We speak to a distance athlete who is keeping her options open after experiencing a rapid rise since bursting on to the athletics scene

Samantha Harrison’s performance trajectory continues to move upwards. The steep growth that characterised her explosion on to the athletics scene four years ago has been replaced with more of a gradual progression, but the top-end impact has greater significance.

Harrison smashed her PB at the TCS London Marathon recently with 2:25:59 – a time that puts her No.6 on the UK all-time rankings.

It’s considerably quicker than the 2:32:22 she achieved in 2021, but her circumstances have changed for the better since her impressive breakthrough over 26.2 miles. The Charnwood athlete is now supported by the England Athletics Talent Hub at Loughborough University and has reduced her working hours as a dental nurse to one day per week. To all intents and purposes, she is now a professional athlete. 

“It’s been a crazy few years, to be honest,” says the 28-year-old who placed sixth in the 10,000m at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games last summer. “In terms of being an athlete, how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve progressed and developed, it’s completely different.

“Now I’ve got no excuses not to do everything I should be doing – the warming up, the cooling down, the fuelling and the recovery – because I’ve got the time. I look back now [to working full-time] and I think, ‘How was I able to do all of that and recover as well?’”

Samantha Harrison (LM Events)

Harrison is coached by Vince Wilson, the man who has guided her since the start of her meteoric rise. They’ve gradually opened the doors of their successful partnership to welcome other runners, including John Beattie and Calli Thackery, who can support her and help maximise her potential. 

“Vince knows I perform better and I enjoy it when I’m in groups and I’m always open to training with people,” says Harrison. “Sometimes I jump in a session with Rob Denmark’s group alongside Melissa Courtney-Bryant and Amy-Eloise Markovc. When they’re in their winter training they’ll do slightly longer reps, like kilometre or mile reps, and I’ll lead those out, then they’ll lead the shorter reps out, so we’re working with each other’s strengths, really.”

READ MORE: AW’s how they train series

After substantial performance gains in her first few years as a serious runner, Harrison, whose half-marathon best is 67:17 was set in Berlin this year, is realistic about her future progression and event potential. In the short-term, she’s hoping for a quick recovery post-London with a view to achieving the 10,000m qualifying time for the World Championships in Budapest this summer. 

“Vince and I sit down every few weeks or few months and ask, ‘What can we do now? How do we up this game?’” she says. “In the build-up to Paris next year, we’re deciding what we’re focusing on and it’s like, ‘How do we get from this to this?’”

Samantha Harrison (London Marathon Events)

Marathon build-up

Harrison, whose 30:51 10km in Valencia in January ranks her fourth on the British all-time list, says she’s become mentally, as well as physically, stronger over the past 12 months. “I learned a lot about character building during this race,” she wrote on social media following the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in February. “Grinding it out when the going gets tough is becoming one of my No.1 strengths.”

She is also benefiting from a more structured approach to strength training since reducing her working hours and goes to the gym three times per week, in addition to her core running sessions. 

Monday: double run day at easy/relaxed pace around 6:30/mile pace. For example: (am) 12 miles; (pm) 4 miles 

Tuesday: easy day with one run around 14 miles (approx 6:15/mile pace)

Wednesday: long tempo or track session such as 10 x one mile on track off 60-70sec recovery

Thursday: (am) 14 miles approx; (pm) 4-5 miles (both runs around 6:30/6:40 pace)

Friday: 10 miles in the evening (after work) at easy pace

Saturday: (am) track session such as 1km-1.2km-2km-2.4km-2km-1.2km-1km (recoveries get shorter as session progresses down to 30sec) or mile reps/400s, or 1km reps; (pm) 4-5miles easy/recovery pace (7-7:30/mile)

Sunday: long run of 20-23miles. “The pace depends on who I’m running with or where we do the run,” says Harrison, but it’s usually between 6-6:30/mile pace. 

Favourite session: “Mile reps and 400s such as one mile (60sec rest) – 4 x 400m (off 45-50sec) x 3-4 sets. It’s brilliant, it’s an anaerobic and aerobic workout.”

Least favourite session: “Some kind of 5km threshold and then finish with 1km reps or something like that, just absolutely brutal,” she laughs. “It feels great when you’re finished your session, but when you look at it on paper you’re like, ‘oh wow, that’s like race pace’.”

» This is a version of an article that appeared in the April issue of AW magazine, which you can read here