© Mark Colon/World Marathon Challenge
In February 2019, British runner Susannah Gill became the fastest woman to complete the 777 World Marathon Challenge, running a marathon on each of the 7 continents in 7 days – in a total time of 24 hours, 19 minutes and 9 seconds. She ran in minus temperatures in snowy Antarctica and through the night in Australia. Her average marathon time was a speedy 3:28, despite running the 7 marathons back-to-back on blurred time zones.
Susannah’s written a book about her experience, Running Around the World – How I Ran 7 Marathons on 7 Continents in 7 Days, which has just launched. Between training, work and book publicity, she made time to answer my questions about this incredible endurance feat, along with what she’s been up to since.
You’ve just written a book – congratulations! Tell me about Running Around the World?
A lot of people asked me how I managed to run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days and so I wanted to tell the full story, along with my coach Mike Antoniades, to show how very normal people can do amazing things. The secret is there is no secret.
What have you been up to since winning the World Marathon Challenge (WMC) in February 2019?
I had a really busy year running in 2019. I was chuffed to set a new PB of 2:56 at Manchester marathon in April and then ran some ultras in the summer, including Race to the Tower, Race to the Stones and the Action Challenge 100km from Henley to Putney which I did in 9 hours 27. I wrapped up the year with Chicago marathon which was a wonderful experience but the legs were a bit tired by October!
Has winning the WMC changed your perspective of what you’re capable of?
Most definitely! It’s made me better understand how we can all expand what we are capable off with commitment and determination. When I started training for WMC it would take me 2 or 3 days to be able to run after a marathon and yet five months later I was running them back-to-back with the fifth one being my fastest. I was still the same person, just capable of a lot more and I find that reassuring when faced the stresses and strains of everyday life.
What does your weekly training schedule look like now, and how does this compare to what you were doing for the WMC?
During WMC my training was very structured with sprint intervals sessions in the week along with a session at the Running School, and then long runs Saturday and Sunday of 3 or 4 hours.
I had kept to the same pattern of training after the WMC, but much less intense – a 2-hour run on Saturday morning for example. However, I’m now back into marathon training. In practice, this means I’m doing sprint intervals again – always tough, but a key element in building my aerobic capacity, which will help me keep a better pace during the marathon. My runs at the weekend are longer now too as I’m properly into my marathon training – so, 3 hours instead of 1-2 hours.
I’m also racing a lot as part of my training, as the competitive element keeps me fired up. It’s always great to have a focus to my training, and I always enjoy it.
How did you prepare for WMC and was it pretty full-on juggling work with training?
I am lucky that my job is in communications so I can work any time and any place, which gives me some flexibility but fitting it all in just involved being very organised. I would plan my week on a Sunday evening and then make sure to fit everything in. I knew it was only for five months so gave it 100% commitment. I am a very determined person once I get going on something.
What was the most challenging element of your WMC challenge experience?
Beyond the training, I found the packing a bit stressful as there was lots of stuff to remember. I created a long kit list which is in my book as I hope it helps others who take on the challenge.
How did you find running on snow in Antarctica?
This was tough for me. I’m normally a road runner and the instability of the icy snow made getting into a rhythm quite hard. After a few miles, I told myself to start enjoying this unique and special experience and then things seemed to flow much better.
Which was the hardest marathon of the seven and why?
Race 5 in Madrid was a real battle with a Danish runner called Kristina Schou Madsen. She went off really fast and I had to work very hard to get ahead of her in the middle of the race. It was a very close finish, but I won’t ruin the ending for those who want to read the book.
You consumed around 5000 calories a day. What did you eat and were there times when you couldn’t face food?
We had good food on the plane, and I did plenty of snacking on nuts, crisps, fruit and Toffee Crisps which are my favourite. By day five, my body was tired and that included my digestive system but luckily, we had pizza after race 6 in Santiago and I could keep fuelling myself until the end of the final race in Miami, where I had more pizza!
Do you have any mental strategies for when you have to dig deep during races, or are you quite mentally resilient anyway?
Yes, I created a mantra for myself based on the learnings from The Art of Mental Training by D C Gonzalez. I can highly recommend this book as we all need our own mantra to keep ourselves going when it gets tough.
You ran your first ultra in 2011 and this year won the 100km Thames Path Challenge for the second time. Does your training change much when you’re prepping for an ultra?
Not a vast amount to be honest. I would never go further than a marathon distance in training and make sure to keep the focus on overall fitness. The real difference with ultras is the mentality you have during it – you need to be able to sit at 70-80% of your capacity for a long period of time and simply enjoy the sensation of being outside and moving, even when you start to get tired.
You’re coached by Mike Antoniades. How has having a coach changed your running/technique?
It’s not an overstatement to say Mike has changed my life. Without his expertise and support, I would never have been able to stand up to the physicality of training for WMC. He ensured I stayed sound, wrote the programme that got me really fit and gave me the confidence to believe I could run 7 great races in a week.
Do you track your weekly mileage?
I don’t tend to measure it closely and think more about time on my feet – my book has ‘Total Running/Walking Time’ for each of the 21 weeks I was training specifically for World Marathon Challenge. I would say I average between 50 and 80 miles a week.
What’s on the horizon for you in 2020?
I am looking forward to returning to Manchester and London Marathons, while also squeezing in Boston in April as my fifth World Major so it will be a busy month. After that I will turn my hand to a few more ultras as I love being outside running all day in the summer.
What are your favourite running kit must-haves?
I love my Ron Hill shorts as they are super-comfy, and I’ve been loyal to Asics trainers for a long time. My absolute must-have is a thick Gore headband as I hate having sweat in my eyes.
Are you sponsored by anyone at the moment?
I’m not, but I eat a lot of Pret Blueberry muffins so should probably be sponsored by them!