Welcome to WE ARE WONDERWOMEN, a series of short stories from inspirational women who swim, run and cycle amongst us. Ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March 2021, I’ll be celebrating the achievements, talking about the challenges and sharing tips from a variety of women across our sporting community.
Running has been a constant in Siân’s life- it brings clarity, improves confidence and has provided some of her biggest achievements. Alongside this, running has guided her through the life-changing journey of gender reassignment, culminating in living fulltime as a woman from August 2019. Over the years the reasons Siân runs have changed from chasing PBs to enjoying the experience, and the beautiful trails of Devon on her door-step are definitely an incentive to get out and run.
In her story Siân shares her relationship with running and how this has helped her process difficult decisions and navigate dark times. She shares her race hopes for 2021, and her top tips for getting into running.
Hello Wonderwoman! Tell us a little bit about yourself….
My name is Siân and I’m very fortunate to live in Devon, with both the coast and Dartmoor very close to home. I grew up in Devon and, having studied at The University of Birmingham, it didn’t take me too long to return.
I am in my early forties but consider that I am now enjoying somewhat of a ‘second coming’ having made some fairly life-changing decisions in recent years. I came out as transgender about two years ago and began living fulltime as a woman in August 2019. Needless to say, this has had a dramatic impact on my life – mostly good, but some bits have been harder to accept – and I am now re-building my life after a fairly torrid time in recent years.
Running has been a constant in my life for many years; it has provided me with some of my biggest achievements, but it has also helped me process some very difficult decision and successfully navigate some very dark times.
I was delighted to recently be accepted to join the ASICS Frontrunner UK team, which I see as further validation, both of me as a person and of the difficult decisions that I’ve taken. I intend to use this platform to inspire others, particularly those who are wrestling with some inner turmoil, and give hope that there is a way forward, no matter how tough things seem.
How did you get into running?
I began running when I was about 10, mainly because my older Brother had taken it up, and I have run ever since. I quickly realised that I was quite good, despite not really training (much to my Brother’s annoyance), and so I stuck with it.
I do also cycle (but I’m very much a fair-weather cyclist) and I swim (but only when it’s warm enough), and therefore people have often suggested that I take up triathlon, but running is where my heart lies and I prefer to focus my attention into one area.
What is your biggest achievement?
I’d have to say it was to achieve my PBs for 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon in my late thirties, when (in theory) I should have been slowing down. It was also at that age that I won my debut ultra-marathon and qualified for an England Masters vest for the marathon.
It is no coincidence, however, that I was in my running prime when I was at my lowest ebb with my personal life. Running became a distraction from the turmoil I was experiencing and allowed me to channel my energy into something constructive. I would train hard and this would result in improved performances, which would inspire me to train harder, and so on…
What inspires you?
My relationship with running has changed in recent years. For many years, it was all about results, but I haven’t properly raced for about three and a half years, since starting HRT as part of my transition. I began taking HRT some time before coming out, and the medication had a dramatic effect on my athletic performance; quite quickly, my pace dropped and I realised that the days of chasing PBs and results were behind me.
From that moment, running became about maintaining fitness, processing my thoughts and enjoying the experience. I’m fortunate that I get to exercise in some pretty stunning locations, so I don’t feel I need too much inspiration to get out of the front door, other than on those dark rainy days (the sort we tend not to publicise on social media!)
I’ve never really been inspired by individuals; whilst I admire people’s achievements, I’ve never really put anyone up on a pedestal.
What motivates you to get through a challenging session or tough point in a race?
I always considered myself quite a tough cookie and seemed to have an ability to push myself very hard in races (as evidenced by ending up in an ambulance at the finishing line of an ultra-marathon a few years back!).
I suspect that having raced for so many years, I realised how hard I could push my body, both in training and racing, and also that I was a target for others to aim to beat – nothing makes you run quicker than when you know you’re being chased!
What do you think the biggest challenges for women getting into running are, and what tips or advice might you have to overcome these?
I imagine that the running world could appear quite daunting to women who may be considering starting, but I would hope that they are brave enough to take those first steps. I don’t believe running has ever been elitist – possibly due to it being the purest, most accessible of sports – and I think in recent years it has become even more diverse and welcoming. Parkruns have played a huge part in this, offering people the chance to experience the running community first-hand and regularly challenge themselves to see improvements or simply just enjoy the experience.
I also believe that running needs relatable role-models; not necessarily the fastest people, but those who believe that running is for everyone, hence why I feel so proud to be a member of the ASICS Frontrunner team – a diverse group of people, with a shared love of running and movement, who aim to inspire and encourage participation.
What are your top three tips for women getting into running?
I think a key point is to start gradually; that way, you’re more likely to remain enthused and avoid injury. Even with starting slowly, you’ll still see some quick gains and this should give you the motivation you need to keep going, and (hopefully!) before too long you’ll be hooked.
Another top tip is to ideally find a friend – or friends – to run with. The miles pass quicker with a bit of company and those friendships will become even stronger (you’ll be amazed what you end up talking about!). You’ll also motivate each other to get out and run on those days that you just don’t feel like it (and we all experience those days, from time-to-time, regardless of how long we’ve been running for).
Finally, now is a great time to start, with the days getting longer, providing more opportunity to get out whilst it’s light.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
I have actually entered a handful of races this year, so I am being a little more structured with my running of late, but it’s no way near as focused as in years gone by. I have opted to enter these races for the experience and personal challenge, rather than focusing on results, and I’ve selected them either because they have a non-binary (or similar) category or where there is a clearly identified transgender policy with which I align. I recognise that transgender women competing in races is a complex and emotive subject, with no easy answer, but for me personally, running is now about far more than results and times.
In closing, I’d say that running has given me so much over the years, including introducing me to some amazing people, who have become dear friends. The running community is awesome and I’ve been so pleased with the reaction I have received in recent times to my transition, and I hope to keep running for many more years yet.
I also did a recent podcast with Wild Running on how running has helped my transition which can be found at: Wild Running: Trail Running and SwimRun Adventures: In it for the long run : Siân Longhthorpe talks about her gender reassignment. on Apple Podcasts
Thank you for sharing your story and tips! You can catch up with Siân on Instagram and also on Strava as Siân Longthorpe. I highly recommend giving the Wild Running podcast a listen to as well.
You can catch up with the full We are WONDERWOMEN series here.