Runner Profile: Sam Linassi
Firstly, thank you to the smashing vice-captain Jo Harper for her nomination. Jo has always been a friendly and welcoming face at FRR. Jo also seriously underestimates her running – she’s really very good!!
Since batting the ball out of the school playground in a game of rounders as a 6 year-old and scoring 5 rounders (we could just keep running in those days!), I knew sport was my thing. In my primary school sports days I usually beat everyone in the running race and in those days it was boys and girls! I discovered gymnastics which I enjoyed for some years but after knocking out my tooth on the asymmetric bars and fracturing my arm, my confidence did get dented and I gave it up around 12 years old.
By the time I’d reached high school I was still the fastest sprinter in the year until a new girl Liz Edwards joined and started beating me. I discovered at this point that I have a serious competitive streak! (Just in case you hadn’t noticed!). I represented the school for all the usual sports like netball, hockey and athletics. Long jump, high jump and hurdles were my events, certainly not long distance running! I clearly remember dreading the annual freezing cold, muddy, horrible cross country so think I have been scarred.
My main talent turned out to be high jump as although I am quite short, I am actually quite bouncy. I managed to break the school record most years at sports day. Unfortunately, my height became more of an issue at the Kent County Championships where everyone was a foot taller than me! I managed to come third but felt quite disheartened. Again I realised I’m not very good at losing!
Move onto university life and I only managed a few trips to the gym and the odd legs, bums and tums aerobics. After qualifying as a teacher, the job took over somewhat and I still only managed the occasional trip to the gym. But I did win the teachers’ running race at sports day!
I had a break from teaching and worked in London which is where I did my first 5k with work for the JP Morgan 5k at Battersea Park. A couple of work colleagues were regular runners and often ran to and from work which I found really quite bizarre! At that time we lived in Crystal Palace next to the park so I did some jogging around there and thought that should do it. Got to the start line of the race with my work colleagues and Sally Gunnell started the race. All my work colleagues seem to disappear into the distance but I couldn’t go any faster or breathe much really! I think I finished in about 42 minutes and then ate a massive burger as thought I must have burnt off so many calories. Definitely not a natural runner!
Roll on our move out of the big smoke to Felixstowe and 2 children later. I was missing doing any sport and wanted to get fit again. Jogging round the block seemed to be a good way to start as it only took 5 minutes! I generally huffed and puffed round the block but felt better for doing something. I gradually started to go a bit further and thought I was making progress, must be at least 3 miles. We drove the route and it turned out it was not even 2 miles! It’s hard work this running lark!
After spending a few more weeks jogging around I thought maybe I could join a running club. I’d heard of Felixstowe Road Runners and thought it would be a good way to keep fit. I spoke to Annabel Bennett on the phone and she was so welcoming and encouraging so I went along to a session. Wow, you have to run a mile for the warm-up. This would have been easier had I not bumped into Michelle Gordon who I had met previously through having children (I didn’t realise at the time quite how talented she is!). She could run and chat! I tried to chat but was struggling to breathe so it was quite tricky. I realised I had a lot of work to do but I wanted to get better at it.
I hit a stumbling block as had been having some back issues. My back had always been quite achy and stiff but after having children progressed to sciatic pain and trouble sleeping. An MRI revealed I had grade 3 spondylolisthesis of the lower spine. Basically the vertebra had slipped 75% from where it should be (you can feel it sticking out, nice!). Usually this would require fusion surgery but as my symptoms weren’t severe the surgeon wanted to leave it alone. There is no disc space between 2 of the vertebrae but the team at Ipswich hospital said if you can run with no pain then carry on. The pain management man wasn’t entirely sure why it didn’t hurt more but a later MRI scan revealed I have a wide spinal canal so the nerves aren’t irritated as much. Yay for my wide spinal canal! Back to the running …. whoop!
FRR introduced to me to lots of friendly runners and I did start to improve with the varied sessions. In fact I even learnt to run and chat which was most excellent as I like to chat ha ha. Me and Caroline Stafford would often put the world to rights on a Tuesday night!
I really enjoy racing and have so many races I could talk about, but I’ll try to pick out the most memorable. Races are like Christmas to me and I usually get quite excited. There are exceptions…
My first London Marathon in 2011 was one of those times. My mum had run London in 1985 and I remember cheering her on around Cutty Sark. I thought it was pretty cool to be able to run that far. I had been very lucky to get a marathon place through the FRR club ballot. Another of my trusty chatting partners, Linda Woodard, was also training for her first marathon and we did a lot of training together.
The week leading up to the race I thought I should start eating lots of food as I would surely need lots of energy to run a whole marathon and I was very nervous I wouldn’t get to the finish. I’d heard carbohydrates were good so I consumed lots of pasta and potatoes. Linda even made me some flapjacks which I ate on the FRR coach in order to top up my fuel stores. All of this resulted in me feeling like I weighed a ton in the starting pen which wasn’t ideal. Anyway I had friends and family supporting me so I did my best to get round and loved seeing everyone. I had been looking forward to seeing all the landmarks like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace but by the time I got there I really couldn’t have cared less; I needed the finish line! When I crossed the finish line I was so relieved I burst into tears but there wasn’t anyone there that I knew so I just felt a bit silly. Especially as I couldn’t straighten my legs, they were still bent! A great experience and 4 hours and 21 minutes was my time.
I seemed to forget the pain of London and 3 weeks later decided to join Linda with her first marathon at Halstead. Linda had left me at around mile 10 as she clearly had more energy than me. It was hot and a very hilly course. At mile 22 my watch battery died (I didn’t have a very good one at the time), I was really thirsty, and people around me were swearing up the hills. Anyway I made it, and realised that you ideally need to recover between marathons! 4 hours and 25 minutes.
Over the next few years I began to increase my mileage, still enjoying the longer distances. I did the Kent Roadrunner Marathon 5 years in a row on a bike track in Gravesend. Around 18 laps if I remember rightly but a fun event and massive medals! I won the showboating competition one year doing a cartwheel. After 9 miles of running I wasn’t sure it would work but thought it would give everyone a giggle if it didn’t! Sadly this event ceased to exist after 2018…
In 2014 I ran London again and managed to get my time down to 4 hours and 5 minutes. Always needing the next challenge, I entered Kings Forest 50km that autumn with the lovely ladies Linda and Christina Howland. It is always a crazy time when you run a distance further than you ever have before. I looked down at my watch at 29 miles and couldn’t quite believe I’d got that far. My legs were fairly ruined and Linda had to keep persuading me that the finish was just after the next field. Although she was just fibbing to keep me moving! 5 hours and 33 minutes was my time.
We moved from Felixstowe to Kesgrave which caused a little hiccup in my running as I could never get to the FRR sessions due to work and small children. I really missed the speed sessions so joined a club which is orange (?!) and stayed there for a few years. I did make some good improvements in my times but missed my old Felixstowe buddies which I still saw and had nice chats with at races. I spoke to Robin Harper at the Bungay marathon (his favourite!) and he said I’d always be welcomed back which was kind.
So once the children were older I moved back to FRR and this is where I met the lovely speed demon, Collette Green. We were doing some sprints up Golf Road and I ran next to Collette. Wow she is quick! Martlesham 10k 2015 was my first race with Collette and I was just ahead of her for the entire race, apart from the grass finish of 10 metres. Whoosh comes Collette past me to beat me to the finish. I couldn’t believe it but we still have a good giggle about it now. She has been a great race buddy over the last few years.
I was quite determined to get my marathon time below 4 hours so entered Bungay Marathon in 2016 and did more training than I had ever done before. I was learning what weekly sessions I needed to do to get stronger and faster. It was probably the marathon where I felt the strongest the whole way round and enjoyed all of it. When I turned the corner at the finish and saw the finish clock, there was a 3 on it! I’d managed it, 3 hours and 55 minutes was my time.
My current marathon pb was from London Marathon 2019. I was in the good for age start as had got a qualifying time from Bury marathon in 2018. I ran very hard for the whole marathon and managed 3 hours and 38 minutes. I have to say though, holding that pace for 26.2 miles was hard work and it was definitely mind over matter!
I needed a new challenge and started to look around for longer events as that is where the enjoyment is for me. I’d heard of SVP50 and SVP100 and lots of stories from runners about it, some good and some not! It did feel out of my depth but it certainly felt like a challenge so I entered SVP100 3 weeks before the event! John Reynolds seemed to think it would be fine so I took his word for it!
I felt totally out of my comfort zone in the lead up to the race as had to think about navigation, fuel, and mandatory kit. Not to mention cows! My lovely husband had driven me to Stoke by Nayland one weekend so I could practice the last 13 miles of the route. The route I’d downloaded onto my watch wasn’t working properly and I ended up running round a field for ages trying to find a way out!
The week of the race there were predicted 50mph winds so I hoped it would be cancelled. As if! It wasn’t so I had to pull up my big girl knickers, pack my Camelbak, get a decent route downloaded onto the watch (thanks to techy Neil Catley), and get on with it. I ran the first marathon with Dan Clark, the inspirational FRR ultra runner, which really helped me relax into the race. Hopefully I didn’t drive him too crazy with my incessant talking! After lots of brilliant checkpoints with great volunteers and snacks, and not managing to get lost, I had around 15 miles to go and had no idea what the time was. When I checked it was 4pm and I realised I was actually doing quite well. I might not even need my head torch! I had to do quite a lot of cow dodging which I did find terrifying. I would run past looking at the ground hoping they wouldn’t see me! Towards the end near Flatford Mill there was a field with what seemed like hundreds of cows, and some were jumping around. I don’t know why they were so excited but I was very relieved to close that gate behind me. Shame that another runner trod on my foot going through the gate – the most painful moment of the day! I did lose 5 toe nails that day which was great timing for my holiday to Ibiza two days later! The highlight of the day was running up the field at Brantham to the finish seeing my husband and girls and the doggies and more running pals. This was definitely my most enjoyable race to date. 12 hours and 41 minutes was my time.
With COVID-19 throwing a spanner in the works for 2020 I did initially lose a bit of focus as couldn’t run as much and races were being cancelled left, right and centre. I had been training for the London Marathon and didn’t want the miles to go to waste. A running company Centurion put on a virtual race of various distances and you had a week to complete. Another challenge! I went for the 100 miles and decided to do it all in one day to make it extra difficult. Running 100 miles round Kesgrave and Martlesham was an interesting experience and I did discover that after 90 miles your brain starts misbehaving. All the trees suddenly had faces and legs and arms! It was really comical and helped me drag my legs round the last few miles. 26 and a half hours for that one. I also completed the All Together Now challenge put together by John Reynolds and Carla Wiggins and did 100 miles of walking and running in a week. Then did the virtual Race to the Stones recently which was 100km in a day.
Anyway, SVP100 is still on for August so I’m looking forward to that and hope it will be as enjoyable as last year. If my ageing body will let me then I hope I can continue challenging myself with the ultras and add lots more adventures to my official 19 marathons and ultras so far.
Really looking forward to seeing everyone again at races and FRR sessions in the future. Hope we don’t have to wait too much longer. I have to say that running and FRR have made me so happy over the last 14 years and I’ve met so many fantastic people. I’ve never been for a run and got home in a worse mood than when I started. Love running and love FRR 😊.
So for September I would like to nominate my international marathon running buddy! She is a kind and extremely encouraging running friend to have, who I’ve known from the beginning of my running days. I’m sure she has many running stories to tell and I look forward to hearing them – over to you Carla Wiggins!!