Name: Sandra Tullett
Occupation: Medical Physicist
Home Town: London (now live in Portsmouth)
What is your running background?
In my teens I used to row on the Thames and running was part of the training but I didn’t
particularly enjoy it at that time. I started running regularly when I moved to Portsmouth in 2001. I did my first marathon in 2004 in France and promptly said never again, but of course that did not last long.
I continued to run a marathon or two each year for a few years and then increased the number of marathons/ultras I ran, until finally reaching 100 marathons/ultras in 2017.
When did you first start running Ultra marathons and why?
I started running ultras of 30 – 50 miles from 2009 and moved on to my first 100 (SDW100) in 2014. I was sick from around 40 miles onwards and again said ‘never again’. I entered the same race again the following year! My husband, Russ, says that I run for the ‘fluffy stuff’. I do enjoy running in the countryside but equally I enjoy running
on the road.
My memory is so bad that going over the same routes again and again I can still get lost. I find running ultras to be a form of therapy. When I am worried about something I would take that worry out with me running, but if you run for long enough all the worries disappear. Usually, because you have other things to worry about, like nausea or blisters – but it always works to make me feel better and clear my mind.
When or where (at which events) are we most likely to see you?
As a runner I have run a variety of events. The marathon I have run the most is Beachy Head marathon so you might find me there. It’s such a beautiful course (fluffy stuff). I have enjoyed running the canal races and would love to do these again in the future.
You are also likely to see me at Spartathlon. I have been there every year since 2013 (except for the cancelled Covid year). For many years I never considered myself good enough to enter the race and was happy just to watch and support.
What are your personal key running achievements to date?
I was unexpectedly first lady at the Liverpool to Leeds canal race in 2016. In June 2017 I completed Thames Ring 250.
I would say this race is my most treasured running memory. I finished at the back, in 97 hours, but I would say this was an amazing journey from start to finish. Four days of no responsibilities except for putting one foot in front of the other and managing the sleep demons. The race became even more significant when 5 months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and for a time was facing the possibility of never running again. However, apart from a few occasions when chemotherapy got the better of me, I managed to continue to run throughout my entire treatment and came out the other side with a different perspective on life.
To be grateful for every single day that I am here and to do the things that challenge me because you never know when it will all be taken away. I ran GUCR in 2019 and achieved my first ever Spartathlon qualifier and this was when the seed was planted for actually having
a go at this historic race.
What was your hardest race experience?
I had entered the Canal slam in 2019. Having completed GUCR I then went on to run the Kennet and Avon Canal race. I ran a strong race and, at ~ 120 miles in, I was 4 hours ahead of the second lady. I had pushed hard and neglected my nutrition and became disorientated along Slough high street amongst some roadworks. I stopped in my tracks and promptly passed out (in front of Wetherspoons, of all places!) and never managed to get myself back
together again, ending up with a DNF. I then completed Liverpool to Leeds 4 weeks later. This is my hardest race experience in terms of the mistakes I made and the regrets I now have about it as I missed out on a win and completing the canal slam. But as a result it is also a significant learning experience and nutrition is still something that I have to work on. Passing out after 100 miles has become a bit of a habit of mine.
What is your typical race strategy for an ultra?
I usually have a plan prepared so I build up my mileage and make sure I taper. I prefer to start slow in order to reduce the chances of feeling nauseous and hopefully keep me running for longer.
What does a typical training week look like?
Typically I run 5 to 6 times a week. Weekend runs are usually longer, the length will depend on what I am training for and when it is. Even though there is structure to the length and frequency of my runs, until recently there has not been much structure to the runs themself.
What one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
Practice your nutrition on longer training runs and have a backup plan in case you can’t stomach what you had planned.
Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
I have written a book ‘Cancer Diaries of an Ultra Runner’ but it’s not quite finished yet.
Have you taken part in the Spartathlon before?
Where did you get your qualifier for Spartathlon:
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
I have seen all the major checkpoints as a supporter so am already familiar with them. I am looking forward to seeing each of these checkpoints from a different perspective. I think recognising these significant landmarks as I reach them will lift my spirits.
What are you not looking forward to during the Spartathlon race?
There is nothing that I am not looking forward to. I am concerned about the earlier cutoffs but that’s part of the challenge that I need to prepare for.
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
I know that for me to finish is a tough ask and I will be running at the back, close to cut offs. As a result I am including hill reps, speed reps, progression runs and tempo runs in my current training plan. Something I haven’t done for a few years. I also do some Pilates and some gym work or a swim in the week to compliment the running.
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race? (If so, please introduce them briefly)
I am fortunate to have a crew who know Spartathlon well – Paul Rowlinson and Chris Mills. Hopefully they will be able to keep me moving and keep me calm at the same time.