In the early summer of 1984, 12-year-old Sonja Friend ran a 400 meters in the ARCO Jesse Owens Games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Months later, she recalled watching Joanie Benoit on TV, winning the 1984 Olympic marathon at the same site. On Saturday, Sonja Friend-Uhl broke Joan’s American record for 3000 meters in the W45 age group. In response to questions, Coach Sonja graciously shared details of the sub-10 race at Boston University. First thing I asked about were injuries she suffered last year. (Sonja had to scratch from the masters 1500 exhibition at the Eugene Olympic Trials because of the remnants of a hamstring pull and plantar fasciitis in her right foot.)
Masterstrack.com: Feel any of your old injuries at Boston?
Sonja Friend-Uhl: Not the hamstring or the plantar. My left posterior tibial tendon has been a bit tender since the half-marathon two weeks ago, but it held up just fine.
Were others in the race aware of your record attempt?
No. My coaches were and members of the [Florida Atlantic University] team, but other than that just a private goal.
What does it mean to beat a Joan Benoit Samuelson record?
I didn’t realize that’s who held it previously until you sent me this! I am honored, of course. I remember watching Joanie on TV winning the Olympic marathon in 1984 in LA. I had raced in the coliseum earlier that summer for the ARCO Jesse Owens Games. I ran the 400 in 64 seconds as a 12-year-old in that meet. She was a significant running idol to me and still is for all she has contributed to our sport.
Sub-10 is a barrier breaker. Was that your goal?
Yes. I knew something around 9:50 was possible based on my workouts. [Two years ago, Sonja set the W40 American indoor record of 9:50.37 at Winston-Salem.]
How did the race develop? What was last lap like?
I was careful to run relaxed and within myself the first mile. Ideally I was targeting 5:15, but the leaders were a bit off of that and I felt I was best to be patient. After the 8th lap or so, the pace had slowed to 41+ for the 200 so I knew I needed to pick it back up, which is when I took over the lead. Another collegiate runner came up on me with about 4 laps to go. Honestly, I was glad because this kept me pushing. The last 600 was tough, but I did feel strong the last lap.
Did you get recognition at the meet for record?
They announced it after the race, but it was pretty noisy in there!
How did you celebrate?
Cheered on my Atlanta Track Club teammates and the FAU women I help coach in the 5000!
What major meets or record attempts do you have coming up?
I will race at Penn State this coming Saturday. Then Masters indoor nationals and hopefully the Masters Exhibition 1000mat the Open U.S. Indoor Nationals. The mile and the 800 45-49 age-group records are also great targets. I’m taking it one meet at a time. 🙂
Anything else folks should know about the Boston run?
That is an extremely efficient and well-organized meet! There were over a hundred entries in some events and they still ran everything on time. The shape and surface of the track are also outstanding. Very fast! I highly recommend this meet.