When Sarah Draper took up running in 2006, little did she know that nine years on, she would have her own her own fitness-coaching company, have set up a hugely successful running club, won a prestigious IWA Sports Award and completed an Ironman.
The 39-year-old mum-of-two from Merthur Tydfil, South Wales saw her life transform when she decided to take up running, with her lifestyle, confidence, mindset and even her livelihood changing directly as a result. Once a smoker who did little exercise, Sarah has now completed an Ironman, alongside an endless stream of marathons including London, Rome, Paris, New York and the Great Welsh Marathon, raising £27,000 for charity in the process. And where Sarah was once the Operations Director of a residential dog training company (a family business of 56 years), her passion for running inspired her to start up her own fitness-coaching company.
After losing her parents at a young age, Sarah lost all of her confidence. Sarah’s father died in a car accident when she was just five years old, and later she lost her mother due to illness, aged just 19. “This really knocked my confidence and I hated the way I felt about myself,” said Sarah. This lack of confidence was greatly exacerbated by a lack of body confidence, with Sarah explaining that she “felt awful when [she] looked in the mirror”.
However, after taking up running, Sarah not only saw her body shape change, but also her confidence in her own abilities. “Over the past 10 years, my confidence has grown and I’m able to push myself to achieve things I would never have dreamed of,” explained Sarah.
Having always dreamt of running the London Marathon, Sarah won a ballot place in 2007. After downloading her first beginner’s training plan, Sarah was immediately hooked. “I’ll never forget running for seven miles and experiencing runner’s high, it was amazing,” said Sarah. “Once I linked feeling great with running, I realised I was hooked. Running in the morning turns the day into a great day compared to just getting up and starting work.”
Sarah does, however, admit that juggling marathon training with motherhood was extremely difficult – particularly with a baby of only four months at home. “He suffered with colds and sickness a lot so I used to have hardly any sleep during my five months of training. I was always tired so found it hard to motivate myself but I never missed a training run.”
Developing a huge sense of drive, discipline and confidence in her abilities, Sarah went onto complete several marathons, before signing up to her first Ironman. “I watched Ironman on TV and set myself a goal to complete Ironman Wales before I was 40,” said Sarah. Last September, Sarah conquered this enormous feat in just over 16 hours. “It was the most unforgettable experience,” she said.
Touched by the power of running in her own life, Sarah was keen to inspire others to take up the sport. At first, she began taking her friends out on a Saturday morning and a Wednesday evening for various sessions, which evolved into a much larger group, as more women began to show up each week. With the help of Merthyr Sports Development team, Sarah’s team then merged with another club to launch the hugely successful Merthyr Running club, which now has 18 qualifies coaches and 150 members. Last year, she picked up a Sport Award at the Inspire Wales Awards (IWA) to give recognition to her hard work.
Sarah’s all-consuming passion for running finally led to a career change last year. She has now set up her own fitness-coaching business, Inspire Fitness Coaching, and is a qualified running and triathlon coach: “Running has completely changed my life in every aspect and I’ve been lucky to mix both my passions together to start Inspire Fitness.”
Sarah firmly believes that running can touch one’s life in ways that are unconceivable. “Exercise empowers you to believe you can achieve things you not thought possible,” she says. While Sarah realises that she has been lucky to merge her livelihood with her passion for running, she highlights that is the small rewards offered by running that are most valuable: “There is no better feeling than running in the morning with a blue sky above you, the wind in your hair and the flow of oxygen in your lungs….it’s a blessing.”