Abbott Spotlight On Health

From smoker to Six Star Finisher

Meet Sara Velloso from Brazil. Sara is a marathon runner and in 2019, at the Virgin Money London Marathon, she became a Six Star finisher. Yet for 17 years, she thought of herself as a smoker, and that addiction controlled most of her life.

Her remarkable transformation is an inspirational story that she has now put into a book of her own. “If you really want to make some change in your life, do it now! You do not know if you will have a second chance,” she says.

At 53 years old, Sara found a new lease of life in October 2020 when, after inhaling two packs of cigarettes a day for 17 years, she stopped.

Sara explains how life was for her during her smoking years: “I was very sedentary. I’d sign up for a gym plan but it never lasted long. I enjoyed the outdoors but there was never any intensity. Smoking took a lot of energy out of me but I didn’t know it at the time.

“My life was linked to cigarettes. I’d spend so much time researching my smoking options when travelling, my work day revolved around it, my social life was planned around it. When I stopped, I became free!”

As smokers often attest, when they stop smoking, their appetite kicks back in, as does their sense of taste and smell. This can cause weight gain where food replaces the cigarettes so finding a balance between food and exercise was an important step for Sara.

She says: “I started running in 2008 when my brother took me to a group workout. It was the beginning of more walking, light running and it soon evolved into racing. I made new friends and I created a social life associated with sport, not smoking.”

Three years later it was the 2011 BMW Berlin Marathon that started her Six Star journey, though she didn’t know it at the time.

“I was an immature runner and it was a very difficult in Berlin for me. I finished and did not want to run a marathon ever again so I switched to triathlon and cycling.”

In a strange twist of fate, when out riding in 2014, she took her eyes off the road for a minute, causing her to literally ride into the man who would become her husband. Nelo (Six Star finisher in 2018) was in the midst of training for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon and it was his passion to run all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors that inspired Sara to give marathon running another go.

Running her remaining five majors, one every year from 2015, London was the climax of her journey and a very special moment as she not only collected the coveted Six Star medal but also ran for the UK charity Get Kids Going.

Putting pen to paper in her first book Six Races: What I learned in the 253 kilometers of the World Marathon Majors she describes the process of getting out of her comfort zone and discusses the importance of running for personal development.

Looking back on the journey, Sara says: “Completing a marathon is an evolutionary process. With each cycle I celebrated my personal growth. Each of the Majors finish lines was a collection of memories built throughout the course and the entire training process. I remember the tears building inside me during the final days in London, I couldn’t believe I was only 42km from my dream!”

She admits that it can still be challenging to stay on this new path but she is very certain that “the hard work is definitely worth it and every day I am so happy that it is another day without a cigarette. Running gave me my freedom back and took me on adventures I never dreamed of.”

Always consult a physician and get a full health evaluation prior to marathon training. Even if athletes appear healthy, underlying medical conditions could exist.