Speedy, consistently-paced, endearingly modest, slender-legged and giving the boys a run for their money: you might be forgiven for assuming Shepperton Running Group’s Sabrina Hales has been training and competing for years. In fact, she hasn’t. She’s shot to the top in a short space of time, battling with her weight, inner demons, smoking, and mastering motherhood almost single-handedly to get there. From non-runner to marathon star, she hopes to show others that effort, self-belief and determination do pay off, even if the journey is tough at times and the finish line seems a distant dream.
Every runner has a story, and this is Sabrina’s.
As a teenager, Sabrina swam competitively but recalls only one episode of running when she was at school – a disastrous cross country lesson that put her off completely. Little did she know this was the sport that would literally change her life in a few years to come.
Felicity, her daughter, was born in 2013 when Sabrina was in her mid-20s. The combination of pregnancy, giving up work and not being able to socialise as much took its toll on her weight and wellbeing. Her unhealthy diet and 20-a-day habit (cigarettes, not Strava miles) caused rapid weight gain, sapping her energy and enthusiasm. It’s hard to imagine this version of Sabrina – she’s probably a size 8 now, but stick a number 1 in front of that figure and you’d be close.
“Running for 8 minutes nearly killed me”
Answering to the demands of a newborn 24/7 was no mean feat, grabbing snacks and sleep whenever she got the chance. Despite efforts to feel positive and accept her ballooning shape, Sabrina wasn’t in a happy or confident place and her determination to start making signifiant changes prevailed. She joined Slimming World and lost an incredible 4.5 stone. The NHS Couch to 5k app became her other ‘baby’, and she ventured onto the treadmill at her parents’ house. One challenge that sticks in her mind is an 8 minute non-stop run which ‘nearly killed’ her. However, running was already giving her a new lease of life: a break from the baby and not to mention more energy – a lifeline for any parent. Joining a running club was still not even on her radar though, and SRG was yet to hit the streets of Shepperton. She didn’t own a running medal or Garmin, and didn’t know about energy gels and chip timing. The Co-op was a just another shop in the high street – now of course it’s the place to meet for a friendly run every Monday and Thursday in Shepperton.
“Dad said ‘you’ll be running a 10K race next year’ – I just thought NO WAY”
Committed to her new regime, Sabrina completed the Couch to 5k programme although she has no recollection of her average pace/speed – something that now occupies a fair amount of head space for most runners. Around this time, her dad mentioned the Staines 10k road race and remarked that she would likely be taking part next time. This seemed like an imaginable concept to Sabrina, but her dad was right to have faith… she went on to complete not only 10k, but 10 miles, half-marathons and an incredible sub-4 hour marathon (she’s even tried cross-country again!).
It all started with a parkrun
Treadmill running is all well and good, but many people attribute the start of their running journey and community to parkrun, and Sabrina is no different. Her brother Bradley casually announced one Friday that he had signed her up to parkrun UK and that she would be running her first outdoor 5k at Bedfont Lakes the next day.
She had only ran outside once on her own, so was naturally petrified, but it looked like she had no choice. And was she glad that she did! Sabina was ‘blown away’ by the parkrun community and ethos, and instantly caught the running bug (brothers can be awesome!). Her debut parkrun time was 26:21 that day in June 2015. She achieved a PB of 21:40 just a few months later.
Sabrina continued to run at Bedfont Lakes on Saturday mornings, but when she spotted Shepperton Running Group she hesitated to introduce herself, feeling daunted. Fortunately, Sabrina’s dad was brave enough to talk to them (!) and a friendly guy called Alex in neon socks encouraged her to come along for the next run around Shepperton. So she did 🙂
This was also a pivotal point in Sabrina’s running journey. Through SRG she’s made friends from all walks of life and represented the team at many events, the most memorable so far being the River Thames Half Marathon in October 2015 – her first experience of running as part of such an encouraging and supportive team, and a commendable distance to boot. Since running regularly and over longer distances, she has lost more weight and now maintains a strong, healthy body with a balanced diet.
“Felicity is the main reason I run”
Sabrina says she wants to set an example to her daughter Felicity, now three, by leading a healthy and active lifestyle. “It makes me happy when she runs and says ‘I am running fast like mummy’, or if she mimics using my foam roller” says Sabrina.
Recounting her debut marathon just a few weeks ago, she doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge it was an extremely tough physical and mental challenge. However, the thought of reaching Felicity at the finish line kept her going. Just seeing her little face at 13 miles was a huge boost. Sabrina also runs to make her family proud – and I’m sure they certainly are the proudest parents ever. They have a beautiful granddaughter and inspirational daughter (and son) who made the brave decision that day in 2013 to turn her life around, and stick to it. Sabrina isn’t complacent however – she appreciates every opportunity to run and is still in awe of what the mind and body can achieve when they’re put to the test. There are plenty more PBs to come…this girl can, and she does.
Sabrina is a great friend to many, including myself. Her running journey is an amazing story I have been honoured to write.