so afterwards, and I was exhausted. Having trained and raced all year, I was ready to have a nice sit down in November. Finishing ‘big’ is a lovely way to round off a busy year!’
‘If I’d told my pre-running self that I’d run 100 miles twice, I’d have replied: “are you insane? Why would you do all that?” and my current self would simply answer: “For snacks. For all of the snacks.”
Sarah on picking a race
‘There are so many 100’s to choose from now. The A100 appealed to me as I love running trails and the thought of 24-hours on a road sounded soul destroying! Centurion events have a great reputation and I liked the format of the course which was in a cross shape. I simply told myself I was going out for a 12.5 mile run every time I left the central checkpoint. A100 also had the additional benefit of having a central point for all my kit and snacks.
Check out Sarah’s Blog – dreamingoffootpaths.co.uk