Leaving the sofa behind to become a GB international

Sarah Martin-Smith has been on a life-changing journey by getting active.

Sarah before her weight loss.

No limits to what you can achieve

Sarah Martin-Smith is living proof that there are few limits to what you can achieve when making the choice to get active – if you are determined enough.

The 37-year-old Derby High School teacher admits she was 'never interested' in PE lessons at school, and, with keeping fit not on her agenda, she steadily put on weight in her twenties and early thirties.

However, a challenge by work colleagues to complete the Race for Life was to irrevocably change her outlook for the better, with her progress so marked that she represented Great Britain in the ITU Sprint Duathlon World Championships, held in Pontevedra, Spain last summer.

Not only that, but within the last month, she has completed her first half ironman triathlon event at Cholmondeley Castle, completing the 1.2 mile (1,900m) swim, 75 mile (96km) bike ride and half marathon (21km) run in five hours fifty seven minutes, 37 seconds, finishing as eighth female competitor in a strong field.

And while feats of that magnitude, will not be on the agenda of most people looking to turn over a new leaf, it is a powerful demonstration of how getting active can totally reinvigorate your lifestyle for the better.

From 'massively overweight' to super-fit

Sarah in one of her first events.

"We started out running a mile, and when I did Race for Life, I thought I was going to die at the end, but it was a really nice thing to be able to say we had done it," explained Sarah, who now represents the Belper 10:20 Triathlon Club.

"I was then urged to do the Derby 10k along with the PE teachers at our school. I had never run anywhere near that distance, so it was a massive thing for me to do. But I wanted to do some exercise and get fit. I do like food and I didn't want to give up eating the things I liked, so I wanted to control my weight through exercise."

"After finishing the 10k we entered again for the next year to see if we could better our time. Next, I did a half marathon and went on to join Derwent Running Club in Derby and did well – it has all gone from there. Now I have the lifestyle I wanted to have and it gives me much more confidence."

Sarah has been delighted to see the impact the This Girl Can Campaign has made both nationally and across Derbyshire and is hopeful that others will either discover or rekindle an enjoyment of sport or physical activity, as she has.

She said: "When I started out I was massively overweight, but once I got into it, I started getting faster in my running and competitive with it – which I had never been before in my life.

"I hated sport at school and there was never any motivation for me to do it then, but this was something I wanted to do. If you're forced into sport, you don't necessarily want to do it, but this has been my decision to compete and I think that happens when you are older and more mature.

"Anybody can do anything if they put their mind to it – there are no barriers with age or weight.

None of us are traditionally 'sporty' in my family, but my brother now runs and he did his first 10k last year in under 40 minutes."

Representing GB in Spain.

Setting new challenges

Once Sarah had got the running bug, it wasn't long until she diversified into other disciplines, adding variety and bringing new challenges to her training.

She entered her first triathlon in London in 2013 and has followed that up by moving onto duathlon events (run-bike-run), where she has competed on the international stage.

"I couldn't swim front crawl when I did my first triathlon – I did it on breaststroke and I wanted a new challenge and I taught myself to front crawl. When I was breaststroking, I saw people going past me, and I didn't want that, so I went three times a week."

Despite her rapid rise from nervous beginner to confident elite athlete, it has not always been easy for Sarah. Last year she was sidelined by a frustrating leg injury after a bike crash, which led her to step up to half ironman distance.

Stepping up to half ironman

She said: "Crashing on my bike last September scuppered my chances of competing internationally this year and because of that I decided to go for a new challenge and that's why I did my first half ironman. I've been doing the sprint distance, so it's been good to challenge myself to go further.

"I qualified in April for the European Duathlon Sprint champs for 2016 in Germany, so I'm ready to represent GB again next year. I got a Q1 at the qualification race, securing me one of the four places.

"Representing Great Britain, as I have, is something that I didn't ever think would happen to me. Triathlon is one of the only sports that encourages people of different ages to compete for their country because of the age group categories.

Sarah on top of the podium.

"At 37, I would be considered 'past it' in a lot of sports, but in triathlon, my age bracket is actually one of the most competitive."

Sarah, who has been supported all the way by husband Mark, would recommend anyone giving triathlon or duathlon a go. They are sports known for their strong sense of camaraderie among competitors, friendly clubs and a wide range of abilities among those taking part.

"My advice would be to get involved with a local club because they are so welcoming and helpful," said Sarah. "If you don't give it a go, then you will never know and if you hate it, it doesn't matter. But people could be fantastic at it and never have given it a try."

For details on how to start jogging and running go to the JOG Derbyshire pages. You can also find out more about swimming, cycling and triathlon.