Helen's Virtual London Marathon

Powering on through storms, uncertainty, injuries and falls, Helen successfully completed her first marathon earlier this month and raised over £2,000 for the London Marathon’s official charity partner Mencap.

Helen got the running bug in earnest in 2018 after running a local half marathon. She started running on a regular basis and felt ready to tackle her first 26.2 mile distance. With a £2k fundraising target as part of her challenge, she knew the London Marathon was going to be more than just putting the miles in during training…

Formal training began in January and it wasn’t long before Helen was running through storms Brendan and Ciara with endless wind and rain. She managed to stick to her plan right up until early March while continuing to put the miles in on holiday in Tenerife. The virus had now reached Europe and hospitals were filling up. The Paris marathon was postponed to October and it was hard for her not to be distracted.

On 13th March the London Marathon was postponed to 4th October. At the time she was relieved that a decision had been made, but gutted it clashed with a planned holiday to Majorca. After changing her flights and swapping London accommodation around, everything was back on. Just over a week later however, the country was put into lockdown.

Though she put her training to one side, Helen continued running through the warmer months of April and May, but a niggle in her hip was getting worse and it got to the stage she couldn’t run half a mile without pain. She spent June and July barely running at all and trying to build up strength instead.

“August arrived and finally a definitive announcement from the marathon organisers. It was not going to be possible to hold the mass event on 4th October. Instead we would have the opportunity to run the event virtually in a location of our choice.

Initially the idea of a virtual marathon sounded awful. I couldn’t imagine running 26 miles on my own without the support of the crowds, having to carry my own supplies and think about the route. However, I had by now raised £1,500. The Mencap team were incredibly supportive and I decided that I was going to give it a go.

A difficult decision was where to run in Sheffield which didn’t involve a ridiculous number of hills. I decided on the old Sheffield Marathon route, a (relatively) flat route through the industrial heartlands of Sheffield with just under 1,000ft of climbing. I soon learned that charity runner and fellow Strider Clive Downing was also going to be doing the same route!

I crammed 16 weeks of training into 12 weeks. To keep things flat I did laps of Neepsend for my 18 mile training run and found this really helped to build mental strength. However, 3 weeks before race day I ended a 21 mile run close to tears when the piriformis syndrome made an ugly return and had me limping for the last 3 miles. I spent more of the taper period resting than I would have liked, but I couldn’t risk my injury ruining race day.

I hit £2,000 a few days before the run and it was a relief to know I’d reached my target and could concentrate on the run.”

Helen was up early on race day and began her run from Hillsborough Park with Clive, before being joined by fellow Strider Phil who accompanied and supported her for the rest of the run, enjoying brilliant support from friends and clubmates at various meeting points throughout the run.

Despite the onset of a mysterious new knee pain early on, the odd technical issue with her app and an unfortunate fall she soldiered on and completed her run with 4 laps of Hillsborough Park cheered on by friends and family that made it feel like a real race finish.

“I hadn’t managed the time I’d set out to do at the start of the year, but the circumstances were so extreme and the conditions so different from the real thing, I was just happy to make it round.

After the marathon I had a big Sunday lunch, followed by a full day of cheat meals on Monday. I could barely walk but otherwise felt good. It was only on Tuesday that my stomach caught up with what had happened and I had a grisly 24 hours before picking up again. I’m back to running normally and it’s nice to be able to head out without the pressure of reaching a certain distance or pace.

I’m looking forward to running in the real London Marathon whether that be next year, 2022 or 2023, and I hope we can all get back to racing together soon.”

Well done again Helen - and all the best with your next challenge!

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