Sophie Power interview: ultra running, entrepreneurship and breastfeeding during UTMB
Voted one of the six most inspirational female runners in 2018, we chat with Sophie about ultra running, entrepreneurship and that photo of her breastfeeding during UTMB.
The image that thrust Sophie into the spotlight
You can watch our full conversation here or keep scrolling for the highlights.
Sophie Power: the ultra runner
Having completed some of the world’s toughest ultras - MDS, Spartathlon and UTMB to name a few – Sophie now has her sights set on the brutal 278-mile Spine Fusion.
But how does she balance training alongside a busy life?
“For me it’s a matter of saying running is special to me. It’s me time”.
“When it comes to training, I’m ultra-efficient at only doing the mileage and sessions I need to do”.
Before Spartathlon, Sophie was coached by Robbie Britton, part of the Centurion Running Coaching team. Soon after, she switched to Edwina Sutton who is not just an incredible ultra runner but also a Mum.
After years of self-coaching, Sophie was thankful to have someone at the helm guiding her training.
“It would be difficult to fit it all in without someone on my back making sure I do it”.
You’ve got to carve out time to do the things you love
It’s evident the Power family is a tight-knit unit. Of her husband, who’s also an endurance athlete, she says:
“His goals are my goals”.
We love that!
A partner who wholeheartedly invests in your goals is a wonderful thing.
Sophie Power: the entrepreneur
The next string in Sophie’s bow is her role as a social impact entrepreneur.
“I started out in finance and used to define myself by my career. I was killing it in finance, doing well working in these companies. And that was me”.
Sophie was then unceremoniously released from her job.
“I now realise I can’t allow myself to be just one thing. It’s really unhealthy, because when you lose that – and someone can take it away from you very easily – then you have nothing else. Whatever it is that makes you relax and that you love doing, it’s important to have that”.
This is something many athletes may relate to. Endurance athletes’ training can become all-consuming at the detriment of social and family life.
Hitting the hills mid-UTMB
It then progresses to become an identity, which is dangerous because, as Sophie says, it can be taken away very quickly, by injury for example.
After leaving the world of finance, Sophie turned her passion into a career:
“About 5 years ago, I realised that the air pollution in London would make my child’s lungs smaller. He’d be born with lungs smaller than they should be, and they’d never recover. In London, it’s mostly about the nitrogen dioxide from vehicle fumes. So alongside a professor in atmospheric science, we created a technology company called Air Labs.
We created this product and have done large partnerships with people like Stella McCartney and in large stations in London and big retailers”
Sophie recently stepped down as CEO of Air Labs because “you cannot have it all! I felt that I was missing out on time with my youngest and I’ve got lots of other projects to do!”.
Air Labs grew quickly, and we wondered what she credits this to.
“Getting smart, driven and passionate people on board who you can then leave to work and challenge results in amazing progress”.
Sophie Power: the mum
Despite the drive, energy and motivation needed to run both a business and ultras, it’s her role as a mum where her passion really exudes (and her multi-tasking really comes to the fore!)
“I love being a Mum and I love running and I’m quite good at combining the two".
Races are a family affair for the Power family!
“Mum’s are the best multi-taskers. It’s only when you have limited time that you realise what doesn’t have to be in your day. You can’t do everything. The whole ‘you can have it all’ is rubbish!”.
But how does she actually juggle it all?
“Managing was all about help. I had a 24/3 nanny who had sole charge for those three days. As a CEO I could work flexibly to fit everything in, but you can’t do all the childcare and run a business and have a clean and tidy home and manage everything without help.
Anyone who says on social media that they do it all…well, I call their bluff!”
Sophie Power: the subject of that photo
During UTMB 2018, Sophie was snapped breastfeeding her three-month old son Cormac by Strava photographer Alexis Berg. It wasn’t staged, and he did ask permission first!
The picture went viral and triggered a global debate about motherhood and sport.
“I never set out to do any of it. I was just getting on with feeding a baby at a checkpoint.
I lost out on my UTMB place when I had my first son. They [UTMB] wouldn’t defer my place to the following year. They’ll defer your place if you’re injured, but not if you’re pregnant. That’s their policy. I asked them to change it – they said no!
After years of trying…I soon realised I’d be on the start line with a three-month old [in August 2018]”.
Sophie did what she could to keep strong and train during pregnancy.
“I stopped running at 5-months because when I ran longer in my first pregnancy, I had pelvic floor problems during birth. I then got back into cardio and strength. Replicating the course was important too”.
The image that went viral and started much-needed around motherhood and sport
“I only started running four weeks before UTMB”.
On how she came to find herself breastfeeding halfway through such a tough ultra, Sophie says:
“Well, I’m breastfeeding exclusively and I’m going to be in a lot of pain with the milk so I have to feed him. I only said yes to taking the photo because I wanted it to make them [UTMB] change their policy to allow deferrals for pregnancy”.
“Then it went a bit crazy!”
Her belief in women is clear:
“Women are so strong. They can recover so quickly and we deserve the chance to be more than just a mother. To be the person we were before we had a baby. We’re still the same person. We have hopes and dreams as well as those for our children. We should be supported to keep following them.”
Did UTMB change their policy?
"Unfortunately not. Which is sad because it’s a female race director. Their argument is that you choose when you get pregnant. But we all know you do not choose when you get pregnant. You don’t press a button and a baby pops out”.
Sophie Power: on nutrition
On food, Sophie advises to “always have food that you love. Choose the best quality you can”.
Talking of real food, it doesn’t get any more real than our Elite Pre and Post Workout Shakes
And what does she consume during races?
“I eat real food. I hate sticky, fruit gels. I’ve never used them. I think they’re terrible for your teeth.
In the UTMB for example, I’d go for ham and cheese and bread. I love salt and vinegar crisps! Flapjacks I make with chia seeds. Hot cross buns, boost bars, snickers bars, nuts.
Guacamole wraps were amazing on the Spartathlon”.
We’d encourage you to watch the full interview with Sophie. There’s so much more inspiring, useful and motivating nuggets which we don’t have room to detail here!
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