Before Sarah Attar caught the world’s attention at the London 2012 Summer Olympics as one of the first women to represent Saudi Arabia, she was an artist.
The Escondido, California native earned a scholarship to Pepperdine University where she pursued a degree in art. Two years into her studies, Attar—then on the university’s cross country team—ran 800 meters on the world’s stage. She finished last, but earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
Four years later in Rio she took on the world’s fastest distance runners in the marathon, finishing with a similar result. The experience only further encouraged her to continue pushing forward in all her pursuits. Between London and Rio Attar doubled down on training and graduated from uni where her photography thesis explored landscapes and the impact people leave as they pass through them. Her increased athletic intensity was only matched by a desire to show the world her creative side.
Most of my inspiration comes when I’m out on the trail."
“Since London in 2012, the running side of me has been such a public persona that in the last half of college, and afterwards, I really wanted to share the creative, artistic side of myself too,” Attar said after a training run out of her home base in Mammoth Lakes, CA. She’s now training full-time with distance specialist Andrew Kastor as a member of the Mammoth Track Club and quickly gaining a reputation as a talented landscape photographer for her dramatic scenes that capture naturally occurring pathways.
“Running in Mammoth and the Eastern Sierras takes you through tons of different weather patterns and landscapes.” After spending much of her life in sunny Southern California, some seasonal variety is a welcome change in her daily training regimen. “The morning is my favorite time to be outside—I’m so inspired by how every run and every day look subtly or drastically different depending on the weather,” she added.
Out on the trail Attar picks up on scenes that stay with her. Whether it’s the angle of the sun on a certain bend in the trail or the way clouds rise through a valley at dawn, Attar sees her runs through a photographer’s trained eye. As a result, if she has a vision for an image she wants to create, there’s no rest until she makes it a reality. Literally. In her downtime, Attar takes what she calls “photo hikes” where she’ll revisit trails from recent runs with a camera.
“I’m able to connect to the place I’m running in more when I’m paying attention to gratitude for my running and the ability to be out there,” Attar said. “When I’m more pensive, I’m more in tune with the sensations, sounds, smells, and visual stimuli around me. All those factors really play into my inspiration to return to a spot to photograph it.”
Attar’s recent work continues to push the limits of artistic landscape photography, further exploring pathways like winding rivers and ridgelines that edge toward the horizon. She’s even experimenting with state of the art equipment like drones to capture the earth from new angles. Attar credits her creative growth to the creative community she has found on social media.
“Instagram has been a great place for me to not only share my work, but also connect with people and develop a style that is my own,” she said. “It keeps me creating work constantly, and I feel like I’m representing the moment properly.”
Following a creative pursuit and achieving athletic greatness each take passion and dedication on their own. Doing both at once, however, requires more than just hard work, but mindfulness too. Attar’s advice for those looking to get an extra dose of inspiration from their time outdoors is worth remembering the next time you hit the trail, no matter your goals.
“Stay in tune with what speaks to you most. If you have something that gets you so excited and you’re dreaming of one particular shot, or whatever it is, take the steps to work toward it,” Attar added before starting her cool down routine. “That’s how you make it happen.”