Monthly Archives: June 2016

Helen’s history of running.



I was not at all sporty as a child, I was very short sighted and my PE teacher at secondary school insisted I took my glasses off for ball games in case they got broken which meant I couldn’t see the ball at all! I hated cross-country as it was always cold, wet and very muddy. However as an adult I’d always liked the idea of running but thought it was for skinny whippets and, as a curvy, slightly overweight woman, felt it was not for me.

I took up running in October 2012 after seeing a friend enjoying it and losing her baby weight very quickly. I’d been walking a lot but it took too much time so I decided the answer had to be to move a bit faster. Initially I felt very conspicuous as I felt I didn’t look “like a runner” but I soon realised that most people didn’t take any notice of me or if they did, often stopped to say something encouraging.

I did my first parkrun in Jan 2013 and came last, went again the following week and came “not quite last”. I entered my first race, with my running buddy (who by then was running marathons) in June 2013 -11.5k in under 2 hours… It was a very hilly trail race in Dorset- The Sydling Hill race, run alongside the infamous Giant’s Head marathon. Since then I have done about a dozen park runs, set a PB of 35.59 in 2014, though this current year’s best so far is 38.40.

Since that first race I’ve done 6 more 10ks with a PB of 83 mins, I was pleased with that although I was last again both on that time and on 3 other occasions. I’ve also done 4 half marathons, with a PB of 3.35 I have come last or very nearly last in all of them.

Having come last in my very first parkrun it was obvious I was never going to be a speed queen. On that first time I felt embarrassed that everyone was cheering me on and thought perhaps they were cheering more because my arrival meant they could finally go home! Now I know that is quite wrong and Parkrun celebrates everyone however slow they may be. Now I feel quite different about it, I know someone has to be last and am not bothered if it happens to be me. At larger events I have found people occasionally are a bit sniffy about us slow coaches but most of the events I enter now are small friendly ones where people are wonderfully encouraging. I also have linked up with people on Twitter via @ukrunchat and @ukmarathonchat who have been very helpful and supportive.

I don’t race very often due to time constraints, competing in a maximum of 4-6 events a year. I tend to do smaller friendly races and always check that the cut-off is reasonably achievable for me. Some of my favourite events are ones run by Whitestar Running, small scale trail events in Wiltshire/Dorset where there will usually be multiple events so although I may be the last HM runner some of the marathon runners will finish after me so I am not out on the course on my own. Usually there is a sweeper (tail runner) who will nurse us slow runners round the course. I have also done several events run by Saxon-Shore in Kent, these are small scale, timed ultra events, usually trail based, where entrants can do as many laps of the course as they wish from one lap- usually around 3-4 miles up to 30+ miles within the time allowed, usually 6-8 hours. I enjoy these because of the camaraderie, no one is bothered whether you are aiming for 1 lap or 10, they are just friendly and supportive. They are also excellent opportunities to find out just how far you can run. The last Saxon-Shore event I took part in showed me that I could run a marathon – it took me over 8 hours but I did it!

As far as running philosophy is concerned I feel that at 58 I am lucky to still be fit enough to run at all and intend to carry on for as long as possible. I love being out in the countryside, sloshing through muddy puddles, clambering over stiles and gates and finding new routes. I run on my own most of the time. I enjoy the peace and quiet, running as much as I can but taking walk breaks as often as I need to. Even in races I will walk for some of the time, specially if it is uphill! If I’m putting one foot in front of the other I am making progress towards the finish; whether I’m staggering along at walking pace or sprinting the last few metres I’m beating all the people who didn’t even start.

My plan for the next year or so is to work on my strength and conditioning so that I can run better even if not quicker. I have about 6 races already booked for the year and am working on improving the distance I can run rather than time it takes as I aim to complete at least one more marathon or ultra before my 60th birthday in Dec 2017.

For anyone out there who thinks they’d like to run, don’t think about how fast/slow you are compared with anyone else. Start as slowly as you need to and you will see improvement, whether in speed, fitness, or in general health. Run for fun or fitness, with a friend or on your own, being active and outside is good for both body and soul. Run when you can, walk when you need to and above all enjoy it.




How to choose your first race…

This is a piece which I wrote a couple of years ago, I’d been running for about 6 months and wanted to take things a bit further… It seems like a good place to start my blog with.

There comes a time when running on your own or even taking part in your local Parkrun is not quite enough and you feel you are ready for a new challenge. It’s not that you are bored with running on your own, just that you want to push yourself a little more. Perhaps shaving a few seconds (or more) from your pb at Parkrun is not enough or you feel you have plateau-ed at 5km and want a bigger challenge.

You might decide to take part in one of the many 5km Race for Life events, there will almost definitely be one nearby and as people with a wide range of abilities take part it would be a good place to get your first experience of a race. After all, your Parkrun experience means you are confident at that distance and with so many people taking part it would be a safe challenge- that may sound paradoxical but you know what I mean.

You may want something different from a Race for Life, may be you don’t fancy having to get sponsors and raise money (perhaps like me you don’t really want anyone to know that you are considering taking part in a race). In this case you need to think carefully about which races might be good for your first foray into “serious” running.

What criteria do you need to consider as you look at the race listings? First step is to think about the distance. It seems a good idea to stick with 5km, which you know you can do. The next consideration is when you want to race, both which days are possible and how far ahead do you want to plan. Then you think about location. If, like me, you can’t rely on a partner to provide transport, it might be sensible to find a race reasonably close to home. Last but not least is the terrain; surely it would be a good idea to take part in a race on similar terrain to your usual routes or, perhaps better still, choose somewhere which is flat?

Usually I consider myself a fairly sensible person, I was quite happy running on my own. I had done a couple of Parkruns but found being clapped and cheered on as I reached the finish last or very nearly last rather embarrassing…were they just cheering because once I had finished they could pack up and go home? (I now know that is not the case, but it truly was how I felt). I was running 3-6km twice or three times a week (timing my Saturday morning runs to avoid the local Parkrun) but considering myself as a ‘person who runs’ rather than a runner and feeling a little dissatisfied with that status.

Did I carefully study the race listings, thinking about all those criteria? Did I follow my own advice? Did I heck! I entered a race at a distance I had never run, several hours drive from home on hilly terrain despite the fact that I hate running up hills. In short, on a whim, without thinking sensibly about what I was doing, I entered White Star Running’s Sydling Hill 10k -it turned out to be 11k but that’s another story.