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It's never too late to get into fitness

Ultrarunner Susie Chan talks to Liz Parry about her incredible feats of endurance and offers some advice for how to take up running later in life

When Susie Chan was a single mum in her mid-thirties, running long distances was the last thing on her mind. She admits that she was pretty unfit and didn't really take care of herself. Now, aged 48, Susie has just completed what is billed as "the world's toughest foot race": Badwater 135. Held in California's Death Valley, where temperatures can reach over 50°C, this epic 135-mile race spans three mountain ranges with a total of 4,450m of elevation gain between the start and finish.

Susie's achievement is all the more incredible given that she only took up running at the age of 35. Since then, she has competed in some of the world's toughest ultramarathons including the 230K Jungle Ultra through the Amazon Rainforest and the six-day, 156-mile Marathon Des Sables, which she has completed four times. Susie is now a UK Tread instructor with Peloton. We caught up with her to find out about her amazing story.

Q Congratulations on completing Badwater 135. You have completed some incredibly tough ultramarathons in recent years! Tell us how you got started.

Susie: I didn't take up running until I was about 35 and I hadn't run a step before then. I think it's fair to say that I wasn't very fit at all! I was a single mum and I wasn't really looking after myself. I was a smoker and my treat would be to drink wine in front of the telly on a Friday night. Then, as my daughter was growing up, I decided I should get a bit fitter and healthier for her. That's when I found running and fitness. My brother made me run a half marathon with him, and although I didn't really want to do it, I felt really good about myself after we finished. I remember coming away from that race with my little medal, feeling proud of myself for the first time ever. And that set me on this path of having running as something that I did just for me.

Q What was it like training for, and then taking part in, what's known as the world's toughest foot race?

Susie: I knew that it was going to be very, very hot, and I knew it was going to be the furthest distance I would ever run in my life. It would also be the most elevation I've ever done. So those three things were my focus points. I did a lot of work running on a treadmill in a heat chamber beforehand, which was really hard, but it helped me to acclimatise to the heat. I knew it was going to be difficult but nothing could have prepared me mentally for how tough it was.

The hardest part was going through the night for two nights. I literally went to pieces. I was struggling, I was seeing things; I thought the cracks in the road were snakes! I knew I would finish but I had to really push through. I was in a lot of pain but the good thing was that I just knew I was going to do it. I had this rock solid belief that I'd done all the work and preparation, I was meant to be there and I would finish it.

Q Do you have any tips for other people who would like to take up running later in life but perhaps don't feel confident enough?

Susie: When I first started running, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have much confidence in myself. The thing that really helped me was getting involved in the community and finding people to run with. I joined a local running group and it was a real game-changer. My advice would be to find your tribe. Talk a friend into coming with you or go to Parkrun and run/walk it at the back. The fitness community is a really supportive place. It doesn't matter what your speed is or how fit you are. Try to have some consistency, for example going out two days a week, and stick to it. Start out slowly by interspersing running with walking. If you keep doing that, in two or three months' time, you will have progressed. Some days are going to be harder and some days are going to be easier.

Q Do you have any tips for injury prevention?

Susie: I would say the key thing is at the first sign of any niggle, just take a few days off. It's okay to have a couple of days off, or a week off and just rest. For me, as I'm getting older, I'm much more susceptible to injury and I'm perimenopausal, so my joints are sometimes terrible. I have to be a lot more mindful of this now and so I do more strength work and stretching. I do yoga twice a week and I find that it really helps.

Q What would you say to people who say it's too late to take up fitness?

Susie: It's never too late. I saw recently that a 102-year-old man completed the Great North Run, which is incredible! I thought I was too old at 35, which is absolutely ridiculous. I would say don't put limitations on yourself because of how you think society is going to see you. If I'd done that, then I would never have done any of the things that I've achieved. Don't worry about anybody else; just do what feels good for you, whether it's walking, jogging or running. Getting out there and getting moving is the important thing.

Susie Chan teaches Tread classes from Peloton Studios, London. Visit for more info on Peloton classes and follow Susie on Instagram: @susie_chan_

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