Chris Broadbent speaks to elite runner, Susan Partridge and finds out that a no-frills, natural approach to running is what helps keep her at the top of her game.
For someone who has been competing for Great Britain & Northern Ireland for over a decade, Susan Partridge is a remarkably grounded athlete. Not for her the obsessive attention to detail and cutting edge sports science you might expect of an elite performance runner.
Instead she trains with her local club, eats what she likes and prefers to run from her gut rather than a Garmin. She has also recently taken up playing bridge - as if you thought she wasn’t already down-to-earth enough. Yet her endearing character should not mask an inner steel that has helped her represent GB & NI at World and European Championships and Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, all in the marathon.
Magic In Moscow, Thinking Of Rio
Her career highlight was undoubtedly her 10th place finish at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. “It might have been because conditions were hard and people dropped out. But it doesn’t change that I ran a good race in a major championship. Ultimately running is about racing people. I’d like a really quick marathon time, but if I had to choose between the two I’d put positions in major championships first and foremost.”
The Oban-born runner also ran very positively on home ground in Glasgow last summer when placing sixth in the Commonwealth Games. She had targeted a medal as an outside possibility beforehand. But having fallen short, it gave her fresh incentive to aim for the 2016 Olympics. “The minute I finished (in Glasgow) I knew there was no way I was ready to give up running yet. Straight away I knew I wanted to have a bash at Rio. It’s the only major championships I’ve not ran in and it is the big one.
“I’m really happy with everything I have achieved in my career so far. But I’d really like to be able to retire as an Olympian.”
She is eyeing up the possibility of the 2015 Chicago Marathon this autumn, scene of her coach Steve Jones’ world record in 1984, where she will try to qualify for Rio. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Jones still holds the UK record from 1986 with 2:07.14 and Partridge makes occasional trips to the US to train under his guidance. Yet, that is the only facet of her running that marks her out as elite, otherwise she is still very much connected to the UK club scene.
At Home In Leeds
In recent years, she has settled in Leeds. She works at the University as a research assistant and is a member of local club Leeds City AC. She says the club have given her an even greater zest for the sport, helping her get over the times when training had become a chore.
“Before, I used to have days when I was training more on my own. I’d dread running the whole day and often I’d really have to drag myself out of the door.” But she explains those days are less frequent, thanks to training with a group guided by Phil Townsend.
“You go down to the track, the banter is good, I socialise with them outside of running. I look forward to seeing them.”
No Stress Running
Her no-frills attitude extends to her approach away from running too. She is currently taking time out from serious training whilst she allows back and achilles ailments to settle down. “I’m going on holiday with my mum. I’ve joined bridge classes. So I’m really letting myself go! I’ve gone wild!” She jokes.
And when she does return, she will have the same relaxed, balanced approach that has served her well. “Quite a while ago, I found that I got stressed over analysing nutrition and things like that. Nowadays, I just know when I have run a good session. If I think it was good, then it was good. I don’t need to know the exact time. Steve (Jones) doesn’t believe in watches. He’s very much ‘you run from the gut.’ I’ve really taken that on board.
“If I didn’t run that way, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to get the half marathon time I’ve got. I just ran to win. If I would have gone off looking at a watch, I wouldn’t have set off that fast, wouldn’t have been near the leader and wouldn’t have run that time (70m 31s).
“Same with nutrition. I have a vague idea of what’s healthy, but I eat what my body tells me it wants to eat. Your body tells you when its hungry, how much it wants to eat and to a certain extent tells you what it wants to eat.
“I think of running as a natural thing. Other people are more geeky. But I do think there are some people who could benefit from not being quite so caught up in what pace they think they should be running and maybe just putting the watch away for a race.
“Find someone who normally finishes just ahead of them, someone from their club and say ‘Right, today’s my day. I’m going to hang on and I’m going to beat them.’”
Feeling The Fear
Although she possesses plenty of guts, it doesn’t mean Partridge doesn’t get butterflies in her stomach like every other runner. “I’m not afraid to admit it, I am frightened of marathons.” She admits.
“On the startline, I am nervous about two things. ‘How is this going to go? Have I done everything I need to do?’ But I am also nervous because I know it’s really going to hurt. Good or bad, this is not going to be a pleasant experience.”
Pleasant it may not be. But with Rio the dream, this gutsy runner may yet have best experience of her career ahead.