Nino Severino: How super-mum Helen Davies continues to defy the odds and excel as a marathon runner – at an age when most athletes are retiring!

Helen Davies winning in Brighton. Picture: HELEN DAVIES

Helen Davies winning in Brighton. Picture: HELEN DAVIES - Credit: Archant

In his latest column, Nino Severino shares the inspirational story of Helen Davies, an elite marathon runner who is setting record times after a five year break to start a family, at an age where most athletes are retiring!

Helen Davies with Nino Severino at The Hub at the University of Suffolk. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA

Helen Davies with Nino Severino at The Hub at the University of Suffolk. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

I will soon be able to announce an event that I will be involved in which celebrates women in sport and business, led by one of the world's most well-known women, who has had a significant impact on sport.

It will be an event of national importance, and will be held at a major venue in our region, and I very much look forward to covering this in one of my future columns.

But this week I want to talk about one female athlete in particular, who is proof that even if you are of a more 'mature' age, there is no reason why the glory of sport, and all it can bring, should not be a focus and aspiration.

This woman is Helen Davies and it has been an incredible privilege for The Hub to be part of her support team.

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In 2010, Helen's dream became reality, after committing to a life of training and competing, everything fell into place and she produced a marathon performance that earned her selection for two major events - representing Team GB at the European Championships in Barcelona, and England in the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Helen gave up her job as a catering manager, and started her new career as a full-time athlete.

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She told me: "The next two years was spent living the dream, multiple altitude training camps in Font Romeu and Iten in Kenya, training alongside the best athletes, not only in the UK, but in the world.

"After the Olympic Trials at the Virgin London Marathon and a PB performance of 2.34.11 I fell pregnant with my first baby and took a five-year break from marathon running to start my family."

So, how is it, that now, seven years later, as nearly a 40-year-old mum of two boys aged four and six she is running personal bests over 10k and half marathons and has just run her fastest marathon time since 2012 to place her at the top of the UK rankings?

Helen Davies is one of Suffolk's greatest-ever athletes. Picture: HELEN DAVIES

Helen Davies is one of Suffolk's greatest-ever athletes. Picture: HELEN DAVIES - Credit: Archant

MORE: Davies wins third straight Brighton Marathon in PB time

I spend a lot of time with Helen and her coach Clive Sparkes, through my role as Director of The Hub, and I asked her during one session, how on earth are you achieving this incredible level of performance, when others are retiring?

She replied: "When I made the decision to return to marathon running in 2017, the response from others close to me was mixed, and the majority did try to almost get me to lower my expectations, with throw away comments along the lines of 'how are you going to manage to train for a marathon around being a mummy?'

"That comment got that fire in my belly burning. It made me ask myself, why can't I be both things? Who says becoming a mummy means I have to lose the identity I had before I was a mummy, I can do both things well."

She added: "I'm not going to lie, training for that Brighton Marathon in 2017 was hell, it was laced with so many emotions and struggles, physically and mentally.

"Physically the load was very exhausting on limited sleep and trying to keep all the balls in the air. Mentally I felt guilty and constantly questioned myself and what I was doing, and whether I was being selfish."

Remarkably, Helen won that race in 2.42 and knew that things could only get better.

She had to change and adapt the training to get the best from her body, but also fit more sessions in and around a busy family life.

This new phase would be a stark contrast to the glory days of 2010-2012. There would be no altitude camps, no midday naps, no funding, no physiologist and very little in the way of massage and physio, she knew she would need to be smart, and focus only on what was essential.

Helen Davies getting put through her paces at The Hub at the University of Suffolk. Picture: PAVEL K

Helen Davies getting put through her paces at The Hub at the University of Suffolk. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

Meeting Luke Read, the founder of Airborne Fit, was the fist major change, it was a turning point, and transformed her body in terms of athletic strength and conditioning.

The dreams then started to become reality again - her 2.38 performance at Brighton last April earned her England selection to run for the team at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in Canada.

At the end of 2018 her performance at Toronto placed her top of the V35 age group rankings, at 39-years-old, with her second fastest time ever of 2.35.11!

Incredibly though, she was overlooked for funding by the athletics governing body - in favour of ladies who had recorded slower times!

Coach Clive duly penned a letter to one of the main decision makers on the panel and I'm very pleased to write that Helen received a phone call and apology from the governing body, who did then add her to the funding list.

And this is where our life paths crossed. I contacted Helen, and offered the support from all the specialists in my team at The Hub.

I later read an interview, where Helen said "meeting with Nino lifted my spirits - his enthusiasm, excitement, passion and belief was so infectious, and added another layer to what myself and Clive were already doing."

I can't express how important it is to me to be part of Helen and Clive's incredible lives, and I know there is still much more to come!

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