This is a wonderful piece by one of our longest enduring writers, Cait Chock. Cait wrote this piece in mid-February 2022, as Charlotte was preparing in Australia for the 2022 Boston Marathon.
Cait Chock has a wonderful way of giving us, the readers, insights into her subjects. Charlotte Purdue is one of Team GB’s top marathoners, and her story is fascinating. And you will be able to see her in Eugene, Oregon, as she represents Team GB at the World Outdoor Athletics Championships.
Charlotte Purdue runs #3 British time at 2021 London Marathon, photo from London Marathon Media
Eyes Up and Run as Fast as You Can
By: Cait Chock
When Charlotte Purdue crossed the finish line of the 2021 London Marathon at 2:23:26, it cemented her as the third fastest British woman for the event in history. It was also a poignant statement.
Redemption for not being selected to the 2021 Olympics and a testament to her own resilience as an athlete. Disappointments are unavoidable in our sport, it’s the sieve that sifts out those who will break and those who will come out stronger. Charlotte is not one to break, she is one to find the next goal.
No obstacle derails her because of an inborn drive to be working towards something. “[I need] something else to focus on, even when I’m injured…to find a purpose to training really because, I don’t know, it’s just pointless otherwise,” she finishes with an easy laugh.
Elilish McColgan pacing group with Charlotte Purdue, 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, photo by London Marathon Media
To look at the finishing photos of her from London, the excited smile, one can almost see a hint of shock. And there was. For the last 12k of the race Purdue was stuck in no man’s land, forced to run alone. She didn’t look at her watch once because, “What’s the point of looking, I can’t do anything, I’m just running as fast as I can.”
GPS watches aren’t always 100% accurate and should a split read at a slower pace, it might just mess with her mind. Better to just run the rest of the race-blind, yet bold. Besides, you don’t need a watch to run all out.
She knew she was on pace for 2:23 at the halfway point, literally exactly on pace thanks to friend and metronome pacer, Eilish McColgan. After McColgan dropped, with no one to break the headwind or push her along, Purdue knew that glancing down for a split was more of a risk than a reward.
And thus, it was only when she crossed the line and saw the clock did she know that she nailed the time goal she and her coach, Nic Bideau, had set. There is nothing more radiant than a smile born from the moment of discovering everything you poured your heart and soul into has come to fruition.
London was now months ago, and as I talk to Purdue, just as bubbly and quick with a smile as in post-race photos, she is in Australia training with her coach and team with her sights set on Boston. And that’s how it is, Purdue always has to have a big goal on the horizon.
Born a natural marathoner she loves the long, grinding workouts more than anything. It goes beyond an affinity, it’s a craving almost, “I just find definitely the easy days the hardest because I just find them so boring…obviously, it’s necessary, but if I could get away with doing a workout, or some kind of workout, every day I would.”
Playing with the paces keeps her entertained when easy, recovery days are just mentally, well, tedious. Dealing with the pain of hard effort is preferable.
She does the easy days, of course, her body needs them, yet her mind is already looking forward to the next workout. An effort where she can test herself, chisel out more from herself, all for the sake of the endeavor at hand: the goal she is chasing.
Charlotte Purdue, the start of 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, photo by London Marathon Media
Boston was a race she always wanted to do, in fact before she retires she wants to do every major marathon, then do them again after she retires for fun. The tricky thing with Boston however, is typically it’s timed too close to London, a race often used as trials. This year due to Covid, the entire racing schedule changed, opening up a window.
The fact that Boston is sponsored by adidas, just like Purdue herself, cemented her decision, “There are all these things drawing me to it now, and I really want to run there.” The excitement evident in a smile, she’d found her next goal. It’s also refreshing that this is the first race in a long time she can just race. Boston isn’t about a time goal, it’s about the thrill of the competition and getting the highest position.
Now two weeks into her typical 12-week marathon build-up, the gears are changing from more 10k and half-marathon-focused work to the bread and butter marathon grind. A typical week has a shorter track workout on Tuesday because even marathoners need to retain that speed, a longer marathon-specific workout on Friday, finished off with a standard long run for time on Sunday. This Friday is one of Purdue’s favorite workouts: 2x4k and 4x2k all with a 2-minute recovery.
Charlotte Purdue, 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, photo by London Marathon Media
Typically each year between December and March, obviously last year was the exception, Purdue heads to Australia where her coach (Nic Bideau) and team are based. This works well in that she is able to dodge the lack of daylight and damp weather of the UK, “I was doing all my doubles on the treadmill because it gets dark by 4pm.”
It also allows her to have company on all of her workouts, whereas in the UK, she has to try and piece that together. Thankfully her partner is also a marathoner so she joins him on the easy runs, but outside of that, it’s hoping she can find a few men at the track who are around her pace. Needless to say, there are plenty of cold, windy, and rainy days when she has to grind alone.
That’s okay, Purdue isn’t one to ever break. She’s too busy staring headlong into her goals.
In hearing her talk of the other women in sport, her friendship with McColgan, and oft-training mate in Australia, Sinead Diver, it’s quite clear just how much Purdue takes running as a social event as much as an athletic endeavor. She admits the main reason she started running at 12 was, “I just enjoyed the social side of it…I found it fun going to training and on the weekend we went to races and it was just fun…as I did more races and did more training I found I was actually quite good at running.”
It’s beautiful to see just how much of a supportive and uplifting friendship she has with everyone, her competitors included. A steely-eyed focus on finding your personal best is much more happily done while also pushing your friends to find their best.
Charlotte Purdue, 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, photo by London Marathon Media
Living the life of a professional runner is something her younger self never dreamed she could do, and something she is continually grateful for, “I wanted to study law ever since I was younger, so that’s what I thought I would do.” She studied history at University but that plan changed as her performance kept getting better and better. So, at home in the running community, in addition to training and racing, she and her partner also started an online coach business, Purdue Performance.
When not running, you can find Purdue in her bed watching Netflix. A younger Purdue used to try to cram everything in, the training, the social, the going to the mall, but it left her body unable to recover and with constant niggling injuries. She has since learned that if she’s going to demand the most from her legs, she needs to give them ample time to recover. And so, she’s catching up on the latest season of Ozark.
Expediting recovery also means Purdue is now implementing cross-training sessions three times a week in lieu of what would have been a double run in the evening. “Just to offload the legs and I actually found I got a better benefit from it because I was just fresher for the next day…so just running once a day except for two days with a double run.”
And so when her eyes glance up from Jason Bateman on Ozark, they are looking at nothing but Boston and the World Championships beyond that. After that? Well, best to put your head down, run as hard as you can in the moment, and figure that out when you cross the finish line smiling.
Charlotte Purdue, 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, photo by London Marathon media
Editor’s note: Cait Chock did this piece in mid-February 2022. On April 18, 2022, Charlotte Purdue ran a fantastic Boston Marathon, in 2:25.26, finishing 9th woman. It is now early June 2022, and Charlotte is in the middle of preparations for her marathon at the 2022 World Athletics Outdoor Championships, held in Eugene, Oregon.
Charlotte Purdue, 2022 BAA Boston Marathon, photo by Kevin Morris / @kevmofoto