Meet the runner - Sarah Gurney
Updated: Jun 28
It’s intimidating joining a new running club, but Winchester and District AC has to be one of the friendliest around. Sarah is one of the many runners who always stops to say hello, asks about my training and gives me lots of encouragement. It’s been a real pleasure to hear about her running journey.
For the past 10 years I have worked as a School Nurse Assistant for Southern Health NHS. I am lucky to work with all school aged children, dealing with their mental and physical health needs. Knowing how important this is for my own well being I am passionate about nurturing our young people and teaching them the true benefits.
I grew up in North London in New Barnet and the only gear and marathon sessions I knew had nothing to do with running! At school I was the chubby, red haired child who was always last to be picked for any team, but it really didn’t bother me. Competitive?! I didn’t have a competitive bone in my body!! Sport was just not on my radar. After becoming a mother for the third time, I decided enough was enough and I needed to shift excess baby weight. I had no interest in joining a gym or doing classes, this was alien to me. Like many people, I always thought I couldn’t run. I loved the thought of running, spending time outside, so one morning I thought, I’ll give running a go, how hard can it be? I dug out an old pair of trainers from the back of the wardrobe (they had not seen the light of day for many years!), planned a 2-mile route and gave it a go. I live at the top of a hill so, what goes down has to go up! When I arrived home, after jog/walking, my face was as bright as a beetroot, I could hardly breathe and hated it. I don’t think I ran again that week, but I was determined to continue. My most proud moment was after a good few weeks of persistent running when I ran the whole way round, even up the hill, and it felt amazing, I was hooked!
My good friend and neighbour Michaela McCallum, an amazing long-distance sub 3 marathon runner, persuaded me to try out Winchester & District AC. I knew the great reputation of WADAC and it intimidated me slightly. She suggested I try out a Wednesday social evening run, which started at River Park. By the time the session had finished, I loved it. I met so many different people all doing the same thing, dressed in lycra with no one judging, the only common interest was a love for running and they all had their own personal goals to achieve.
I never thought I’d run a marathon, but once you join a club and start racing 10km, 10 miles and half marathons, it’s like a natural progression. However, when I signed up for the New Forest, I really did surprise myself. The training was tough, lonely and painful. My husband was amazing as he looked after the kids while I plodded the streets or ran with my youngest in a running buggy. The morning of the race was beautiful, perfect conditions; I felt so nervous but couldn’t wait to start running. Being a low key race there were only a few hundred people, all shapes and sizes waiting for the gun to go. The miles built up as fast as the pain and fear of not being strong enough, until a marshal shouted “you're 4th lady” and I thought, I can do this. As I was looking at the finish line, tears automatically dropped from my eyes and the pain and fear vanished. I conquered my first marathon, got a medal, ran 3.32 and first V35. I was very proud of myself.
Since lockdown, I have been through a mix of different feelings with my running. In some ways it’s been amazing, my daughter has set up a training schedule alternating over the week to target legs, arms and abs, she’s a mean PT!! Also, trying to keep my running fitness up has been a focus, but tricky at times. The training suggestions and virtual running races put on by WADAC has been fantastic. I have achieved a few PBs during this time, slightly bittersweet as it isn’t recorded on the Power of 10. However, nothing beats running in a group of sweaty competitive runners. I have missed the company of my running buddies, their banter, laugher and just their listening ear, which I love. Through WADAC I have made five very close girlfriends where we drive to races together (sometimes getting lost!), go on long runs, run races overseas and go on walking holidays, oh and not forgetting getting drunk together. Well you have to let your hair down some of the time!!
Before this surreal situation happened, I was training for the VM London Marathon where I had achieved a Championship start (I’m such a sucker for small loo queues!!). Since running quite a few marathons and getting slightly quicker each time, I recently have had a real goal to try and break sub 3. A mammoth goal I know, but one that I really would like to focus on. So when the news came that London was going to be cancelled and after training all through the cold, wet and dark evenings, I was very disappointed. The lead up to this my recent races were Wokingham Half, Hillingdon 20, which I have never run before and Wimborne 20, which all went to plan.
I train with the club and try never to miss a Tuesday speed session and a Thursday threshold, but I have to say I love the long runs on the weekend, normally with my amazing training buddy Sarah Shedden. It’s a great feeling, fantastic therapy and perfect distraction as normally we train on tired legs. I also cross train a little, they say the older you get the more you need to do strength training, so I try and add this into my weekly routine.
I would say Chester Marathon was my best and worst performance when Sarah and I qualified to run for England. I know some people would say I’m mad but I found this race so frustrating! It was a perfect lead up, I had done all the hard training, which was over the summer holidays, this I found harder than running a spring marathon because of holiday commitments, but I did it. I ran a perfect 6.50-minute mile to break sub 3 hours, but came in at 3 hours 11 seconds. I could have screamed. A marshal congratulated me, I just snarled. I was so rude!! I was so close, but in reality so, so far!!
I don’t really have a favourite bit of kit; however, I love Lululemon, normally bought off the “we’ve made too much” section. Their running leggings are gorgeous; it bugs me if I have to keep pulling leggings up, but these fit like a glove.
I would love to say that I am cultured and read many books, the truth is, it take me years to read a book, normally because I’m so tired and fall asleep before I get to the end of a chapter, so end up reading the same one again the following night.
My passion is music; I cannot enter my house without putting on Spotify and dancing around my kitchen, my kids love me!! I love all types of musical genres; however I would say my favourite artist is Florence and the Machine, I loved listening to Dog Days when I trained for my first marathon, she just kept me going.
Sometimes I fall out of love with running especially when I’m chasing a PB for a marathon, when pretty much every run is a training run – by which I mean every run has a specific goal (e.g. long-run distance, speedwork reps etc). It can become a joyless grind. After completing the race, for a couple of months I make a point of running when I feel like it and with no specific focus, and during the runs just enjoy the sights and sounds of being out in the open.
I try to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Recently I have become a vegetarian, more for environmental reasons rather than diet, so I am conscious that I need to make sure I get all the right nutrients, especially protein, so after a long or intense running session I take a recovery drink, which replaces all the electrolytes, protein and carbohydrate used. I also take a concoction of different multivitamins and minerals supplements as I’m getting older.
People always say that they can hear me before they can see me. I remember saying to my husband that I would love to improve my times, he just looked at me and said, ‘well if you shut up for a while you might run faster’!! I think he was right.
I don’t have a passion for any other sport but I love watching the Olympic Games. It’s a fantastic platform to give athletes the opportunity to complete against other athletes of similar level. It shows that anyone can make their goals reality if they work hard enough. I get quite emotional when I’m watching it.
I have been very lucky and not had too many injuries which have stopped me running. I am not great at resting and fall into the running trap of ignoring things I shouldn’t. I know that rest is key to recovery and I really should listen to that more often. Maybe after my next marathon!!!
I believe that if I can run, anyone can run, running is about you and no one else. I heard a saying which I love, ‘It doesn’t matter how fast you are, because you’ll always be faster than that person sitting on the sofa’. Just give it a go!