We meet a British endurance athlete who has made rapid progress ahead of this weekend’s Virgin Money London Marathon

As she prepares to line up in one of the strongest ever women’s fields at the London Marathon, it’s hard to believe that Samantha Harrison’s first race – the Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham – was only three years ago.

By her own admission, she didn’t know anything about the sport at the time but a point in her life had been reached where she wanted a new focus and thought running could be an option.

“I’m super sporty, so I was in the gym all the time,” says the 26-year-old. “I did some bits of running, maybe two to three times per week for 15-20 minutes on the treadmill just to keep fit, so I felt like it was something I could do.

“I just did my own thing really [in training for the race]. I went out running a couple of times a week. I didn’t run much more than six or seven miles because to me that was enough, but I didn’t really know as I wasn’t used to running and I didn’t have a coach.

“I didn’t have a clue about pace, either. People would ask what time I wanted to do it in and I was so naïve I said something like 1:20, and they were like ‘1:20 for your first half? You’ve got high expectations!’ I just wanted to complete the race because, at that point, a half marathon was a big thing.”

Harrison finished fourth in 84:10 and, as a result, a few people suggested she should join a club.

“Within a couple of weeks I’d joined Notts AC,” she says. “I joined the club sessions twice per week but I didn’t follow their coaching plans as such, because at that point I quite enjoyed doing my own thing.

“They asked me to do some track races and cross country and my times were developing from there, just from having a little bit of structure. I hadn’t really done any interval training before [and] my body adapted to that really quickly.”

Harrison’s progress was remarkable. She ran 2:51:33 at the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon in April 2019 and, less than six months later, under the guidance of coach Vince Wilson and with a more targeted training programme, reduced her half marathon best (at the time) to 73:07 at the Great North Run.

However, her transition to being an elite athlete – mentally, at least – didn’t come until she was selected to represent Great Britain at the 2020 World Half Marathon Championships in Poland.

“People might have classed me as elite when I earned my first England vest, but for me it wasn’t enough,” says Harrison. “I thought, ‘I need to be quicker, I need to get a GB vest to be an elite’. When I got picked for the World Half it was like, ‘this is serious now, I really need to buckle down!”

Changes have been required to unlock Harrison’s full potential, and after reducing her working hours as a dental nurse, she has started to recover – as well as train – like a pro.

As a result, her performances have continued to improve and in April she clocked a 69:48 PB at the Cheshire Elite Half Marathon, putting her 12th on the British all-time list.

READ MORE: London Marathon preview

Harrison has enjoyed an impressive series of PBs since 2018, but she knows that it’s not realistic to improve in every race. London, however, is a potentially welcome anomaly.

“[Timewise] it’s hard to tell really, as this is the first time I’ve properly trained for a marathon so it’s quite difficult to know exactly where you’re at,” she says, noting she has peaked at between 90-100 miles per week in her build-up.

“Obviously doing it at this level, it’s completely different, it’s so important with the fuelling, just getting everything right, so a sub-2:30 is what we’re aiming for, fingers crossed.”

» This article first appeared in the September issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here