Wonder Women!

Three incredible ultramarathon runners prove that crossing the marathon barrier is all about your state of mind.

Be inspired by three incredible runners who prove that going further isn’t just for elite athletes. These women discovered the world of the ultramarathon and made it their own.

SOPHIE WOODS

Hairdresser, Lockonego Hair, London/Chamonix

“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I first started running. I used to shuffle 15 minutes at a time under the cover of darkness, clad in an oversized t-shirt to hide my waistline. All I knew was that I was overweight, living an unhealthy lifestyle. I had to do something about it.

Roger, my father-in-law, became my mentor and training partner. He taught me consistency, pacing when he beat me in my first half marathon, and how to take refuelling seriously. Then I discovered some amazing women, including Lizzie Hawker winning the female race at the UTMB. I realised there were adventures to be had.

My husband surprised me with a place on the Marathon des Sables as a birthday present, built me a heat chamber in the garage and drove me to the sand dunes in Wales. I will never forget the race.

After a couple of years of racing I decided to get a coach to add more structure to my training. This made a huge difference and together he helped me finally run a sub-three hour marathon, podium at the UTMB and race for Great Britain at the World Trail Championships.

I love racing as it keeps me motivated when the weather is cold and the days are short. I enter races that are challenging and push me to the limit, especially when they have a strong female field to compete against. Trail running isn’t just about racing though; it’s about connecting with nature and also spending time alone. It can be hard to find the time to run when you’re working full time but I’m very selfish about it now because quite frankly I am a nicer, calmer person when I run and I do it as much for my mental sanity as I do for my fitness.”

AVRIL MAHON

Event organiser and founder of Women Run Strong

“For many years, going for a run was vital ‘me time’. Time away from family and work, time to think, time to be alone. I never really pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Just getting out the door was an achievement!

A few years ago, I met a group of women runners who were stronger and fitter than me and who loved a long run. Living in a new place, anxious to find friends, I tagged along on their runs, happy to find women who loved being outdoors as much as I did. Over time I built up my strength and loved being out for hours.

I had always thought that a marathon wasn’t for me, but I became fascinated with discovering how far I could go. First up was a trail marathon, then, with my friends, we tackled the Larig Ghru Hill Pass (43k 835m ascent). This year we enjoyed a two-day adventure (54k 900m ascent) in the wilderness of Knoydart (NW Scotland). I have now realised that there are no limits.

Yes there are difficult moments: a stinging hail shower, a path turning into a stream, a stumble and fall. But once out there, forward is the only way to go.

We need others to encourage us to expand our horizons, to discover strength we didn’t know we had. That’s why I set up Women Run Strong. We believe that you are stronger than you might think, and we like to encourage women to surpass their own expectations, and explore new limits. With the support of friends in our Women Run Strong tribe we believe we can achieve anything.

Many women put everyone else first: our relationships, our families and our work. That’s why taking on a running challenge is important for me.”

JO COWPER

Communications specialist, TrailFest co-founder and mum of two

“I’ve never yet stood on the start line of an ultra feeling sure that I could finish it – but that’s one of the things I love about it. There’s something scary-exciting about standing in the dark at 3am, ready to go, knowing you’re determined but not really knowing if that will be enough. You know it’s going to be an adventure and an emotional rollercoaster, but you don’t know where it’s going to take you or how long you’ll be out on the trails.

My first ultra was the Classic Quarter, 44 miles from Lizard Point to Land’s End, and the idea that I might possibly cover that distance on my own feet seemed outlandish! I told friends I was going to do it, but I didn’t 100 per cent believe I could. I’d only just finished my first marathon, and that was bad enough.

Yet by the time the Classic Quarter finish line was in sight, I knew that even if someone said I had to run another five miles I would have done it. I had more strength and determination in me than I ever realised: and that felt pretty amazing. I was hooked.

Looking back I’ve never been as fit as I was then when I had no children. Life is completely different now but somehow that makes running an even more important part of my life.

Now I have two children (aged two and five) and a business to look after, and there just isn’t enough time in the week to train the way I used to think you had to. Back then, I wouldn’t dream of sacrificing my weekly long run. Now I aim for one long run per month, in a carefully planned time slot; it doesn’t always happen!”


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