Sonja began running in the 4th grade. Her father was an engineer for ARCO and at the time they sponsored the ARCO Jesse Owens Games. He entered her to compete in the first local meet and she ran the 50 meter dash. She doesn’t remember where she placed exactly but must have liked running because she asked to join the regional youth track club which was the North West Washington Striders. Her first break through came in the 1984 ARCO Jesse Owens Games where she won the regional championship in the 400 meters in 64 seconds. She won a trip to compete at the Nationals which were held in the LA Coliseum the same summer as the Olympics. This was the year that Joan Benoit Samuelson won the first Women’s Olympic Marathon. Running has opened so many doors for Sonja throughout her life. She earned a full track/cross country scholarship to the College of William & Mary, traveled the world for different races and competitions, met amazing people and made lifelong friendships, and built a career for herself coaching and training others. For the past 5 years Sonja has been sponsored by the Atlanta Track Club. Now that she's settled back in South Florida full time, Sonja is eager to get more involved with the USATF- Florida association. Sonja has been a member of six U.S. world teams, a 2000 Olympic Trials Competitor in the 1500 meters. She is the reigning World Record Holder in the Women’s Masters Indoor Mile (4:44.81) and the American Record Holder in the Women’s Masters 1500 meters (4:16.99), the Women’s Masters Outdoor Mile (4:45.68), and the Women’s Masters Indoor 3000 meters (9:48.23). Sonja is also a National Masters Female Champion in the Indoor 800 meters, Mile, and 3000 meters, as well as the Outdoor 800 meters, 1500 meters, and 5000 meters.
After all that you accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
While it’s become more challenging emotionally at times as I’ve aged; like getting slower, what keeps me going is that everlasting question: so how good can I be today? It also gives me peace, is a social outlet to others, and makes me feel alive.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don't feel like running?
Usually I think of the goals I have ahead of me, or I remind myself that I always feel better during and after the run. If you can get the first 10 minutes in, you usually want to keep going from there.
On average, how many times and miles do you run a month?
On the training cycle I’m in, an average 40 to 45 miles total each week. So at a minimum, I’m running 26 days per month for about 170 miles total.
If you were forced to give up one and had to choose between running or coaching, which would you pick and why?
I can’t say for certain because this is not my reality, thankfully, but I suppose at this point in my career I would choose coaching because it still brings me similar joy and challenges, and because it’s where I can make the biggest positive difference for others which is very fulfilling to me.
Can you describe what it feels like to own a world record?
For me it’s similar to that first magical moment after you’ve crossed the finish line of a race and just ran phenomenal; either you ran a PR, or competed extremely well, faced and conquered your demons, etc. You have those first few quiet seconds to yourself where you’re saying internally, “YES!! I did it!” It was that kind of feeling. I set a goal, made it known publicly, and I went after it and owned it to the end. In that particular race, an indoor meet at Virginia Tech, the collegiate women had fallen off pace within the first 600 meters so I had to take the lead and make it happen. Eventually one came up on my shoulder over the last 200 meters and she won the race with me a second or two behind her. The entire field house was cheering for me as the announcer had told the crowd my intent and was announcing my splits in relation to the former record as we ran. It was a surreal experience and one of those now or never moments. Now I keep it in my “back pocket” and remind myself I can do difficult things whenever I’m feeling vulnerable or down about my training or racing. I’m extremely grateful and humbly proud of my mile world record accomplishment.
Do you prefer racing on a track or the road?
I will always be partial to the track because that’s where this running dream started for me and that’s really where I am at my best and enjoy myself the most. I like that the track is intense and strategic, and that you need athleticism in addition to endurance. It fosters a team atmosphere and there is a sense of urgency that I thrive on. I also like the diversity of the events, athletes, etc.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
When I’m on point, I’m doing strength work 2 to 3 days per week, core training every other day, mobility/stability exercises before every run, and flexibility or soft tissue therapy after every run. I don’t always accomplish that schedule because of my other responsibilities to family and my work, but I believe in the importance of those elements 100%. My strength training routine varies depending on what season I’m in. If I’m training for the track races, I need more power and speed, so the strength routine reflects that with heavier weights, Olympic lifts, plyometrics, etc. If I’m preparing for cross country or longer road races, I’m focused more on functional strength and stability work.
Who is one runner, famous or not, that's inspired you?
Amy Yoder Begley: NCAA All American and National Champion several times while running for Arkansas, 2008 Olympian in the 10,000 meters, and current Head Coach of the Atlanta Track Club.
What's your favorite types of fuel for running?
Before a longer race or the morning of a track meet: A bowl of Steel Cut oatmeal with honey, a half of a banana, and coffee. Before a morning workout: A pre-workout drink or coffee and Greek yogurt with fruit. Between races at a track meet: I sip on pre-workout or a recovery drink, a banana with almond butter or a GU gel with caffeine, water. During a half marathon: Gu with caffeine, First Endurance drink, and water.
What's your favorite cheat food & drink?
I have many! I guess a milkshake probably tastes and feels the best after a really hard effort. Pizza isn’t bad either!
Have you ever considered running an ultra-marathon?
No, it just doesn’t interest me. I enjoy going fast and strong versus long and moderate. Racing another marathon doesn’t interest me at this point either. I enjoy coaching and programming for marathons, but I have no desire to run another myself.
Do you like ice baths?
Let’s be honest, no one “likes” ice baths Phil. Do I think they work? Yes. They work even better if you use Epsom salts. People can debate in theory over this all they want. Try racing a 1500, 400, and an 800 meter all out in the same meet, and then go sit in an ice bath. If your legs don’t feel better and flushed out after 8 to 10 minutes in that tub, you didn’t race hard enough.
In your free time when you’re not running and coaching, what hobby’s do you enjoy?
I’m very busy with my family. I have two daughters, ages 17 and 10 that keep me on my toes! I love the ocean and enjoy visiting different natural areas in Florida to see our beautiful animals and habitats. I write a blog and articles for Star Trac Fitness & Stairmaster whom I also represent globally as a Master Trainer. I also love to read and enjoy music!
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Recruit a friend or find a group to run with weekly. It makes a huge difference in your progress and consistency!
Do you have a preferred racing shoe?
The Nike Vapor Fly 4% for anything on the roads 5k and over because it works and feels amazing! It also keeps me off of my heels late in the race. For my track races I like the Nike Zoom elite spikes because they have enough of an arch support for my flat feet, while still being super light and functional. For Cross Country I still love the Shay XC spikes. They’ve got a great fit and “ride” but support my arch like no other especially over terrain when I’m running fast.
What’s your favorite distance to run?
The Mile. First, I’m good at it! Secondly, it’s strategic as much as it is intense. Finally, you have to have a mix of aerobic strength and raw speed to do well.
What is your favorite running accomplishment so far?
Qualifying for the Olympic Trials 1500 meters in 2000.
If you had to pick a favorite, which of your world records would you choose?
My favorite record is actually my 1500 meters Masters American Record where I ran 4:16.90. It was in 2012 at Vanderbilt when I was living in Nashville. It was one of those races where you just feel amazing and like you’re outside of your body. I was 41 years old. I won the race, beating several young elites in the process, and qualified for the Olympic Trials (again) along with setting a new Masters Female American Record. Plus I did it while racing with some of the girls I helped coach (I was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt). It is a great memory for me!
Click the links below to keep up with Sonja Friend-Uhl
Published January 9, 2019