“I’m not in any rush to get to the finish”

Sarah Morwood took up running 10 years ago to lose weight – now she’s winning ultramarathons

Dash For The Stones Running Event where runners start in Oxford and make their way to Avebury's Stone Circle. Pictured: Sarah Morwood, first woman to finish. Pic by Vicky Scipio (VS912)

Women’s Running speaks to Sarah Morwood, she is busy packing up the extensive kit needed to take part in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a gruelling two-day race through the Alps which took place at the end of August. Although she jokes that her kit isn’t the lightest or the best, she’s come a long way from her first run. “I had a pair of denim shorts that I’d had since I was about 14,” she says. “They were really tight around my thighs because I’d put on so much weight, and I decided to go for a run down the road and back. It was about a mile and I made it, walking and running, feeling disgusting – it was good!”

Sarah’s approach to kitting out her runs has changed dramatically since that first run, along with her attitude and motivation for running. Like many women, she took up the sport to help with weight loss, slimming quickly from a size 18 to a size 12. She found it vastly preferable to dieting. “It was really lovely to realise you could do something so simple and get such results, then not have to worry as much. With women generally, they think you’ve got to look like this, and diet like that, but running isn’t hard work once you get into it – you just go out and really enjoy yourself.”

After a few years stopping and starting running as she finished her medical training, she entered her first event, a Race for Life in Cardiff, on the suggestion of her sister. Entering races changed the way she thought about running. “I would never push myself that hard if I wasn’t in a race with other people,” she says, “and it’s good to get a bit of bling at the end and a t-shirt – you build up a nice collection of hardware at home.”

It was several years later, in 2012, that she entered her first marathon. “My husband had got a place, and I wasstill saying ‘12 miles is difficult, I can’t imagine doing a marathon.’ But one day when he was out training with people I just thought, ‘I wonder if I could run that far.’ So I went out and came back having done 18 miles.”

When a woman from Sarah’s running club, who had a place in the Milton Keynes Marathon, couldn’t take it up due to injury, Sarah decided to take up the place and run under her name (which she admits was “a bit naughty”). The longer distance was a revelation – she had a ball. “It was chucking it down and blowing an absolute gale and I loved it. I just remember being comfortable and warm the whole way round.”

Despite the less than perfect conditions, in stepping up the distance and slowing down the pace Sarah had found her running niche. “A lot of people start off really hard and then they sort of fade, and I was just plodding around, because I didn’t even know if I’d make it to the finish, so towards the end I started overtaking people because I was feeling really good!”

But it wasn’t until she moved up in her race distance again that Sarah really discovered her strength – about which she is incredibly modest. She had moved down to Dartmoor after getting a job in the area, and started doing long runs on her days off. Then, just before her 30th birthday, she saw an advert for the Jurassic Coast Challenge – three marathons in three days – and the first marathon fell on her birthday. She came first. “It was a shock [to win],” she says, “because the first day of it I was running with a big badge saying ‘I am 30’ and a helium balloon tied to my bag.”

She hasn’t done another multi-day race since but has excelled in ultramarathons, completing the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc as first British lady home last year, and then winning the Race to the Stones, a 100K ultra along the Ridgeway, this June – setting a new course record of 9:14:17 in the process. She loved the event. “It was unlike any other ultra I’ve started,” she says. “There was loads of music and I looked around to see one woman putting her make-up on – it was awesome. “It would be the perfect race to do for your first ultra. It’s not just geared up for the people who are trying to get into the sharp end of the field – it’s geared up for everyone.”

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Sarah insists her talent for ultras comes from her laidback mental attitude. “I’m very patient,” she says. “I start every race thinking, ‘Well, by the end of the weekend it’llbe over, I’m not in any rush to get to the finish.’ The first half is in your legs, the second half is in your head.”

She’s come a long way from that first run in denim shorts, but says that any women in a similar position should just get out there and give running a go. “Just put on your trainers and go, and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.”


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