Catching the Running Bug with Sarah Kern

When Sarah Kern is covering hard-hitting news stories for Al Jazeera English she can be found running around London, satisfying the bug she caught 25 years ago.

Growing up, Sarah wasn’t interested in running whatsoever and it wasn’t until a friend convinced her that entering the 1999 New York Marathon “would be a laugh” that she ever really considered taking the sport. That was despite the achievements of her mum, who was winning medals into her 70s.

“My mum was a runner,” Sarah told Fen Regis Trophies. “But only took it up when she turned 50.

“She managed to have a house full of medals well into her 70s. My brother is an obsessive runner too, although neither of us showed any interest in running as kids!

“I ran a bit before 1999 and then a friend and I thought it would be a laugh to do the New York Marathon in 1999

“It was a laugh, but it nearly killed us! We dragged our bodies around in just under six hours!

“From then, I caught the bug properly and have been a long-distance runner ever since.”

The Freedom of Running

Sarah will be the first to admit that she won’t be troubling Paula Radcliffe’s records any time soon, but that doesn’t impede her endurance for running. Like many, she enjoys the freedom that running affords as she escapes from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

A London resident, Sarah has the luxury of being able to plan routes passing some of the country’s most famous landmarks. Whether running past Big Ben or scampering through more natural settings, Sarah always likes to take in her surroundings.

“For me,” Sarah says. “Running is about the freedom and the headspace it gives you. The sheer joy of letting your body and mind run free.

“I run for the mental benefits more than anything else. As I have been running for so long, I find it very meditative. I can think of everything or nothing depending on what’s going on in life and I will be absolutely guaranteed to feel better by the end of a run.

“I love just being out in the open and particularly with nature. I try never to worry about speed and just let my body tell me whether it wants to go fast or slow…and very often I stop to take pictures of some beautiful element of nature.

“I tend to have a set of favourite routes which I rotate between depending on my mood. One day it will be a ‘dodging the deer in Richmond Park mood’, another will be a ‘catching the landmarks in London mood’.

“I do always prefer an early morning run. It sets me up for the day and gets my brain working better.”

Sarah added: “I was once with the great Ealing Eagles, but realised I was hardly ever able to make their meets as most of my runs are crazy early in the morning.

“They are a super friendly encouraging bunch and always have a cheery smile out and about on the trails.”

While Sarah loves living and running in the capital, by her admission, she has never been freer than running through the mountains in Scotland with her favourite running partner, her brother.

“My favourite running in the world is in the mountains in Scotland with my brother. He is the best running companion and my only real running companion as I tend to run alone.

“He is much faster than me and, as he lives in Scotland, he is an accomplished mountain runner, so he pushes me further and higher than I would ever do by myself.

“Last summer, we ran up a beautiful mountain overlooking Glencoe and I think there is no feeling on Earth like the one you have when you stand, in your muddy trainers getting your breath back and taking in the most stunning scenery on earth.

Sarah with her Ealing Half Marathon finisher’s medal.

Race Ready

Serious runners never leave their pre-race preparation to chance and Sarah is no different. Though she doesn’t race as much these days, Sarah is a regular at the Ealing Half Marathon, which she says is the “friendliest race” but adds that “it does have a few too many hills” for her liking.

“I don’t very often race anymore,” she admitted. “Whenever I even think about racing, I tend to get over-focused on times and then I get injured.

“I realised that I love just being out there running and if I try and aim for certain times or events, I end up injuring myself and preventing myself from running altogether.

“The only race I do every year without fail is the Ealing Half Marathon. It is the loveliest race I have ever done and without a doubt has the best atmosphere.

“All 13.1 miles of the route are lined with people clapping, cheering, and playing music. It’s absolutely the friendliest race ever…although it does have a few too many hills for London!”

“Running up the Mountains in Scotland Puts Everything into Perspective”

More often than not, when anyone involved in sport is asked for their greatest achievement they will point towards a trophy or medal they are particularly proud of winning. Sarah, however, believes that simply finding running is her greatest achievement as it has changed her life for the better.

“Finding running and finding my love for running has to be my best achievement within it.

“‘Before running’ was a whole different world and one that was far less able to just be in the moment and put things into perspective.

“Running up the mountains in Scotland puts everything into perspective.”

Sarah is proof that you don’t need to be setting lightning-quick times to love running, and nor do you have to conform to anyone else’s idea of what running should be. Her message is clear if you have never put a pair of running trainers on and stepped outside your front door, then do it! And make sure you have fun while doing so.

“I would advise anyone and everyone to try running. As a beginner, just remember that there are no set rules for running. Do what you enjoy and if you let yourself, you really can enjoy it.

“Try not to focus on times or distances or prescriptive running programmes; just run a bit, walk a bit when you fancy, run a bit again and smile because you are doing it…and take a picture of you being happy at that moment, so you can remember that for the next time you lace up your trainers!”

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