Endurance runner and triathlete Susie Chan recently set a new treadmill world record, covering 68.54 miles in 12 hours.
What inspired you to try and attempt to set a new world record on the treadmill?
I was taking part in research being conducted at Kingston University looking into Ultra Runners. Part of the research involved running 50 miles on a treadmill with everything that I was eating and drinking being recorded, plus bloods and V02 Max being monitored. When I finished the experiment I felt pretty good! A friend pointed out that if I had carried on I was on course to break a treadmill world record. I couldn’t quite believe it! It’s not often at my age that you can get a world record so along with the help of Kingston University we decided to give it a go!
What was the toughest part of the challenge and what kept you going?
I’ve run further and I have run for longer, but there was something about running on a treadmill for that length of time that was really mentally tough. I was facing a wall a few meters away and at about 50 miles in I got motion sickness. There was all sorts of rules set by Guinness World Records that I had to stick to, for example I was not allowed to touch the treadmill, I could not possibly fall over as all the readings would have been incorrect… this meant I was concentrating quite hard. As breaking the actual world record approached it became quite stressful! I was feeling increasingly unwell and began to feel the pressure. It was a very black and white situation. I was either going to make it or not! It felt very different to a race situation, in which if you do badly you can still finish.
There was a huge amount of support on the day which was really wonderful. People were coming in and cheering and I was getting lots of uplifting messages. Even Paula Radcliffe was sending me messages of support!
How did you feel when you knew you were going to break the world record?
It was a huge relief when I passed the world record. There is an unofficial record (66 miles) and Official Record (60 miles) and my aim was to beat both. I did think once past the record I would pick up again and try to put as much distance between the current record and my own one, I tend to be quite a strong finisher. However I felt so utterly drained it was all I could do just to keep going!
How did you first get into running and when did you step up to ultra-distances?
My brother cajoled me into a half-marathon at the end of 2010. I was not a runner and it seemed quite a terrifying prospect. However once past that first finish line I was hooked. I soon booked another half-marathon, then a marathon. One day I was reading about a race called the Marathon des Sables (MdS) a 250K ultra-marathon in the Sahara Desert that takes place over 6 days. You need to carry everything you need to survive on your back with the exception of water (which is rationed) and some shelter. All your food, sleeping gear and survival kit. It sounded both wonderful and ridiculous. I signed up in 2013! I have gone on to race the MdS twice and taken in many ultra-marathons along the way.
You also took part in Ironman UK last year, how was it transitioning from ultra-runner to triathlete?
Not very easy! I’m neither a cyclist or a swimmer. I had to learn how to put my face into the water to swim properly- open water scared me. I had a few very panicky swims before I slowly built up confidence. I didn’t really train as hard as I should have done. I was swimming once a week for 45 minutes with the occasional open water swim. I completed a 5K swim a few weeks before the Ironman, which helped my confidence a bit. The Ironman was 12 weeks after the MdS, and rather foolishly I waited until after that race to focus on my cycling. It turned out cycling is not something I’m very good at either! My first attempt at a 100 mile bike ride took longer than the allotted IM cut-off time. My second go was not much faster! My one and only brick session was Outlaw Half. On the day the swim went according to plan, but my lack of training and inexperience showed on the bike ride. The wind and hills took it out of me, I was terrible! Thankfully, once running I knew the medal was in the bag… and managed a respectable time in the run at least!
What are your running plans for the rest of the year? Any more big challenges?
This year I have the Centurion 50 Mile Grandslam races. These are 4 x 50 mile races in the UK. I have the Jungle Ultra in Peru, which is the same format as the MdS except in a Jungle. Humidity and river crossings, not to mention the wildlife are a bit worrying. I am also an official pacer for London Marathon, and am running New York and Sierra Leone Marathons.
Susie is running Sierra Leone Marathon for Street Child. To find out more about how you can run it, or be on Susie's Team see http://www.
Interview by Lucy Edwards from Havering Triathlon Club. You can follow her on Twitter @paddlepedalpace and her blog at www.paddlepedalpace.co.uk
Photo Credit: Romilly Lockyer