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Suffolk’s top athlete Helen Davies considered retiring following COVID_19 outbreak

PUBLISHED: 11:16 04 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:16 04 April 2020

Helen Davies celebrates winning a hat-trick of Brighton Marathon titles. Picture: HELEN DAVIES

Helen Davies celebrates winning a hat-trick of Brighton Marathon titles. Picture: HELEN DAVIES

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International marathon runner Helen Davies admitted that she seriously considered retiring as an elite athlete, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Helen Davies, in full flow during last year's 50K Ultra World Championships, on her way to second place. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDHelen Davies, in full flow during last year's 50K Ultra World Championships, on her way to second place. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Like all runners, of every standard, 40-year-old Davies has had to adapt her training methods since the forced lockdown in the UK.

The Ipswich JAFFA runner, who won a silver medal at the 50K Ultra World Championships in Rumania last summer, had been hoping to set a new landmark at the London Marathon later this month, and was still nursing an outside chance of qualifying for the Olympic Games.

But all that has been put on hold now.

The London Marathon has been put back to October 4, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have now been scheduled for the summer of 2021.

Helen Davies celebrates finishing second at the 50K World Championships, in Brasov, Romania, in 2019. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDHelen Davies celebrates finishing second at the 50K World Championships, in Brasov, Romania, in 2019. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

No wonder then that Suffolk-based Davies, who joined the over-40 veteran ranks last year, toyed with the idea of giving up the hard, punishing regime of training, and retiring from the national and international running scene.

Instead, though, she is more determined than ever to extend her competitive career, which really took off a decade ago with appearances at the marathon at the European Championships (in Barcelona) and at the Commonwealth Games (in Delhi), both in 2010.

“I thought that maybe that this was it for me, and that I should retire,” admitted Davies.

“I had such a great first third of the year, being top of the over-40 rankings for 10K and the half-marathon, and up there with the all-time rankings.

Helen Davies on her way to third overall and first lady at the Stowmarket Half-Marathon, her last competitive outing before the current lockdown. Picture: DEAN REDNALL/STOWMARKET STRIDERS FACEBOOKHelen Davies on her way to third overall and first lady at the Stowmarket Half-Marathon, her last competitive outing before the current lockdown. Picture: DEAN REDNALL/STOWMARKET STRIDERS FACEBOOK

“But was I ready to retire? No, I wasn’t ready, not yet. I want to become stronger and quicker.

“I’ve had to face injuries and other challenges throughout my career, and this is now the biggest test of them all. It’s been a baptism of fire, during these last two or three weeks.

“Initially, it was just absorbing all what was happening (with the coronavirus pandemic), and going through a rollercoaster of emotions.

“I had to ask myself what I was going to do? I basically had two options.

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“The first one was that I might not find the motivation to go on, and so would take early retirement.

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“The second option was to go for it, and to come out of it even more determined than ever.

“I’ve gone for the second option, but I definitely thought about retirement.

“I need to keep motivated, and I need to keep running, but I’ve also had to learn how to be a schoolteacher, home-schooling my two boys (Kingsley, 7, and Hector, 5) during the day, with Gav (her husband) also working from home.

“It’s been a case of multi-tasking, each day, while training-wise, I have focused more on quality and speed, and reduced the mileage, to maintain fitness.

“I have a couple of quick sessions per week, and a long run on Saturdays, of about two hours, but otherwise it’s all easy running, and occasionally a second run on the treadmill.

“It’s not a particularly good treadmill, but you can do some steady, easy runs on it.

“Otherwise I get in the fresh air once a day, usually in the early mornings, although for the two harder sessions I go in the afternoon after schooling the boys.

“As far as strength and conditioning goes, I have had to improvise, adapt and overcome.

“I’ve been indebted to my conditioning coach, Lloyd Chapman, and also the FTC Gym (in White House Road, Ipswich), for lending me some basic equipment, such as weights, kettlebells and dumbbells, with a special thanks to FTC managing director John Grindrod.

“I’ve been able to work that into my week, in the evenings, and have also done lots of drills and PE in the garden with the boys, making use of the garden steps.

“It’s basically all about making the best of it.

“I’m determined to come out the other side having gained something, and having become more resilient,” added Davies, who set a personal best for the marathon of 2:34:06 on completing a hat-trick of wins at the Brighton Marathon last year.

Davies also has a message for all fellow runners, and joggers, out there: “This will test everyone immensely, because usually runners are motivated by upcoming races or other targets,” continued Davies, who is coached by Clive Sparkes at JAFFA.

“We are all in this together, while trying to stay motivated is the trickiest thing of all.

“But first and foremost, it’s about following all the government guidelines and staying healthy, and to get this virus under control so that we can all start racing again.

“I’ve noticed that while the roads are a lot quieter, the footpaths and the cycle paths are the busiest that I have ever seen them, It’s very strange, but its a wonderful sight with everyone giving each other a wide berth.

“Everyone in the running community is helping each other, and although they can’t get physically close to each other, they are encouraging each other.

“We are all in this together,” added Davies.


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