AW promotion: Seven talented female distance runners will fly the flag for Brooks in the run-up to Glasgow 2014 and beyond

With the Commonwealth Games on home soil only a few months away, Brooks is sponsoring a squad of British female athletes that is oozing with potential.

Such is their talent, if the Brooks Super 7 does not make an impact in Glasgow this summer then there is the European Athletics Championships in Zurich, not to mention the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.

In the century since it was founded, Brooks has supported female athletes such as ironman legend Chrissie Wellington. It once even put a pair of shoes on the feet of Zola Budd. Now, its Super 7 head to the track this summer – and roads and country next winter – to create a new chapter in Brooks’ proud history.

THE SUPER 7
Laura Whittle

Laura WhittleBorn: June 27, 1985
PBs: 1500: 4:09.16. 3000: 8:50.37. 5000: 15:26.96.
Coach: George Gandy

Unlike many athletes, Laura Whittle has already secured selection for the Commonwealth Games – the 28-year-old is set to race the 5000m for the host nation this summer. “My main goal is to stay healthy in the run-up to the Games and it’d be great to beat my PBs,” says the former European under-23 5000m champion.

Yet how does an athlete who was born in Blackpool, runs for Royal Sutton Coldfield and who now lives in Leicestershire manage to represent Scotland? Despite her English accent, Scottish blood is coursing through her veins. Laura’s mum was born in Glasgow and met her English father, the former 2:17 marathon man Paul Kenney, at Dundee University before they later lived for a while in Inverness.

“My dad says the marathon is in my genes, but I’m not in a rush to move up!” says Laura, whose races in 2014 have included victory in the Brooks Armagh 3km. “I’d really like to give the Commonwealths my best shot on the track.” Laura had some time out in 2011-12 where she didn’t race much. “But watching London 2012 made me want to come back,” she says.

“I watched the marathon, where my friend Ava Hutchinson was running for Ireland, plus a morning session in the Olympic Stadium with the 5000m heats with Mo Farah. It was inspirational.”

Now, Laura is keen to be part of a similar experience in Glasgow. “I’ve had some calf problems in the past, but I really get on with Brooks shoes. I’m a neutral striker so I like the Ghost.”

Gemma Kersey

Gemma KerseyBorn: February 6, 1992
PBs: 800: 2:06.11. 1500: 4:13.54. 3000: 9:10.48
Coach: Eamonn Martin

As a student of fashion design at Middlesex University, Gemma Kersey particularly enjoyed taking part in the photo shoot that produced the pictures in this feature. “Runners usually have their photo taken when they’re sweaty and racing hard,” she says. “So it was nice to have our hair and make-up done for a change and wear the new spring and summer clothing.”

Coached by Eamonn Martin, Gemma is keen to chip more time off her 1500m PB this summer. “One day I might move up to 5000m, too,” she adds. But this is a tough period for the young runner as she is working on her dissertation and spending large sections each day sewing. “When I go for a run, it feels like a break from work,” she laughs.

With bags of potential and, just turned 22, plenty of time on her side as well, Gemma is in no rush. “I feel the pressure is off as I enter my first few years as a senior,” she explains. Yet at the same time she says Brooks’ support – she has been with them for three years now – which includes shoes, kit and a grant, will undoubtedly help her reach her potential under the experienced eye of former London Marathon winner Martin.

Claire Tarplee

Claire TarpleeBorn: September 22, 1988
PBs: 800: 2:03.46. 1500: 4:11.35
Coach: George Gandy

Despite winning the UK indoor 800m title last year, Claire Tarplee sees her future more at 1500m and hopes to make an impact at the European Championships this summer representing Ireland.

Currently on a pre-season altitude trip to Boulder, Colorado, and Mount Laguna, California, she will return to Loughborough, where she is finishing her masters in sociology of sport, next month to begin the quest to chip further chunks off her track PBs.

The George Gandy-coached athlete is building up good international experience, too. Earlier this year she ran at the IAAF World Indoors in Poland, while last year she finished sixth in the World University Games 1500m in Russia.

“It was such a big experience,” she says. “I had never been to an outdoor championship before and it was a massive learning curve.”

Jess Coulson

Jess CoulsonBorn: April 18, 1990
PBs: 1500: 4:18.75. 3000: 9:14.07. 5000: 16:23.60.
Coach: Mick Woods

It has been a frustrating time for Jess Coulson since she won the European under-23 cross country title 17 months ago. After winning gold in a snowy Szentendre in late 2012, she has barely raced and spent most of 2013 re-habbing from a foot operation she underwent this time last year. The Stockport athlete has turned the corner, though, and is now running every day with an eye on revising track PBs that do not yet do justice to her massive ability.

A former national champion at 1500m and 3000m, Jess has suffered her fair share of injuries in her short senior career and now runs with metal pins in her foot after surgeons reinforced a navicular bone in her foot. “The operation was the day before my birthday – April 18 – last year. My foot wasn’t happy, I hit snags and the re-hab process took a long time. But in January, I started to put a plan together with my coach, Mick Woods and things are going well at the moment,” she says.

For Jess, given her recent history, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other without pain is a Run Happy moment.

Sonia Samuels

Sonia SamuelsBorn: May 16, 1979
PBs: 5000: 15:44.24. 10,000: 32:57.23. Marathon: 2:30:56
Coach: Terrence Mahon

Best known as a marathon runner, with a PB just outside 2:30, Sonia Samuels is currently trying to trim her track PBs before returning to 26.2 miles in the autumn or in 2015.

After racing in Stanford, California, recently – where she ran 15:46.70 for 5000m – she has now hooked up with her coach Terrence Mahon in Boston for a spell of training, plus a 5km road race in the city on Boston Marathon weekend, before returning to Stanford for another track race in early May.

After finishing 16th in the IAAF World Championships marathon last August, Sonia struggled physically and mentally during the early part of the winter and had a brief break before starting to train hard again during a training trip to Kenya in January.

“Marathon training takes so much out of you,” she says, as she looks forward to smashing the 2:30 barrier in future under the guidance of Mahon.

Until recently her husband, Nick, coached her. Himself a 2:30 marathoner, Nick is also a pretty good runner. Well, most of the time, that is. “He was pacing me in the Berlin Half last year,” Sonia recalls, “but I was a bit surprised when he did a track session the day before the race. Then, in the race itself, he disappeared at 18km!”

Ordinarily, though, Nick helps her through countless training sessions. In addition, as an IT expert for a big mobile phone company, he helps with her blog – which, unusually for an athlete, is regularly updated (and highly recommended!) – and he will fly out to Stanford soon to meet up with her before her next track race in May.

Since her early days as a national junior cross-country champion, Sonia has enjoyed success at many distances and over various terrains. On the country, she has won the Northern title and raced in four World Cross events. On the track, she’s won the national 10,000m title. On the roads, she was fourth Briton in the 2012 London Marathon. She’s even dabbled with steeplechase.

With Commonwealth selection for 3000m over the barriers being slightly easier than some other events, is a return to hurdling an option? “Er, no,” she smiles. “I think I’ll stick with 5/10km and the marathon!”

Katrina Wootton

Katrina WoottonBorn: September 2, 1985
PBs: 800: 2:04.00. 1500: 4:06.69. 3000: 8:50.69i. 5000: 15:30.82
Coach: Harvey Rose

You probably won’t see Katrina Wootton racing much this summer, if at all. She’s on the comeback trail from surgery, but the good news is that an operation she had in November will hopefully enable her to attack her personal best performances in 2015.

Pain in her heel turned out to be Haglund’s Deformity – where the heel bone protrudes too far and rubs on the Achilles. So while most people were whizzing around the shops in December, Katrina had to buy her Christmas presents online due to wearing a cast. Only now is the Coventry-based athlete finally back training, with a simple 45 minutes every other day where she alternates jogging and walking. For a runner who has been winning big races for many years – she was a National cross country champion with Mo Farah in Newark in 1999 – it’s been tough to sit out the winter.

“It was my first-ever operation,” she says. “But I hope now to come back and I’d like to get my road 10km under 32 minutes before racing 5000m and maybe 10,000m on the track next summer.”

Lucy Hall

Lucy HallBorn: February 21, 1992
PBs: 10km: 36:57 (Lucy’s main sport is triathlon)
Coach: Jack Maitland and Malcolm Brown

A talented triathlete, Lucy’s swimming is so strong she is nicknamed “la Sirène”, or the mermaid, when she races in France. She is, however, a decent runner as well and has been at the sharp end of national cross country events in recent years, in addition to winning the Leicestershire title.

In 2012, aged only 20, she finished 33rd in the Olympic triathlon – competing as a ‘domestique’ for Helen Jenkins – and is part of British Triathlon’s podium potential squad, which is based in the triathlon epicentre of Leeds.

Currently racing in New Zealand and Australia, she emailed AW from Down Under to explain how she hopes improvements in the running stage of the triathlon will lead to medals in future. “I swim 1500m and bike 40km before the 10km run so every run is different,” she says. “I’m still learning how to run a ‘good’ 10km off the bike and my personal target is to run my second 5km as a negative split.”