AUGUST 2021: Sophie Jackson joined RunBrighton’s Introduction to Running course, October 2018, and has been a regular in our marathon training group, ever since.

In a couple of weeks’ time, Sophie will be taking on her third ultra event, clearly having caught the running bug!

When you joined our Introduction to Running course, Sophie, was that really the first time youd done any regular running?

The first time I had done any ‘serious’ running, yes!

I started at Preston Park parkrun, the year before (2017), encouraged (pushed) by my sister, who is a regular runner. Although that first parkrun was hard (5k seemed like a very long way), I surprised myself by loving it. Knowing you’ve pushed yourself, first thing on a Saturday morning, seeing those PBs coming in (and the coffee and cake afterwards), is pretty addictive.

But without having the right shoes, and being both slightly over enthusiastic (i.e. throwing myself down the hills) and needlessly competitive, my knees and shins started to creak under the strain. So, I took myself along to a running shop for gait analysis, got proper running shoes, and banned myself from parkrun whilst I completed the Couch-to-5k programme.

What did you used to do to keep fit, before running?

Before running, I was a regular gym-goer, but never really enjoyed it – gym sessions were just a necessary evil to stay fit. I much prefer being outdoors, swimming regularly (in the sea between June and October), walking everywhere and very occasionally, these days, riding.

I’ve long ditched the gym membership, but rely on regular Pilates sessions to keep everything moving!

What prompted you to join the course with RunBrighton?

Again, it was my running sister who suggested it. I’d reached a bit of a plateau with parkrun and was still fairly injury-prone. The Introduction to Running course, which promised much-needed help with technique, strength training and increasing the distance I could run, sounded ideal.

What did you enjoy about it, and what made you go on to do our winter training straight after?

It really was ideal. I loved the gentle encouragement, knowledgeable instruction, and friendliness of the group, and I appreciated the ‘see you next time’ peer pressure. And the revelation that it was OK, and in fact encouraged, to run at a pace where you could actually still talk!

Originally, I was just going to stop at the Intro course but, once I knew I could run for an hour, I couldn’t see any reason not to just keep going. So, I did.

I understand you havent actually run an official half or full marathon yet, although youve already completed a couple of ultras. Which events were they, and what appealed to you about the longer distances?

It does seem a little odd, I know, to go straight to ultras, but they are very different events.

The two I’ve done – Isle of Wight in 2018, and London to Brighton in 2019 – were both over a mix of terrain… from steep, flinty tracks to long, flat, tarmac stretches. On the London to Brighton, we even trotted in and out of a train station.

And I really enjoy (and so do my legs) the changes in pace this provides. I actually look forward to any uphill sections, as this means it’s time for walking and eating!

Ultras are also broken up into stages, so you can stop and have a tea break, every 10-15 miles or so. And on both the Isle of Wight and London to Brighton, I took up the option to complete the total distance over two days. It meant I could do the whole route in daylight… and have a hot bath, hot meal and good night’s sleep at the halfway mark.

And although a good finish time is always a bonus, the real achievement is just making it to the end. Over such a long distance, anything can happen… and it often does! I will never be fast, but I seem to have the endurance – or sheer stubbornness – needed for long-distance events.

Plus, there’s the added bonus of exploring new places. The Isle of Wight ultra follows the perimeter path around the coast, and is stunning.

I remain in awe of those running full marathons at one pace… and with no tea breaks! But maybe next year I’ll be tempted to sign up for a half?

How would you summarise what it is that motivates you?

The sense of achievement is pretty motivating.

I’m still surprised to be described as a runner. If a pack of cyclists shout “runner” down the line, when they see me trotting towards them, I still automatically look behind me to move out of the way for the runner before realising that they mean me!

And I’m fairly fascinated by what you can train your body to do over time. Couch to 5k to 100k is possible if you take it slowly and train well… and get the right shoes!

How does the RunBrighton training help?

It’s hugely helpful.

I love the variety of running routes and the weekly training plans.

And I know that I run faster, and for longer, when training with the group, than I do on my own. The group energy seems to carry you along, and the chat is a great distraction if the going gets tough.

The support, inspiration and pacing of the run ambassadors is brilliant too, and my fellow 4:30ers are a pretty inspiring bunch!

Tell us about the event youre doing in September.

It’s the South Coast Challenge, which I’ve signed up to do with my running sister, Philippa, over two days.

It’s mostly along the South Downs Way. It starts near Polegate, before heading up to Beachy Head, over the Seven Sisters, through Cuckmere Haven, past Lewes and along to Brighton seafront, then to Hove Park. Day two sees us heading out of Hove Park, back to the South Downs Way on a familiar, RunBrighton route, along the old ‘Hangleton to Devil’s Dyke’ railway line, then up to Truleigh Hill and past Steyning, Washington and Amberley, before heading south along the river to the finish at Arundel.

Day one is 55k and day two is 45k, and there’s a total climb of 2,100m.

Do you have any other events lined up after that?

Yes, the following weekend, I’m doing the first half (50k) of the Thames Path Challenge, from Putney to Runnymede. I’m doing it with a walking-only friend, though, so we’ll be solely walking! And it’s completely flat, so doesn’t really count… which is how I’ve justified doing two events so close together.

I haven’t really thought much beyond that, but might be tempted to sign up for a half marathon to keep a goal in mind.

How do you spend your time when not running?

Like a lot of people, I’ve mostly been confined to working on my laptop in my kitchen, since March 2020. I work in marcomms for an exhibition organiser, IMEX.

In normal times, we run two annual trade shows for the conference and incentive travel industry. One is in Frankfurt in the spring; the other, in Las Vegas in the autumn.

The pandemic has meant that we haven’t had a live show since Las Vegas in September 2019, but we’ve kept ourselves very busy, running virtual events. And we’re currently full steam ahead for our Las Vegas show in November.

Outside of my work for IMEX, I dabble in interior design. In fact, a few years ago, I qualified as an interior designer… and am never happier (apart from when out running, of course) than when engrossed in the latest issue of Elle Decoration. I might have to stick a copy in my backpack for those ultra tea breaks!

Sophie, its been good to chat. Well done for your amazing progression over such a short space of time. Good luck with the South Coast Challenge and Thames Path Challenge, and hopefully well see you back training with us again this coming winter.


By Mike Bannister