I met Sara through a mutual excellent friend, Minna, when we all spent a week in Northumberland together. The week was lovely - dogs, snow, beaches and lots of walking and running. I found Sara totally fascinating, I'm not sure I've ever met someone with such a sense of wonder and awe. She really appreciated the beautiful moments that week, took her time when answering my myriad of questions (my friends say spending time with me is like the Spanish Inquisition!), and frequently stopped on runs to appreciate the view or take photos. I came away thinking that Sara was so pure of heart. That's really the only way I could describe her. She's also a stellar mountain runner so I'm really pleased she said yes to answering my questions.
Photos all Mark McMonagle (@shitinthewoods on Insta)
I’m a Landscape Architect by trade with a particular love for the historic and
natural environment. I am also very fond of most forms of running, cycling, sugar and lemon pancakes, and coffee.
I am largely self-coached. However, in the build-up to big races I get input from coaches, like the 2023 World Championships, I was coached by Colin Livingstone. Colin coaches at Shrewsbury AC on track nights and has a track and endurance coaching background. Following a plan doesn’t work for me day to day but I make sure I get in the key sessions and enough recovery. There are so many ways to train but as long as I’m getting a variety of fast and slow, long and short, hilly and flat you can’t go too far wrong.
Free-spirited are the exact words Colin used to describe me. Others have said away with the fairies. I love spontaneity. Opening space for flexibility, making the most of the moment, being independent of time and committed to getting the most out of life. Also accepting that veering slightly off the social norm is good.
Being relaxed, positive and determined is a priority, and being surrounded by people who share and reinforce these things helps.
The first time I went up a mountain, Snowdon, I was 25. Before then, they were daunting, dangerous, unknown places, where I felt out of place and had no confidence in making it back in one piece. Things changed when, by accident, I started running. I wasn’t particularly drawn to running, the reason I started is that it was a way to hang out with two friends, Annabel and Nadeem, who were training for Conwy half marathon. They were heading out for 8-mile evening runs, which sounded very far, but I went along with it. I managed about 3 and soon succumbed to sore shins. The following year they encouraged me to join them and enter the race too.
Like many others, I had no idea running on hills or in mountains existed. It was game changing.
In training, I enjoy full day or weekend adventures with plenty of elevation gain, where terrain is new and outcome is unknown. Even more so when I’m joined by friends. My favourite race distance at the moment is probably uphill only and between 5-20km.
I currently have a 7 day training pattern:
Mon Shorter faster session i.e 15x30sec uphill with full recovery
Tue Running drills and strength day (harder days in work)
Wed 90 mins easy run. Exploring
Thu Session i.e 5x5mins flat trail with 1min recovery
Fri 30 mins easy run or full rest day
Sat Parkrun or long continuous hill session i.e 2x20 mins
Sun Long easy run 2-3 hours.
I keep my training very flexible; I run on feel and ensure I’m feeling good, fresh and recovered before committing to a session or longer run. Some days I feel so bad I can’t do anything, so training has to adjust around that, but I don’t pre-empt the training around my cycle. I do look forward to my set rest days, and am not worried about putting in more if I feel like it.
My favourite place to run is Snowdonia; the mountains, steep continuous climbs, roughness, scenery, and beaches.
My running highlight was crossing the finish line in the world mountain running championships in Argentina 2019 in 11th. I’ve also had great days at the Skyline race in Scotland in 2023 (1st), and at the Mountain Running World Cup last year. I was the English Mountain Running Champion last year and won Team Bronze in World Mountain Running Championships in Austria.
My running and life philosophy can be summed up by the following: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..." Dr Seuss
From the very beginning for me running has been about being with friends, and being part of the mountain and trail running community which is a particularly special one. Sometimes it’s about getting outside to experience nature, spontaneous wild encounters, things that happen one moment and are gone the next. But ultimately for me, at the moment, it's about racing hard, this is often the strongest motivator for me to get outside in the wind and rain.
My favourite bits of kit is shoes and warm layers! Shoes are crucial, you can’t go far without them, and lots of warm layers that are good on a damp hill. My feet are mostly living in Scarpa Spin ST on the muddy footpaths, and Ribelle run, Goldengate ATR and Kima on the harder packed Peak District trails. I race fells in Spin ST, and on trails I rotate between the Spin Race, Goldengate ATR or Kima and a few others. A favourite pair will last more than a year. I tend to keep them going, with the help of minor repatching.
I do deadbugs, planks, leg raises, press ups, squats and single leg exercises. Not only to improve running but really to improve posture in general for everyday use. I do a 10-minute routine of these every weekday morning.
Next year I’m hoping to make the Team for the 2024 European Championship (in Annecy).
A short multi day bothy trip, running or cycling would be fun and a trip to the Alps, but nothing is planned.
The Brands that very kindly give me kit and food to sustain the running and make me appear cool are:
- Beta Run - Injinji (feet gloves/toe socks), Moonlight (headtorch), Näak (food)
You can find Sara on Instagram @sarawillhoit.