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).

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

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.


  1. Great post! I have to confess to only just hearing about Susie recently - I think I must have had my head under a rock?! Wonderful to read about all of her accomplishments, especially as she hasn't been running decades like I wrongly assumed. She's got herself another fan girl! Well-written Fiona :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment Autumn. She's definitely spread on Twitter! You should check out her blog, some great posts.

      And yeap, fangirling all over the place over here ;-)!

  2. Having run with Susie at C2C I can only confirm she is as nice and as amazing as she comes across in the interview. A true super woman!

    1. All the signs point to her being worthy of true fangirling! Does she give good hugs and all? #flawless



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