She's Got Gumption: Susie Chan

I wanted to start a series of posts, interviewing people I find inspiring and learning from them. The first person I interviewed was Cat Simpson. Next up is the indestructible Susie Chan (Blog, Twitter).

Susie Chan is a badass. That really says it all. She's an ultramarathoner, a triathlete, a marathoner, a parent, a hilarious Tweeter, and an all-round goddess of a person.  She has placed in multiple races, completed the Marathon des Sables and has recently burst onto the triathlon scene.

And look at that beaming grin!

Susie was a total babe and agreed to donate her limited free time to answer some of my inane queries.

On Ultra Training

You're such a great ultra runner. To me it seems like you've been an insanely talented runner FOREVER, but how did you get into ultras? What was your first race?

Not at all, I am relatively new to running. My first race was at the very end of 2011 [Note: wow] - a local half marathon. Woefully under-prepared, I didn't train properly for it, ran it in an underwired bra and with cross trainers on. (It was a muddy trail race). The next day was agony.  I can clearly remember bracing myself to take a step down off the kerb my legs hurt so much. During the race I felt terrible for the first 10 miles, and then at mile 11 I realised the finish was in sight and I would make it!  When I got that first medal I was euphoric, and that began the slippery slope into running. Within a year I had signed up to the Marathon des Sables.

What would you say is the no 1 training requirement for ultras?

Training on tired legs. It’s not all just about the long slow run. Whilst packing the miles in on long runs is great for testing kit and testing out various food – for me I have found shorter miles and day on day training really useful to build up endurance.

At the recent Country to Capital: A 'training run' with Cat Simpson!

Do you do any cross training or strength training?

Yes! I go to a military style bootcamp – it’s huge fun despite being really feeble in my upper body. Hot Yoga is fantastic for runners legs. I must admit to being pretty slack on post run stretching and yoga helps keep the injuries at bay and my legs strong. I also cycle and swim weekly.

What do you do to prepare mentally?

I have a full artillery of positive thoughts that I deploy in long races. Positivity and a strong mind can carry you through the most unpleasant times, With any sort of racing there are ups and downs. Thinking about the finish line, family support, race accomplishments, the medal, all help boost tired legs. Being resolute in your mind that you will finish means you will finish.

What is your diet like during training? During life?

Having spent most of my life on some sort of diet and monitoring the amount of food I eat, it’s most liberating to be able to eat what I want now I train. I’m a pescetarian so I am mindful about getting enough protein and iron. I would say I eat normally.
Pre-ultra racing involves carb loading. It sounds much more fun that it really is. During ultra races, the food I eat is shocking. Anything to get calories in. Pizza, Cola, Pot Noodles, crisps, cake, appalling easy to eat junk food. Don’t judge me! I've tried lots of things and this works for me!
I have now trained myself to be able to run a marathon on nothing, or for a quick sugar boost a few pitted dates.

Its no secret that training for any racing takes time and energy, and ultras even more so, would you say you've sacrificed anything to be as good a runner as you are?

Yes, I am a mother who works full time, so training eats in to the precious free time I do have. Fortunately my partner is also an endurance runner – so we train together a lot. My poor daughter has to put up with my training schedule- to minimise this I get up early, squeeze it around my work day and try to coincide it with times when she has other things on. I do miss time with her. Especially when I go away for longer races. She is wonderful and I hope one day she understands.

On Triathlons

You've recently started rocking the world of Triathlons (even came 2nd at one!), how did you get interested in that?

I dabbled with a couple just to see what it was like. They are huge fun, but I was terrible at swimming and cycling. After getting excited seeing twitter friends doing an Ironman, I decided it might be time to get out my comfort zone a bit. My good friend Charlotte Hanson is a superb athlete. She has been training me up for triathlons. The swimming is coming along, but I still lack confidence on a bike. Much more work needed!

Are you still interested in triathlon? Do you have any planned?

I have Outlaw half Ironman in May and Bolton Ironman planned in July. On the way to that I will do some Sprints and  Olympic triathlon, as well as open water swim races, I have some Bike Sportives booked. Eeek!

Do you find them easier or harder to train for than your usual challenges, and why?

Harder. I enjoy running, I’m comfortable running. I am slowing getting to like swimming, but cycling is never going to be my first love. It’s much harder for me to get out on the bike, I lack confidence and prefer cycling in a group, even if I am last! There is only one thing for it, and that is to get out on the bike more. Gulp.

You clearly do a lot of work on the bike from looking at your Twitter account, are you as keen on the swim?

Last June I could not put my face in the water, the furthest I had swum was about 800 meters.  When I went out swimming in open water for the first time with Charlotte, I could feel a rising panic attack and had to cling off her neck. It was awful and embarrassing. Each week Charlotte has been selflessly coaching me. It’s paying off, the confidence is building. I have just booked in for an open water 5K swim.

On Competing

MdS instagram of Susie.

You came into the blog scene from competing in the EXTREMELY tough MdS, can you talk a bit about that experience? 

What a fantastic race that was. 6 days of running in the beautiful Sahara Desert [post/post/post/post about the experience]. The race is self sufficient apart from a tent and (rationed) water. Everything else you carry on your back. The landscape changes much more than I thought, it was a constant marvel. I made friends for life during that race with my tent mates. We still do races together. The race itself is tough but not impossible at all. I would say with the right training anyone can do it.
Even now when I remember the last few people crossing the finish line on the last day, and the euphoria, celebration and sense of a collective celebration there was in camp I get quite choked! Sounds cheesy, but it was quite refreshing to live out of 1 bag on virtually nothing for a week.
It is quite pricey and my feet were wrecked though! Not enough to put me off… I’m back there in a couple of months.

You talked a while ago about regaining some speed, are you still interested in improving times below marathon distance?

Oh yes. There is a tick list I have in my head of times I would like to crack. In 4 months time I’m going to be 40, so feel I ought to give these things a go before I get too decrepit! However if there is one thing that ultra running has taught me, and that is not to get too hung up on the digits. As long as I cross a finish line knowing I tried my hardest then it’s all good. I used to get down about not achieving certain times. Running should be fun, and not make you feel sad. It’s only running after all!

Sprint finish!

What have been your favourite and least favourite competition experiences? Why?

 5K is least favourite. Let's face it, you have to max out for the whole thing! The upside is that it’s over quickly. I don’t really have a favourite, the shortest race has been 1 mile, and the longest in one go has been 100. Ultra races are all quite different.

Do you have a competitive spirit with other racers, or are you trying to beat yourself?

Always against myself. However depending on how I feel towards the end of the race, if there is a bit of fire in my belly to muster the energy to pass some people before the finish line…I’d give it a go!

In long distance and ultra races, do you ever get bored?

Not so much in races. There are fellow runners to chat to on the way. It’s a relatively small community and you end up seeing the same people. Many ultras are set on pretty trails so the new scenery is a nice distraction. I run with my partner Shaun on some races we keep each other company.  Some training runs I can get a bit bored though going over the same trails. Audio books/podcasts/music, trying out a new route and running with friends help alleviate this.

Whats Next? 

Whats the next race, the next challenge?

Next Race is Pilgrims Ultra 66 miles of mud and miles- that is in a few days. Then it is Countdown to the Marathon des Sables. I have a few half marathons and a bike sportive before the MdS in April.

I've heard you say that you've almost completed your race bucket list, is anything still on it? 

The original bucket list had Boston Marathon (tick) the Marathon des Sables (tick) and Hong Kong 100. That is a 100K race on Hong Kong’s brutal and beautiful trails. It will be ticked off.  I very much like the look of Badwater Ultramarathon. It’s hardcore but quite logistically hard to do.

Susie, you have done some crazy big things, is there anything you wouldn't attempt?

However there are some races which I wouldn't want to attempt without targeted training. For example I’m not very good with heights and have found myself scared perched on a reasonably technical rocky climb a few times. Some of these have not even been that high.  A race like Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc requires a good amount of technical ability and has huge elevation– I would only stand at the start line of a race like that knowing I have the ability to finish. It works the same with Badwater, I would only attempt that knowing I can finish as I have put in the training.

Susie's guns.


Thank you so much Susie for taking the time to reply to my questions. What a woman!

So the message from Susie: teach your legs and your mind to keep going; don't let worries about food rule your head; do the thing that scares you; and running is meant to be fun, so think enjoyment not numbers. 

Who inspires you?

All images are from Susie's excellent blog.


Sunday Summary W/b 19/01/15

Okay. Here's the deal. I got's really nothing to say about this week.

On Monday I did Kettlebells. I went back up to 12/14kgs.
On Tuesday I ran 3 miles with sprints at an 8:36 average on my favourite bridges run.
On Wednesday I went to meta box and...
On Thursday I ran 5 miles, 4 miles at a HR zone, and it was the most frustrating thing on earth (more about this later).
Friday and Saturday I was out of town, then working, so did very little exercise unless you count clearing out a house. I do, I was knackered.

Today (Sunday) Kat and I are off to knock out 8 miles as a long run. So if there are any nice photos/details from that I will add them here!


How to: Dynamic Warm Ups for Running

Warming up is important in running. There is good evidence that those who warm up...

  • perform better in races
  • get less injuries
  • look sexier in running tights 

Okay, okay, maybe I made that last one up.

Beautiful sunrise over the river

While I am currently trying to ramp up my training using more speed, hills and tempo work, I am also trying to train smarter. This means I must stretch afterwards, I I must foam roll, and now... I must warm up.

Warming up before hitting the harder runs alerts your poor muscles that you are about to apply them to something that isn't sitting on a sofa. Warm ups heat up the body and the core, and specific warm ups like the following are also useful to prepare the muscles to fire in the specific way they will be asked to do in the race or workout. This fancy process is known as "neuromuscular activation". For a typical easy miles run this isn't required- the first mile or so at a comfortable pace will do that for you. This is for the runs where you are pushing it- the sprints, hill repetitions, tempos, fartleks, and any other runner-only glossary words you can think of.

Here's a good quote on it from this interesting article:

...The aerobic system is only one of two factors involved in developing running performance. The other is neuromuscular fitness, the ability of your brain to communicate and activate muscles whilst you are running. Though traditionally training focuses on developing the efficiency of the heart, lungs, muscles, etc, it is your brain that controls all of these, controls everything in fact. Your running form, efficiency, economy, power, stride length, stride frequency and ultimately fatigue resistance – all of these are neuromuscular in nature. None of them will be developed just by focusing on aerobic fitness.

On Tuesday morning I was doing a tempo/sprint reps run. It was -6 degrees Celsius outside and I knew I'd need a warm up to perform well. I also did not fancy freezing to death. The following are some warm up exercises I like. I never do them all. Ain't nobody got time for that. But I do try to do at least 8 or so each time I run a hard run. Some of them I certainly prefer to others, probably because of my own weaknesses.

Chances are many of my names for these exercises are not the correct ones. This list was also heavily inspired by Googling 'dynamic running warm up'. Please try not to laugh at my glamorous assistant*. You can laugh at me.

T Run with twisting hips

Nike tights || Brooks Pure Cadence || SOs old T-Shirt (No brand info) || Buff unknown

Jog forward, twisting the hips to face one side then the other for 20s. Keep your arms lifted up and out so the upper body is in a T shape.

Side Steps

Step sideways to your left for 10s then your right for 10s.

Butt Kicks

Nike tights || Nike top || Asics jacket || Nike Frees

In place, kick your heels up to your butt for 20s. Place hands on your butt, palms facing out if you don't want a muddy bum.

High Knees

In place, jog with knees high (up to hip ideally) for 20s- this one will raise your heart rate!

Hip Openers

At a walk, lift knee up towards the midline then swing the whole leg, hinging outwards from the hip joint so you have a knee still up but the whole leg 90 degrees from its initial position. Return leg to floor and do the other one. Repeat for 20s.

Leg Swings (back to front, side to side)

Standing holding something, swing each leg in its hip joint directly in front of and behind you, keeping upper body straight. Do each leg for 10s. Repeat, but facing what you are holding onto and swinging the leg horizontally in front of your body, left to right. 10s per leg.

Lunge Quad

Lunge forward with left leg; return to centre; lunge to the side with left leg; return to centre; lunge backward with left leg; centre; backward with right leg; centre; side with right leg; centre; forward with right leg. Repeat 3 times.

Backwards Run

Jog backwards for 20s. Look behind you to avoid crushing small children.


Skip for 20s, driving the knee upwards should be your main focus. Think proper meadow prancing with unicorns.

Front Kicks

With foot flexed, not pointing, kick your leg forward. Aim for your hands extended straight in front of you but avoid spraining the hamstrings. Do this exercise later in the set so you are already warmed up. Switch legs every kick, do for 20s.

Hacky Sack

Prepare to look ridiculous. K couldn't stop laughing as I did these.

Switching from foot to foot dynamically, raise the knee and allow it to fall outwards. With your hand, touch your inside calf on the same leg, which will have raised towards you. Change quickly to the other leg so your legs are in constant motion. Do so for 20s.


I look like a pretty pony!

Bounds are similar to skipping, in that they are large strides, however the emphasis is on pushing off of the landing foot fast so you are bounding from foot to foot in big strides forwards. Do for 20s.

Single Leg Hop Quad

On one leg, hop forwards, centre, left, centre, backwards, centre, right, centre for 10s then change to the other leg for 10s.

If you did all of these for 20s each (lunge quad is 40s), that's still only 5 minutes total out of your run time. You can get out of bed 5 minutes early.

Throughout all of these it is important that your posture is good- upright as if a string is being pulled through your skull upwards with you attached, shoulders back. Because you are training good movement here, your movements should therefore be exact. With this (and I'd argue with any strength training), correctness comes high above repetition on a list of must-haves.


Is there anything you guys think I should add or remove? 

What do you do to warm up? 

* She said she'd cut me if I didn't put her in the blog**
** She said she'd cut me twice if I told you all that***
** I'll take my chances****
**** This is the risk of making friends with Islanders...