In todays EtchRock Elite blog, we got the chance to talk with Sarah Williams from Tough Girl Challenges. If you haven’t heard of Sarah or Tough Girl Challenges, your first job is to go check her out! She is a rising star in the challenge community that can be described in a plethora of ways. Some may call her a challenger, others may call her an author or life coach, what about podcast host or TV personality? All of these would be perfectly valid, but what most people would describe her as, an inspiration.
Sarah is taking Tough Girl Challenges to new heights as she aims to inspire and encourage women everywhere to not only pick up a challenge, but to make the most out of their lives and chase their dreams. She is role model in every sense of the word and it is a privilege to be able to help share her message. This is Sarah’s interview with EtchRock as she shares with us her story.
Let’s start off by talking about how Tough Girl Challenges came about. You left a successful career working in banking in the city, what prompted this change?
To be honest, I’d just had enough. I was no longer happy and this unhappiness was starting to spread over into other areas of my life. I felt all I did was work, and I didn’t have a huge amount to show for how I’d been spending my time. I was working long hours – as everyone who wants to be successful in banking does! I was tired, run down, and felt exhausted and ready for a change, I was ready for something different I just didn’t know what that was.
I looked up one day and realised this was not what I wanted from my life anymore. I could not be doing this for the next twenty or thirty years! As soon as I’d had that thought and that realisation, I knew I had to change and one thing led to another and before I knew it I was over in Australia starting my year off!
Can you tell us about where the name ‘Tough Girl’ came from? What does it mean to be a Tough Girl?
I wanted a name that was both feminine and masculine. I wanted to achieve a mix and a balance to the name. I tried various combinations and different words- Miss Adventure, Female Challenge, Girl Challenge etc
But in the end it was Tough Girl Challenges that I just kept on coming back to. It just resonated with me and still does.
I’ve always been a big believer in doing challenges and pushing myself physically and mentally and I felt this name encompassed everything I wanted it to. There’s no one definition of what a tough girl is. Everyone women and every girl is fighting battles that no one knows anything about. It could be related to confidence, self-belief, going against social norms, being different and not fitting in.
Your site is aptly named Tough Girl Challenges, can you tell us about some of the challenges that you have completed and what has been your toughest one to date?
When I was eighteen I headed off to back pack around South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, where I sky dived, buggy jumped, white water rafted etc. I’ve run the London Marathon 5X, cycled death road in Bolivia, climbed a live Volcano in Chile and summited the highest mountain in Africa – Mount Kilimanjaro. Mount Kilimanjaro was definitely one of the hardest challenges I’ve done do far, and I’ve written about my experience – “Kilimanjaro – Tips for the Top”.
Sarah and her team about to make the big climb!
Thinking of climbing Africa’s highest mountain? You can check out Sarah’s book, Kilimanjaro – Tips for top here
You are currently training for the fabled Marathon Des Sables (MDS). This is widely known as one of the toughest races on the planet, how do you prepare for an event like this?
That’s a great question and when you start actually training for this race, you find out that every single person has an opinion on how best to train and they’ll want to share their advice and tips with you! You have to be very selective in who you listen to. Last year I decided I wasn’t going to listen to anyone, I was going to train for this on my own!
I though I knew how to train for a challenge of this size and like everything I do, I threw myself into it. I was training like a full time athlete; I was doing strength and conditioning sessions, boxing, yoga, walking and running a huge amount of mileage, as I wanted to get time on my feet.
I ended up bed ridden over Christmas and New Year, I was exhausted and run down and I found out later I was severely anaemic and was suffering from adrenal fatigue. My Doctor said it wasn’t the best decision for me to go and run six marathons in six days across the desert in the state I was in and I had to postpone the event until 2016.
It’s taken me about eight months to get back to almost healthy again. This time I’m doing things slightly differently! I’m working with a personal trainer – Jack Clover from JC Performance and he’s developed a specific training program for me in relation to building up my strength and endurance and ironing out any weaknesses in my running. I’m following his guidance and instructions!
My biggest challenge with this race is nutrition, which I know I don’t have 100% sorted yet, but I’m working on it. I actually need to get a nutritionist on board to help me with this part of my training!
By completing all these tough challenges, what message are you trying to convey to all those that are inspired by you?
I want people to know that I’m not the best runner, I’m not the best at sticking to a diet, and I’m not the best at challenges. I am no one special; I don’t mean that in a negative way. I am just a normal girl, who’s the same as everyone else. But I know in order for me to grow and develop as a person. I need to push myself both physically and mentally. I need to see what I’m made off. I need that excitement. I want to be living my life to the fullest and I don’t want to just exist, I want to really be living life to the fullest. I want to look back at my life and be like, yeah – I gave it a good go, I gave it my all, and I took advantage of the opportunities that came my way.
If I can inspire one other girl to go and follow her passion and to live her life to the fullest, then I’m happy. Obviously I want to inspire more than one person, but the greatest honour for me, would be in a few years time, having someone come up to me and say, because of you I did this….they could have read one of my books, my blog posts, or listened to me give a motivational talk or heard me on a podcast. I’m trying lots of different ways to connect out and to reach women and girls who do need that extra support and help.
I want to reach out and to connect with as many women and girls as possible. I want to have the biggest impact possible and I want to convey to every single girl or women of any age, that YOU CAN DO IT. You just need to decide what is you really, really want and start. Take action and make it happen.
To touch upon some of the work that you are currently doing, you have a Tough Girl Podcast now. Can you tell me a little about it and some of the fantastic guests that you have had the opportunity to talk to?
From my motivational talks, and meeting and networking with more women, one of the things I’ve noticed is the lack of sponsorship for women and the lack of media support for women. There are so few examples of women doing physical challenges, or playing sports or going on adventures. If you were to look in the media or on the TV you would think it was only men who had an interest in sports and women just watch, they never get involved. All the TV programs about adventure are with men, they tell the stories of great adventures by men. What about the women?
Though twitter, and other social media platforms it started to become more and more apparent that women had done a hell of a lot of amazing challenges, but no one was sharing their stories.
I was not aware of them, I read a lot, and it was like coming across a secret underground world. It got me thinking, if I don’t know about them, what about the younger girls, would they know that women have rowed across the Atlantic, swam the English Channel that women have scaled the highest mountain in the world, or have run 53 marathon in 53 days?
I knew there was a lack of support for women in sports by the lack of sponsorship and media coverage. But I did not realise what a massive gulf there was. If you’re a female, trying to do anything in adventure or challenges, it is phenomenally hard to get sponsorship, don’t get me wrong there are some women who have sponsors and that’s fantastic. But generally there’s a massive lack of support from large media outlets and large corporates who sponsor events. They rarely sponsor women.
I could talk about this all day, but me talking about it wasn’t going to change anything. Instead, I decided to take action. I wanted to educate women and girls out there, that their are different opportunities available to them.
If you haven’t listened to the Tough Girl Podcast then I would encourage you to give it a listen. It’s aimed at women and girls, but I do have male listeners, who also enjoy it as evidenced by the reviews in iTunes. The format is a relaxed interview, where I talk to the guest and find out more about what they do, how they do it, what challenges, they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them. I ask them for their tips and their advice.
My guests are just fantastic, I mix it up and try to get a real variety in the show. I’ve interviewed Olympians, runners, swimmers, mountaineers, rowers as well as boxers and female fencers. I have so many amazing episodes I want to get out in December as my present to my Tough Girl Listeners, I’ve decided to double it up in December and have two episodes per week, one on Tuesday (Tough Girl Tuesday) and one on Thursday (Tough Girl Thursday) both being realised at 7 am UK Time!
Sarah has interviewed some incredibly inspirational women on her podcast, a must listen!
Apple user? You can download Sarah’s podcast for free here. Alternatively you can listen on Soundcloud or Stitcher
Women in sport has been somewhat of a hot topic this year. There have been some fantastic campaigns running such as This Girl Can to really challenge cultural assumptions about femininity that prevent women from engaging in sport and exercise. How much success do you think these campaigns have had?
I love these campaigns and I am so proud of what they have done and how they have encouraged women to get involved in sports and to get fit and active. I was chatting to Stacey Copeland – an awesome boxer who will be coming on the Tough Girl Podcast in November and she made a great comment – playing sports is not just about what you look like, its about how it makes you feel.
I promise you now – if you go for a run or go and do a workout you’ll feel so much better at the end.
The campaigns have got women talking and they have helped to raise awareness. We need to keep our girls and women fit and active. Playing sports has so many benefits from your physical and mental health to your overall well being. So many problems in this country are caused by lack of exercise and a lack of movement. People need to get up and get active. Not everyone wants to run a marathon or climb a mountain and that’s ok – but you should be able to walk a flight of stairs with out getting out of breath, if you have children you want to be able to play football with them in the garden or run around the park with them, you want to see them grow up.
I think they have massively helped and encouraged more women to get fit and active and that can only be a good thing. What we need now is more media coverage of women sports and more sponsorship for women. That’s the next real challenge for this country.
You are a source of inspiration for many women here in the UK, but where do you get your motivation? Is there someone in particular that you look up to?
Thank you – that’s very kind of you!
I’m inspired by so many different women, not just the women who’ve gone out and climbed the highest mountain in the world, or have run 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents, or the women who’ve rowed oceans and sailed around the world. More and more I’ve come to realise women are the backbone of everything. They look after families, they work and they put other people first, they’re under huge amounts of pressure from society to look and to act a certain way and many women just put their head down and get on with it.
They go to work each day to help support their family they never put themselves first and many don’t even realise just want an amazing job they’re doing. What frustrates me is many women just accept life and think this is how it should be.
I know I’m very lucky with everything I’ve had in my life, from my education to the opportunities that have come along. However, I’ve always taken advantage of those opportunities and made the most from them. So I really do look up to the women who are out there every single day and they’re doing it and they are getting things done. All I would ask of them is to make sure they take some time for themselves. It’s not being selfish to look after yourself and your health. Have some quality time each week, where you can do something purely for you, whether that’s going to they gym, taking a hot bath or taking some time out to read a book. Put yourself first everyone once in a while! It will benefit everyone.
You spent a winter in Switzerland working as a chalet host and wrote a book about your experience. Can you talk a little about this and what we can expect from reading your book?
I took up skiing in my thirties and everyone was so much better than me! All my friends would be zooming off and I would be stuck on the baby slopes. I loved the skiing but I hated being so rubbish at it. With skiing holidays you normally only go for a week, by the time you start to get good, you have to head home. I knew I was never going to get good at skiing by only skiing for a week at a time with a year break in between. So while I was on my gap year, which was turning out to be slightly longer than a year! I decided why not go and do a ski season!! I would then get the opportunity to spend six months in the mountains and get better at skiing!
My book gives the reader everything they want to know about how to get a job in a ski resort, it gives you top tips on how to ace the interview and what the interviewers are looking for. I also give advice and tips for when you’re out their on what to expect, how to handle the difficult guests and how to never have to pay for a drink in a ski resort ever!! I also give you the best tips and advice about how to cook the quickest and simplest meals (which taste and look amazing!) and how you can spend all your time skiing and not in the chalet.
You can check out Sarah’s book, Your Step by Step guide to Chalet Hosting here.
If you could take part in one challenge anywhere in the world, what would it be?
I have such a massive list and it keeps on growing!! I would love to go and visit the lost city in Colombia. I would love to go and climb Mt. Elbrus (part of the seven summits!). I would love to walk the Great Wall of China. I still haven’t done the three peaks challenge yet!! I’ve been trying to do that for the past few years and I just keep missing it! But I will do the three peaks challenge at some point!!
What advice would you give to someone looking to undertake his or her first big challenge?
First off, be realistic with the challenge you set yourself and make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare and do the challenge. You want to give yourself the best possible change of success. Many challenges when you first look at them can be overwhelming and it’s ok to pick a big challenge, but its all about breaking it down into smaller parts and getting a plan in place. Preparation is also important you need to do your research before hand and find out everyone you need to know to be fully aware of what’s involved.
You will have heard the phrase, information is power – knowing what you need to is all part of the preparation and for me this is an exciting time. When I first started looking at the Marathon des Sables I was very overwhelmed by how big a challenge it actually is. But I read everything on the website, I found blogs written by other people who’d done the challenge. I read books; I talked to friends who’d already done it. I then started to get a handle on what I need to do, and different sections to focus on e.g. Training, nutrition, and equipment. I would then delve deeper into each section. So by taking equipment, what was the kit lists, what did I need to take, what were the recommendations, ok what piece of kit is going to work for me and slowly I would start to buy and gather the equipment and over time it starts to come together.
One of the important things for me is the mental preparation as well. I am a very visual person, so I have a vision board with what I want to achieve stuck up there. I can then look at it every day and it just helps me to believe. I will achieve it and I will accomplish what I set out to do.
Just go for it, and remember not everyone’s going to support your dream. But if you’re passionate about it and it means something to you. Then you are the only one who can make it happen!