Loughborough University alumna Sonia Samuels has been working towards the Olympic Games for some 24 years. Hear her story here:
“This dream has been 24 years in the making...”
Twenty four years in the making
“This dream has been 24 years in the making”, says soon to be Olympian Sonia Samuels.
“I first started to get into athletics when I was watching the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, where I announced to the family that I was going to be an Olympian one day. They all started laughing at me but I was deadly serious about it!”
For 37 year old marathon runner Sonia Samuels, it all started where it so often does for young athletes, running a school race before being encouraged to go down to the local athletics club having shown a bit of ability. From there junior success followed.
“After my GCSE’s I decided I was going to take my running a little more seriously, and I started to look at going to university. A bit of research told me Loughborough was pretty good for sport, so that, along with seeing people such as Seb Coe and Paula Radcliffe run in the african violet vest, drew me here.
“I studied Modern European Studies, including a year out in Germany, and I really enjoyed my course. Equally I really enjoyed the sporting side of things, as it was the first time where I’d been in an environment with lots people training together, under the guidance of George Gandy.
“My Loughborough experience was just amazing and that has really helped to make me the athlete I am today. In my final year of university I also met my now husband on a training camp in Portugal, where we were made to share the same apartment by George, so he’s got a lot to answer for!”
Since her university days the girl from Wallsend has come a long way, with husband Nick taking every step, both physical and metaphorically, with her. A national level athlete in his own right, Nick is not only Sonia’s husband, but training partner, pacemaker, manager, agent, coach and waterboy all rolled into one.
“The last six months have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Nick ran every step with me in Berlin with me where I ran my personal best, but in the London Marathon where I had to finish in the top two to guarantee selection for the Olympic Games, it was a women’s only race, so I was standing on the start line on my own and that was very different.
With Nick watching nervously from the side lines, Sonia did what she had to in finishing second and securing her spot on the plane to Rio.
“In London, the last few hundred metres were all a bit of a blur as I could see the finish line and I knew I’d done it! I almost switched off and I was in my own little bubble, so when I crossed the line I was very emotional, knowing that years of hard work had all come down to this one day.”
Despite graduating more than two decades ago, Rio bound Sonia still lives in Loughborough and heads to campus most days for training. Her faster interval sessions are done on the track, with gym sessions taking place in the purpose built facility housed in the Seb Coe High Performance Centre.
“Marathon running isn’t all about running though” jokes Sonia. “Running for 26 miles means your body needs to be conditioned and very strong, particularly in the lower legs and feet in order to absorb all the pounding. My gym sessions usually involve lots of lifting, so things like squats, cleans, deadlifts and pull-ups, with core work and plyometrics on other days.
There is a lot of running involved though.
“In the build up to a marathon I typically do anywhere from 100 to 115 miles a week, with my longest run of the week 20-24 miles. On my long runs I practice taking on fluid every three miles, as hydration is so important in a marathon, especially in Rio.”
The Olympic Games werern’t always on the cards, despite Samuels competing for GB & NI regularly over the last decade. Imagine working towards something for 24 years and knowing full well that you may never achieve the goal you’re aiming for.
“I think it only become real in the last couple of years, but it’s been well worth all the hard work.”
Humble as ever, marathon girl Sonia will be fulfilling a lifelong ambition in Rio, with husband Nick cheering her on every step of the way. It would seem some childhood dreams do come true.