Peloton Instructor Susie Chan Is an “Average Runner” — and an Ultramarathon Champ

Fitness

Those of us who are familiar with Peloton UK know instructor Susie Chan as a runner — a serious runner, perhaps one of the most recognizable faces within the British running community. She’s run the Marathon des Sables (a six-day ultramarathon that covers about the distance of six marathons) more than any other woman athlete in the UK, she broke the 12-hour treadmill world record, and she’s finished all the World Marathon Majors, to name just a few accomplishments.

With all the accolades and milestones to Chan’s name, it’d be easy to assume she has this whole fitness thing completely figured out. But according to Chan, she’s not that different from the average runner.

A True Beginner

Despite the prominent role fitness and running currently play in Chan’s life, she didn’t grow up immersed in the sport. “Fitness was never really part of my life at all — I was a smoker and just really quite lazy,” Chan, now 48, tells POPSUGAR. But in 2010, as a single mom in her 30s, Chan “was feeling like I was in a bit of a slump, so I thought, ‘I’ll try and get moving a little bit.'”

Chan didn’t have access to a gym, so she started running. At the time, she had an office job and would jog during her lunch hour. Eventually, her brother convinced her to sign up for a half-marathon to keep him company while he trained for his first marathon. It was only after she agreed that Chan learned the distance covered in a half-marathon: 13.1 miles.

“I’ll be honest, it was so difficult — really, really hard,” she says. “But I survived the half-marathon and it made me feel so good about myself. I had this sort of afterglow of running for several weeks after that race and just wanted to do a little bit more.”

By then, it was official: Chan had caught the running bug, and the rest, as they say, is history. She took her first go at the 26.2-mile distance at the Paris Marathon in 2011. Now, Chan says she’s run approximately 20 marathons, including all six Abbott World Marathon Majors, which are the Boston, Chicago, New York City, London, Berlin, and Tokyo marathons.

“I found I was enjoying being a part of the running world and just wanted to experience more of it,” Chan says. “I was very much in a space where I was just entering races, making friends, and really loving it.”

Inspiration to Keep Going Farther

Driven by the challenge of running longer and longer, Chan found herself dipping her toe into ultramarathons just two years after completing her first marathon. She quickly became familiar with the Badwater Ultramarathon, which is famously known as the world’s toughest race. In the invitation-only event, runners cover 135 miles in extreme summer conditions, starting at 282 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at 8,360 feet of elevation at the trailhead to Mount Whitney.

Chan initially wanted to simply check off the legendary 135-mile race, which she’d had on her radar since she first started running ultra distances in 2013. However, she knew it would take years of work to just be invited to participate — not to mention to get conditioned for what the grueling event would entail.

After Chan ran the 81-mile Badwater Salton Sea race and received an invitation to run the Badwater 135, the race director told her that if she finished it and the 51-mile Badwater Cape Fear, she’d have completed a challenge officially known as the Badwater Ultra Cup. That was all it took to motivate Chan, and in 2023, she became the first-ever European woman to complete all three Badwater events.

Chan doesn’t sugarcoat the experience. She readily admits it was one of the toughest challenges of her life, as her slower pace had her running through two straight nights, which she’d never done before.

“The race was tough, agonizing, and incredibly painful, but I really wanted to be there, I was emotionally invested, and I deeply wanted to finish,” she says. “The experience taught me that you can set your heart on something that seems unachievable, work toward it, and do the thing. It taught me that it’s OK to be frightened and intimidated by something and have the courage to take it on.”

Overcoming Adversity

That’s a lesson that’s served Chan well her entire life. In 2017, for instance, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after struggling to breathe then fainting upon finishing the Chicago Marathon that fall. She had run the marathon with a nagging cough, which she chalked up to inhaling sand at the Marathon des Sables, which she’d run in Morocco’s Sahara Desert the previous spring.

By this point, Chan had been feeling on top of the world in terms of her running and where she was in her life. She’d left her job in the museum industry and begun to obtain sponsorships and take on other freelance jobs like race commentating. But her diagnosis threatened to bring it all to a halt.

“I was very cavalier about running and had really started to delve into the world of ultra running by this point,” she says. “I also took the plunge and had just given up full-time work and didn’t have that monthly salary coming in to be able to pay my mortgage, so that aspect was absolutely terrifying.”

Chan says she was lucky — her cancer treatment consisted of two surgeries, and she didn’t need to undergo radiation or chemotherapy. “[The cancer diagnosis] was more of a mental than physical shock to me,” she says. To help her through, Chan again turned to running, signing up for a half-marathon just two months after her surgeries. Having this goal served as a guide and gave her focus during her recovery, she says. “On reflection, I was like, maybe that was me just reassuring myself that I was actually OK and could still do the thing I enjoy and do, and prove to myself that I’m still fit and healthy by running,” she says.

Finding Motivation by Setting Achievable Goals

With such a natural love for the running community, it makes sense that Chan eventually ended up at Peloton, where she has served as a Tread instructor since 2020, after being approached by the brand to audition for the job.

“I really wasn’t sure if they would want me, but I made a very conscious decision to not try to be anyone else and to just be who I am,” Chan says. “With all the running that I’ve done, and the running journey that I have personally been on — having been an absolute total beginner and novice at running and gone through all these different stages — running has been here to hold my hand and give me confidence.”

Chan emphasizes that like anyone who has never run before, she did not wake up one day able to run an entire mile nonstop. This is where many new people who want to give running a try end up stuck and giving up too quickly: they’re trying to pile on too much too soon without first building up their endurance properly. Chan uses this common pitfall as inspo for her Tread classes, focusing on setting up her class participants for success by encouraging them to pursue realistic and achievable goals.

“I get messages from people all over the world about how my message has resonated because they also started running a little bit later in life,” Chan says. “I get lots of those people who have just done their first marathon or their first mile sharing their experiences, and it’s really humbling because I know what that feels like.”

As noted on her Peloton profile, Chan is focused on helping runners find the best version of themselves, even if that doesn’t mean the fastest.

“It’s about embracing wherever you are on any given day, even though some days you’re going to find running very easy and others you’ll find it to be very challenging and difficult,” Chan says. “That means that if you want to stop and have a walk rather than a run, it’s OK and you’re still moving forward. It doesn’t always have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be winning, and it doesn’t have to be beating everybody else on the leaderboard. As long as you just keep at it and just try and remain the tiniest bit consistent, it will come to you.”

How Distance Running Has Impacted Chan’s Life

Even with all her racing success and evolving career at Peloton and within the British running community, Chan hasn’t lost sight of what running has brought her.

“If it weren’t for running, I don’t know where I’d be. I’d probably still be in a museum collecting dust on myself,” she says. “It’s a hobby that’s become a career and given me the confidence to find myself.”

As for what’s next, Chan doesn’t have a specific bucket-list race in mind, though she knows that she wants to keep challenging herself, especially as she approaches her 50th birthday.

“In the meantime, I’m just going to be trucking along and will probably enter a few races here and there because I just love it and love taking part,” Chan says. “I’ll be out there middle-packing with everybody else.”

Image Sources: Courtesy of Peloton and Photo illustration by: Aly Lim

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