We meet Rio runner Sonia Samuels, the elite British marathon runner with a PB of 2:28:04
How did you first get in to running?
Have you any special memories from when you first started competing? I remember watching the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 and decided I wanted to become an Olympian. There was just something magical about the idea. My PE teacher at middle School, Mr Netherton put me in contact with my local running club, Wallsend Harriers.
I won my first race at the North Tyneside School Cross Country Champs wearing a pair of worn out leather spikes which I had to borrow from the lost property box in the school changing rooms. I was so proud to bring back the winner’s trophy.
You ran your first marathon in 2012 – how did you find that compared to other road races, XC and track events?
The marathon is such a long event and takes months of preparation so it really is an achievement to make the start line. Logging hundreds of miles each week with numerous gym workouts, you tread a fine line between reaching your peak, or becoming ill or injured. The heavy training may last for months and you have just one opportunity to put all that hard effort to work, it’s boom or bust.
But that’s what makes the marathon so special – when you’re rewarded at the finish and all that comes flooding out. It’s an emotional moment.
The 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon was your 6th marathon – what have you learnt in that time about marathon running?
To be patient and to believe. It’s true what they say “It’s a marathon not a sprint”. Controlling your pace in the early miles is crucial to ensure you deliver your best performance. During the marathon you can experience so many feelings and emotions but you always have to believe in your training, believe in your team and, most of all, believe in yourself that you can do it
Tell us about the 2016 VLM where you secured Rio selection?
The days leading up to the marathon were long. I was just waiting to race, going over the race plan in my head. I did watch a few fun movies to take my mind off the race. When race day arrived I was on auto pilot, I didn’t think about what was about to happen but focused solely on what I was doing at that exact moment.
If I am tying my shoe laces that is what I focus on. Once the gun goes though, I am in my comfort zone, doing what I love to do – run. I am in control. On race day, the main contenders for British Olympic selection ran together until half way. The pace was up and down and was unlike most big city marathons where you are trying to run as fast as you can, this was a tactical game of cat and mouse.
The group split at 16 miles and there were three of us until 22 miles when it was down to just the two of us (Sonia and Alyson Dixon). The two automatic spots for selection were there for the taking. It was surreal crossing the line. There were tears of relief and joy on my face. It was a great moment. My dream was finally a reality. I was going to the Olympics.
What is your greatest running achievement to date?
It has to be qualifying for my first Olympic Games, that is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career and it will stay with me forever. What is your all-time favourite event and why? The English National Cross Country Championships has a special place in my heart. I first competed in this event when I was 13 years old. It is always a tough, traditional cross country course with lots of mud and hills. The National brings all athletes from different event groups together to compete against each other. As I’m sure anyone who has participated in the National will testify, it’s a true spectacle.
What would you normally eat in the lead up to an event?
For breakfast I would eat porridge with cinnamon, banana and Meridian almond butter. It’s what I eat during training so I know I am comfortable with it. Post training I continue to have recovery shakes with Myprotein whey to ensure my muscles are adequately supplied with protein and remain ready.
I think it’s so important to keep your diet as normal as possible in the final days before a big marathon. As I mentioned earlier, you have one opportunity to deliver a performance, the last thing you want is something as simple as an upset stomach to put all those months of preparation to waste.
We had to travel to London for media commitments five days prior to race day, so in an effort to minimize risk we took a portable hot plate and cooked our normal food in the hotel room, just glad we didn’t set off the fire alarm!
Have you a favourite piece of kit at the moment?
I have a Brooks hoodie that is like a comfort blanket. To my horror I left it in Valencia Airport last November and was devastated. Luckily my husband had it shipped back to me at home, which was a really nice surprise. Following the near Arctic conditions in London in April, I also have to say how thankful I was to have a pair of Brooks arm warmers and headband to keep my ears warm. I’m definitely not a cold-weather person and these items did an amazing job stopping my blood from freezing.
Who and what inspires you?
Anyone who works hard and tries their best inspires me. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett.
In one sentence, sum up what running means to you?
I run, therefore I am.
When you suffer an injury, how do you get through it?
I try to be as proactive as possible, seeking the best medical advice and treatment. If it is possible to cross train then I will get out on the bike or set up the turbo trainer in the garage. Cross training will give you that routine of training and keep your fitness up until you can return to running. I also believe in being patient when deciding to return to running. A few extra days to let the healing process complete can pay dividends in the long run.
Have you any advice for someone who is thinking of entering a marathon for the first time?
Buy a good pair of trainers, and if possible join a running group or find someone that will run with you and support you on the tough days of training. Also try and set goals along the way to keep you motivated and to help make the task a little more manageable. For example, in the first week your goal may be to run three times a week, the second may be to run a long run of 6 miles, by week eight you may want to enter a half marathon.
If you weren’t a runner, what would you be doing?
I would probably still be teaching although I would love to run my own healthy eating café one day. I’m so passionate about leading an active and healthy lifestyle, and anything I could do to spread the word and help others do the same would be my dream job.