Marathon Majors Sam

OCTOBER 2018: Samantha Ridley joined RunBrighton for our summer 2017 training, ahead of Chicago Marathon in the October, and has since been a regular on our Sunday morning runs.

I remember her telling me, when we first met, that she was working towards completing the six ‘marathon majors’.

At that point, she had already done Boston, London, New York and Tokyo; yet to run Chicago and Berlin.

Not only has she now completed all six, with an impressive medal to prove it, she has also recently gone on to be selected to represent England, in the over-50 age group, at the Asda Foundation Yorkshire Marathon next October.

Sam, firstly, where did your running begin?

I first began running at the age of 39. I had been a heavy smoker for 20 years and wanted to give up before my 40th birthday. Most people gain weight when giving up smoking and, as I didn’t want this to happen, I decided to do something to counteract that.

I started by running from my front door to the local village shop (about half a mile). I then used to sit on a park bench and recover before I ran the other half-mile back home!

I was quite disciplined and was doing this, about five or six days a week, gradually adding in extra loops, until I was eventually running six miles. I had no idea what pace I was running, as I didn’t have a watch and I don’t think smart phone apps existed back then. I had never entered a race, had nothing to measure myself by and had no idea that I had become a relatively good runner until I decided to join a running club.

I joined St Francis Runners initially and then, when I became competitive, I also joined Haywards Heath Harriers.

How did you get into marathon running?

I was with a group of friends and we decided, after a few drinks, that we were all going to run a marathon! It was a mid-life crisis! We all entered the inaugural Brighton Marathon, but I backed out, as I didn’t have the confidence or even believe that I could run a marathon. So, I went down and supported them all. The funny thing was that they said it was me who had inspired them to start running in the first place and what was I doing just watching!

The following year, I did run Brighton Marathon. That was in 2012. It was my first one and I had no idea how to pace it, but I finished in a respectable time of 3hrs50. I remember crossing the finish line, thinking “I have smashed a sub-4 and never have to run another marathon!” That’s where it all started.

In 2013, I ran Brighton in 3hrs36… my second marathon.

And what prompted the goal of running the six majors?

My cousin Susie Chan, who is well known in the running world (some of you may follow her on social media) said to me that my times were fast for my age and that I had a BQ (Boston Qualifier). I had no idea what a BQ was or meant!  She dragged me to Boston in 2014 and, after we ran the marathon, we sat in a bar with a group of British runners for several hours. It was there that we all decided to go on a quest of running all the world marathon majors and earning the coveted six-star finisher medal. It was an exciting adventure; we did most of them together as a group, and have become good friends.

Do you have a favourite from those six?

Boston was my favourite, for many reasons. It was my first international race. And it was the year after the Boston bombing, which meant it was very emotional for the locals. It was also the only marathon in the world, after the Olympic marathon, that you have to qualify for; there’s no ballot and it’s full of serious runners. I felt quite honoured to be there, running it, and the crowd support was phenomenal, like nothing I had experienced before, or since, at any other marathon.

I know that, when you ran Berlin last month, your strategy was to run that as a training run, rather than treat it as a race, preferring to race hard in Bournemouth Marathon, three weeks later. What was the thinking behind that? And how was the Berlin experience, disciplining yourself not to race?

It was Dan Lawson who told me about Bournemouth being an England qualifier. I had realised that I stood a very good chance of being selected if I could run at my best there. I wasn’t sure about running them both, three weeks apart, and asked his advice. He said I had to decide what my priority was and, if that was to qualify at Bournemouth, I would be fine as long as I didn’t run hard in Berlin. He was right!

Once I’d decided to use Berlin as a training run, I knew I would just do exactly that. It’s quite nice, sometimes, to run easy and enjoy the race and experience.

Congratulations on the England selection, Sam! And I know you’re a great inspiration to other women of a similar age. What would you say are the secrets to your success?

That’s a difficult one; I really don’t know. I guess I naturally had the ability, as I was always good at sport at school, and was a competitive gymnast back then. However, once I turned 19, I moved from Buckinghamshire to Sussex, to join British Caledonian, and I never exercised again until 20 years later!  Once I did get into running, that same love of sport that I had as a child came back to me.

Joining running clubs has helped and I now have lots of friends to run and go to races with. We sometimes make them social occasions, which is rather pleasant.

I have also been inspired a lot by Susie; her love and enthusiasm for running is infectious.

Other than that, I’m a highly motivated person and, once I set a goal that I want to achieve, I enjoy working towards that and having a focus. I’m quite determined to do what I set out to do.

I run about four times a week and, in addition to that, I strength-train in the gym, do spin classes and also some yoga and body balance.

You’re clearly very focussed and work hard. What you’ve achieved is well deserved.

I guess your marathon next October, in an England vest, is your next big target event? But what other goals have you set yourself in the short term?

I have to make a decision about next year and decide what to focus on. Currently, I have a place in the SDW50 and the SDW100. I did well in the 50, earlier this year, and wanted to go for the 100 in 2019. I also have a place in London Marathon 2019 (two weeks after SDW50), and now will be representing England in York later on in the year. Realistically, I don’t think I will do so well if I do them all. In training for the 100, I’m aware that I’ll lose speed, so maybe I need to have a year focussing on the marathons and save the ultras for another year?

That sounds sensible, Sam.

How did you come to join RunBrighton?

To be honest, I was looking for summer marathon training, as I had Chicago ahead of me when I joined. I find long runs on my own quite tough and much prefer to run them with others. My good friend Bev Navesey was a member and had been telling me I should join as the training was very good.

And how have you found that experience?

The marathon training at RunBrighton is excellent; I keep recommending it to my friends!

My fitness has definitely improved since I joined. I’m now 53 and I’ve got faster, running a marathon PB earlier this month.

What works well for me is running in pace groups; this makes me run harder and put in more effort. It’s so easy just to coast and run in your comfort zone all the time.

I like the mix of road-running on the flat, along with the hillier runs. It’s all great training. I also like the email every Monday, which tells us what the route will be and the mileage / time-on-feet, so I can plan it into my weekly training schedule.

And I’ve made even more running friends!

How do you spend your time when you’re not running?

My life is very busy and tends to revolve around family and exercise. I work four days a week, as a Cabin Crew Manager at British Airways and, in the evenings, I’m out training for a couple of hours. I never ever sit down and watch TV! The rest of the time is spent with my family. I’m a mother to two teenage boys, which I’m finding quite challenging, I don’t mind admitting.

Other than that, I do enjoy a social occasion with friends.

Sam, huge congrats, again, both for your England selection and for completing the marathon majors. Good luck with whatever you decide to focus on over the coming months, and hopefully we can be of some help as you train towards representing your country. I look forward to seeing you again for our winter training.

By Mike Bannister