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15. Sarah Williams – from the deserts of Morocco to inspiring women back home

15. Sarah Williams – from the deserts of Morocco to inspiring women back home

My guest today, Sarah Williams, started her career in the reasonably conventional manner of a successful woman: high class university education, graduate training programme and a career in the City, with the work-hard, play-hard London high life of a twenty-something hitting their goals and forging a lucrative successful career in finance. But after a few years, Sarah realised she was burning out, frustrated and overwhelmed by a lack of support in a male-dominated environment, over-worked on projects she wasn’t invested in, and struggling to maintain enthusiasm in a job she no longer enjoyed. 

So she quit, did a ski season, travelled the world, and took the time she needed to appreciate what her passions and strengths were, namely inspiring women and girls through sport and exercise. In 2014 Sarah started her blog, Tough Girl, and subsequently completed the Marathon des Sables in 2016, one of the world’s most extreme endurance races. She has gone on to undertake a major expedition each year since: in 2017 she through-hiked the Appalachian Trail in the USA, which sounds casual, but only 20% of people complete this challenge in an average of 6-7 months. Sarah did it solo in half that – finishing in 100 days – which pushed her to her physical and mental limits. As we speak, Sarah is currently undertaking her 2018 challenge, namely cycling 4000km down the west coast of North and Central America, through to the Baha Divide in Mexico.

Sarah combines these challenges with her ongoing media work under the Tough Girl brand. Her Tough Girl podcast has had over half a million downloads, and earlier this year won the Women’s Sports Trust #BeAGameChanger Media Initiative of the Year Award. She has been recognised by the Guardian and by Red Bull as one of the most inspiring contemporary female adventurers to follow, and the Tough Girl Blog has twice been nominated in the UK Blog Awards. Sarah is also a coach and mentor, and as someone who has benefitted from her wisdom and experience, I can vouch for her success in motivating and helping others. I posted on Instagram this week that I am currently in training for my first ultramarathon, and it is in part thanks to Sarah’s motivational skills that both this podcast and that challenge have got off the ground for me in 2018. 

In this interview we discussed:

– The Tough Girl brand, the different components of Sarah’s business and how she would describe herself and her career to others

– Her initial career in the corporate world, how she progressed rapidly but fell out of love with her job in the City

– Stepping away from a lucrative career and the challenges she faced in leaving

– Establishing Tough Girl, and training for her first big challenge, the Marathon des Sables

– How her initial training regimen affected her health and the lessons she learned about how to train for endurance events without compromising your body

– How others respond to the extreme nature of what Sarah does, particularly the physicality of her 2017 trip through-hiking the Appalachian Trail

– The satisfaction she gains from having a goal and a purpose, and achieving that goal no matter how hard it is

– Building a brand and the business behind Tough Girl, including marketing, monetisation, promotion and growth

– Finishing her Masters in Women and Gender Studies, and the skills and knowledge she has acquired from the course, as well as her dissertation on Adventure, Women and Fear.

– Her latest expedition cycling the Pacific Coast Highway down the West Coast of North America, a journey of around 4000km, documenting her journey and the planning of the trip

– The future of Tough Girl, her dreams for the brand, a life of freedom as a digital nomad

– The sacrifices Sarah has made to follow her passion, including living with her parents for four years to allow her to financially survive and build Tough Girl

– The monetisation of adventure, and the ‘fake it til you make it’ mentality of social media and how every woman has the capacity to be a micro-influencer in her own sphere


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