‘Running Saved my Life’: Sophie Grace Holmes on Living with Cystic Fibrosis


, by Fabienne Lang

Sophie Grace Holmes at the London Marathon. Photography courtesy of: Sophie Grace Holmes / Sportograf

Sophie Grace Holmes defies Cystic Fibrosis as an ultra-endurance athlete. In a conversation with Fabienne Lang, she shares how living each day to the fullest fuels both her sporting success and her passion for life.

“Running saved my life. If I hadn’t gone on my journey and decided to challenge myself through running in different ways, who knows whether or not I’d still be here today,” says Sophie Grace Holmes, soberingly.

Diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at four months old, Sophie was told from a young age she might not make it to 16 years old, let alone her thirties. CF is a life-threatening genetic disease that impacts the lungs, digestive system, pancreas, and other organs, which, over time, degenerate.

RELATED: Runners to Follow at London Marathon 2024

Fast-forward to today, and Sophie is a 32-year-old fitness coach, public speaker, influencer, ultra-endurance athlete, nutrition coach, and businesswoman – a veritable Swiss Army knife sportswoman –living an incredibly empowering and inspirational journey.

Sophie has completed feats she was regularly told by doctors would be impossible for her to achieve – and what many of us without CF might shy away from even attempting. From climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to paddleboarding 80 miles (129km) from the Bahamas to Florida; completing multiple Ultramarathons and taking on triathlons around the world, she also offers valuable insights into living and training with Cystic Fibrosis, taking her followers on a behind-the-scenes look at her running training that will leave anyone inspired to hit the track.

Photography courtesy of: Sophie Grace Holmes

Given running with CF can be likened to putting on “a corset and a high-altitude training mask, and running down the road,” explains Sophie, her sporting accolades are all-the-more impressive. She has never allowed CF to take the reins and control her life. Quite the opposite.

Not letting a prognosis stand in the way of achieving dreams

When Sophie was 19, she had a health scare that landed her in the hospital when her lung function plummeted to 50 percent. She remembers doctors telling her she "only had a couple of years to live."

Related: How To Maintain Your Training Consistency When Life 'Gets In The Way’

“I think this is where the power of naivety can sometimes kick in,” she explains. “I sat there in the hospital thinking ‘I don’t believe you. I don’t have time to die. There are all these things I want to do with my life.’”

On top of her desire to experience life her way, Sophie had another form of motivation knocking at her door. “All the girls and guys I knew who had CF that died before the age of 20, they didn’t have these opportunities and they would have done anything to be here for another six months, another year, another five years. Part of me believes I have to do this for them,” she says. Without wasting any time, she wrote up her bucket list adventures, starting with a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.

I sat there in hospital thinking ‘I don’t believe you. I don’t have time to die. There are all these things I want to do with my life.’

With dedication, support, and a strong mindset, Sophie summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2015, two years after her fateful hospital stint. Her lungs were back to functioning at 100 percent capacity, and since then, her health has mostly been stable. She partly puts this down to staying active and always having something to look forward to.

“With CF, I'm pancreatic insufficient, which means I have to take digestive enzymes to digest my food. I used to have to eat 4,500 calories a day just to maintain my weight,” Sophie explains. “On top of that, with CF, energy levels can dip dramatically and very quickly because oxygen saturation levels drop quite low when we exercise. One minute I’m fine, the next I need to go to bed I’m so tired.”

DID YOU READ? CJ Albertson: A 2:10 Pro Marathoner’s Unique Coaching Tips

But she never let those additional challenges stop her. “I believe fitness saved my life, because it’s given me experiences and memories, and it’s also shown me what I am capable of,” says Sophie. “My happiest times and my happiest memories have been the ones where I've been leaning into the most discomfort.”

This is precisely why Sophie is about to undertake one of the biggest challenges of her life: Running 36 marathons in 36 days. She aims not only to push her own limits by gaining a World Record as the first person with Cystic Fibrosis to achieve such a feat, but to also defy expectations associated with CF, raising funds, awareness, and inspiring others to persevere and embrace life.

36 Marathons in 36 Days

Kicking off with the London Marathon on Sunday 21 April and ending, 36 days later, with the Edinburgh Marathon on May 26th, Sophie will run a marathon a day for over a month. “It’s definitely going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” she shares, “but I’m going to immerse myself in it and really enjoy it.”

She plans on running many of the marathons on her hometown tracks in Essex, one in Bournemouth, London and Edinburgh with and without the crowds, and a day around a track. “I’ll go around it 106 times. But that’s not too bad in my mind, because during the COVID lockdown, I completed an Ironman at home and I ran a marathon on my front lawn, which was 842 laps,” she smiles.

RELATED: Running LA to NYC: Paul Johnson Targets Transcontinental Record for Mental Health

“I’m really looking forward to the test,” she confesses. “The more you lean in and do hard things, the more you know you'll have the ability to handle anything.” The best part is anyone can join Sophie on her challenge by keeping an eye on the live tracking on her Strava and Instagram accounts and run a few loops of a track, a whole marathon, or multiple marathons by her side.

Photograph courtesy of: Sophie Grace Holmes

“I know that when I’ve done it, the younger me would be so proud, because when I was unwell I couldn't even run 100 meters down the road,” Sophie says.

“I hope to encourage people to have the courage to chase after their dreams and goals. Life passes by so fast, and before you know it, it’s gone. We all tend to live thinking we're never going to die, and we push everything to tomorrow.”

“But you have to live every single day because nobody knows when it’ll end,” Sophie urges. “I was given the benefit of being told from a young age that I wouldn’t live long, so I sprang into action and got on with it. I want to be able to know that at the end of my life, whatever age that is, I'm really proud and really happy with what I've done.”

“Life is amazing if you choose to make it that way.”

Related Tags

More Stories