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  • Writer's pictureKarla

Meet the runner - Sarah Merritt

Sarah has to be one of the most positive and energetic people I've ever met. Our mutual friend Rachel and I have often wondered if she has some sort of super-metabolism that imbues ultra-positivity with the energiser bunny. Sarah is always up for an adventure as long as there are enough snacks around to fuel her. We went to the Isle of Wight in February together - she'd cycled to the ferry with her husband after work, wolfed down some fish and chips and chocolate on the way over and then cycled to our accommodation (at night, in the rain) before pizza. What Sarah doesn't mention in her writing below is how talented she is - she makes the Hampshire county squad every year and usually medals at the local races where the competition is pretty hot. I asked her about her life, training and motivations.

I’ve worked as a Cardiac Physiologist in the NHS for a good few years now. It’s a challenging and rewarding job, interacting with people living with cardiac health conditions. I have followed friends and whims to play many different sports over the years and have represented teams and clubs since school in netball, hockey, badminton, athletics, volleyball. The one that stuck the most, due to the good old Barton Peveril Saints Academy setup in 2001-03, football. These days I compete for Southampton AC and at the start I simply meandered between the groups, enjoyed the RR10’s for competition (local summer trail series) and enjoyed the company of the people I met. I finally ended up in Jon, Tony, Pete and Ray’s endurance group at Southampton AC a few years ago and that is where I have stayed put. Peter Haynes has been my coach since the winter of 2018 and having that bit more structure and input helped improve performances over many a distance in 2019.

Running ticked three boxes for me. Less injury risk than football, friendly faces and lots of activity! I had seen one too many friends go through ACL injuries after various twists or tackles during the ‘beautiful game’, followed by the inevitable reconstructions. In my final year of playing I’d also realised I was just turning up to see friends and get a good run around, rather than caring about the result. One season I’d trained up for the Dublin Marathon whilst still playing and boy was that a hard one! It didn’t put me off though and when I finished footy, around 2011, I headed over to SAC, the only club I knew, having been an U17 at Team Solent years before. Thanks to club secretary Fiona Webb and member John MacInnes, I started training at the common with Trev Gregory’s group. I then met the likes of Kev and Sally Gilbert, Mike Gregory, Becky Mulley, Owen Harries, the Neils and Karen Wells, Sian Thompson, Saz Illman, Ursula Puentener, Emyr Morgan, James Allen, even Ellie Monks in her initial testing out the club stage! They were a proactive, friendly bunch (having not long come back from a group trip to the Marathon De Sables) and I liked it.

I ran some great races before coronavirus, I had a calendar full until late January. The last few included a New Year’s Eve trip to Nos Galan in Wales, the Hampshire cross-country Champs at Fairthorne Manor, Stubbington 10K, Popham Hampshire cross-country and then the very last was for Hampshire in early March up at the Intercounties cross-country in Loughborough.

If training for 10K or less I run something like 20-35 miles a week. If aiming for 10 miles (I don’t tend to run further than that!) then the top end gets to 40miles on the odd occasion. That’s 3-5 runs per week, 2 sessions (track or grass) in that and a 7-9mile long run 1-3 times in that month. On some days a ‘session’ day could be anything up to 11miles including the miles to and from the track and the short work commute. I have to be pretty flexible so missed sessions are just a thing that happens… with a job including late nights and/or weekends with the on call, I make what I can make and don’t go if I can’t squeeze it in.

It can be great to have a good sprint… the endurance runner type! I like the track 400’s, 200’s or a mixture of 600’s and 200’s, they are right up my street especially in warmer weather - a Portugal holiday with some running included was a great setting for that in 2016!

In the early months of this year coronavirus had cut out the competition and the social aspect of the sport, so without that I was taking it pretty easy. I love team events and going into a race in good form. I had a lot of that between October and January so I felt like the break was well deserved. Our captain, Nicci Bolinger, has done so well to keep up the running interest within the girls group since then with 5K time trials and charity challenges like a Lands End to John O Groats’ team effort, raising money for a host of charities as well as keeping us entertained! I’d taken to the bike a bit, done some strengthening circuits too and Joe Wicks in amongst that.

Later in lockdown it was confirmed that there is a new challenge ahead and I’m 20 odd weeks pregnant now. I have dropped the Joe Wicks, running is now 3-4 times per week and I do shy away from exercise on the hottest days, as well as run well within myself during sessions to keep a certain level of comfort!

The past couple of years have been really fun ones. I’ve loved four races in particular! The first was holding off Emma Jolley over 5 miles at Purbrook Ladies 5 in 2018; such a close race. I led from start to finish, but have never put so much effort into a sprint finish to stay there! The second was at Watford track, my speediest 3K to date and the 3rd; the Ipswich Twilight 5K road race in May 2019 where I finally smashed my 5K PB. It was such a stacked race, so many very fast girls, to chase; including the awesome Lauren Hall representing Aldershot. Twenty three of the girls finished in sub 17 minutes and Laura Weightman won that year. Definitely one for your calendar in the future if looking for a fast 5K! The final race was winning the team Hants cross-country Gold and finishing individual 4that last year’s Hants Champs. That one was special, despite missing out on an individual medal, as it meant we had successfully defended the title from the previous year too.

I never beat myself up about performances; years of team sports so I’ve had enough of that! I run for the enjoyment of it, so every race can be a good one. One race that was a bit harder than most though was the Great South Run in 2018. It was the first time I’d ever run it and ever qualified for an elite field place in anything so I thought I better take the opportunity! It was great in the build-up and at the start, I mean it was on the television too, how fun! It was also a long way to run without the support of the big GSR main field crowd and other runners all around you though. I didn’t even hit the sub 63 min standard in that one on the day (the qualifying standard that got me the entry in the first place). It taught me it’s great to strive to get to that level, but you have really got to have a steely mentality, focus and dedication to enjoy the reality of an elite race and get yourself up to the sharp end of competitive running! In 2019 I ran in the main field race, I enjoyed it and got my PB. I wouldn’t have had the comparison had I not snatched the chance up the previous year though!

My results didn’t really start to take off until my husband got me the gift of a Garmin and I trained regularly. I don’t even have to look at it on a run; for me it’s just fun to have a log of what I have done. I found it helps with motivation to be able to see what effort I have put into getting to an event when really setting myself a goal to aim for and my husband is never short of an encouraging word if he recognises that the times are going in the right direction in the lead up to a race. That’s when I really get excited about competing!

I’ve only read two running books. The story of Micah True known as ‘Caballo Blanco’ and the Tarahumara runners in Born to Run and the fell running book Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith. Worlds apart, but I enjoyed both.

Yeah, losing your running mojo happens to everyone at some point doesn’t it?! I ditch the watch for a while, take a break for a few days, then do some new routes, or revisit a few favourites, socialise with some positive folk and then hey presto, refreshed and ready to go.

Does Nesquik strawberry milkshake count as a special diet? Oh, I do take vitamin D now, when I remember, whilst pregnant.

I compete because I enjoy it, especially within a team of friends or in a place that has a trip away attached!One of my best holidays ever was to the Jung Frau Marathon in Switzerland in 2012 with a host of fun SAC training buddies – the ones that encouraged me and drew me to the club in the first place. Only do any sport or activity because you want to and enjoy it. I push myself as far as I want to go in races and training; and enjoy finding that extra something at races if the motivation is there; nothing more complicated than that.

I love a lot of sports and if I could just play them all day, every day that would appeal a great deal. There’s not one I would pick out above all others though, too many gooduns!

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