Sabrina Pace-Humphreys: From Post-Natal Depression to Ultra Trail Runner and Diversity Champion


, by Fabienne Lang

Photograph by: Simon Roberts

"I don't come from a running background," Sabrina Pace-Humphreys reveals. Sabrina wasn't a member of an Athletics Club, and she grew up in a family where sports were not a part of their recreational activities. Running only entered her life as an adult in 2009, and it wasn't even her idea. If you met Sabrina today, it would be hard to believe she didn’t grow up running around a track or in the hills.

A mother of four and grandmother of three, Sabrina found herself unknowingly grappling with severe post-natal depression following the birth of her fourth child in 2009. "I didn't even know what it was," she recalls. It was during a visit to the doctor that her journey into running began to take shape. The doctor, recognising Sabrina's depression, prescribed outdoor activities and casually recommended giving jogging a shot. Initially skeptical and daunted by the perceived intensity of runners, Sabrina decided to embrace the challenge despite her lack of prior experience. "I would see runners out on the road and they looked like they were going through such pain. I would think ‘that does not look joyful.’ But I was so unwell that I thought, if a doctor is telling me that I should try jogging, then maybe I should try," she explains.

During her first run, clad in baggy jogging pants and old Dunlop trainers, Sabrina was in a lot of pain. However, the crucial realisation dawned upon her: In those 40 minutes outdoors, she found relief from the persistent depressive thoughts that had plagued her. Instead of contemplating ending her life, her attention shifted to moving forward, maintaining her breath, preventing stumbles, and reaching home. This newfound mental freedom became the driving force that compelled her to return time and again. From 5K to Ultra Trail Running Sabrina didn't follow a structured training plan. Her journey was self-coached, self-driven, and focused on gradual progress. "I went from 5K to 10K to half marathon and then eventually to the marathon," she proudly recounts.

Photography: (L) James Appleton / Inov-8 (R)Will Roberts

"Running was giving me a way to work through the personal and racial trauma I experienced as a kid,” Sabrina reflects. Growing up in a non-diverse part of the UK, where she regularly endured hurtful comments about her skin colour and hair texture, Sabrina encountered racism from a young age. As she delved into running, she couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity in the running space, as well. Nevertheless, she was determined to persist in her running journey, often finding herself as the lone face of diversity at races. After a while, however, road running started taking away more than it was giving, pushing her towards a new path: trail running.

Sabrina went in head-on and signed up for the Marathon des Sables, a gruelling 250K ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert. The ultramarathon first came onto Sabrina’s radar in 2016 when she stumbled on a documentary about the race, sparking a daring idea. "Although I thought it was crazy, there was this little flicker inside me that wondered if I could do that," she recalls. The seed was planted, which eventually led her to sign up for the ultramarathon in 2018, as a way to celebrate her 40th birthday.

As she looked out across immense sand dunes with the sun setting over the Sahara, and as she crossed that finish line, Sabrina realised she was exactly where she wanted to be. She became the 11th British woman to complete the race, further reinforcing her love for trail running, the importance of challenging ourselves, and smashing through boundaries and barriers, including representation. Trail running became more than just a physical activity; it became a source of joy and healing.

Running was giving me a way to work through the personal and racial trauma I experienced as a kid

Sabrina's journey into trail running took her to new heights, but it also brought her face to face with new challenges of representation and safety. In the Alps in 2019, she had a frightening experience when she slipped off a snowfield during a race, and five male runners seemed indifferent to her calls for help, leaving her to fend for her life. It made her question the safety of being a woman of colour in the outdoors. Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial injustice issues brought to the forefront in 2020, Sabrina's concerns about the lack of diversity in trail running became more pronounced. She decided to take action, reaching out to six friends to found Black Trail Runners.

Black Trail Runners, launched in July 2020, quickly gained global recognition as a community dedicated to celebrating people of colour in the outdoors and addressing barriers to inclusion. Sabrina and her team "have taken intentional action to address each of those barriers, including access, skills, and representation," Sabrina emphasizes. Their efforts have resulted in notable changes, including organising diverse social runs, supporting the exceptionally diverse Black to the Trails event in May 2023 (with 70% people of color and 70% female participation), and partnering with Strava to foster greater inclusivity. "We're running Black to the Trails again next year and it promises to be even bigger and better, with the same commitment to accessibility and diversity," she says excitedly.

Photograph: Black Trail Runners

Sabrina also highlights the importance of going beyond symbolic gestures in diversity. “It’s more than a Blackout Tuesday. It’s more than a tagline. It’s more than a Black History Month. This is our lives and I firmly believe that activity and movement have such power in the sense of helping people deal with trauma, finding community, and meeting people you wouldn’t necessarily come across in everyday life, but who share this love for movement, and for me, that love of trail running can really change your life” she explains.

Sabrina's journey is a testament to the transformative power of running and the importance of diversity and inclusion in sports. Her story serves as an inspiration for all, reminding us that with determination and passion, we can break down barriers and create a more inclusive world, one trail at a time.

To learn more about Sabrina's incredible journey and her efforts to promote diversity in trail running, check out her book, "Black Sheep," where she shares her memoir and experiences. And be sure to stay tuned for the exciting Black to the Trails event coming in 2024 – registration opens on Oct. 16!

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