Sorrell Walsh was inspired by her brother’s London Marathon training to join in herself – and then moved into the ultra world.
First London Marathon: 2013
What first got you into running?
I moved to London from Stalybridge when I was 21, and started running about a year before. I was both inspired and intrigued by one of my big brothers, who was training for the London Marathon around this time. I started running again with a one-mile loop near my parents’ house. The first time involved a dry heave, but I built up gradually to longer distances, signing up to a 20-mile race in Lancaster to raise some money for charity a few months later.
And then you ran your first London Marathon – how was it on the day?
If I’m honest, I genuinely thought I’d die – I couldn’t imagine ever running that far. As ridiculous as it is, I remember calling my dad while walking up to the start line as a sort of last goodbye. I guess with a lot of things that are unknown it’s easier to just anticipate the worst. I didn’t die, and while it wasn’t easy, I absolutely loved it.
What do you remember when you crossed the finish line?
It wasn’t a breeze, and although I did throw up shortly after finishing, I remember feeling astonished, and so, so happy.
So what happened next?
I got into ultras thanks to a few friends from the group that I run with, Run Dem Crew. A friend was signed up to run Country to Capital, a 42-mile [67.6km] race from Wendover into central London, and we got talking about it one day. After I got over the initial feeling of utter disgust at the thought of running so far, I let it settle. Following a hard few weeks juggling jobs I needed something to work towards, so I signed up at the end of that week. I ran it and it was one of my favourite days to date. I guess from that race I found that running appealed to me in many ways, and sat well with my stubborn genes. I find it really interesting not fully knowing the limits of how far you can push your body and mind, especially as this spans much wider into other aspects of life.
So then you ended up trying to change something rather more substantial: the gender split in racing…
[That was] after a surprise win at my second ultra, Race to the Stones 100km. I was made up with the result, but couldn’t help but notice the sheer lack of women. I discovered that ultra-participation is generally 80:20 male to female, which didn’t make any sense. So WMN RUN was started in order to try and usher more women into endurance running and sport as a whole.
Do you think men and women approach running differently?
If we’re talking generally, I would be tempted to say yes, although I do feel that this is down to the cultural ideals we’re given, and ultimately the self-perception this creates. In running with the men that I train with, I’ve been pushed more than I would have ever pushed myself, and have realised my own potential by learning from how they approach things, and mirroring this. This isn’t to say that women don’t push themselves without a male being involved – they do. But on the start line of a race you will generally find men lined up first, whether they are faster than the women behind or not.
So what are your big goals now?
I’m finding that the bucket list grows every year – I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. In terms of ultras, I would love to do the UTMB [Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc] and Transgrancanaria one day, and a 100-miler either late this year or early next. I’m also reading up on the Bob Graham Round [a 66-mile circuit of 42 peaks in the Peak District] for a future venture with a friend, though this may kill me.
Looking back to your first London Marathon, do you think that experience was crucial?
Definitely. In signing up I was able to actually enjoy something I thought would be a horrendous experience. It also led me to find Run Dem Crew, thanks to their yearly Mile 21 cheering tunnel of love, with confetti cannons galore.
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Kate Carter is an experienced writer and editor, as well as a dedicated runner. Kate worked at The Guardian for 12 years, establishing and running the successful Running Blog. She contributed to Coach magazine between 2015 and 2016, and has also written for World Athletics, Runners World and Women & Home, among others. Kate has also worked as a presenter on The Running Channel. Kate holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a full-body animal costume (female), having run the 2019 London Marathon in 3hr 48min 32sec dressed as a panda.