HIGH5 Stories: Sarah Brandis


While sport brings us all plenty of #HIGH5moments, we know that the journey to get there can be challenging, but that’s what makes it great, right?!

We’ve been showcasing real people’s stories behind their #HIGH5moment – the highs, the lows, the little things that make that HIGH5 worth it! Here’s Sarah Brandis’ story of her marathon journey and how, despite the ups and downs, crossing the London marathon finish line is her HIGH5 moment!

Sarah Brandis

Sarah at the finish line

My HIGH5 Moment:

My #HIGH5moment was crossing the London Marathon finish line in the heat! I set a ‘personal worst’ of 2 hours longer than I trained for, but happy to have made it around, complete with ears, tail, and a cat mascot on my shoulder.

The story behind my HIGH5 moment:

My interest in running started with a bit of an existential crisis.  I was managing a bar in London, and really not loving my work.  Honestly, I was in a bit of a career rut and going nowhere fast.  My colleague Matt, a manager from another pub, was having a drink with me at my bar on our night off.  He was feeling unchallenged too, and he had a really random idea.

Matt wanted to run the North Pole Marathon – or at least he did when he was full of cider.  In our drunkenness we came up with a plan to take on this adventure together.  I was so excited by the thought of finally doing something big and bold with my life.

So to make a long story short, as the effects of the cider wore off, so did Matt’s enthusiasm for our adventure, and he backed out.  I was gutted, although I must admit I had been a bit overwhelmed by the huge fundraising target.  But not willing to slip back into existential crisis mode, I found another challenge just for me.  Since I was now sold on the idea of a marathon, I signed up for the first one I found places for on a quick Google search.  It turned out to be New York in 2009.

“Honesty time – I’d never run this kind of distance before….  Training was a huge shock to the system!  But, I’ve got to say that my first marathon was an awesome experience and a tough reality check… it was the big adventure I needed.”

Honesty time – I’d never run this kind of distance before.  In fact I don’t think I’d run much since cross-country at senior school, and I was 28 at this point.  Training was a huge shock to the system!  I’ve got to say that my first marathon was an awesome experience and a tough reality check at the same time.  I had never done anything so hard before, and I really didn’t get my training right.  However, race day was the best ever foot-tour of New York, and the big adventure I needed.

Sarah at the Brighton Marathon

Up until now I hadn’t been a “proper runner” and knew very little of this world.  I had no idea that the crowd support would be the best part of the whole experience.  I also had no idea that running was so addictive!  So I had my next go at the marathon distance in Brighton, 2011.

With the new confidence that came from running, life started to change.  I decided to apply to Uni and have a full-on career change.  I must admit, with the pressures of exams, and then starting my new career as a marketing manager, I turned into something of a desk jockey.  Seven years went by, my weight and blood pressure went up, and I started to wonder again what I was doing with my life.  So remembering how the New York Marathon turned my life around before, it was time for another race.

Sarah's cat

This time I decided to go big and do London.  I took a place with Blue Cross as I’d had a really great experience with them. Two years ago we adopted two kittens, Iggy and Ivan, from Cats Protection League – another charity I love.  When it was time for vaccinations and neutering, Blue Cross took such excellent care of the kittens.  I was amazed at how much they do for pets, and really wanted to help.

I must say that being seven years older than when I last ran, two dress sizes bigger, and just way out of shape really made the training tougher than I’d remembered from New York.  I started getting my running fitness back six months before the marathon, and in that time I managed to strain both trapezius, left then right, and get shin splints too.  This made it really hard to get those essential long runs in, and at the point I should have been covering half marathon distance I had to switch to crosstraining, as my shins were not letting up.

Sarah with her cat puppet

As race day rolled around I was really nervous.  I’d cross-trained really hard, but I don’t think there is any substitute for real training miles on the road.  But I was really looking forward to my first race with a costume.  I had a cat puppet on my shoulder – his name is Salem and I think he will do more marathons with me in the future!  I’ve certainly got more fundraising to do for cat rescues.

Injuries aside, there was more trouble in store.  It turned out to be the hottest London Marathon on record.  I don’t do well in heat – I normally get through a lot of electrolytes in the summer.  This was only spring; yet by mile six as the Cutty Sark came into view, I started to feel my head spinning from the heat.

I’ve over-heated a lot in my lifetime, so that glowing feeling from my red face was a really familiar one.  I knew I was going to fall over and become a race-day casualty if I didn’t bring by heart rate down. So I forced myself to march for a while.  Of course, once you start marching instead of running, you start to get stiff.  It was really hard going.  On the plus side, slowing down meant I got to chat with other runners, and a few spectators reached out to touch Salem as we went by.  He definitely got some attention.

I did a little run and a mad-looking wave as I crossed Tower Bridge, because you have to, right? It was lovely to see the JustGiving cheer squad on the bridge, and they gave me a little energy boost.  But then, of course, you turn right towards the docklands and you know the worst is yet to come!

The docklands, in that heat, was definitely ‘type 2 fun’ – meaning it hurt like hell at the time, but in hindsight I am really proud of getting around it.  My charity, Blue Cross, had a cheer squad at mile 19.  So I tried to do a little run for the cameras. But at this point my body was too tired.  So on I marched…

“It’s funny; I spent six and a half hours just wanting to get my race finished.  And then as soon as it finished, I kind of missed it… A little part of me was sad it was over.”

By mile 20 it’s fair to say I’d lost my sense of humour.  I was so hot that I’d walked through all the showers, and I’d also tipped several bottles of water over my head.  This water had gone down my back, making my shirt wet.  My back was chaffing my back and bleeding a bit.  Ah well, more bragging rights I guess.

At mile 22 I had convinced myself there was a stone in my shoe.  But I was too stiff to bend down and take my shoe off!  A lovely volunteer helped me with that.  And while I felt bad that she touched my revolting feet – I couldn’t have been happier to have by shoe and sock adjusted.  And there wasn’t a stone, it was just a blister.

The last couple of miles were oddly euphoric, as I knew I would be heading home for a cup of tea and a bath soon.  My partner, Andy, managed to spot me in the very last mile!  I wasn’t expecting him to find me, so I was really surprised to hear a voice I recognised.  And then it happened – I rounded the corner by Parliament and headed into St. James’s Park.  Now I was really about to finish.  My time was coming up to six and a half hours, and having been shuffling along for many of those hours, I was really stiff by now!  I could see the finish line and wanted so badly to do a sprint finish.  My mind said RUN, but my legs just wouldn’t.

I guess that meant I got to savour the last 400 meters!  So Salem and I entertained the crowd and I waved to everybody who’s eye we caught.  Then the magical moment of crossing seemed to go in the blink of an eye.  Before I could really let finishing sink in, I had my medal around my neck.

It’s funny; I spent six and a half hours just wanting to get my race finished.  And then as soon as it finished, I kind of missed it!  Not that I could have run much further – but a little part of me was sad it was over.  The finish line atmosphere is really something.  Everyone is happy and swapping stories about what they just went through.

That was the best place for my HIGH5 moment, just past the finish line where people are meeting up with friends and family.  There’s a huge buzz there.  So this was where I had this picture taken, and it’s the best one to remember the day by!

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