Focus on Athlete: Sarah Edson, winner of the 2012 Grassland Marathon

For a lot of people in China’s running scene it was a pleasure to see the young Shanghai-based Briton Sarah Edson emerge victorious in the Grassland Marathon last summer. Forever enthusiastic, the 26-year old young woman has developed into a strong endurance runner over the years and become an inspiration for many fellow expats who have picked up the sport. What’s more, as co-race director of a ultra running event in Kenya, Edson is actively engaged in raising funds to support secondary education for local Masaai girls in the African country. Reason enough for a brief Q&A.

NW: The Genghis Khan Festival has become a classic on China’s amateur sports calendar and will be organized already for the 7th time next year. How do you feel about this?
SE: I think it’s great the race has been growing every year – but I am not surprised, word is spreading!

NW: What is for you the best thing about the Genghis Khan Festival?
SE: Getting out onto the grasslands and experiencing wide open spaces and quietude in a part of China I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

NW: How did you experience your race in 2012? Was it tougher than expected?
SE: I enjoyed the race very much – and the whole weekend. It was hilly in parts but that made it interesting – I really enjoyed this. The only issue with the course was that it was longer than the advertised marathon distance, which was very tough mentally at the end, when we were running for what seemed like forever down the straight road. I’d hope this can be fixed in the future. (Nordic Ways: local circumstances caused the marathon course to be extended at the very last minute. Measures are being taken to ensure this won’t happen in 2013)

NW: When and why did you decide to become a runner?
SE: It’s in my family; my grandfather and both parents run. I took it up seriously when I was about 17, as a way to relieve stress of school exams.

NW: What is your profession or occupation in China?
SE: I am a web-based project manager in EF English First’s online marketing department.

NW: Did you expect to have a chance to win the Grassland Marathon?
SE: No, definitely not!

NW: What was your strategy for the race?
SE: No particular strategy. I took it quite easy to begin with, mainly because I didn’t know how hilly it would be. That enabled me to keep my pace and maybe speed up a bit later. I also made sure I ate plenty of carbs for breakfast the morning of the race.

NW: Do you have a traditional pre-race ritual?
SE: Not really any special rituals, but I do like to take a bit of time at the start line to be quiet and focus my mind on the task ahead. Sometimes that’s difficult with lots of excited, chatty people everywhere! One thing I would mention is that it would be great if the breakfast service could provide enough coffee for everyone – caffeine is part of my morning ritual but there wasn’t any left when I was there at least.

NW: What is your background as a competitive runner? What is your marathon PB (personal best), and your halfmarathon PB?
SE: PB half marathon is 1:29, PB marathon is 3:20: that was in Guizhou a few weeks ago, hope to break that in Shanghai marathon in December!

NW: How does the race compare with other trail running events you have done in your running career?
SE: It has such a great location, so that counts highly. It was also very sociable, since it was for a few days, which helps make it stand out from other races. I had such a nice time hanging out in the sunshine with a beer after the race, before the big festive dinner.

NW: You like to run with music. What music do you tend to listen to? Do you feel it improves your performance?
SE: I listen to up-beat music, some electro and some pop. The beat helps keep me on-track and lifts my spirits so I think it does help a lot. I don’t listen all the way around the race, though; for some of the Genghis Khan race, I was just enjoying the quiet (that’s when I was feeling strong and didn’t need the boost).

NW: Will you take part in 2013 and if yes, how will you prepare for the event this time?
SE: I am not sure about 2013. There’s a few other races I want to do at this time of year so it depends – but if not I’d definitely consider coming back another year!

NW:Which advice would you give to people who want to take part in the Grassland Marathon?
SE: Don’t start too fast; there’s a hill waiting for you!! Also, consider doing the MTB race too (I wish I had).

NW: Finally, as co-organiser of the Masai Ultra Run in Kenya, how would you compare the Kenyan domestic running scene with the Chinese from an organiser’s point of view.
SE: They are both up-and-coming. I think Kenya obviously has a great amount of raw talent, but it seems that interest in running is growing faster in China. It’s a good time to be here!

Sarah Edson, winner of the 2012 Grassland Marathon