The thing that is not immediately noticeable as she sits behind a desk delivering the BBC News is how quick Sophie Raworth is. But to try to keep up with her as she eases round Regent’s Park on a gloriously sunny morning earlier this week is to appreciate this is a newsreader who can shift.
Indeed, next month she has been selected to compete for England’s over-50s women’s team in the Fleet Half Marathon. She will be up against runners from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in what is effectively a home international. She expects to complete the 13-mile course in around 90 minutes. Which, frankly, is the sort of time most of us could only manage in a taxi.
But what is really impressive about the 51-year-old, as she dons her international vest as one of the fastest runners of her age, is that Raworth is a relative newcomer to the sport. She only properly got going in 2011. And in the nine years of running since she has completed 15 marathons, three ultra-marathons and has lost count of the number of half-marathons she has done.
“The extraordinary thing is, I appear to be getting quicker as I’m getting older,” she says, without any hint of being out of breath. “People tell themselves they are too old to get started. No they’re not. I have a friend who had a health scare at 57 and decided, after doing no exercise, she needed to get fit. She started walking, progressed to a marathon, now 10 years later at 67 she’s done 200 marathons, 100 of them with her daughter, a feat that has put them in the Guinness Book of Records.”
Raworth’s path to international recognition, however, has not been without its mishaps. It started for her when she was offered the chance to enter the Great North Run in 2006.
“My husband used to run a lot and tried to drag me round with him. I hated it back then, I struggled, I’d complain I couldn’t breathe. The Great North Run gave me a challenge. And I did it in 2hr 6min, which is more than half an hour slower than I am now. I say to everyone who asks me how to get started: set yourself a target. Even if it’s just completing your local parkrun, it is the way to get going.”
Not that Raworth kept going. After finishing in Newcastle, she stopped running for four years, during which time she had her third child. Then she watched the 2010 London Marathon on the television and decided that, to shed the weight she had put on during her pregnancy, she needed another challenge. She entered the 2011 race, planning to raise funds for Cancer Relief in memory of some friends who had recently died. To help her, she hired a personal trainer. Watching her in action, the trainer suggested she had the style and capability to finish the run in under four hours.
“I was so obsessed with breaking four hours I was worried that if I drank too much on the day I’d be constantly stopping to go to the loo and that would add time,” she recalls. “So I didn’t drink anything.”
At 24 miles the consequences of her lack of liquid intake became all too apparent. “I started weaving across the road and crashed into the barrier. I thought: ah this is The Wall everyone talks about. The next thing I knew, it was pitch black, I’m lying on the pavement and I thought I was dying. It turns out I was unconscious for 20 minutes, I woke up wearing an oxygen mask and with someone taking my temperature internally, which is not the most dignified thing in a public place. I thought: How stupid, I’m running for these women who died leaving their children and I’m going to die too leaving mine.”
After two hours in an ambulance she realised she was not going to die. And, despite the medics’ reluctance, she insisted that she was going to complete the run. “I’d raised £12,000 so I had to finish. It meant I did my first marathon in 6hr 24min.”
That might have been the point Raworth took up yoga, or booked herself into a pilates class, or just tuned into ITN. Instead, she decided to keep running.
“Yes, it terrified me,” she says of her 2011 experience. “But I realised it was dehydration. I was so cross with myself. I felt stupid for collapsing. I had a real point to prove to my family who had waited at the finish line for hours.”
She entered the London race again in 2012, this time more successfully (Brendan Foster commentating for television noted she had broken her personal best by a matter of hours). From there, she did not stop and was soon regularly running 40 miles a week. Last year she finished the masochist’s favourite, the Marathon des Sables. And all the time, she is getting quicker.
“I love the freedom it gives me, almost like a meditation, very calming,” she says. “I find it clears your mind; if you’re stressed about something it’s gone by the end of a run.”
There was, too, another consequence of her training regime. “My body shape has totally changed. I can eat what I want,” she added.
“That said, I’m not sure of the free pass it gives me. I can run a 5k really hard and use up the calories in a croissant. All that effort and all I get is a croissant.”
And, as she runs, people have noticed her. She mocks the idea she is an inspiration, but over the time she has been involved in the sport she has encouraged dozens to put on their trainers and enjoy a jog.
“The couch to 5k app is great for getting going,” she suggests. “You won’t be intimidated: the entry for day one says rest. And I try to get people to come to a parkrun with me, it’s a brilliant way in.” Not least for her children, all three of whom regularly do the 5k Saturday morning jog with their mother.
“I used to have to drag the kids round,” she says. “Last time we did it, my 11-year-old said to me: ‘Is there someone fast we could run with, you’re too slow?’ ”
This spring, as befits the poster woman for the late developer, Raworth is fronting a Sport Relief campaign to encourage the more mature members of the population to get off their sofas and out into the park. Which is why she found herself having to slow her pace to prevent her ancient interrogator expiring on the inner circle at Regent’s Park.
“It’s called Beat Beethoven,” she says of the challenge. “I’m trying to sign up 500 runners to run 5k round Salford. They have to beat Beethoven’s Fifth, which the BBC Philharmonic will be playing live and which takes just over half an hour.” It is the sort of thing she hopes to do more of.
“I want people to see it is possible,” she says of running. “Nobody is too old. Your head tells you that you can’t do things. Believe me, you can. There’s an old saying: you never regret a run. And it is absolutely true.”
With that, Raworth leaves the Telegraph behind and heads off around Regent’s Park on a proper run.