runABC spoke to GB international ultra-distance runner and Mizuno ambassador, Sue Harrison, about her running career and love of a good flapjack…
Who is Sue Harrison?
I'm a Great Britain international ultra-distance runner (and also a chartered landscape architect at Warwickshire County Council). I've been running competitively for 32 years, as a member of Leamington C&AC. I started out as a track and cross-country runner, then moving up to marathons and, for the last eight years, ultra-marathons. I currently hold the British record and World Masters record for 50km (3:15:43) and am ranked 5th on the UK All-time 100km rankings (7:39:50)
Have you always enjoyed running?
Yes! I've always been active and enjoyed being outdoors, although my main love as a child was horse riding. At primary school I did the long jump and sprints as, according to the head teacher in the 1970's, 'girls shouldn't run any further than that' At secondary school I discovered I was better at 800m/1500m and when I was 15 years old I joined Leamington C&AC, where I've been a member ever since.
First event you took part in?
Possibly the egg and spoon/sack race/skipping race at primary school sports day! The first 'serious' event was the Warwickshire Schools 800m in 1986 which sparked my love of running and inspired me to join Leamington. My first race for the club was also my first ever taste of cross-country running - the 'intermediate girls' race in the Midland Women's League, where I finished 19th out of 42.
Tell us about representing GB?
Obviously it's a huge privilege and honour to represent my country and I'm very proud to wear the British Athletics kit. Representing GB is something I'd dreamed of since I first started running, although at that time I never imagined that one day I actually would! It took me 18 years before I got my first GB selection (Kosice Peace Marathon, 2004) and since then I've represented GB a further four times (Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2006, two World 100km Championships and one European 100km Championships). My sixth selection, for the forthcoming World 100km Championships on 8 September, has come 14 years after my first, at the age of 47! It's great to go away to a championship as part of a national team and there's always that extra bit of motivation to do well for the team and not let the others down (the World 100km Champs. also awards team medals as well as individual ones).
What would you class as your career highlight to date?
Probably winning the gold medal in the 2010 50km World Trophy Final in Galway, Ireland. This was my first attempt at an ultra and I not only won the race, but set a new British Record and World Masters Record too (both of which still stand, to date)!
Do you parkrun?
No, I think I must be the only runner in the world who's never done a parkrun!
Most memorable race moment?
There have been quite a few - the amazing atmosphere of the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, running the first ever international marathon in Beirut, trying to grab my drink bottle that had been Sellotaped to the table in the Toronto Marathon! But probably my most memorable moment was running for GB in the 2013 European 100km Championships - the last 5km was up a very steep hill to finish in the town of Belves and, at 99km, I passed a Russian girl to move into bronze medal position, which I managed to hold on to for that final kilometre!
Tell us about your training? How do you manage to find the time around your job as a landscape architect?
I train six days a week and can run anything up to around 90 - 100 miles a week in a build up to a 100km race. 18 years ago I made the decision to work part-time in order to benefit my training, although I still work four days a week, so have to fit in much of my training in the evenings after work. This can be hard, especially finding time for quality recovery too, but I enjoy my job and I'm lucky to have really supportive managers at work. Weekends and Wednesdays, when I don't work, are when I do my longest runs. On Tuesdays I do an interval session with a group at Leamington C&AC - that's one of my favourite sessions in the week as the group has a great camaraderie and everyone is really supportive of each other.
What do you prefer. Town or country, roads or off-road?
Definitely country, out in the fresh air where there's no traffic! I train both on and off-road, but I prefer racing on the roads.
What is it you love about running?
I love its simplicity - you can just go out and run, wherever you are. It's certainly a great antidote to the stresses of work/daily life and it just gives me time to think, or to switch off and just enjoy my surroundings. I also enjoy the competitive element and pushing hard to get the best out of myself.
Piece of kit you couldn’t do without?
Favourite piece of kit?
I'm a huge fan of everything Mizuno, but my all-time favourite is their Wave Rider shoes.
What is your favourite aspect of the Wave Rider?
They're so comfy (like running in slippers!), have great cushioning for long runs but are also light enough for faster paced tempo runs. They're my shoe of choice for 100km races.
I do weights and gym work as part of my weekly training programme and did Pilates for many years. When I'm injured and can't run I either cycle or aqua-run. I'm not a keen swimmer - mainly because my technique is rubbish and I swallow too much water, and the chlorine makes me sneeze!
Dream running buddy?
I guess this is where I'm supposed to say some famous person, but I'm actually going to say my coach, Les, on the bike! Les has coached me for all 32 years of my career and always accompanies me on the bike on my long runs and tempo runs (or in the car for VERY long runs!) to hand me my drinks etc. Les is a very positive person and he somehow knows just what to say to motivate and inspire me and to help me feel more confident about myself. We're also great friends and have a good laugh together too. I couldn't have achieved what I have without him.
Post race treat? Your Twitter profile says you like to bake cakes - do you make your own post race treats?
Definitely cake! I do enjoy baking and as well as making post-race treats I have a great recipe for flapjack that I use during my 100km races. That's the beauty of ultra-running - you get to eat cake WHILST running!!
Top training tips for recreational runners?
Get into a consistent routine - little and often and then build up gradually. Be patient, stick at it and, most of all, enjoy it.
What are your running plans for the future?
My immediate future is focussed on the World 100km Championships in Croatia on 8 September. After that I'll take a break to recover and then sit down with my coach to discuss the next goal. I've been fortunate enough to have had some amazing opportunities through my running so far, and have raced in some fantastic places - South Africa, China, Beirut, Marrakech, Toronto and all over Europe. I hope that there's still more to come - there are plenty of races out there waiting to be experienced and I intend to carry on running for as long as my body will let me. I can't imagine my life without it.