The ultra runner talks about influencers and the changing world of athlete sponsorship in this digital age, plus lots more.

The world of sponsorship and marketing has evolved and gone are the days where running on its own sees brands knocking on your door.

Like it or not, most brands and sponsors now weigh up the level of social media influence an individual has before deciding where their marketing budgets are allocated. As a result, some runners based purely on ability, are being overlooked in favour of others who are more active on social media and have an engaged following.

Susie Chan gets her fair share of attention for this very reason but many might be surprised to know that’s it’s not all about taking selfies while out running.

The world of sponsorship is changing. Even Fast Running’s Robbie Britton admits there “are plenty of better runners” than him that don’t get sponsorship.

“I’m a good 24hr runner, but my sponsorship is probably as much down to my writing and social media than just results,” says the British 24hr runner. “And rather than lambasting someone like Susie, who quite simply has found a way to make a living doing what she loves, maybe athletes could learn a thing or two.

“I want deserving runners to get the support they deserve, but complaining about it does nothing. Helping those athletes connect with and provide value to potential sponsors is key.”

Here we chat with Chan about all things sponsorship, influencers and training. Those who may be quick to judge might take a few minutes to read the interview before writing the ultra runner off as ‘just an influencer’. There may even be a few lessons in there.

Fast Running: Why do you think brands are turning to runners who are also big social media influencers?

Susie Chan: Things have changed. I’m no expert on advertising, but you can see why brands prefer to use more everyday people (who arguably some of the market can relate more to) and co-ordinated campaigns rather than say a standalone hoarding advert.

Using runner’s with a presence on social media means they can look at analytics – and target specific audiences. I do think there is space for lots of different angles though. I personally would love to see more elite runners in the mix too.

FR: There are a lot of influencers who are trying to do what you do, with perhaps less integrity. What do you think the common mistakes people make are?

SC: It’s so easy for people to buy followers these days, and whilst they may look like they have lots of followers, they don’t really have any engagement.

It’s a little sad that these people take opportunities away from some really interesting people who love to run. People who run because they enjoy it, rather than posing just for photos.

There are plenty of fantastic runners/influencers out there and loads of great opportunities! Let’s hope the marketing agencies do their homework first.

FR: As somebody who gets a fair amount of promotional offers from brands and events, how do you keep your integrity?

SC: I only work with brands or products that I genuinely use and love. It’s that simple. If I don’t use it, you won’t see me talking about it.

FR: As most people will know, you combine your running with a fair amount of social media activity. Do you have particular runs where you think ‘I’m going somewhere beautiful and taking it easy and taking lots of photos?’ and runs where you think ‘no photos, this is serious training’?

SC: It’s both of the above. On some of my training runs, I’ll have a route in mind, that has a nice backdrop for a photo. When I was run commuting in London, I decided not to run the same route twice. I found some hidden gems, passageways and photogenic buildings.

However, when I’m more focused (this tends to be when I’m aiming for a specific pace) then the photo has to wait… normally to the end of the session.

FR: Let’s talk training. What does an average week look like, if there is such a thing?

SC: My week fluctuates towards whatever my A race is. I’ve been training for a series of ultra marathons over winter, so my mileage will be around 50-65 miles a week. Some of these are just long plods, but I try to have one more specific faster session a week.

Once May, and my last ultra (for now) is done, I’ll focus a bit more on getting my speed back. A weekly track session, shorter tempo runs and I will probably hit around 40-50 miles a week. I take a rest day every week, and if I’m tired just ease off a bit.

FR: What key sessions do you swear by?

SC: Track. It works. My pace just disappears quickly, and I really have to work to keep it. I’m way off my old pace right now and know that I have to hit the speedwork and then some 5ks and 10ks to get there.

Strength training is also important. I neglect it too much, but whenever I’m feeling strong running, it’s always after I’ve done a good block of strength training.

FR: You run over a really wide variety of distances. What distance would you say is your strongest and why?

SC: Probably 50 miles and over. The shorter it is, the more pacy it is! 50 seems a nice good distance to get going, and hang on in there if I’ve got my nutrition correct.

FR: You’ve recently started coaching. What led you to get into coaching?

SC: I was actually approached to coach by a race company. It’s interesting as I got my UKA coaching qualification, and thought I knew a lot about running before, however, I learnt so much on the course.

I’m not taking on too many people, as I need to grow as a coach too. It’s terribly rewarding when the athlete you help has a great race.

FR: What sort of athletes do you love working with?

SC: Ideally, it’s athletes new to ultra running, people who would like to make the leap from half marathons and marathons to ultras. As long as they have the right attitude, and are open-minded and dedicated, that’s all they need.

That’s where I think I can really relate to athletes and help them on a journey I have already taken.

FR: As people may know, you had a scary brush with thyroid cancer a few months ago and we hope you are recovering well. Will you need to make any changes to your training or racing given the thyroid’s functions?

SC: Thank you. If I’m honest, it’s still early days, and as I lost half of my thyroid (along with a 5.5cm lump) it will take a little while to settle down. I’m being monitored closely. So far my first three races went ok! I’ve learned I need to stay on top of my nutrition.

I take care of myself, lots of sleep and eat as best I can and the odd glass of red wine for good measure.

FR: Lastly, what are your plans for the rest of 2018 in terms of racing, training and coaching?

SC: I’ve just finished the Keys 100. My husband and I did a lot of work in the heat chamber at Kingston University in the build-up but it was just so hot and humid. It was tough, but I was really glad to finish.

Then the wonderful Man vs. Horse in June… I’m then focusing on getting a bit of speed back over summer and doing race commentary at a string of events, including Run Gatwick, Ealing Half Marathon and Shrewsbury Half.

Autumn sees another ultra… (watch this space) and a couple of marathons.