Sarahjane Cooke hit the headlines this past weekend with a blistering 16:37 parkrun in Belfast, her fastest yet, but the returning star has a big history in our sport. 

The inspiring mother of six also won the F40 North/South cross country match in November. All in all, not a bad few weeks for the comeback queen, as there will likely be those reading this who remember Sarahjane as a promising junior, over 16 years ago.

Here is her story so far

Sarahjane began running with her dad and uncle when she was young, which soon grew into a Friday competition between all the siblings. Before long she could give them a six minute start and still catch them. Fast forward to 2021 and Sarahjane is the only one still competing.

Having joined Albertville Harriers when she was eleven it wasn’t long until the first race. It was split into two groups due to a large entry and Sarahjane beat everyone in her race. She recalls many more races and was rarely out of the medals. It looks like this form is returning.

“As a junior I was Ulster Schools champion, in cross country and on the track. I was also All Ireland champion on the track for 3000m and was Northern Ireland Champion at cross country. As part of a great junior team we won the British relay championships… In my later teens I was offered a scholarship in America, but declined.”

Sarahjane then quit running for over sixteen years.

What have been her highlights since returning?

That Victoria Park performance a few days ago, of course. Plus the cross country victory in November. But there are more.

“Being selected for the NI team as a senior to run the Leeds Abbey dash 10K where I won my age category. Another achievement would be running the elite race at the Antrim Coast half marathon, it was an amazing experience running alongside some of the world’s best athletes, I am glad I got to experience that.”

What does she put her success down to?

“Since I was a junior I always did train hard and and that would be the same now. Looking back, running was always something I was good at and I had my parents and uncle to push me on. Now that I have come back to running as an adult I have found a great coach [Keith Purdy]. Between him and my husband, they both give me the support and encouragement to be able to train consistently which I believe is key.”

Photo: Keith McClure

What are your ambitions and targets?

It’s clear that Sarahjane has rediscovered the same ambition she had as a junior. Now the task is to be the best runner she can be. “At the minute I’m just focused on enjoying my training because for sixteen years I had fallen out of love with the sport, my focus now is to stay fit and improve race after race and I will see where that takes me.”

Her PBs are as below but one expects they may soon need updating.

5,000m track. 17:04
5K road 17:10 (16:37 parkrun)
10K road. 35:14
HM 76:44

A great coach and the power of the group

Sarahjane was keen to share about a current coaching set-up and who it is working for her, as well as finding the benefits of training in a strong group.

“I met Keith not long after having my youngest daughter (baby number six). I wasn’t really fit at the time. I had almost two years out with very little running and I had also been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid.

It took a little time to balance my medication as I was always so tired. I think I surprised Keith with my determination and how I followed his coaching instruction. He has a bug for running the same as myself. Though Keith is my coach (and a fantastic one at that), his friend Frank is always there to support us both as he too was a keen runner.

I have had a few coaches over the years but the enthusiam they both have for coaching is second to none. My plan is tailored to what race I am training for. I have never had a coach that is so precise with every detail and I can’t thank him enough for all the time he spends to make sure I am the best version of me.”

Favourite sessions?

“I love half marathon training my favourite session would have been 3 x 5K and 3 x 5mins with floats.”

Before joining her club, Victoria Park and Connswater, Sarahjane did love running solo. But after joining up and starting training with Keith there is a small group that works well together and she began to realise the benefit of having others to get you through some tough sessions.

Eating healthily is not something the mother of six finds easy, between having a sweet tooth and living in a house full of kids. But knowing that how she fuels will affect performance provides motivation.

This time round it is clear she is determined to reach her potential in running. This is one career worth keeping an eye on.